Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Santa's Private Reserve

I wish it was Christmas today … so this review wasn’t a few days behind the calendar. Oregon’s Rogue Ales brews both outlandish beers - Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale - and the slightly more traditional such as Dead Guy Ale. On this late December night, I’ve got a single bottle of the red ale Santa’s Private Reserve. (Thanks, Grace!)

Pouring, the color’s a little bright for “coppery,” so let’s go with vermillion. As you’d expect, the aroma carries both malt and pine, but if I try really hard, I can pick up a little rose and honey.

Santa’s Private Reserve is definitely a hoppy beer, and true to the season, leans toward spruce. The “green” dominates, but malt’s there in the background and a little hay too. I get a different bitter on the tip and the back of tongue, but neither lingers, quickly washing away until the next sip.

If you love chewy beers, you might argue Santa’s Private Reserve is a little low on flavor for a Christmas beer. I’m going to come at it from the other side and say that Santa’s has holiday zip, but isn’t so thick, spicy or alcohol “hot” that you have to stop at one. 6% ALC

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Scaldis Noël

So, this is Christmas … and I’m visiting Mom in Iowa. This particular bottle of Scaldis Noël made it from Belgian brewer Brasserie Dubuisson to Florida (Thanks, Bryan!) to here in the snowy Midwest in my checked baggage. In Europe, this beer is sold under the name “Bush” instead of “Scaldis,” but methinks someone in the USA already owns a very similar trademark.

The label calls Noël Scaldis “a brilliant red amber ale” and the brewery’s website promises a beer made just for the Christmas season with only four ingredients - hops, malt, candy sugar (big crystals of table sugar), and water. A wintery brew, Scaldis Noël also has an alcohol content of 12 percent.

On the pour, this holiday beer has a large light-tan head. Beneath that, a clear, coppery, almost-orange brew with a malty aroma that also has some hoppy fruitiness.

I’m splitting this 11.2 ounce bottle with Mom … who asks if I’m calling her “Mom” in this review or using her actual name. So, Rosemary says the beer tastes like maraschino cherry, which I hadn’t been able to nail down more specifically that “fruity.” Expanding on that, I’ll say Scaldis Noël has the almond essence of a liqueur, caramel sweet with a lot of alcohol heat too.

Says Rosemary – It’s like a dessert to me it’s so sweet, but it does feel like a holiday drink.  John now – I’ll back that up. The sweetness and high alcohol content make it unlikely you’ll drink more than one Scaldis Noël in an evening, but it’s warming on a cold Midwest night and feels Christmas-y without being a novelty.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wait, There's Two Versions of That Song?

Children of the '80s know well that in 1983, Daryl Hall and John Oates remade the classic Bobby Helms Christmas hit "Jingle Bell Rock" ... but did you realize that for all these years, you've been hearing two versions of the song?

Here's the one you probably hear most with Daryl on lead vocals ...

Then, there's also a version with John at the mic.

I guess that explains why neither one of them does much lip-synching in the video. Jump both versions to the 1:30 mark to see where they go off on their own paths.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Jubilation/Celebration Ale

I promised I’d dive into holiday beers, so how about two?  One you’ll probably be able to find at the supermarket. The other called to me from the shelf at Total Wine. Someone had abandoned a single bottle in the wrong aisle. In the spirit of charity, I took the orphan home ... and drained it.

Jubilation Ale from Baird Beer (Japan)

Baird Beer was started by a husband-and-wife team in Numazu, Japan along Suruga Bay. Since 2000, a small brewhouse and restaurant has grown into several taprooms and a commercial brewery. Among the beers they make is Jubilation Ale, flavored with figs and cinnamon, meant for welcoming the new year.

Jubilation pours reddish-brown with a head of large bubbles that fades by half, but then stays. Specks of (I assume) fig fleck the beer, hanging in the glass without sinking.

Jubilation is sweet and malty, very much a wintry brown ale. The pulpy bits make it almost velvety. I don’t taste the cinnamon at all. What I get of the fig is more of an aftertaste, a cleanness that powers malt off the tastebuds and keeps it from cloying. Interesting, but I’d like to taste more of what’s on the label. 7% ALC

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

I wrote about another wet-hopped ale a few weeks back. Basically, they’re made with the first fresh hops of the season – less than a day out of the field -- instead of the dried hops used by many all year long. Wet-hopped ales are generally even more piney that IPAs and often lemony. Sierra Nevada considers theirs as a Christmas brew.

Celebration is a clear copper in the glass with a sturdy white head and , of coursem a strong aroma of hops. The flavor is very resiny with hints of clean citrus and tea. The beer also has a malty backbone that keeps the hops in balance and not overpoweringly green. This is a balanced brew that’s wintry without diving into novelty ingredients to get the job done. 6.8% ALC

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout (Part II)

Yep, it works! (See Part I)

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout

Just as October brings pumpkin spice in your glass, December means “fun” ingredients like cinnamon and gingerbread and juniper. I’ll get to some of those brews before the 25th, but this Sunday, it's a seasonal milk stout from Terrapin Beer in Athens, GA, flavored with cocoa shells, cocoa nibs, and a bit of vanilla.

I'd like to embed a clip from Terrapin's Head Brewer here, but it's hidden on the YouTube channel even tho it plays on Terrapin's own site. If you really feel it's worth it, cut and paste this ...

So you’re new to milk stouts? They’re dark and roasty like “regular” stouts such as Guinness. The twist is that lactose (aka milk sugar) is added early on, a sugar that yeast can’t digest into alcohol and bubbles. The result is milk stouts come out sweeter and thicker. Adding cocoa is Terrapin's twist.

On the pour, Moo-Hoo is impenetrably dark with a tan frothy head like a root beer float. You can smell both the dark-roasted grain and the cocoa sweetness. The chocolate flavor is right up front, but also a smoky something is pushing its way through the coffee roastiness.

Sure, it’s a novelty to add chocolate to a milk stout, but someone had to be the first to make sour-cream-and-onion potato chips too. The chocolate flavor is very integrated here, not gimmicky, and the dairy sweetness and mouthfeel aren't overpowering or syrupy as they can be in some other milk stouts.

Moo-Hoo is a little heavy for a night of pints, but a bottle would fit right along side a spicy winter chili. You could also try it as dessert beer. I know some genius must have already floated a scoop of vanilla in a pint glass. You know what? Check back later tonight ... (ALC 6%)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Spotted Cow Ale

This week, I’m digging in the back of the Norge icebox for another bottle from New Glarus Brewing. The stuff’s usually only found within a few miles of the Wisconsin border, but my brother disguised a few as a box of chocolate-chip cookies and got them to the Sunshine State.

Spotted Cow Ale is cask-conditioned, so it’s yeasty/cloudy in the bottle – although not as foggy as I expected. It pours a pale straw yellow with not much of a head and just the barest aromas of corn and apple. It’s lightly carbonated – sweet, but still crisp on the finish. The corn flavor is forward, but there’s also that bready touch from the barley and malt.

Some beery folk might be underwhelmed because Spotted Cow doesn’t kick you in the teeth with hops or rye or coffee chocolate malts. Where it breaks away from the six-pack is the execution. The flavors are rounded and the harshness of many supermarket beers just isn’t there. So, I guess what I'm saying is that Spotted Cow is a mild American lager done properly. 4.8% ALC.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why Don't I Hear This Anymore?

Paul McCartney's "Press" was his first single of the '80s (1986, to be exact) that didn't crack the Top 20 in America. Still ... why don't I hear this anymore?

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Budweiser Brewmasters’ Project 12

This last spring, Budweiser revealed it had asked the brewmasters at its twelve American plants to come up with new “tribute” beers. Now, the brewmasters didn’t get to go completely crazy. The rule from on high was that they had to stick to “all-natural” ingredients, the beers had to be lagers, and they had to use the same proprietary yeast as regular Bud.

Internally, those dozen brews were reduced to six and after taste tests around the country, three beers remained. That trio is now in supermarkets as a special 12-pack, four bottles of each. They’re named for the zip codes where they started. (Your actual bottles might have come from whichever brewery is closest to you or had the room to brew.)

Batch 63118 (St. Louis): The label promises a golden pilsner brewed with the kind of hops used during the 19th century at the St. Louis Anheuser-Busch brewery (Hallertau and Tettnang). The label also promises 6% ALC. (Regular American Bud is 5%.)

Poured into a pint glass, 63118 is a yellow-tan with a faint malty aroma. A few sips confirm it’s maltier and deeper than regular Bud, but not by much. Those touted hops are buried. There’s a little sour-sharp-floral edge, but nothing I’d call “hoppy.” Finishing sweet, Batch 63118 might hint at what a Budweiser was like around 1885, but beyond that, it’s not memorable.

Batch 91406 (Los Angeles): This time, we get a “deep amber lager brewed with two-row and caramel malts and finished on beechwood chips.” The Bud website also reveals four types of hops and 6% ALC.

91405 is a brassy amber in the glass with (yes, again) a faint malty aroma. It’s got a slighty richer flavor and mouthfeel that Budweiser, and definitely more browned malty flavor … but that’s because regular Bud doesn’t have any of that. Batch 91406 comes off as a poser - just not distinctive or memorable or flavorful as even Budweiser's attempt to take away Yuengling shelf space, Budweiser American Ale.

Batch 23185 (Virginia): I’m expecting the most from this one. It’s aged on bourbon staves and vanilla beans, so it should at least taste like that stuff, right?

The brew pours about the same color as 91406 with just the barest whiff of vanilla. It’s creamy going down and there’s definitely that hit of ‘nilla, but the bourbon essence is so mild as to get lost behind the already-mild malts. At most, it comes off as caramel. Batch 23185 has the same sweet finish as 63118 and 91406, but it makes more sense here. 5.5% ALC.

The bourbon-vanilla is the best of the three, but don’t expect true craft beers. Budweiser loyalists will probably groove on the trio because they’re all variations on the same Buddy tune. If you’re not a Budweiser drinker, you probably won’t like them for the same reason.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Lucky Buddha Beer

As I understand, Buddha was not a fan of alcohol, but the enlightened one doesn’t have a team of lawyers on retainer, so … Lucky Buddha Beer! The bottle is an eye-catcher, the kind of thing that will hold a place of honor in frats and dorms across America. It’s heavy green glass with The Teacher smiling right at you, delighted you chose him over cotton candy-flavored vodka.

Originally brewed in Australia -- Lucky Buddha now comes from the Hangzhou Qiandaohu Beer Company in China –which is partially owned by Japanese brewer Kirin. After all that world travel, I could use a beer.

Lucky Buddha pours a very, very pale yellow with a thin, white head. Somewhere between a Bud and a Heineken, Lucky B is so mild as to be almost flavorless. Coming from China, it’s a very ricey brew with just the faintest hint of malted barley. At the finish, a lingering alkaline finish like a pinch of baking soda.

Lucky Buddha is just a novelty beer, nothing awful, but nothing special either … and at $10 a sixer from Target, not worth trying more than once. The Lucky Buddha bottle feels hefty, which makes me wonder which costs more to ship from China’s eastern coast – the little hollow statues or the beer inside.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Moa Breakfast Beer

No one flinches if Sunday brunch features a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar or all-you-can-stomach mimosas, but print “breakfast” on a beer bottle and get ready for trouble. When Moa, a New Zealand brewery, started Breakfast Beer in 2011, it was accused of “normalizing pathological behavior.” Of course, Moa could have just named the beer something else, but then there wouldn’t have been hundreds of articles and blog posts (like this one) all over the world, giving Moa free publicity.

Moa was founded by winemaker Josh Scott and that background inspires his beers. Many are bottle-conditioned, so there’s some yeasty sediment or “lees.” With Breakfast Beer, Moa says it “can either be poured carefully off the lees or alternatively with the lees mixed in if a stronger yeast character is desired.” Let’s go with “stronger,” shall we?

First, you pop the cork on the 12.7-ounce bottle. (5.5% ALC, BTW) I definitely smell the cherry essence that was promised, and worryingly, a little skunk. Very pale straw color on the pour with frothy white head – and cloudy, since I did my best to kick up that deceased yeast.

It’s got a thicker mouthfeel than I anticipated - not sugary sweet, but not bone-dry either. I can’t decide whether the vibe is more “cherry” or “cherry candy.” For better or worse, it’s going to remind some drinkers of cough drops. It’s definitely a wheat beer. I also get hints of banana, raspberry, and (despite the green bottle) a hint of skunk funk.

Moa Breakfast Beer is interesting and makes me curious to try other more conventional beers in the line, but I'm not sold that this is anything more than a novelty - fun once, but once might me enough. The next time you’re having migas or hash and eggs on a late Sunday morning and want a little something along side, I’d suggest a Guinness or a freshly-made michelada.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest

I remember Sierra Nevada as my first IPA. This is back when India Pale Ales and that green/weedy/lemony thing were a novelty to most Americans. Now, I dare say, there’s a hops explosion in the world of non-supermarket beer.

It only makes sense that Sierra Nevada also introduces me to “wet hops” beers. Usually, IPAs are brewed with dried flower clusters of Humulus Lupulus. (Yeah, I googled it.) You know, those things on the beer label that look like pine cones. Sierra Nevada swears this Northern Hemisphere Harvest is made with hops that are in the brewery within 24 hours of picking. In other words, this is a once-a-year beer.

On the pour, you get a dark-tan ale with a hint of red and a sturdy off-white head. (When I first poured, I swear I saw a hint of green, but that must be wishful thinking.) The aroma is hoppy, as you’d expect, with a powerful citrus note.

What I taste is an exceptionally-grassy IPA – almost, but not quite, bitter to the point of unpleasantness. There’s serious lemon notes, a little black tea bitterness, maybe even rose, black pepper ... and hops, hops, hops. Malt sweetness cuts the green, but there’s serious resin here.

As Frank’s RedHot is to Tabasco, so is Sierra Nevada IPA to Northern Hemisphere Harvest. This shouldn’t be your first IPA, but if you’re not getting the same rush you felt from your first time, Northern Hemisphere is an interesting novelty. 6.7% ALC

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Short Takes

I just got back from a work trip to the Hartford, CT area, so instead of shopping for some exotic brew made with candy corn and huckleberries, I’m going with short takes on stuff I’ve got in my Norge and in my memory. (This’ll probably take me longer than if I just stuck to one beer, but it seems brilliant an hour ago.)

Fat Squirrel Ale from New Glarus Brewing

Fat Squirrel is #2 of the four beers my brother “imported” for me from Wisconsin. I’m not much of a brown ale guy, but this one has the malt and slight heaviness you expect of a winter brown, without the cloying sweetness you get in some. New Glarus calls out a hazelnut note – and I can taste it too -- from barley malt in the mix with five other Wisconsin malts.

Lost Sailor IPA from Berkshire Brewing Company

While on this work trip, I walked into the sports bar in my Springfield, MA hotel and spotted taps marked BBC. “No way this can be my beloved Bluegrass Brewing Company in Louisville,” thought I. This "BBC" is Berkshire Brewing Company, based in South Deerfield.

Here’s the notes from my iPod – “Went for IPA. If hoppy, hard to be disPonted. Crazy expensive at hotl bar. Yes, hoppy – but also grassy n fresh astringent tea finish. Clean wheaty note. Served cold cold – not overly hoppy, done right for reg drinkers, not hop fiends.”

Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus from Anheuser-Busch InBev

Like anyone who enjoys actual BEER, I steer clear of both light and “lite” beers, but someone - whom I genuinely can’t remember - said I should try this stuff. The best I can offer is that it isn’t as horrid as abominations like Smirnoff Ice. (BTW, did you know that in most of the rest of the world, Smirnoff Ice is made with Smirnoff vodka instead of filtered malt liquor? Drink up, yankee!)

Back to “lime cactus”… I inhaled the aroma of the poured glass for a good thirty seconds, trying to place that citrusy smell. Then, it hit me. It smells just like the store-brand liquid soap I put in my dishwasher! The taste isn’t beery either – more like if you made weak lime Kool-Aid with fizzy water and no sugar. I guess I’d drink it again if there wasn’t even a Miller High Life (ah, memories), but I’d keep my hand over the label.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew

OK, before we get started on this specialty beer from Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware, some soundtrack music…

Sony asked Dogfish to create this blended beer a couple years back for the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’ classic jazz-rock fusion album of the same name. From what I can piece together by reading the label and a little Googling, Bitches Brew is a stout cut with honey beer and flavored with gesho (an aromatic African root used to flavor beer much like Europeans use hops). Dogfish used Miles’ chili recipe as a guide. They wanted this beer to pair with it.

The brew comes in an almost-wine-sized bottle and pours darker than Guinness. I mean NO light is getting through this stuff. The head is the color of a strong latte and the aroma is roast grain, coffee, and just a little soy sauce.

The first sip is thick and sharp, but not sour. Those roasty and chocolate flavors are right up front with a little anise in the honeyed finish. I also get vanilla and, no lie, redeye gravy. Bitches Brew doesn’t present like a blend, but a well-rounded stout with a sweet, milky finish.

I’ve never tasted gesho before, but I see it described as “earthy” and “herby.” Maybe that’s the vague chicory flavor I get or it could just be the abundance of roasted grains.

So, am I going to try and wrap up by finding a ham-handed analogy that just maybe fits both the beer and the music? You bet! Bitches Brew isn’t for everyone. Some are going to find it unpleasant or even repellant, but start off with just a little and see if it grows on you over an hour or so. You might be rewarded … or just miss your Guinness and Diana Krall. (I enjoy both of those too.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City Brewing

Cigar City Brewing usually names its beers to mark a bit of Tampa Bay history. I've previously reviewed Tocobaga Red Ale -- named for the vanished Native Americans who lived in Tampa Bay before the Spanish and Europeans -- but that was back when this blog was just a Facebook thing. (I'll dig it up and repost soon.)

Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA commemorates a much smaller bit of vanished history – the frontons for that sport with the basket and the ball that can travel well over 150 mph. St. Pete still has an amateur court, but I believe the closest pro matches are in Orlando.

Enough history, I’ve got a beer sitting in front of me. Jai Alai IPA pours honey tan with just a slight haze. The head’s a sturdy half-inch with a bit of that root-beer-float look across the top. The whiff is definitely hoppy/piney. Let’s dive in.

That first pop of bitter is followed by a sweet fullness. Some call the fruity essence “orange” or “pineapple, but it’s apricot or even peach for me. Yes, a lot of folks (particularly Americans) love their hoppy IPAs, but Jai Alai has a complexity that many others don’t. It’s not just a blast of green. The bitter hit reminds me of black tea and the malt is forward enough that the hops don't smother.

With its light carbonation and easy drinking, Jai Alai doesn’t go down 150-mph fast, but beware… that smoothness hides the heat of 7.5% ALC.

Jai Alai IPA is tough to find outside of Florida, but there is hope. The brewery (out by the Tampa airport) just started putting Jai Alai in cans – making it cheaper and easier to ship longer distances. There’s no music with the video below of the new canning line, so start the second video first as my personal soundtrack recommendation.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Two Women Lager

New Glarus Brewing doesn’t distribute outside its home state of Wisconsin, so if you’re a transplanted Floridian like me, you need a connection. In my case, it’s a brother who’ll wrap single bottles of four different New Glarus brews in bubble wrap. (Hi, Bob!) I’ll get to Spotted Cow, Moon Man, and Fat Squirrel in the coming weeks. For now, they taunt me from the top shelf of the Kenmore.

Two Women Lager gets its name from New Glarus Brewing Company’s Founder Deb Carey and Co-President of Weyermann Malting (in Bamberg, Germany) Sabine Weyermann.

As far back as ancient Mesopotamia and up through colonial America, brewing was often the responsibility of women. Men mostly took over as brewing moved from the home and the village to an international industrial process.

Two Women pours the color of coppery cream soda with a tight white head and an aroma of bready malts. The mouthfeel is rich, but not thick. I taste an apple essence (some folks call it “grassy’) or maybe it’s lactic. Not sour really, just a brightness to put an edge on the malt and cooked grain. I also get a faint, faint hoppy bit of bitter – just barely there.

New Glarus sells this “classic country lager” year ‘round. While I would guess its origins are based in autumn brews, Two Women is light enough for summer and sturdy enough for winter … and I’m talking Wisconsin winter. If you've got Wisconsinite family, tell them to get busy with the bubble wrap.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Beer Spotlight: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

I’m always confused by how quickly pumpkin beers hit the shelves in the fall. If the pumpkins are being harvested right now, how did they get in the beer that’s in the supermarket right now? Plus, they tend to taste more like cinnamon toothpaste than grandma’s pumpkin pie.

Surprisingly, I’ve got good things to say about Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, produced by Delaware’s first brewpub.

I like Dogfish Head’s pumpkin beer over others I’ve tried because it tastes like beer … and not like a spice rack. The malts are in balance with -- instead of being overwhelmed by -- the cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. More surprising (to me) is that I’m not a brown ale fan. They can be heavy and sweet, but even with organic brown sugar added, this one’s got a little bite. I’m going to guess that the pumpkin meat Dogfish Head adds in the mash cuts the “sweet.”

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale pours the color of, well, pumpkin butter and the aroma carries the promise of all those spices without slapping you in the face. It's subtle enough to be more than an autumn novelty, even deserving of a second or third bottle, but beware. At 7% ABV, this great pumpkin could sneak up on you.