Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Different Kind of New Year's Bubbly

Tiny bubbles in the beer...
For the last day of 2011, I thought I'd expand my beer horizons a bit. Actually, the whole idea came about as a bit of an accident. Earlier in the week I asked myself, "Self: "What would make for a great New Year's Eve beer?" Not finding a sufficient answer from trolling the old internal database, I moved onto a broader pool—the all mighty and powerful Google (They even has a beer now!). As expected, "Googs" delivered. So what did I find out while tripping the interweb fantastic—what is the perfect New Year's Eve beer?

Well, there's actually two ways to go.

First is Bière de Champagne—the fancy name for beer treated like Champagne, or to implore another fancy term, beer that has had the méthode champenoise applied to it. Basically, the beer is bottled after fermentation and conditioned with a small amount of yeast and sugar; it's capped, then riddled—or stored for a length of time at a 45º angle—neck down. This is done to make sure the lees—or leftover yeast dregs—settle toward the cap. The neck is then frozen, the cap is removed and the pressure expels the yeast from the bottle. The bottle is then quickly corked to preserve the residual carbonation, and there you go, crystal clear and sparkling Bière de Champagne.

Now, I can't go as far as to call this a new style, it's more of a beer "treatment." It seems that any style can be treated this way—although, I don't know if you'd want to. It's not a particularly new treatment, either. A number of European breweries have been using this method for quite some time, but the U.S. has been a bit slow to catch on. That is changing—for the past two years Samuel Adam's has produced Infinium, a collaborative Bière de Champagne with Germany's Weihenstephan. The French and Belgians, however, are the kings of this technique. Of the fifteen, or so, breweries using this technique, seven are either French or Belgian. The top pick in this category is Belgium's Deus by Brouwerij Bosteel, but at nearly $50 a bottle, I thought that might be a tad overkill for an evening that will most likely be spent eating pizza with the kids and falling asleep on the couch before the ball drops in Times Square.

I opted for a more economically viable alternative—the second option—Champagne-like beer. These are beers that are just that, but they don't go through the whole méthode champenoise rigmarole. Light, crisp, bottle-conditioned and unsurprisingly, they're typically Belgian. These beers have nicked a few terms from the sparkling wine and Champagne world—specifically cuvée—which can mean both a beer that is masterfully blended and in some cases, one that is stored, usually on oak—and brut—referring to the beers sweet/dryness. It's important to remember that these beers are not trying to emulate Champagne, like Bière de Champagne does—they're just borrowing a few ideas. Armed with this information, I set out to pick my beer—2010 Liefmans Cuvee-Brut, an aged and blended Kriek, brewed only in July; and Cuvée Des Trolls: Cuvée Spéciale—a hazy, blended Strong Ale, brewed by Brasserie Dubuisson for the 10th anniversary of the original Cuvée Des Trolls. Like I said, both are Belgian and both employ one or both of those classic Champagne concepts. 

So, I think I'm all set to ring in 2012—two 750ml  bottles of top-notch beer, pizza, the family and a party that spans the globe. Have fun tonight, be safe and I'll see you next year! 

Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ringing Out the Old and Ringing In the New

I don't really go in for those end of the year "best of" lists—at least not this year—but, don't hold me to that in the last week of December 2012, when I haven't got anything to write about. What I will go in for is, writing about something new for the new year—and it's new in two ways, too. One, it's a new beer from a new brewery, and two, it's a kind of beer I've never had before. So, two "news" for the price of one (actually it was free). I have, however written about it before—way back in October.

At long last, I finally got my hands on Steadfast Beer Company's Sorghum Pale Ale. I've actually been sitting on it for a few weeks, and like I said what better time for a new beer than going into the new year. The 22 ounce bomber has been patiently chilling in my fridge since the middle of the month, just waiting for the perfect time, and it turned out yesterday afternoon was that perfect time. Monday was the optimal convergence of circumstances—subdued kids, a day off and the right mind set—to try an untested brew. All systems go, in other word, so out of the fridge the bottle came, and I set out to try my first sorghum beer.

It pours a bright clear, copper—looking almost like a cider—topped with a nice layer of foamy white head. It has a phenomenal aroma—sweet and estery, with a floral note and a bready tone, too. Weaving throughout all of this is that classic American "C" hop smell—slightly piney with a good snootful of citrus, that can only come from Centennial, Columbus, Cascade and Chinook hops. I don't I have the actual breakdown for Steadfast's Pale Ale, but just by my nose, I know a couple of them are in there.

The flavor is spicy—similar to the flavor that rye brings to the party—with more of that citrus quality from the aroma. It's almost tangerine-like, melded with a Granny Smith apple tartness. There's some sweetness, but not a malty sweetness—more molasses-like—and it's very dry with just a hint of an Earl Grey tea, herbal astringency. The hops are there, as well, bringing that piney, resinous and tropical note, that's really needed for any "American" style.  There's also a noticeable fusel quality about it on the back-end. It's not so much a warming alcoholic flavor, but a sharpness, an almost stinging aspect—that's not wholly unpleasant. Fusel alcohols are higher-order alcohols produced during fermentation, and are responsible for the "heat" in some stronger beer and distilled spirits. This one is fairly strong, too at 6.8%—You all know my dislike of BCJP-ish "styles," but I do have to say, this is more of a double IPA than a humble, little American-Pale Ale—but, hey, more bang for the buck, right?

I'm going to be honest, this beer is not going to be for everyone. It's not bad by any means, but it does combine a number of very strong flavors. It's intense, to say the least. It has that great American hop characteristic, but from start to finish this beer hits you hard with its pronounced bitterness. That bitterness is accentuated, one, by its mild astringency, and two, from its fusel alcohol flavor. However, knowing that going in, you might be pleasantly surprised by this beer. Steadfast has made a commitment to shake up the gluten-free beer market. They went into this project looking to offer a craft beer alternative to what's already out there—a strong, hoppy alternative. Ya' know what? I think they've done it.

If you're in New York or the Northeast, keep your eye out—over the next month or two—for Steadfast at your local pub, bar or bev center. You might as well ring in a new beer and brewery while you're ringing in 2012!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me - Scaldis (Bush De) Noël, Brasserie Dubuisson Frères sprl, Leuze-Pipaix, Belgium.

We've made it to the end my friends—tonight is Christmas Eve and this is nearly the final post of my trek through the festive world of holiday beer. I've tried new things and learned a few tidbits along the way on this yuletide journey. I've decide to end with a special one—Scaldis Noël. It shares something in common with that jolly old elf, and ambassador of holiday spirit, Santa Claus—they both go by more than one name. In English speaking countries the man in red is known as Kris Kringle, St. Nick and Father Christmas, in the Netherlands and Belgium he's Sinterklaas, and in French it's Père Noël. There are some differences but, generally, everybody is talking about the same guy. Just like Santa and his multiple monikers, the beer I know and love in the U.S. as Scaldis Noël, is referred to by another name in it's home country of Belgium. In French-speaking Wallonia, this festive brew is known as Bush De Noël*. I suspect the name switch-er-oo is to keep people, stateside, from thinking they're buying an Anheuser-Busch product. What traditional Belgian brewer wouldn't want that association?

Yeouch! That was a little naughty, wasn't it? Sorry Santa, er, uh, Père Noël.

It pours a beautiful amber-red with a head like a slice of pound cake. It smells yeasty and fruity, like ripe plums smothered in toffee. There the slightest spice in the aroma as well—nutmeg or mace—with an almond, almost marzipan, quality to it. Like the Harvey's, it gives off a nice alcoholic tone. After a swirl in the glass and a nice inhale, the vapors stay in your nasal cavities like wasabi. Drawing a sip, an alcoholic warmness fills your mouth. It starts with flavors of dried fruit—like figgy dates and sweet raisins. There are hints of cocoa, sweet cherry and it finishes with a peppery, tart apple snap. It's crisp and surprisingly light for a beer tipping the scales at 12%. Whatever you you want to call the the man with the sack full of toys or this Belgian strong ale, what really matters is they both deliver something great!

That's it folks—The Twelve Beers of Christmas. I'll post a final wrap-up on Sunday. Everyone please have a warm and wonderful holiday, and I hope everyone's gets that special beery gift they asked for!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

*Not to be confused with the delectable, holiday confection—
Bûche de Noëlalso known as the Yule Log!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Harvey's Christmas Ale, Harvey & Son Ltd., Lewes, East Sussex, UK (England).

The yuletide is a time for tradition—those time-honored practices that have spanned the decades. Be it decorating the tree, hanging your stockings by the chimney with care or just making sure that the perennial green-bean casserole makes it to the Christmas table. My tradition is tippling a bottle of Christmas Ale, brewed by the venerable British brewery Harvey & Son. Just like those other historic rituals, Harvey's has been practicing it's art since the 1790s. Where as the American breweries (and even more so my eighth day beer from Microbrowerij Achilles) are starting new traditions with their beer, Harvey's is doing what they've
always done since the end of the 18th-century. Drinking these beers is like shaking the hand of an old friend. However, what Harvey's Christmas Ale does, is put a point on all that brewing tradition, this modern barley wine is an obvious tip of the hat to the stock ales of yore—dark, sweet, dense and strong.

It pours an intense ruby red, with just the slightest (and I mean slightest) touch of carbonation. It's aroma is huge and fruity, with a great molasses-like, dried fig and raisin quality. There's a complex, fresh berry tone, and you get a good whiff of alcohol, too. At just over 8%, its fusel notes let you know your drinking something that's got a kick. The flavor is almost cherry cordial-like—a mix of sweet malty smoothness and a hint of fruity tartness. Its complex and velvety, and there's a great chewiness to this one. It's sticky and dense—like figgy pudding and port. No hoppiness and no bitternes, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean it wasn't hopped—In fact, I'd guess it was hopped pretty good. I'm going to speculate that aging, and maybe a little Brett c. exposure sent the hop notes packing to the North Pole with Santa.

For me, what makes Harvey's Christmas Ale really special, is that it's like taking a trip back in time with every sip. The bottle itself has an old feel—it's a little bit heavier and tapered just a tiny bit different than your rank and file beer bottle; and it has that great embossed rule, inset with PLEASE RETURN. Even the label—simply red and white—with jolly Ol' St. Nick smiling back at you, hearkens to a time gone by. So, when you see Alastair Sims as grumpy old Ebeneezer Scrooge on the TV this year, Harvey's Christmas Ale is the beer you should be drinking.    

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On the Tenth First Day Night of Christmas Chanukah... bubala gave to me - He'Brew Messiah Bold, Schmaltz Brewing Company, San Francisco, California, USA.

So, this one's not technically a Christmas beer—or even a holiday beer. It is however a Jewish beer, and since tonight is the first night of Chanukah, I thought what better way to celebrate that other late-December holiday, than with a Judaic-themed brown ale? With all the stuffing of stockings and caroling of carols, I figured it might be nice to acknowledge the Festival of Lights in my own Gentile manner—by drinking beer, in the dark, in front of my computer. I'll be honest, I've been chomping at the bit to do this one since the beginning of the month; I was hoping Schamltz would brew an actual Chanukah beer this year, but alas, after forty days of wandering in the desert, I found none—none at Oliver's at least. Anyway, If they don't even bother to make one, why should I worry about some mashugana beer? Oy, with the schleping all over the town already! All this work, with the writing and the drinking, why do I bother?   

I will admit to not knowing if I used any of those last few sentences correctly, it just felt right—maybe a bit goyish, but I'm all right with that. Either way—onto the beer.

It pours a cherry wood brown, with amber highlights and a nice, coffee-colored, fluffy head. It has a chocolatey, burnt sugar aroma that reminds me of Coca-Cola, and there's almost a smokey quality to it as well. The first thing I tasted, with this one, was brown sugar—like sweet, rummy, full-flavored Muscovado dark. There's a hint of stone-fruit tartness, like plum, but only in the background. It doesn't have a heavy hop presence, but you are left with a nice bitterness. It's called Messiah Bold, and I'll agree to that—It brings a good bit of roasted, sweet flavor, and it's definitely drinkable. I could see myself getting a belly full of brisket and eating my weight in latkes; then topping off the nights off with a few Messiah Bolds—throw in some some boisterous games of spin the dreidel, and I'm good to go. It's the Festival of Lights folks, so fire up the menorah and חנוכה שמח!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On the Ninth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Serafijn Christmas Angel, Microbrowerij Achilles, Itegem, Belgium.

At the end of November, when I began telling people I was planning to write about twelve Christmas beers, the list of suggestions was a mile long—and all Belgian. Belgium loves it's Christmas beer. Hell, there's even a Christmas Beer Festival in the the city of Essen, this very weekend! I received recommendations on Corsendonk, St. Bernardus Abt,  Delrium and Gouden Carolus Noëls, and the list went on and on—and I can't argue, all of those are great beers—Christmas or not. However, when I strolled into Westmere Beverage yesterday, my eye caught this little, tapered bottle, nestled among the skyscraper-like 750ml bottles of it's countrymen. Adorned with a golden, six winged seraph, the bottle had a quiet reverence that drew me in. I'd never heard of it, or it's awesomely named maker, Achilles Van de Moer—who, by the way, was a music teacher, but gave it all up to open a tiny brewery (out of his garage, no less) and café, with his wife, in Itegem, back in 1999. A step above home brew, this stuff has only been available in the U.S. for the last few years. Maybe it was the angel, or Christmastime divine intervention, but I passed up the others, and went for the little, tapered bottle.

It poured a hazy, honey-gold, with a dense, flop of white foam that settled still, looking like meringue. Its aroma is grassy sweet, like cut alfalfa, with a hint of alcohol and a caramel apple quality. There's that typical Belgian banana note, but it faded, fairly quickly after the cap was off. I got a good bit of fruit on the first sip—pear and strawberry and tart apple. It brings a nice yeasty-bread quality, and a little spiciness, with it as well. Its not hoppy, buy any means, other than a slight grassiness, but it has a pretty good bitter bite at the end, along with a nice alcoholic warmth.

I don't know, maybe I'm a sucker for angels, but I'd put this one on the top of my tree—and then Amy would make me take it down.

Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Eighth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Holiday Spice Lager Beer – 2011, Lakefront Brewery, Inc., Milwaukee, WI, USA. 

"Brewed with honey, oranges, cinnamon, nutmeg & clove"—it says it right on the label. What could be more Christmas-y than that? There's something about the way holidays smell—be it the aroma of a fresh cut spruce or a billowing wreath in the living room, the waft of hot apple cider simmering on stove top or cookies straight out of the oven. The holidays smell, well, they just plain, smell good and this beer embraces that idea. Yeah, I know a lot of Christmas beers have a good amount of spice to them, but this one goes beyond that. Lakefront has really hit the mark in combining all those classic yuletide elements, into a lager that simply smells like Christmas. 

Although, the nose knows, I should probably get into the taste, as well. I was expecting a something light, I guess I made the presumption that a "spice lager beer" would lean more toward a golden hue. I couldn't have been more wrong—this lager tumbled into my pint glass a rich brown, with coppery highlights. Then came that great aroma—citrusy and spicy with a sweet round maltiness. The honey and orange are both is upfront on the sip, and the spices play back-up at first. Of those clovey-nutmeg flavor is the strongest, rolling in on the swallow, followed by bit of cinnamon. The honey, citrus and spice create a baked raisin or date cake quality, with almost a slightly, toasted woody note—nearly like vanilla. This one packs a bit of a wallop, too, and it's 11% ABV brings a nice alcoholic heat to the party, underlying all the other holiday flavors. That being said, this one drinks light a significantly less-strong beer—so watch yourself. 

I've read that stimulation of our olfactory system can induce feelings of nostalgia better than any of our other senses. So, even in July, fresh baked cookies and spicy peppermint reminds you of the holidays you had as a kid. It appears that the folks at Lakefront Brewery read the same thing. They just figured out a way to bottle it—at least the smell of it anyway.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On the Seventh Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale: 2011–12, Samuel Smith Old Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, UK (England)

Some beers are meant to be drank at backyard barbecues—others with four course meals under candlelight. In the case of Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome, I find the perfect drinking scenario is while I'm doing the evening's dishes, munching on Christmas cookies, as Frank Sinatra and Cyndi Lauper belt out Santa Claus Is Coming to Town over the radio. Yeah, that's right, I do the dishes. It's not that I set that scenario up, in fact, it's quite the opposite—the scenario set me up. The dishes need to be done, Amy's mom happened to have made cookies, the radio was already on and the pint glass was full—I simply fulfilled my Tuesday night destiny. Yet, there was a holiday harmony in that simplest of household duties—beer, cookies and music all working in unison.

This winter warmer pours a lively copper, smelling of grainy bread and fruit—especially apple. It's big and malty with a mild herbaceousness. It's slightly toffee-like with a pronounced fruitiness as it warms in the pint—a bit tart and dry, like a pear, but still offering a good bit of dry sweetness. It's not particularly hoppy, but there is a element of English hop spice and earthiness—almost like peppered dirt. Its bitterness creeps up toward the end, edging the back of the throat after the swallow.  It has no seasonal spice, that is to say cinnamon, nutmeg, etc., and I'm glad of that—this beer doesn't need it. What is great with this beer, however, is my mother-in-law's Christmas cookies.

Just for everyones edification, the other two song's I heard while doing the dishes and drinking this one were, Last Christmas by Wham! and Jimmy Durante singing Frosty the Snowman. I'm fairly sure that other than lightening my mood, none of the songs affected the taste of the beer. Perry Como's It's Begining to Look a lot Like Christmas, might have been able to do that, but not Wham!.

Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Sixth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me - Julnarren Special Winter Ale, Hantverksbryggeriet AB, Västerås, Sweden.

This is my first Swedish beer, so I was excited to try this one. However, since my Swedish is pretty weak, and there's no mention of Christmas on the bottle, I'm not totally sure this one is "technically" a Christmas beer. I'm taking a chance that the little dude in the red and white jester hat is implying Christmas. Google translator says narren means "the fool," and I'm going to guess that the Jul part of Julnarren might translate to Yule in English—although Google translator says Jul in Swedish means July. In any case I like the sound of Yule Fool, so I'm calling it close enough. 

It pours a deep chestnut with amber highlights and almost not head at all—it's carbonated, but just barely. Its aroma reminds me of pipe tobacco—sweet and fruity with an alcoholic pungency. The flavor is interesting and it has soy sauce quality to it. Not inasmuch the same flavor as the Asian condiment, but a similar earthiness. It's not salty by any means, but it shares that same umami note. Believe me, I'm the first to say that umami is just horse shit made-up by an ad agency to sell soy sauce, but there's something to it here. It has some dark, stone fruit characteristics, with a smokey, burnt sugariness and some spiciness, but I'm not sure what spice that is—it's almost gin-like with a hint of juniper or spruce. While there's almost no hop flavor or bitterness, there is a mild roasted flavor. It's complex to say the least, and while both the name and beer are about as enigmatic as they come, I think I like the Yule Fool.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On the Fifth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me - Christmas Ale 2011, Goose Island, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

I hadn't planned on doing two American beers in a row, but this one has become my go-to Christmas beer, of late. I was planning on picking some up at Oliver's, but conveniently (for me, not necessarily Oliver's) the Lionheart was kind enough to get it on draught. It's a win-win situation (again, for me, and not so much for the beer store.) It helps, too, that the LH is all decked out like Martini's bar in It's a Wonderful Life—minus the drunk and somewhat suicidal George Bailey, at the bar.

It's a gorgeous  ruddy brown color with an aroma of dried figs and raisins with a nose full of sweet caramel. The flavor is similar, with a nutty and mildly molasses/burnt sugar edge—like Boston brown bread or Joe Frogger cookies. The spice is subtle—with every sip you pick up a hint of vanilla or is it clove and then, maybe, possibly, cinnamon—it's there but almost not. There's something comforting about this brew. It's soft and a little warming, with a Christmas spice so subtle you might not even notice it. Maybe that's what draws me to this beer. Goose Island didn't rely on an overkill of spice to let you know you're drinking a "Christmas" beer. I still have seven beers to go in this holiday beer breakdown, but I'm pretty sure I'll still be drinking the Goose Island during that time, too!

On a side note, the ingredients for Marley's Ghost an 1843 Christmas Porter arrived today. I'm all set for Christmas future!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Is White the New Black IPA?

Do you think he likes black and white cookies?
Just a quick Yuletide interruption, but I got the chance to try something new from Saranac Brewery in Utica, NY. Their-ready-for-drinking-as-of-yesterday, IPA-ified Belgian White Ale. I gotta say—as far as the two ounces I tried—it hit all the right notes. Wheat, coriander, citrus and good punch of Citra hops. Could this be a new trend on the beery horizon—what was black is now white? It's like that Star Trek episode where Frank Gorshin had to run around the Enterprise painted half black and half white—Oh, the duality of IPA!

Although, Saranac may have hit upon something here—a beer that caters to both the Blue Moon lovers as well as the the hoppy McIPAers. If I were them, I'd call it Saranac One Stone—as in killing two birds with one stone.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Santa's Private Reserve, Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon, USA

I'm probably going to have my beer drinker membership card revoked for this statement, but, I often overlook Rogue. I know–I know, They're arguably one of the most important players in the development of American craft beer over the last twenty years. Nevertheless, I have a tendency to walk past the Rogue section. There's nothing wrong with their stuff, they're just not one of my go to breweries. Something was different this last trip to the beer store. Maybe I'm starting to be a little more open-minded or maybe it was the influence of a little holiday magic. Whatever it was, I went right for the Rouge, their Santa's Private Reserve, to be exact—and I'm glad I did.

You will notice two things immediately upon tasting this beer—it's bitter and it's hoppy. I mean way bitter and hoppy. I was expecting a soft, smooth amber with a hint of cinnamon and clove, but no—BAM! Right in the mistletoe with a crazy punch of American hops. It's pithy, like grapefruit rind, and a bit piney with some citrusy tartness. The malt, however, brings a mild sweetness and a nice bready, roasted note that works—I can't say in balance with—but in tune with the bitterness. This one took me unaware. This was the "surprise" gift of my beery Christmas—the unexpected cool thing under the tree. I was assuming socks and a tie and ended up with a Ducati café racer. Although, thinking about it, I've now ruined your surprise—sorry, you've still got the socks, right?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Christmas Bock, Mahr's Bräu, Bamberg, Germany.

There are, as I see it, two kinds of Christmas beer—Christmas Eve beer and Christmas Day beer. Christmas Eve beer should rich and robust—warming like an old friend visiting on a chilly December night—there's just something about sipping on a deep, complex porter or a spiced brown ale while your watching the snow fall and waiting for ol' Saint Nick. Christmas Day beers should be bright, fresh and sweet—merry beers to drink on a merry day. We do a double Christmas at my house. First, with the kids and my folks on Christmas morning—which usually starts at about five after five in the morning, so no beer, just coffee. Then, around 11ish we're off for another round of presents with Amy's family and my folks at my in-laws. By that point I'm all hopped-up on holiday spirit and caffeine, so that's when I want something jovial and sweet to match the mood. 

I've never had Mahr's Christmas Bock before tonight. So, imagine my surprise I was expecting a deep, brown Chritsmas Eve beer to fill my pint, when instead, and to my delight, a bright flow of Christmas Day, wheat-field gold tumbled into my glass. The beer swirled around the pint and billowed to an off-white cap of foam. It has an earthy and bready aroma matched with a little caramel and some fruitiness—like apple or pear. It's sweet, but not think or syrupy, with a toffee-like, buttery creaminess. It has almost no bitterness, but a nice hay-like hoppiness. This beer has presence to it, a little weight, without being heavily or thick. Its sweet and fun, but it also has just the right amount of crispness to it—think of it like your tipsy Uncle Tom boisterously belting out Jingle Bells at the piano Christmas Night. This Christmas Bock is an easy drinker—be it on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, or any other day of the year!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Warm Welcome, Ridgeway Brewing, South Stoke, Oxfordshire, UK (England)

I'm a fan of Ridgeway, and while I'd normally go for their Bad Elf IPA, this time of year, I thought I'd try something new—and I'm glad I did! It pours a coppery, reddish-brown, with a bright but fading head. There is a mellow nutty, caramel matiness with a hint of spice and fruit in the aroma. It's rounded and smooth and has a nice weight to it on the sip. Its spice is subtle with a great Belgian-ish quality and it has a vanilla tone reminiscent of Bourbon. There's a hint of alcohol on the back end, even though it's medium strengthed at 6.0%. Along with that subdued alcohol heat, it has an ever so slight bitter edge and just a touch of earthy hoppiness.

This is the beer to have next to a roaring fire on Christmas Eve, after the kids are nestled all snug in their beds. It's not overly spiced or heavy—just a good, solid and warming libation.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Session 58: Marley's Ghost

Beersay 's Phil Hardy, has challenged us to, as he puts it, a Dickens of a topic: a beery Christmas Carol. Beers of Christmas past, present and yet to come, as it were—and that got me a-thinkin' (yeah, you see it coming.) I'm going to make this my next project.* Is it possible that one beer could fulfill all three of those qualities without tearing asunder the space time continuum? Yes, I think I can—and I'm going to make it.

Here's the game plan: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, was published in December of 1843, so I'm going craft a 2.5 gallon, half-batch in the style of a beer that was readily available at that time. But, what beer to make, you ask? Lets look at Dickens' novella for some inspiration, shall we? Flip, flip, flip—A-HA!
...old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, "Well done!" and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose.
You are quite correct, I did not flip through the pages of anything. I searched for the word "porter" in A Christmas Carol, on Google books. You didn't expect me to actually read anything, do you?

Porter is the perfect choice, it was the beer that built the British brewing industry. In the mid 19th-century London produced porter like it was going out of style (which actually happened—eventually). In 1840, the venerable Whitbread & Co. made nearly 155,000 barrels of porter, at their Chiswell Street brewery. That's a single brewery producing 5,580,000 gallons of black beer—alone. Yeah, it's got to be porter for this one. Now that I know that I'm going to be making a beer in the style of those made in London, in the early 1840s, (a "keeping" porter, in fact, but I'll get to the "keeping" part in a bit) I've got Christmas past covered.

On to Christmas present. Why not brew this treat up, this Christmas? Okay, not right on Christmas Day. I'm fairly sure Amy wouldn't want me to be brewing up a batch of beer while the kids are opening presents under the tree, so I've decided to use the term "present" a tad loosely. I'm setting the brew date for sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day, and saying close enough. I'm taking the week off, so I'm sure I can squeeze this one in. That establishes the present part of Christmas present, but what's going to go into this dark lovely? Do you know who'd know? Mr. Ron Pattinson, and that's exactly who I contacted. A few emails back and forth about hopping rates, and of course a good thumbing through his book Porter! (buy it, by the way) and this is what I came up with:

83% 5 lbs 11oz mild malt
15% 1 lb brown malt
2% 2 oz black malt

OG 1.062
FG 1.016
ABV 6.1%

1.5 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 90 min
.9 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 60 min
.9 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings @ 30
.5 oz 5.0 AA East Kent Goldings dry hop

IBUs 129
BU:GU 2.03

Yup, that's a shit ton of hops—over 3 ounces for 2.5 gallons. By the standards of the day Porter was a bitter beer, rather than a more mild ale. If I were to follow the 3 to 5 pounds of hops/barrel, common in porter production of the mid-19th century, the ratio would be closer to 4.5 ounces. However, 19th-century brewers used yearling, two-year and three-year old hops which, due to age, had their potency significantly reduced—so I scaled back.

Remember when I mentioned that "keeping" bit earlier? Although porter in the 1840s was slowly starting to be served "mild,"or in other words shortly after it fermented, a good portion of it was still being "kept" in vats for longer periods of time—10 to 12 months. The long storage time mellowed the hops, and because the vats were made of wood, that wild and crazy guy Brettanomyces clausenii, was also hanging around, creating yet another factor for bitterness reduction. Porter was supposed to be somewhat bitter, but because of it's long storage if it didn't have that high dosage of hops, by the time it was ready to drink the bitterness would come up short.

Now that we have the recipe, my plan is to "keep" my porter for a full year, as well, until next Christmas—or Christmas yet to come, if you will. Yes, I'm also going add in some Brett c., for good measure. In late November, of next year, I'll bottle it up and maybe cask half of it in a mini keg, and the next thing you know, Tiny Tim will be dancing (in a hobbled sort of way) around my Christmas table.

There you go, Christmas past, present and future all rolled into one beer. Now, all I need is a name. How about Marley's Ghost –1843 Christmas Porter? I like that, and I think Scrooge would approve, well, at least Fezziwig would.

*You might, at this point, say to yourself, "What happened to the War Series Project?" Good question—It's actually moving along nicely, and I'll be writing about it later in the month (well, maybe January.)

On the First Day of Christmas... true love gave to me – Our Special Ale 2011, Anchor Brewing Company, San Francisco, California, USA

Oh how I wait for this chestnut beauty every year. It and I share something in common—we both were first brewed thirty-seven years ago. It truly is one of my favorite holiday beers. Its got a fantastic malted pine aroma and looks stunning in the pint—a deep ruddy brown with sharp red highlights. It has a ton going on in it, and it comes out first with a chewy, malty, and an ever-so-slight, roasted note. It's rich and bready with a cane syrup and raisin quality. There's a mild bitterness, but its spice profile brushes its piney hop notes aside. Nutmeg and fig with a definite clove-studded orange flavor—like café brûlot without all the pomp and circumstance.

As much as I love this beer, I will admit, the last few sips are a bit much to get through. Think of it like that last bite of double chocolate fudge cake, it's awesome, but a little goes along way. In any case, Anchor's Our Special Ale—be it 2011, 1997 or 1974—will always be on the top of my Christmas list. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Twelve Beers of Christmas

Amy said no to this.
I want to do something to celebrate the upcoming Christmas holiday and ring in the Yuletide in a beery fashion. What better way than sample twelve beers for Christmas? Yeah, yeah, I know the twelve days of Christmas, are technically supposed to come after Christmas, but when have I ever let a little thing like technical accuracy get in the way of a hair brain scheme. Besides, I want to drink the twelve beers now!

Here's the deal. I'm going to do a quick post, every other day throughout December, highlighting the best of the beery season. I'll be picking beers from all over the world so, anywhere Santa's sleigh can land, and Ruldoph's nose can light, is fair game. In order to end on Christmas Eve, I'm going to have to start tomorrow, so keep your eye out for not only the first of my twelve selections, but also my take on the holiday-themed Session—brought to you this month by Phil Hardy over at Beersay!

If anybody has any selection ideas, bring 'em on! I'm not sure I'll be able to track them all down, but I'll sure try. So, Ho-Ho-Ho! Away we go!

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Apple a Day...

Howdy everybody—I'm back—and without a beer related post, too! It's cool though, see up there, where it says drinkdrank, no where does it mention beer. Okay it does say beery blog, but it also says other notions. Those are the notions I'm going to talk about in this post—specifically apple-borne notions. That's right, cider. Not only am I going to just talk about cider, I'm also going to have a guest help out. My wonderful, albeit anti-beer, but pro-cider wife Amy has been dragged into  agreed to give her input on a few fermented Malus domesticus offerings. She has absolutely no interest in doing this, but I think, she thinks that her participation in this will get me to vacuum the downstairs.

First off, an introduction. Say hi to the folks, Am.


She is, in actuality, upstairs giving the kids a bath, but I thought it was rude not to do some sort of introduction. Never mind that—on with the show.

What are the chances I'm going to get
sued for putting this on here?
I will admit, I'm not much of a cider drinker. I like it, but I'm just more drawn to beer. Recently though, I have been more and more interested in the whole cider process. A few months ago, Columbus Day weekend actually, the family and I took a trip to Broadalbin, New York and Eagle Mills, operators one of the oldest cider presses in the United States. Eagle Mills has a home-spun, pick-your-own apple orchard feel, without the apple orchard. It's a straight up cider mill and from what I can tell, cidering seems to be amazingly simple (easy for me to say, in front of my computer.) Seriously though, it's pretty straight forward: Get apples, wash apples, grind apples into pulpy-chunky-stuff, press pulpy-chunky stuff under a shit ton of weight and collect the run-off. Boom! there's your raw material, now just get some sugar, camden tablets, yeast and a couple of weeks and viola—cider! So, easy even I could do it—but I didn't. I did, however pick up a few commercially produced ciders—one Irish, one American and one English—and figured this was the perfect way to spend some quality time with my wife. Not a fancy dinner or a lovely drive in the county—no sir, a good, old-fashioned, cider tasting—the most romatic of all husbandly gestures.

Up first, the Irish offering—Magners Original, made by Bulmers (apparently it's also sold, in Ireland, as Bulmers) in Clonmel, County Tipperary. It poured a rosy amber hue with a good bit of carbonation. It had a sweet apple aroma with a decidedly Chardonnay-like edge. Amy picked up on that as well.

"It's a little winey, but sweet" said said as she quietly smacked her lips (That's how I know she's really tasting something.) I held my tongue on making a whiney joke. I can't blow this whole thing this early on.

I got a good bit of the dry white wine quality out of it as well. It's sweet and slightly tart—cidery and wine- like at the same time. Other than that, it's a little one note.

All right, back to U.S.A—Middlebury, Vermont, in fact—and to a sample of, arguably the best know American-made cider—Woodchuck Amber. Pouring, it's more golden than the Magners and has a far less Chardonnay-ish aroma, and it's flavor is rounder and mellower.

"Smell it. What's it smell like?" I asked as I handed Amy her glass.

"It smells like, uh, cider." She answered..

"No, I mean, do you smell anything else?" I ask as I placed my nose into the mouth of my pint glass. "I'm getting honey, do you smell honey, too?"

Having been looking down into the pint for most of this interaction, I slowly moved my eyes up, to look at her over the rim of the glass. Amy's answer was simply a look. Those of you who collect baseball cards, comic books, models of the the entire United Federation of Planets fleet of star ships, work on cars or fanatically follow any number of sports teams, will know this look. It's the "Please don't get to excited and get any of your geekness on me" look. I've pushed it to far—I'm going to lose her. Abort! Abort! See the difference between wives and friends, when it comes to specific nerdiness, is that friends will hear you out—wives just walk away. Especially in situations like this.

"What? No, never mind—what do you think?" I ask, attempting to rewind and erase.

"I think I like this one more than the other one." She said after a sip or two.

See what happens when you try and do things as a couple? Let's just move on to the Blackthorn, the UK's offering. I've heard some rumblings on the interwebs that Blackthorn isn't a true cider—that it's mass produced by the cider mafia or something. You know what I don't care. It poured, from the can, a bright, fizzy gold and had a great apple aroma. It wasn't too sweet or to winey—just pure apple. Of the three ciders it had the most apple-ish flavor, as well. It's very crisp and a bit tart, slightly sweet and almost woody. The true test, however, is with Amy. No prompting or encouragement from me, just a simple, "try this"

"Mmm" she smiled as she quietly smacked her lips.

And there you go. Blackthorn is the great equalizer. The moral of the story, although, isn't who makes a better cider—The UK, US, or Ireland. It's the fact that when my Amy says "You spent how MUCH on beer?!" I can simply say, "Yes, but look what I got for you!"

As those of you who are married know, that's all that matters.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Operation Drumstick

I'm going to be laying low into this week's holiday, but I thought I'd give my ideas on having a beery turkey-day. I'll be back at it next week, but this should keep you going until then!

Thanksgiving is hands-down, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. Some might argue Christmas or Easter, but for my money, nothing rings the bell, like a good old fashioned turkey day. I love to eat just marginally less than I love to drink beer, so when a holiday comes around that is essentially based around the dinning room table, I'm on board. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, gravy, green bean casserole—just typing the list sets off my most basic of Pavlovian responses. Along with all that amazing food, the right kinds of beer on turkey day is the icing on the cake—or in this case the whip cream on the pumpkin pie. Because I'm talking about an feast of epic proportions, however, there needs to be a bit of beery strategy before diving in. You've got to asses the situation and plan your tactics accordingly.

Turkey in the straw?
Before I get into all that, I want to say, I realize that the U.S. is amongst the minority of countries who celebrate Thanksgiving, and that a good bit of you out there, don't give a rat's pah toot about it. My strategy, nonetheless, is still effective against über-meals under any circumstances—holiday or otherwise. So remember this in situations such as: birthday dinners, weddings, bar or bat mitzvah and retirement gatherings. As the boy scouts say, be prepared.

At this point you're probably saying to yourself, "yada, yada, yada—another beer and food pairing." It's not that simple, because everybody has there own food traditions when it comes to holidays, like Thanksgiving. Besides, I'm not much for the "this dish with this beer" approach—that might win the battle, but I need to win the war. What I'm going to do is take a clue from military strategist and split the feast into three assaults—First, the "softening-up" phase during the appetizers, next the main objective– Thanksgiving dinner, and lastly dessert, and the final "mopping-up" operations. I'll look at the challenges of each situation and suggest a few beers that will best work with the attack. Since the "Thanksgiving" I'm talking about is the U.S. incarnation, I'm going to stick with American brews. So, grab you helmet and an extra napkin—this might get messy.

So there you are, like a shavetail officer leading his first combat mission. Your first culinary battlefield is laid out before you—veggie and relish platters, shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs, cheese platters and artichoke spinach dip. We can't jump right in here, we need some finesse—Old Rasputin would end up finishing you before you even started. We've got to asses the situation, weigh our options and get through to the next rally point. We're running the gambit on flavor and texture with this food. The shrimp and relish dish bring a mineral brininess; while the cocktail sauce and deviled eggs heat things up, lastly the cheeses and artichoke dip are rich, gooey and just a tad salty. I say take inspiration from the crisp crudités and go for a light lager or even a cider—my picks are NoCal's Lagunitas Pils or Middlebury, Vemont's Woodchuck Amber cider. Like the veggies, they have a fresh lightness that can cut through all those disparate flavors like a Bangalore torpedo through barbed-wire.  Now, that we've gotten through the baptism by fire, take a look around you at your unit—how's everybody doing. How's Gramps looking? Is that second glass of White Zinfandel getting to Aunt Peg, yet? You're doing fine—check your gear and get ready, that first assault was just the warm up—it's about to get serious.

The appetizers are going to feel like a walk in the park next to dinner. There's nothing light about a turkey dinner with all the fixins', it's a whirlwind of flavors and textures—roasted, sweet, creamy, herbaceous, sticky, buttery and starchy. If there was a lot going on earlier, it's going to get really chaotic when the turkey comes out. Don't forget, you're going to get flanked from the left and the right when stuff starts getting passed around the table, too. We're going to need a good position in defilade for this attack—something that can compete with a full-on, armored assault of flavor. I'm going with IPA. Just like turkey day's ubiquitous cranberry sauce, American IPAs have a slightly sweet, citric and astringent quality that can level the odds. My two recent go-to IPAs have been Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery and California's Bear Republic Racer 5 IPAs. Both beers have a great, sharp bitterness, a mild maltiness and the perfect blend of the classic American C hops (Centennial, Cascade, Columbus and Chinook), giving them both the right amount of citrus zing to push back the onslaught that is Thanksgiving dinner.

You're hardened now, a Thanksgiving veteran. The dinner has been wiped out, but the platoon has taken some heavy losses. Your Dad is sound asleep on the couch, with the button on his pants undone, and your Mom is like the walking wounded doing the dishes in the kitchen—but you can't stop now. You've got to contain and neutralize the enemy, and they're hold up in a sticky area called—dessert. Mount up grunt, you've got point.

Dessert—the last patrol. Mop this up and you'll be free and clear—but don't do anything stupid at this point. A spiced up winter brew or something cloying and sweet is going to pin you down and knock you out. Pumpkin and apple pie, bread pudding, ice cream—all spiced, creamy and rich. It's been a tough assault, I know you're thinking "Why not just go with a cup of coffee?" To that I ask, "would Patton just go with a cup of coffee?" Hell no and you won't either! Coffee is good inspiration, though, what about a beer that emulates coffee, like a Robust Porter? Two beers jump out at me for this job—New Hampshire's Smuttynose and Pennsylvania's Stoudt's. Both of these Porters are defiantly black and roasty, they put even the most gourmet coffee bean to shame. Their bittersweet flavor and smoothness is perfect to go up against mountains of pies, puddings and cakes. They'll keep all that sticky sweetness at bay without losing any ground.

A quiet stillness falls over you. It's over and you've won. Tired relatives slowly pull their coats on and head for the door. The kids trudge upstairs for bedtime and the embers of the evening's fire crackle over the low drone of cars leaving your driveway. You wipe the crumbs from the corner of your mouth and do a silent perimeter walk through the house. All is clear and quiet as you take your last sip of beer. You can rest now, soldier, but don't forget, Operation Mistletoe commences in thirty-one days.

To those who celebrate it, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Live and Learn

I really wanted to like it. I mean, I really wanted to like it. It's not like I haven't had a beer cocktail before—always a big thumbs up for the Beergarita—but this was different. Conceptually it's a great—what's not to like? Practically, however, it misses the mark. What amazes me is, its popularity both in Canada and Mexico—albeit in two slightly different versions. I even consulted a bona fide Canadian on the appropriate proportions—How much of this? How much of that? On the other hand, maybe it is not the problem, maybe I am. It's not so much bad, but disappointing. It's like that one gift you desperatley want for Christmas and when the big day comes, you end up with socks, or a tie, or a book about Margaret Thatcher. I think I might have built it up in my mind to be something it never could have been—the best of both worlds—and my high-hopes were dashed by a thin, fizzy bastard-child.

I don't know, and I might be totally off-base, but count me out the next time on beer and tomato juice.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Huh? Wha?

I've decide to keep running with the American adjunct lager theme a bit longer. Whereas my last post was about the greatness of the American adjunct, "heritage" lager, this one is about the exact opposite—shitty American macro lager. You've gotta take the good with the bad, and this one involves the baddest of them all. This past Wednesday, ABInBev announced Bud Light Platinum. I first saw this mid-week on Lew Bryson's blog, Seen Through a Glass, but it keeps popping up in my Google News stories, too—so I delved a little deeper. Available next year, the newest member of the Bud Light family will boast a 6% ABV and, according to an AB InBev spokesperson, it “appeals to a key group of beer drinkers and expands consumer occasions.”

To which I repeat, "Huh? Wha?"

It's blue, so it has to be good.
First off, 6% and 137 calories, does not a light beer make. Secondly, "...expands consumer occasions,” is garbley gook. That dude could have said "appeals to a key group of beer drinkers and expands purple unicorn farts..." and it would have made just as much sense.

I've heard some scuttlebutt that this is ABInBev's attempt to break into the upstart craft beer market or that this is going to be a tequila-flavored, light beer alternative—personally I think the later is more likely. I understand that the big boys have taken a hit in the last year or two and craft beer is gaining in the market, but what I don't get is—why compete with yourself? Bud Light came out in 1982 and immediately robbed market share from the original Budweiser. Okay, I can live with that, light beers were the thing and a shit ton were coming on the market in the early eighties—fair enough. Now however, you've got Budweiser Select, Budweiser Select 55, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Golden Wheat, and now Bud Light Platinum—All "light" beers. Each one of these "styles" is stealing market share from each other—how do you sustain that? No wonder why sales slipped in 2010.

Does any of this smack of the American car industry, say, back in 2005—those heady days of shitty products and over extending? ABInBev can tell us that Bud Light Platinum will expand consumer occasions, whatever that means, but who are they trying to fool, us or themselves?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Slumming It

We all know beer has only four ingredients—water, malted barley, hops and yeast—right? Those are the time honored and accepted building blocks—the true basis for the beery primordial ooze, as it were. Except it's not, and it hasn't been, for a very long time. The Brits and Belgians have used sugar in brewing for ages; while pumpkin, molasses, wheat, oats, and fruits of all kinds, defiantly dance on the grave of the Reinheitsgebot, as well. Yet, the word adjunct has taken on a negative connotation, especially when it's bookended with two other words—American and lager. Whereas at one time American adjunct lagers—like the Bushwick Pilsners of Brooklyn—were the apex of U.S. brewing, they've now been reduced to the beery equivalent of slumming it. My post about Schaefer, in this month's Session, got me thinking about American adjunct lager and their history, so I thought I'd expand on the theme a bit.

American adjunct lager has become the epitome of bad brewing. The phrase alone implies sweet, mass produced, low-brow swill or flavorless, light-in-calories, DWIs in a silver can. The big boys of American brewing have done a phenomenal job insuring that quality won't ever interfere with profit margin. All that cutting of cost has done the lowly American adjunct lager a disservice.

What's funny about that is, adjuncts have always played a part in American brewing—especially corn. Why? Let's take a look at some numbers—in 2010 The U.S. produced 4.9 million metric tons of barley. Between 2010 and 2011 it was estimated that about 2.9 million acres of barley were planted, or approximately 2% of the country's total crop area. How about corn? That's a little different—In 2010, the U.S. produced 331 million metric tons, or if you like, 12.1 billion bushels, of corn. That's 39% of the world's corn crop. Corn is America and therefore brewing with corn is American. It's obvious why corn became the go to grain for American brewing—it's here and there's a lot of it! We've been giving it out for a long time, as well. Take a look at British brewing records prior to the Second World War, they were rife with "maize." The only thing to interrupt that trend was the Kriegsmarine and their pesky U-Boats sinking supply ships coming from North America—ladened with corn, mind you—in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Aldoph Hilter forced British brewers to move away from corn, not some yearning to return to traditional and "proper" brewing stuffs of yesteryear.

While the big boys have exploited corn, smaller, regional breweries have embraced corn as part of their character. These "heritage" brewers have used corn for decades—it was part of their grist 100 years ago and it's part of their grist today. Historically, regional lager breweries, in the U.S., were as much a part of the make-up of their cities and towns, as their streets, parks and baseball teams were. Brands like Iron City, Old Style, Schmidt, Rainier, Old Dutch and Monticello, dotted the American landscape. These breweries and their communities were linked and, their identities became almost synonymous. Narragansett was Providence, Rhode Island's beer, and if you were in Providence, you drank Narragansett. Regional breweries supported local economies and their communities supported them. These breweries provided not only jobs, but also a way to relax after work. Here in Albany NY, Dan O'Connell—architect and puppet master of Albany's Democratic machine from the early 1920s to the late 1970s—also owned Hedrick Brewing Company. Rest assured, every bar, restaurant and distributor in the city carried that brand of beer in the 1940s and 50s.

As time marched on, many of those local or regional breweries went the way of the dodo, or changed their recipes—usually as a result of a buyout—to compete with the über-brewers. The beloved U.S., regional breweries of the 1940s, 50s and 60s—like Ballantine, Blatz, Hamm, Rheingold and Strohs—would never be the same. Although, some are still available, those that are, are shells of their former selves— having been bought and sold time and time again. Most of those heritage lagers are now being brewed in towns and cities far from those that they helped build. While most have changed or disappeared, a few still continue to operate. I took some time out to sample two of those rare, regional American adjunct lagers—Utica Club Pilsener Lager Beer from Utica, New York and Dixie Beer, hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana.

North: West End Brewery,
Utica, NY
Utica Club is brewed by F.X. Matt Brewing Company—also known as Saranac Brewery and/or the West End Brewing Company—the second oldest, single family-owned brewery in the country. They've been in the Central New York beer biz for nearly 160 years— and U.C. has been in their fermenters since 1883 and was the first beer sold in the United States after prohibition. Arguably, the most famous aspect of Utica Club are it's iconic, animated beer steins "Schultz and Dooley," first introduced in the late 1950s.

South: The deserted Dixie Brewery,
New Orleans, LA
Dixie Beer, however, is a bit of an anomaly. The Dixie Brewing Company has been operating since 1907, brewing it's flag ship beer, Dixie. Mother nature interupted that stretch when the historic brewery, on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans, was essentially destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005—looters even stole the copper brewing kettles in the aftermath of the devastation. The brewery remains off-line, however, Dixie and the brewery's other three beers—Blackened Voodoo, Crimson Voodoo and Jazz Amber—are still being made by the brewery's owners, under contract at Joseph Huber Brewing (brewer's of another well-known, mid-western regional beer, Rhinelander) recently re-named Minhaus Craft Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin. Even an act of God can't seem to keep ol' Dixie down.

Both beers poured, as expected, a bright and lively golden-yellow with giant dollops of white foam for a head. They looke exactly like every beer, ever illustrated for print advertisements in 1950s LIFE magazines. Both also smelled remarkably similar—grainy with a noticeable waft of sweet corn. Appearance and aroma is where the similarity ends. The Dixie was quite sweet—almost flowery—with a buttered bread finish. It has a grassy and earthy hop note with a slight citrus quality, as well. The U.C. was far drier, with a noticeable corny, cereal quality—a bit starchy—like dried pasta, in a good way. It has almost no discernible bitterness, with just the slightest, musty, hop flavor. Both, are most definitely corny and if you're in the mood—quite tasty. I have to admit something about these two beers. I have a soft spot in my heart for both of them. Utica Club could be the first beer I ever drank, and I'm fairly sure I kept the brewery business in, during the early 1990s, and my time at school, in Rochester, NY. Flash forward ten years—I spent two-weeks drinking nothing but Dixie in southern Louisiana, while on my honeymoon with Amy. Dixie is truly the perfect beer to drink while sucking crawfish heads or chowing down on a plate of étouffée.

Love them or hate them, American adjunct lagers are what American brewing was, and quite honestly is. Just as Bitter, Burton and Mild were the bedrock of British brewing—bright, German-style lagers augmented with the most abundant grain in North America is the platform from which the American brewing industry was launched. Whether you like it or not, as Americans, we're as corny as Kansas in August—and so is our beer.

Monday, November 7, 2011

And the Winner Is...

If it weren't for arn, proprietor of Blood, Stout and Tears, the International Stout Day Haiku Contest could have been a complete flop. He swooped in, at the last minute, to deliver this gem:
Stunning, absolutley stunning.

     vanilla slips in
     dark magic takes hold of me
     roasted bliss deepens

Amazing. Truly inspiring—It brings a tear to my eye, every time I read it. It's heart wrenching and delicious at the same time. On to the prizes...

Tell him what he's won Johnny!

Well, Craig! Arn will be dubbed "poet laureate" of drinkdrank from now until the next International (insert beer style) Day Haiku Contest is offered! International Beer Day is in August, 2012, so maybe he'll keep the title until then? That is unless, somebody comes up with another
International (insert beer style) Day, between now and then—which is a pretty good possibility. 

And that's not all!

He'll also recieve—THIS BRAND NEW PINT GLASS!!! (waits for applause to die down) That's right Craig, this handsome, pint glass, emblazoned with the Evans Ale/Albany Pump Station logo completes any glassware collection—and it's capable of holding 16 full ounces! Beautiful and useful!

Wow. I Poet laureate for an undetermined amount of time and a pint glass representing an Albany, NY brew pub. That's some fancy-ass swag.

Remember that the next time an International (insert beer style) Day Haiku contest comes up.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Session 57: The One Beer to Have When Your Having More Than One

There's nothing like the internet for confessions. I don't know you, you don't know me—let me tell you all my dirty little secrets—that's never gotten anybody into hot water, right? While I'll freely admit to my reader(s) that I dream about being tied up while someone throws mini gherkins at me, my beery confession might chip away a little more at my amenity.

I love Schaefer Beer. There, I said it. Actually I'm fond of most American regional, "heritage," adjunct lagers and ales—like Genessee, Utica Club, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz—but Schaefer is still king in my book.

Maybe it's because it was the official beer of the Brooklyn Dodgers—with it's distinctive white script font, emblazoned on Ebbets Field's illuminated scoreboard—A Real Hit! A Real Beer! The H would light up for a hit, and the E for an error. Maybe it's because Schaefer was once brewed in Albany—F&M Schaefer bought Albany's Beverwyck Brewing Co. in 1950 and expanded its operation from Brooklyn into upstate New York. In fact, a friend just found an old Schaefer can from the 1970s entombed in the wall of a restroom in the New York State Museum—where I work. A new Museum building was built when they erected the Empire State Plaza, and was completed in mid seventies. One of the workmen must have left it there thinking it would never be found. The restrooms were renovated this past summer and, lo and behold, there it was.

Ebbets Field's scoreboard
I think the real reason I love it is, it's just the quintessential American beer—simple and good. For all of craft beer's wonderful qualities—from their handmade roots, to their unique ingredients and experimentations—there's just something about the crack and hiss of Schaefer can. That gold and red can represents, to me, baseball and barbecues, warm summer evenings with the hum of the cicadas ebbing and flowing. It's not the greatest beer ever made, although it is quite satisfying, but it has a sense of history behind it. It's a beer that, as Americans, our fathers and grandfathers drank. Schaefer raised war bonds during World War II and sponsored a summer music festival in Manhattan's Central Park—The Schaefer Music Festival— during the 1960s and 70s. It featured acts, over it's nearly ten year run, like The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys and The Doors. Schaefer and American culture are indelibly intertwined. Schaefer Beer is America—pure and simple.

For all the Dogfish Head, BrewDog, New Belgium and uncountable other craft beer I will drink over my lifetime, I will now and forever drink that one beer to have when your having more than one.

Friday, November 4, 2011

We Are the 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Occupy a barstool
I heard this on American Public Riadio's Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal. He was doing a piece about how the craze that's sweepin' the nation—the Occupy movement—has helped out a local business in Oakland California. Bartender and bar manager Zhiva Kirschanski, of downtown Oakland's Radio Bar, said this, in a phone interview on the radio show, about what happened at his bar during the protest.
It was pretty much packed out the door from the minute we opened til 2 a.m. And I did so much business that I literally ran out of every single beer in the place! That’s pretty epic, to say the least.
So, remember this if A) you are thinking about opening a bar in Oakland or B) are outraged at our financial system and also want a beer. It's funny, though, didn't the riots on October 30th also start around 2 in the morning. That has to be completely coincidental, right?