Thursday, March 27, 2008

Samuel Smith's Old Brewery: Pale Ale

Since Nick, Hofer, and Eric all have studied in Durham, I probably shouldn't be the first to review a brew from across the pond. But as of late I can't keep my hands off Samuel Smith's selections. So here goes:

Before I start on the pale, I must say that I had two 550ml bottles of Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout over the weekend and the quality was unreal. I'm not a huge fan of imports because I'm accustom to American styles and on occasion the beer doesn't hold up during the travel. But the stout really blew me away. I was out enjoying a birthday meal so I didn't drink it with a discerning palate. But I'll definitely give that stout some more quality time later.

As for the pale ale, I cannot believe, I am absolutely shocked, by the sweet smell. Poured into a pint glass, when you nose dips past the rim during sips the aroma is almost overpowering. A very sweet toffee smell. Luckily the taste is more subtle than the smell. Still some sweetness but mostly toasted malt flavors. A bready flavor compliments the other tastes giving an overall enjoyable combination. The only drawback is the hops are very limited, especially compared to most American Pale Ales. As a result the body is kinda thin. But this feature also makes the beer very drinkable. In addition there are enough flavors to overcome the light mouthfeel. The refinement of recipe is noticeable. It's as if they have been brewing this beverage for over 200 years. Cheers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Flying Dog: Snake Dog IPA

I wasn't going to do another Flying Dog post quite so soon, but when I got home today I was itching for a beer, and when I opened the fridge my eyes couldn't help but fix on the bright orange and strangely decorated label for Flying Dog's version of the IPA. So I grabbed it, poured it out, and dove in. Here's how it goes.

I'm not generally a huge advocate for IPAs. I like Pale Ales generally, but I find that a lot of IPAs are hoppy to the point hiding the rest of the flavor (maybe I just don't have discerning tastebuds). But for pale-o-philes like myself, Snake Dog may be the perfect sort of IPA. It's much less hoppy than a lot of other IPAs, though still noticeably hoppier than a straight up pale ale. It pours to a pleasant light-amber flavor with a thick head that dissipates quickly. The taste is a sweet-citrusy-leafy-hoppiness (if you can imagine that). It's got a subtle sweetness that slowly fades, though never quite vanishes, to the hops as the beer rolls over your tongue.

The taste is definitely more summery than most of the brews I've had recently. Now if only the weather outside would warm to match...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Full Sail Brewing Co: Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale

When you think 'barley' you probably think 'beer'. When you think 'wine', well you probably think 'wine'. Barleywines, not surprisingly, are a beer-wine combo: containing the grain base and taste of a beer and the high alcohol content and ageability of a wine.

I picked up a 220z bomber of Full Sail's reserve line of barleywines. The store had the '07 version in stock. I went with Full Sail's ale simply due to the price. I'm sure you've all noticed that Full Sail beers are always consistently 2+ dollars a six-pack cheaper than other microbrews. I really have no idea why, as I find that their brews are just as tasty as any other micro. (The amber ale and limited edition lager are quite tasty). Most great American breweries justify their good or poor beer with prices that match, but I think Full Sail defies this reliable indicator. Since most 22oz Barleywines go for about 5 bucks a pop, I easily handed over the $3.29 for this 9% ale. 22oz at 9% is about 4 beers in one bottle; sounds like a good deal to me.

With my bargain in hand I began the sipping. This is not a beer to plow through. Some people even pour these brews in wine glasses for best results and to ensure paced consumption. That was a little too weird for me, so I went with the standard pint glass. Probably a faux pas at many beer bars. Oh well.
Anyway, the beer smells very earthy. Almost like a redwood tree. The lacing is also quite frothy; so coupled with the smell I knew I was in for a dousy. The taste was also pretty rich to match. Hoppy and almost dark. Surprisingly there were no fruit flavors. I thought this was a staple in this style of ale, especially since the others I've tried were very fruity; but I guess not. Overall pretty good. Enough flavors to mask the alcohol and enough good tastes to justify sticking with one bottle the whole night. Cheers.

Samuel Adams: White Ale

As spring rears its overdue head around Boston's horrendously long winter, I've resumed drinking white ales quite regularly in order to distract myself from mother nature's icy grip. Hofer recently made it out to Boston for a second New England reunion of SCU ex-pats, and of course we had to sample and argue beer. One of these sessions was held at the Sunset Bar and Grill here in Allston (it's like the Yardhouse in California, but with a more developed selection, if you can imagine that). The other landmark event was our trip to the Sam Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain, with Jeff and Galen.

After about a half hour of Sam Adams corporate propaganda and brewing information, we were finally entitled to our free 21oz of beer. Our guide offered us three different beers; the first being Boston Lager, and the second being the White Ale. Our guide tried to excite us with the third beer on tap, explaining that it was usually "experimental" or not usually found in stores. Unfortunately, it was the 'tussin-tasting Cherry Wheat, which is readily available at package stores and bodegas alike, throughout the Boston area. Ugh. Anyways, this report is really about the White Ale, so I'll focus on that.

Sam Adams' attempt at a bottled witbier is a far cry from other witbiers, microbrews and imports alike. The label around the bottle claims that it is an American version of the classic Blegian white white ale, and it's definitely American; it's bland, lacking strong flavor, and despite its high alcohol content (5.2% abv). More particularly, it's really missing the delicate citrus flavor I expect from white beers. I taste maybe a hint of lemon, but the flavor washes away far too quickly. Additionally, you really get a sticky taste in your mouth after drinking a pair of pints, similar to what I'd expect from a soda, not a beer.

On the positive side, it's definitely drinkable if you're feeling something mildly citrusy. Don't expect an explosion of flavor unless you get it from the brewery (or on tap?), where it's far more strong. Just watch out for drinking more than a few, because it does get quite sticky. It also has a mild hop flavor, good for those who aren't too keen on hops but don't mind a slight hint of it.

Witbiers traditionally are thirst quenchers for a spring day. This is something else. While it's decent to have once in a while at a pub if you're feeling something fresh, you're better off going for something traditional, like a Hoegaarden or an Allagash. I laud the Boston Brewing Company's attempt to bring something like this to a big market, but it's definitely an American beer, and lacks the charms that make white ales so special.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flying Dog: Gonzo Imperial Porter

First the story about how I got this beer. So a few months back I reviewed Flying Dog's K9 Winter Ale. It was a decent brew, but nothing exceptional, so that's essentially what I wrote. Then, to my surprise, I get a comment posted by a rep from the Flying Dog brewery saying that they were sorry I didn't like the K9 all that much and that they'd send me some more beer to try. Well that pretty much obligates me to blog another one of their brews, so here you are: Flying Dog's Gonzo Imperial Porter.

Spring is coming. In California, that means bouts of warm weather. Here in Philly, it means that riding to school in the morning I no longer worry about whether my ears will freeze and break off. But it's still cold enough to indulge in dark, alcohol-heavy brews. So Flying Dog's porter is still quite in season.

The verdict? Well this time Flying Dog delivers up a solid brew. The beer is full bodied and packed full of flavor. The predominant taste is sweet and super-smoky malts, though for a porter it's also quite hoppy. That means a full scale assault on your tastebuds beginning the moment it his your lips and a long-lasting (though fortunately not unpleasant) aftertaste. In the case of an imperial strength brew, this is probably a good thing, since the beer manages to mask the taste of alcohol pretty much completely. You'd never know you were drinking an imperial unless you looked at the label... until the alcohol kick hits and you walk over to the thermostat to see if the room just warmed up.

All in all this is a beer I definitely recommend to other dark-beer lovers. It's also definitely one of the better high-alcohol beers I've had (though at 7.8%, some might quibble that it's not truly "imperial"). Cheers!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Trader Joe's: Hofbrau Bock

A reality today is that most beer is not brewed by who you think it is.
Contracting, partnerships, subsidiaries, outsourcing, and mergers leave many a beer lover wondering who's brewing their beer.

What I do know, is Trader Joe's does not have its own brewery. Although this beer proudly states that this cold beverage was "Brewed and Bottled by Trader Joe's Brewing Co, San Jose, CA", I just don't buy it.

If fact, I didn't buy it. It was a purchase by the fam during a dinner visit at the rent's house. Now, I'm happy to accept and consume any free beer, but I was initially dubious of a brew without a real brewery. After a quick Internet scan, it seems Trade Joe's contracts with Gordon Biersch, Firestone Walker, and Unibroue to make their brand label brew. After this reassurance, I delved right in.

The Hofbrau Bock pours a rick golden color with basically no head. The beer has a distinct banana smell of many traditional European hefeweizens. The smell does not correlate to taste as it hits the palate with a larger type feel with a crisp clean aftertaste. Despite this lager feel the brew does pack a punch. This bock stands proudly at 7% alcohol. Very high for most beers. Surprisingly it is quite drinkable. I wouldn't want to take on more than two at a time, but the fact that one goes down easy is impressive for the abv.

With no incredible flavors or features this seems like your average bock. Which it is. However, for anyone who has shopped at Trader Joe's knows, the store is dirt cheap. The sixpack total according to the receipt was $5.29. $5.29! Total. That's remarkable. For an average beer with a high alcohol content this might be the best bang for your buck out of any micro type six pack. I know Kirkland Brand (Costco) also initiated a deal with Gordon Biersch for some future brews so we'll have to see if they can beet this price. (Most likely they can do to bulk purchasing). However, with the price increases of most sixpacks steadily increasing during this hop shortage I really can't fault Trader Joe's for an reasonably priced average beer. I might just try their other selections.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Anderson Valley Brewing Co: Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout

My recent raves over Rogue and Bells have left me feeling a little bit like a traitor to my California roots, especially since I developed a taste for stouts. I figured maybe California wasn't stout country; after all, stouts aren't generally considered a "warm weather" beverage, and California is significantly warmer than its northern sister states. But then I had the good fortune to stumble into Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, and that all changed.

Mattie has been good enough to review a couple of Anderson Valley brews, and I've had a couple others myself, so I already had some high hopes when I grabbed this one out of the fridge of the pizza place across the street from my apartment. But in retrospect, I didn't set the bar nearly high enough. Barney Flats is an exceptionally good stout. It pours out fairly dark, though with surprisingly little head. But whatever it lacks up top is more than made up for when you get down to the beer itself. A true-to-form oatmeal stout, Barney Flats hits you with a mouth-filling taste of roasted oats and malt. Combine the malty oats with a thick body and a subtle sweetness and you get what in my opinion amounts to an exquisitely crafted flavor. The taste of hops persists in the background, but can't even begin to compete with the oats and malts. Finally, slight notes of coffee and an indescribably tanginess just barely linger on the taste buds.

I have to give this one very high marks. Even if you aren't a big stout fan, I'd encourage you to give it a try. None of the flavors are overpowering, and it splits the difference between the bitter and the sweet with remarkable precision. If this brew won't convert you to a love of stouts, then I'm pretty sure nothing will.