Friday, November 28, 2008

Redhook Ale Brewery: ESB

It's the day after thanksgiving which means I'm consuming leftovers. I've been eating turkey sandwiches and stuffing all day. And it's all still pretty good. I also took home the leftover beer so it's time wash down the remaining portions of yesterday's feast. Having celebrated 10+ years of thanksgiving in Washington state I've had my share of Northwest brews during the holiday season. Even though we celebrated further south this year, I think my family picked up some Pyramid and Redhook out of habit. And I can't complain, as I love WA beer.

Redhook ESB is a widely available bitter. It's changed it's label twice since I moved out of Washington but it's still pretty easy to locate on the shelf. You won't find many breweries that have an ESB as their flagship, but that's because it's difficult to make a fine brew in this style. Since I've had some bad experiences with other breweries' attempts to create an 'extra special bitter' it's time to give this 'original ale' some praise.
For being a bitter style beer, this ale is smoother than you might expect. The only bitter aftertaste you'll receive is a touch of leafy hop flavor on the back of your pallate. The beer is just bitter enough to live up to its style but calm enough to enjoy leisurely. It's a wonderful mellow beer that's also not too thick or too watery. The initial sips have soft malt flavors floating around but nothing too dark that you find in a brown ale. As mentioned a staple of mine.
If you watched Washington's once prominent Seattle Seahawks football team get destroyed on national television yesterday you might feel bad for Washingtonians. But don't feel too bad, because there is plenty of good beer to drown tasty food and bad memories. Cheers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lagunitas Brewing Co: Censored Rich Copper Ale

My wandering eye noticed on a friend's computer that he had an email in his inbox from Lagunitas Brewing Company. I thought this to be strange and after I inquired into the matter we struck up a conversation about the the email and the brewery in general. To summarize, apparently Lagunitas is pretty good about responding to questions and comments about its beer if you contact them. All this talk about a cool local company made me realize I had not reviewed on of their beers in a while. So here goes.

This Lagunitas offering is entitled 'Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale'. It might be one the most misleading of beer titles out on the market. First the six pack literature indicates that the Lagunitas marketing team named this beer after its copper color and nothing else. Apparently they invented the 'rich copper ale' tag. On further tasting, it's pretty clear the brew resembles an amber ale. In addition to the style confusion, the real name for this beer appears to be covered by the 'censored' label graphically stamped over the title. (see picture) After a quick scan on the Internet, there seems to be a consensus that the original name was "The Kronic" (and that could fit the outline of a couple letters that are visible behind the stamp). I'm not sure if this censoring was an intentional marketing technique or mandated by the Alcohol Beverage Commission. But either way that's the name of this brew.

As for the product itself, it does have a coppery hue with an orangey - yellowly lining. So I'll agree with them there. The smell is surprisingly more like a Belgian ale than an American ale but the taste is pretty standard for an American Amber. There are a lot of caramel malt flavors and a hint of a hop backbone. Hops come through more as the beer warms. The malt flavor lingers and provides a sweet aftertaste. The beer is also rather crisp and is quite drinkable despite the fact it is an ale. As I generally am a fan of ambers, I could easily put this in my regular rotation.

While the taste I can figure out, the name will leave you guessing. Since, I've heard that Lagunitas responds to emails I might just inquire into the reason for the strange name. If I do, I'll be sure to let you all know. Cheers.

Update on 5/22/09: I haven't emailed Lagunitas yet. But I do have proof. At my favorite beer bar in San Francisco (Toronado), I found an old Lagunitas tap bearing the true name. While I didn't have my camera on me, I wanted some evidence, and my cell has a decent photo option, so if you don't believe me click on the photo.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stoudts Fat Dog: Imperial Oatmeal Stout

Only a couple hours left in the week, so I better make good on my promise to review a new beer from a new brewery every week for the last five weeks of class. Week 3: Stoudts Fat Dog Oatmeal Stout. Stoudts is a Pennsylvania brewery, and a well-known one at that, so I've been a bit remiss ignoring them up to this point. I figured I'd give them a fair shake on their first review by choosing a variety of beer that I generally enjoy.

This ale is quite unique. Lots of different flavors going on. It's got a peculiar sweetness to it that is a bit like cola or licorice, though there's also some smoky coffee notes and a dry finish that hints of a red wine. Mouthfeel is about par for the course so far as stouts go--it's fairly thick but not milk-stout thick. It finishes with a dry hoppiness that manages to take the edge off the sweetness, though in the end it's still a little sweeter than I'd like.

Nevertheless I have to give credit to Stoudts for packing so many different flavors into a single brew and making them all work together pretty well. For an imperial, this one goes down pretty smooth too--there's just a hint of the alcohol in the aftertaste. All in all, a respectable stout, but certainly not on the order of Barney Flats or Bell's Double Cream.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Samuel Smith Old Brewery: Oatmeal Stout

As promised in my last Samuel Smith review, I wrote that I would buy, consume, and post on Samuel Smith Old Brewery Oatmeal Stout. If you just clicked on that prior post, you may notice my varying use of this brewery's name. To tell you the truth I'm quite confused. On the pale ale I purchased, the label states "Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Pale Ale. However, this beer label reads Samuel Smith Old Brewery Oatmeal Stout. I don't know what happened to the apostrophe 's' but it disappeared somewhere. If you don't believe examine the pictures.

That all being said I'm pretty sure these beers all are produced from the same brewery. A brewery in Tadcaster, Yorkshire, England. A very very old brewery in Tadcaster, Yorkshire, England. Apparently Samuel Smith uses 200 year old yeast strains for its beers and ancient brewing techniques; specifically the Yorkshire Square.

As a result, Samuel Smith's brews have unique flavors you just can't find anyone else. If there is any continuity between the two beers I reviewed that might be attributed to the old brewing methods it could be a noticeable sweetness. I thought the pale ale had very sweet toffee flavors and this beer has some syrupy sweetness to it. For being a stout, the beer's sweet aftertaste was a little surprising. The sweetness reminds me of a little of coke or pepsi. That may sound gross, but it works. The sugar sensation is not overpowering at all and rounds out a pretty hearty initial mouthfeel. Besides the sweet, the stout smells like oats which isn't surprising, as it is an oatmeal stout, and the malt flavors finally start to emerge as the beer warms a little. Combined with the sweetness it's pretty good.

So I followed through on my promise to review this beer. And while I can't promise it, I'm very confident that this very old brewery will produce a brew that any beer drinker will enjoy. Cheers.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Anderson Valley Brewing Co: High Rollers Wheat

While it's getting dark very early and most of the leaves are changing colors and falling off the trees, it's still hot out here. I don't know why, but as long as this weather keeps up I need to cool down. I was in wine country over the weekend and it was a toasty 77 degrees. One of my favorite ways to regulate my body temperature is to have a nice cold class of beer. Yes, even in wine country. So I picked up a sixer of Anderson Valley's High Rollers wheat. Most of Anderson's offerings are quite good so I'd decided to give this beer a chance to cool me down.

On first look the beer is very clear with almost no head. It's not like many cloudy pale wheats you'll find on the market. I think AVBC went with a clear wheat ale because they are trying to make a very refreshing beer. Just what I needed.

The bottle label recommends adding a lemon wedge to this brew to enhance the taste. I wouldn't recommend that addition at all, because the beer already has a pronounced lemon citrus flavor. It tastes as if it is brewed with a splash of lemon. The aftertaste is very buttery with a pale wheat finish. Therefore despite this beer's lemony flavor, the extended taste of the body will remind you that this isn't a Belgian witbier. It's not sharp and no coriander flavors are present. AVBC doesn't make a witbier so there should be no problem of confusing this beer with any other of Anderson's offerings. I'm still working my way through all this brewery's brews and most have been quite good. This one is not as complex as some of their heartier ales, but for what it is, it works. Therefore, I think this is a beer that most people, regardless their personal palate, can enjoy.

So while most beer and grocery stores are promoting every type of winter warmer and other cold weather beers, unless it gets cold out west, I'll continue to mix in an occasional wheat beer. And probably share it with others. Stay cool. Cheers.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rogue: Santa's Private Reserve Ale

It's been a while since I reviewed a Rogue, so I figured I was due for another review. Inspired by Mattie's Anchor review and in the mood for something a little spicy, I decided to go for their Christmas Ale.

While this beer advertises itself as roasty and malty, it's the centennial hops that really comes through. That, and a unique spruce-pine flavor. I suppose Santa likes his beer to taste vaguely like Christmas trees. However it isn't as though the malts are entirely absent. In fact, they contrast with the hops quite nicely. But you have to have a taste for that earthy centennial hop flavor to really enjoy this one of Rogue's offerings.

Perhaps surprisingly, this one is pretty drinkable for being a winter warmer. It's got a very light mouthfeel and is pretty well carbonated. I guess that means this might not be a brew to reach for if you are really looking for something thick and satisfying. Overall, however, not a bad offering.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Steel Reserve 211: High Gravity Malt Liquor

Weighing in at an impressive 8.1% ABV, Steel Reserve, or "211" as it is affectionately referred to by 40 enthusiasts (i.e. scary gangster alcoholic types or retired web entrepreneur types), is the preeminent choice for those looking to get piss-ass drunk without breaking the bank. For a meager $2, you receive approximately as much alcohol as would be found in a six-pack of "normal gravity" lager (usually between 4 and 5% ABV). As far as I'm concerned, drinking anything else is a waste of money... and stomach space.

In the taste department, Steel Reserve neither fails to meet nor does it exceed expectations. Its taste closely mirrors that of a Budweiser with a shot of hard liquor poured into it. A word of advice: the colder it is, the better, because the coldness overwhelms your taste buds and shields them from the full onslaught of which this brew is capable of delivering. When it comes to 211, the mantra is "drink it cold and drink it fast."

Now a true aficionado might scoff at the notion, but I would argue that a "Steeley" is greatly enhanced by the addition of a cup and a half (in layman's terms, from the neck of the bottle to the "top of the label") of orange juice, thereby creating what is commonly referred to by any number of white-boy rap groups as a "brass monkey". The synergy between orange juice and what is otherwise considered to be a harsh lager creates an unexpectedly delicious beverage. I am not a chemist, so I can't explain exactly what is going on at the molecular level, but it seems highly probable, nay, almost certain that the combination of these two liquids yields a third, completely different compound with shocking "drinkability" (sorry Bud Light, I used your made-up word). The emergent greatness is very similar to a mimosa, except instead of being served in a fancy champagne flute alongside Eggs Benedict, it comes in the unmistakable, cone-topped 40-ounce malt liquor bottle and is best accompanied by chips and salsa or some other such drinking food.

I won't lie to you--this isn't the classiest of beers. But even its detractors have a hard time arguing that, for your money, it's not one of the best ways to get drunk quickly. Two of these bad boys will almost certainly guarantee that even the burliest of drinkers forgets the remainder of the night. And, let's face it, after the first few beers, anything tastes good. So next time you're standing in front of the beer fridges and asking yourself "lager or ale?", "pilsner or hef?", "import or domestic?"... just take a few paces to your right and look down on the bottom shelf (or at my home 7-11, the floor of the fridge). For less than the price of a six pack of some fancy-pants microbrew, you could be enjoying not one but two 40-ounce bottles of "exceptionally smooth" (in the brewer's own words) Steel Reserve High Gravity Malt Liquor.

Oh, and unless you like the taste of ram's piss, don't forget a quart of OJ.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Anchor Brewing Co: Christmas Ale 2008

Merry Christmas beer drinkers! Wait, it's not Christmas. It's not even Thanksgiving. Well it doesn't matter as Anchor Brewing Co. releases it's Christmas Ale (a.ka. "Our Special Ale") in November. It's a new year, there's a new tree on the bottle, and we have a new beer.

You may remember that I drank a magnum of the 2007 ale in January of this year.

Also remember that each year Anchor changes the recipe of this winter warmer to spice things up. Not surprisingly the taste is similar. However there are a few noticeable changes.
First, this beer it a lot lighter in color. While the lighting in the picture does not quite pick it up, the beer is almost a bright red with a dark center. (click on picture: see bottom of the glass. Sorry, I'm not a photographer). Last year's brew was a lot darker. Also there is a thinner mouthfeel, more of a citrus taste, and a very very bitter coffee aftertaste. While the citrus and coffee flavors were present in '07 I feel they have been ramped up in '08.

You really can't go wrong with this beer no matter how much they tinker with it. Always enjoyable. May your upcoming holidays be warm and filled with beer. Cheers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Magic Hat Brewing Co.: #9

This post has been a long-time coming. Magic Hat is a Vermont brewery whose brews are available up and down the east coast. Their flagship, #9, was one of the first new brews I had when I got out here two years ago. It's also been one of my enduring favorites, but since I have yet to review it, or any other Magic Hat beer, it's new to the rest of you.

This brew advertises itself as a "not quite pale ale." That's a fair description--take a typical pale ale, and then back off the hops and the malts a bit (yes, it's even less malty than a pale), and that's where you start. But you take this somewhat bland base and then add a heavy dose of crisp sweet citrus. However, the sweetness is heavily tempered by a very dry finish, a very light mouthfeel, and a substantial dose of carbonation. In sum, it's kind of like a copper ale, but a bit lighter and bubblier, and even more drinkable.

While this isn't a particularly complicated or subtle brew, it's also a beer that I don't think I'll ever get tired of. It's consistently refreshing and always seems to fit the occaision. To those of you living out west, this is one you have to try if you ever visit the other, colder coast.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

New Holland Brewing Co.: Red Tulip Ale

I've been dormant for a while. I'll see if I can remedy that in the coming couple of weeks. My goal will be to review not only a new brew, but a new brewery every week from here until the end of classes. (No promises regarding duplication if I post more than once per week.) I'll start off with the New Holland Brewery: specifically, their Red Tulip Ale.

I'm not quite sure where the name Red Tulip comes from. The reference to the tulip could be nothing more than an allusion to the tulip craze that seized Holland in the seventeenth century. I'm not sure about the "red" part--while this might technically be a red ale (it does have a reddish hue), the predominant taste here is toasty carmelly malts, which is more typical of a brown ale. This is a thoroughly drinkable amber ale (of which red ales are usually considered a sub-group), which--probably to New Holland's detriment--means that it is strangely evocative of Budweiser's new American Ale. Except, unfortunately, this one has even less hops than its megabrew counterpart. It makes up for that lack a little bit by bringing out the malt taste a bit stronger. However, all in all, it's a disappointingly bland beer.

This beer's chief redeeming factor is its drinkability. It may be the only carmel-malty ale that stands no chance of filling you up. But that's hardly enough to warrant craft brew pricing. Good effort, New Holland, but you'll have to try again.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Russian River Brewing Co: Blind Pig IPA

If you are familiar with Northern California you probably know that the city of Santa Rosa is the most populated location in wine country. As a result, if you visit Santa Rosa, you'll fine a bunch of good wineries to visit and plenty of people to talk about fermented grapes. Also nestled in the city of Santa Rosa is Russian River Brewing Company. This brewery owes its heritage to the viticulture tradition in region. Korbel, the champagne producer, originally started this brewery and began implamenting some of its wine and bubbly making techniques to beer. Thus Russian River Brewing Co is one of the few breweries that ages a majority of its beers in wine barrels. The brewery tries to match the barrels with certain styles of beer to augment the flavors and enhance the taste. For example the brewery matches Chardonnay barrels with Blonde Ales and pinot noir barrels with Brown ales. While this style of brewing is different and relatively new, most of RRBC's beers are quite tasty and worth a try.

If aged beer is not your thing, Russian River Brewing Company has a couple traditional beers that are definitely worth trying. My favorite is the Blind Pig IPA. So as not to get confused with their other offerings, Russian River prints on this bottle "Keep Cold, Drink Fresh, Do Not Age!" And that's what I did. This is a hoppy IPA that has piney, citrusy, and woody flavored hops. The hops are definitely the most prominent flavors (very strong) but there is a touch of malt lingering in the background to round out the beer.

This beer is difficult to get a hold of. RRBC is a relatively small operation and it's beer can be difficult to find. If you search BevMo or other liquor stores' websites for the term 'Russian River' you'll see that the engine brings up more wine hits than beer hits. But if you are persistent you can find Blind Pig or other offerings at a variety of NorCal locations on tap or in bottles. (City Beer, Toronado, Jackson's Wine and Spirits to name a few).

If located, Russian River beers might be a great way to cross over wine drinkers to the wonderful tastes of hops and malted barley. For those that don't care how long a beer is aged, what flavors mix well, and what temperature to store beer - you'll still enjoy this beer. It tastes good. I promise. Cheers.