Thursday, January 31, 2008

Královský Pivovar Krušovice: Krušovice Imperial

Keeping with the foreign trend I bring to you Krušovice from the Czech Repblic. As beer drinkers know, the Czech people make killer Pilsners. Krušovice definitely fits into that class.

In Prague, Pat, Nick, Hof and I sampled the best of the best. And we all enjoyed Krušovice. But this is not a memory post. I drink Krušovice quite frequently. As Pat and Deidre can attest, Davis randomly has a Czech bar with both Krušovice Imperial and Krušovice Dark Lager on tap year round. Thus, the beer is also available as a result around town. It's quite wonderful.

Just to clarify the 'imperial' tag is not used in the American sense: this brew is not double alcohol content; its rests at the standard 5% amount by volume. That's just the name of their flagship pilsner.

As for the taste, the most prominent feature of this brew is the Saaz Hops flavors. It's the standard and oh so delicious hop taste you will find in any quality Czech pilsner. Powerful, clean, and crisp. I feel Krušovice sets itself apart from the other Czech beers for the shortness of this crisp taste. It's not an overpowering pils with very strong flavors and lingers on the palate. It's the hops you want but not much else. You can definitely throw back a few of these; doesn't matter you decide to go with the pint, bottle, or stein. But I think we all prefer the stein. Na zdraví. Cheers.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

S.A. Damm: Estrella Damm

Spain is not known for their beers. In fact, I'd bet that diez personas in this country couldn't name one brand. And why should Spain be known for its beer? Spaniards have been making incredible red wines for centuries. Every nation can't be like the great Republic of California and excel at both winemaking and brewing. And that's ok.

So I went to Spain and drank a ton of vino and sangria. And it was wonderful. I highly recommend the trip. On top of their tastiness, the wine is remarkably affordable without the added importing costs. If you scour a city enough, a decent wine can be procured for 1 Euro. I kid you not. Thus why drink anything else but wine? That is an excellent question. When traveling through France for a week I drank only wine and I still stick by that decision. However, for some reason or another beers are consumed rather frequently by locals in bars. Probably cause it's muy caliente in the summer. And since I was there for 60 days I decided to imbibe my share as well. (This can be evidenced by a picture of 19 year old Mattie sharing a brew with friends outside a local bar -->)

Spanish beer is mediocre at best. There are three major brands. Mahou, Cruzcampo, and Damm. Each brewery's flagship beer is the traditional European macro lager. My favorite was definitely Cruzcampo and thus I selected it as often as possible when deciding on a beer. However, as European travelers know, many bars in Europe are 'sponsored' by a single brewery where they only sell one type of beer. Thus I had my fair share of Mahou and Damm at certain bars as well. So when I saw Estrella Damm at BevMo, I had to take a trip down memory lane.
Honestly the trip was fun. The smell alone brought back memories. And it smells pretty good. But I'd never purchase a sixer again. I forgot that Estrella Damm is not that delicious. Despite the bottling, the beer has a metallic taste. The metal taste mixes with a corn flavor giving the beer the typical big brew sensation on the pallate.

So if you are off to Spain drown yourself in reds. And if you are going to try a brew, go with Cruzcampo. But if you are going Spain, congrats, because you've already made the right decision. Salud. Cheers.

Tsingtao: Lager Beer

We tend to not post as many standard lagers around here, so I'll take another stab at it with China's major alcoholic export to the US, Tsingtao Lager Beer. Yes, let's thank the Chinese for clearing up the long-standing war over whether Lagers are beers. Put down the weapons folks, for it is now the 21st Century, and China has taken its rightful place as the arbiter of consumer labels.

Founded originally in 1903 as a British-German brewing company to produce German beer in China for Westerners along the colonial coast, Tsingtao Breweries became a state enterprise after the glorious people's revolution. It was privatized in the early 90s, and around the same time ran into major quality control issues due to pesticides, pollution, and God knows what else the people unleashed into the fields to fill their production quotas. The brewery's name also changed to one of those redundant Chinese company names, so now it's something like Tsingtao Brewery Co. Ltd. X-treme Capitalist Enterprise, which would make Chairman Mao very double-plus proud.

As a response to this contamination, Tsingtao now imports all its barley from France, Canada and Australia, while growing its hops in the rural western Chinese region of Xinjiang. Well, I guess those Uyghurs are good for something besides being dominated and oppressed by Han China.

The first thing you'll notice about this beer is its green bottle. As any beer fanatic knows, you're supposed to stay away from the green due to its ability to skunk beers rather quickly. My only guess is that the brewers were trying to mimic Heineken's success in America, and thought green = good! Whatever, guys.

Probably the first couple bottles of this stuff that I've had have been skunked. This is probably because I bought them at shady Chinese restaurants that made me sick afterwards. Until recently, I've stayed away from it. This was, of course, until I went to a damn good Chinese restaurant in LA (Yang Chow in Chinatown). It was the only beer on the menu, so ordered a glass bottle.

I turned out to be pleasantly surprised. For once, it wasn't skunked. It poured as a standard yellow lager, similar to an American macrobrew beer. But it was crisp and palatable, with a sweet aftertaste that pleasantly sticks to your mouth. As long as it's not skunked, I could drink this all day.

SUPERHAPPYFUNKITTENBONUS: Like most Chinese products, this stuff a cheap import. I picked up a 12 pack for $10.99 at Marty's Liquors here in Allston, and I'm sure it's even cheaper at Bevmo back on the West Coast. It's also 4.8% ABV. Nice!

BEWAREBOURGEIOUSDEFECTS: Like most Chinese products, you'll probably get a defective one eventually. Don't be surprised if you get a skunked beer, so I recommend you buy in bulk so you can quickly pound a bottle and open another.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rogue: Mocha Porter

I like beer. I like chocolate. I like coffee. When you mix coffee and chocolate you get mocha. And when you mix mocha and a dark strong lager, you get pure deliciousness. Enter: Rogue's Mocha Porter.

Rogue is another brewery I'm sure you're all familiar with. They are from Orgeon, and along with Red Hook, Pyramid, and Deschuttes they are helping to establish a formidable Pac Northwest brewing tradition. They are best known for their "Rogue Dead Guy" ale, but to date their Mocha Porter is my new favorite. In fact I'd go so far as to say it's the best west coast dark beer I've ever had, period.

The beer isn't all that heavy, but it's got extremely full flavor. It's a very malty beer, with distinct coffee notes and a lingering hint of chocolate. It's almost the perfect balance of sweet and bitter. The hops are initially overpowered by the dark malts, but a hint of hoppiness comes through at the end to cleanse the palate a bit. Overall a very pleasant drink: very full and satisfying flavors but a very mild aftertaste; none of that tongue-coating effect you get sometimes with thick, dark beers.

Don't know what else to say about this one then to try it yourself. And I can finally rest assured knowing that when I come back West, there will be at least one grade A porter waiting for me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Yuengling: Lager

Having lived in Philadelphia for a year and a half now, it's about time I blogged Philadelphia's signature beer (though it's actually brewed in Pottsville, which is a little ways away). May I present Yeungling Lager.

Before there was Bud, before there was Coors, hell, before there was most of the Untied States, there was Yuengling. The Yuengling brewery was opened in 1829 and has been in continuous operation ever since. It survived during prohibition by brewing "near beer," which has an ABV under 1%. The day Prohibition was officially repealed, a truckload of the original full-strength stuff arrived at FDR's White House, a somewhat dubious feat since Yeungling takes at least three weeks to brew and age.

Those of us that came of age in most of the U.S., and certainly on the West Coast, are used to dividing domestic breweries into two categories: more exepensive craft brews and cheap megabrewed American-style lagers (the official name for the watery stuff that Coors, Anheuser-Busch, and Miller brew). But Yuengling defies these categories. Yuengling is cheap, retailing at the same price as megabrews, but it is a legitimate amber lager. It's not all that different from Sam Adams, but has a little bit lighter mouthfeel, which lends it a little bit more drinkability.

Yuengling's chief virtue is its versatility. It's served both at dive bars and fine restaurants. It shows up at college-style house parties, and white-tablecloth receptions. It's an acceptable beer to sip politely, guzzle shamelessly, and everything in between. It's definitely the "Philadelphia" to Boston's Sam Adams: It's cheaper, less well-known, and not as flashy. But I've grown to develop a real appreciation for the stuff.

So keep a lookout for Yuengling next time you're out to try something new. I guarantee you it won't set you back much, and you just might find you've found your new favorite standby.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lost Cost Brewery & Cafe: Great White

We all love sharing a beer with family and friends. However, sometimes it can be difficult to find a beer that the whole crew will love. Especially if that family or friend group is comprised of both men and women.

To generalize, most girls don't enjoy especially hoppy or malty beverages. Thus, ancient man invented the witbier (more commonly know as the Belgian White Ale). This style is lighter than most beers and is always refreshing. Girls love this stuff. It's not super heavy, has a lighter coloring, and most bartenders will add fruit to it without the purchaser even asking (think Blue Moon or Hoegaarden).

I know three things: Girls love witbiers (see above). I drink a lot of beer. And my girlfriend does too. So recently I have purchased a lot of Lost Coast's Great White because it's a beer we can both agree on. Great White has that Coriander flavor that girls enjoy but is also an unfiltered brew with bready and doughy flavors to provide enough taste for the male drinker. It actually reminds me more of New Belgium's Sunshine Wheat (an American Pale Wheat beer) than a witbier.

As Hofer mentioned, Lost Coast Brewing and Cafe is a California brewery that makes a lot of quality beers. For some reason Great White is their flagship beer. This could be because the beverage can cross gender barriers. Never know. However, with the recent invention of the 'build your own six pack' at World Market and City Beer, sharing a sixer with a chick is no longer a necessity. But if you are off to your local Northern California Safeway with a woman, may I recommend the Great White; you both won't be disappointed. Cheers

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Kona Brewing Co.: Firerock Pale Ale

I do enjoy a fine pale ale. Due to my affinity for this style of brew, I occasionally subscribe to Hofer's alliterative quest: "the pursuit for the perfect pale"*. Thus, over break, I picked up a six pack of Kona's version on the pale beer, because, well, I had simply had never tried it before.

Probably because this is a Hawaiian beer and the climate on the big island is very tropical, the packaging purports that the ale will be refreshing. (Maybe in an attempt to arouse memories of your lovely tropical island vacation). But I thought refreshing was an odd description for any pale. Now, Kona's flagship beer, the Longboard Lager, has been rightfully touted by many as incredibly refreshing (including our own Matthew Lightner - who promised to post on it). And that I can understand; as lagers are lighter than ales.

However, Firerock, is a surprising refreshing pale. It has basically no head (see right) and relatively few hops to match. Thus it is a pretty mild pale with some grassy flavors and hints of malts. It almost reminds me more of an amber ale than a pale in that respect. Now Kona's third beer on the shelf was a porter. I didn't examine its description, but if that beer is equally refreshing as the lager and paler ale, this company has figured it out.

Hang Loose & Cheers

*Note: I changed Hofer's use of "search" from his second post to "pursuit" because it added another 'P' and stylistically sounded better. But I'm sure he's not offended to that sort of editing from his tenure on The Santa Clara staff.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Anheuser-Busch: Bud Light Chelada

A few months ago, Mattie alerted me of the existence of Chelada, Anheuser-Busch's latest foray into the Latino market. This peculiar new product from the makers of America's favorite beer was not available in my current home of Massachusetts, so I had to wait until I returned to California to give it a try. Some of you might remember my obsession with V8 Juice, and by extension, love of bloody maries. It was only natural that I write this review.

First off, the Chelada is a (some would say unholy) union of Bud Light and Clamato. The latter concoction is made from some of the best stuff on earth: reconstituted tomato juice concentrate, reconstituted clam broth, and high fructose corn syrup. Mmm, that's good stuff. I've never really been a drinker of it, but since I'm okay with tomato juice, I can handle it. I didn't really notice any "clam" flavoring, but I'll assume it's there. As for the Bud Light, I'm sure you all know what it tastes like going down (as well as back up).

Apparently the Michelada is a popular beer based drink in Mexico, and it's based off of the bloody mary. The drink dates back to the 1940s, and has many different variations. It's basically a combination of lager, clamato, lime juice and salt. That said, the result is a combination of lager, clamato, lime juice and salt. The flavors are pretty much all there, and they all hit you in the face. I was able to find another bottled version of the Chelada here in Boston, but it was missing the crucial tomato ingredient that made reviewing this beer so essential. Can keep an eye out for that one. Anyways, Beer Advocate rates the Anheuser-Busch Chelada as a "chile beer" (sic), but it tasted about as spicy as ketchup. But we all know how my last experience with spicy beers went, so too much can really be a bad thing. Thanks, Habo!

Due to its distinct cultural connection with Mexico, the Chelada has been unleashed primarily in the southwest. That means that those of us living in the winter-blighted northern cities not blessed with a concentration of la raza will probably be out of luck. One can only hope that this alluring potion will capture the hearts of America's Anglo population, and will one day spread throughout the country so that it can be imbibed in its colder extremities.

I was finally able to stumble upon a can of the stuff at a shifty truck stop outside of Coalinga, CA. After reaching San Jose and playing a few games of Beirut, I finally prepared myself for what could be my death. I made sure I had put the can in the freezer, as nothing could possibly be worse than warm beer combined with warm mollusc-tomato juice. It only comes in tall boy cans; once you open it up, you've got a long way until the end, so drink up!

Once popped, a faint aroma of salty tomato juice filled the air. The taste, well... it tasted what it sounded like, and slightly less repulsive than I had imagined. The consistency was far less thick than normal tomato juice, and the carbonation kept it feeling light. The lime and salt complimented the tomato juice quite well, contrasting with the standard piss based Bud Light.

I prepared myself for a possible gag reflex, as it's happened to me in the past with previous attempts at gross beers. It never came. I had another sip, and was relieved that I could drink it with ease.

Despite this, Chelada is not for the faint of heart. But faint of heart is one who simply cannot stand tomato juice. Honestly, if you like bloody maries, you're probably going to like this. It's light, and possibly great for a summer day (brunch, maybe?). If you can't get past the whole "BUT THERE'S CLAMS IN IT!" mindset, there's no way you're going to like it. If you can, bébala! Besides, if you were already concerned about your health, you probably shouldn't be drinking beer anyways. You might as well kill a few brain cells and get a dose of something else besides the carbs.

Unfortunately, I was only able to procure one can. Since I was already a bit inebriated, my taste buds were likely not as sensitive as I would have hoped. That said, feel free to post your own reviews of this stuff. I honestly thought it was not as bad as expected, but nonetheless unsettling that I was enjoying such a combination.

Anheuser-Busch Chelada, also known as the "red one," is available at shady truck stops off of California highways and other privileged locations.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Anchor Brewing: Christmas Ale 2007

All I wanted for Christmas was beer. And I didn't need Santa's help; thanks to Anchor Brewing.

Anchor Brewing, the makers of the well known Anchor Steam beer, brew in the heart of San Francisco. This break I received a magnum of the Christmas Ale (see left) and then learned about this tasty beverage on a subsequent brewery tour with Ligthner.

Every year Anchor Brewing releases a new Christmas Ale (hence the year 2007 in the title of this post). Each time the brew has a different (and secret) recipe. Unlike most beers which have 3-4 ingredients I believe the tour guide mentioned this year's Christmas Ale had 37.

That being said, the Christmas Ale obviously has a very unique taste. Not surprisingly, the ale has a ton of spices and flavors. It's great for the winter season because it can hold its own with any heavy holiday dish or dessert. I myself tasted chocolate, cinnamon, and coffee throughout my consumption but there is obviously a lot more. It's one of the most unique beers on the market due to its incredible flavors. Eventhough the Christmas ale has tons of tastes, don't be shied away. It still tastes good and tastes like a beer (unlike many cherry, pumpkin, chili, rasberry, ect, ect flavored beer).

So be good in '08 and maybe next Christmas you'll receive a 6 packs or a magnum in your stocking. Or if your naughty, just schedule a brewery tour and drink as much as you please for free. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Lost Coast: Downtown Brown Ale

I come back to California for a few weeks but the miserable weather seems to follow me home. So I find myself still in the mood for darker, roastier beer rather than a dry and hoppy one. But so long as I'm back on the West Coast I'll sample something from out here, and so I stumble upon Downtown Brown. Downtown is a nut brown ale, and not being all that familiar with the genre, I'll just give my first impressions.

The beer has a fairly light mouthfeel, but still manages to pull off a fairly complex taste. it's very nutty and carmelly, and has only barely a hint of hops. This is the kind of beer that you want to go for if you're in the mood for something darker, but for whatever reason a stout sounds like just a little bit more than you're ready for. It's also missing the much stronger bite and the thicker feel of an amber ale (i.e. Fat Tire), which makes for easy drinkability. So even if it doesn't ever register as one of my big favorites, I imagine I'll be picking it up again in the future just because it will fit just about any occasion.

Downtown Brown is brewed by Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA. Lost Coast is also well known for their Great White Ale, though from the looks of it, Downtown has actually won more awards.