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.