Sunday, April 27, 2014

Kona Brewing Castaway IPA Beer Review

I was really surprised – delighted too – when I spotted KonaBrewing’s India Pale Ale here in Florida.  Kona’s been selling Pipeline Porter and Longboard Lager and Fire Rock Pale Ale on the mainland for years, but Castaway IPA was brewed and sold only in Hawaii. Kinda funny considering the (maybe) origin story of India pale ales is that all those hops kept beer from spoiling on cargo ships.

BTW, my six-pack of bottles probably came from one of Kona’s partner brewers in Oregon, Washington state, or New Hampshire.

IPAs are, of course, known for a green, piney flavor that some folks love … and some do not. IPA drinkers like to say that various varieties of hops can impart flavors of citrus or apricot or peach. Kona’s own label suggests Castaway IPA has notes of mango and passion fruit. Let’s see.

In a pint glass, Castaway IPA pours a clear golden yellow with a quickly-disappearing head. It’s a very hoppy aroma, as you’d expect. Maybe it’s my own associations of Hawaii, but I come up with hints of pineapple and lemon.

On first taste, it’s (yes) hoppy, but also light and bright. Citrusy, but still with a bit of the malt able to rise through. Maybe it’s the marketing, but I want to say it tastes “tropical” without nailing down any particular fruit. Bitterness is low, but it’s not overly sweet either.

A little Googling suggests Kona Brewing has tweaked the recipe a bit from the original “draft-only” recipe – played with the varieties of hops and dropped the alcohol content just a bit to 6%. That’s OK by me. I can imagine a cooler of Castaway IPA coming in handy whether you’re in Kehei or Cocoa Beach.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Yuengling Summer Wheat Beer Review

I drink Yuengling because it’s a cheap date. It’s not amazing beer, but it’s more malty and less watery than Bud or Miller or Coors. For the same price – a buck a bottle -- it’s the best deal in the supermarket. Plus, I live in Florida and our Yuengling is brewed in Tampa, so technically, it’s local.

Yuengling Summer Wheat is a little pricier, $7.50 for a sixer, but let’s give it this new seasonal a go. It’s a hefeweizen, so if a bar stocks it on draft, it’s probably going to come with an orange slice like Tucher or Blue Moon. I’m drinking it naked (as far as you know).

It pours surprisingly cloudy, not a bad thing, with a tight quarter-inch head. This certainly smells like a hefeweizen with that banana/spice whiff you expect – plus, a bit of roasted malt. The flavor is right up there with other hefeweizens – the clove, the banana. I also get a tiny unexpected citrus/apricot tang on the finish.

Yuengling Summer Wheat is not as powerful a flavor as Tucher Helles or other imported hefeweizens, but it’s cheaper too, isn’t it? If I can find this in local bars, it’s definitely going into the summer rotation.

Note to bar owners – we all know that Yuengling is an American brewery – in fact, the oldest operating brewery in America -- so stop putting it in with the import beers and raising the price. Here in Orlando, it’s imported from an hour-and-twenty down I-4.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ritz Cracker Review

You know how Oreo started spitting out weird flavors a while back?  Gingerbread, Lemon Twist, Candy Corn, and even Fruit Punch. Hey, they didn’t have to be great as long as you bought that one bag to try. Birthday Cake Oreo sucked?  Well, here comes Watermelon and the ones that taste like regular Oreos but have yellow filling for some damned reason. Just keep dropping $2.98 of disposable income and they’ll keep making them.

Like Oreos, Ritz Crackers are made by Nabisco (aka Mondel─ôz International) and that division has gotten into the act. This weekend, I found both Everything (Bagel) Ritz and, a little behind the curve, Bacon Ritz.

“Everything” is dried onion, poppy seed, garlic, and sea salt – and it’s pretty close to the spice mix in an actual bagel. It actually reminds me of the days before fresh bread in restaurants and you’d get a basket full of various crackers. If you could put the onion breadsticks, Captain’s Wafers, and poppy seed water wheels into one cracker, this would be it.

Everything Ritz also come in eight half-sleeves instead of four long sleeves, because you’re going to pace yourself and you want the rest of the box to stay fresh and not shovel them all into your head in a single weekend, right?

Bacon Ritz don’t actually have any bacon. In fact, they’re both vegetarian and kosher. So, yay? I actually like these too, but I don’t think they taste like bacon. Because they also include black pepper, I’d say the flavor is closer to summer sausage. Now you don’t have to wait until Christmas for a Hickory Farms to reappear at the mall and feed your unrefrigerated sausage fix.

A word, Mondel─ôz. If you try to convince me that Fruit Punch Ritz are a good idea, I’m not biting … probably.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Matt’s Burning Rosids Beer Review

Stone Brewing, of Escondido, CA, named this new beer in memory of Matthew Courtright, a brewer who died last year when a forklift rolled over at the brewery. Matt co-created the recipe, a saison (10.5% ALC) made with malt smoked over cherrywood. “Rosid” is the huge family of plants that also includes everything from peanuts to roses.

On the pour into a pint glass, , it’s an ever-so-slightly cloudy amber with a half-inch of  fading foam. Saisons are often yeasty and fruity, but this one’s sweeter at the end that you’d expect from that brew. The smoke doesn’t hit hard, but instead complements the banana-and-clove notes from the yeast.

As the glass warms, I get more smoke in both the aroma and flavor. The finish is actually very clean and bright – almost peachy – considering the smoke, sweetness, and high alcohol content. At $8 for a pint plus 6 oz. bottle at Total Wine, it’s worth a try as a salute to a young guy who liked to stretch what a beer could be.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale Beer Review

I like bourbon and I like beer, so sure, let’s put them together and see what happens. I love pizza and beer too, and while that infused beer turned out to be an evening of oregano burps, you never know.

Lexington Brewing makes Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and several other brews that are aged six weeks or so in charred oak bourbon barrels. The parent company also makes bourbon, so while they don’t say, it’s a good bet some of those barrels end up in the mix. The brewery’s parent company, Alltech, also does a lot of animal feed supplements, so I’m hoping for bright eyes and a shiny coat.

The cardboard carrier for the four, not six, bottles recommends a snifter, but I went with a pint glass. It pours a clear copper with almost no head. The whiff is bourbon, of course, with vanilla and maple filtering through.

It’s a thicker mouth feel than you might expect, with a bit of boozy heat. I expect that’s more the strong ale’s 8.19% alcohol content than the bourbon essence. Don’t expect a boilermaker. The bourbon flavor is definitely there, but it’s an essence or flavoring. That vanilla/maple/bourbon element is enhancing the malty sweetness of the beer itself. Think Innis & Gunn or Hen’sTooth.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is not something to slam on a hot, sweaty afternoon. It’s a sipper, a chewer, a very “autumn” beer – which makes me curious to try the brand’s new pumpkin spiced ale once the temps dip again.