Friday, April 24, 2009

Saranac Bohemian Pilsner

Philly has just started in on its first heat wave of the summer, and with temperatures expected in the high 80s over the next few days, it's a perfect time to move onto summer style beers. I've been meaning to blog one of the beers by Saranac (technically the "Matt Brewing Company"), so here's a way to kill two birds with one stone.

For whatever reason, it seems like American craft breweries aren't all that interested in the pilsner genre. Almost anything in America that gets labeled "Pilsner" is actually an American-style lager--a far cry from the refreshingly hoppy Czech-style brew. Fortunately, Saranac doesn't engage in the same shenanigans. They use genuine Saaz hops, which is what gives a Pilsner its distinctive flavor. Unfortunately, they don't seem to use quite the same strength or quantity that you'll find in Pilsner Urquell, Czechvar, Krusovice, etc. So while I have to give Saranac props for sticking to the true genre, I don't think their brew stands up to any of their old-world counterparts.

Nevertheless, Saranac's pilsner is a satisfying, albeit simple, beer. It's really light bodied and mild tasting, lending it incredible session-ability. And while it isn't Czech-strength, it has enough hop bite to keep your tastebuds interested. Just the thing you might be in the mood for on a 90 degree summer afternoon while you're chilling on the lake.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Marin Brewing Co: Hoppy Holidaze

Happy Holidays everyone!
Sorry for that. It's not even remotely close to the holiday season. In fact it almost hit 100° in my neck of the woods this week. Despite the hot weather, a spiced beer sounded tasty so I picked one up at the liquor store.

I went with Marin Brewing Company's Hoppy Holidaze: a powerful ale spiced with nutmeg, mace, orange peel, cinnamon, and vanilla. There is a lot going on in this beer and spices hit the palate hard on every sip. Sloshing through all the flavors it becomes quite clear that the nutmeg dominates. A slight orange flavor is present but I couldn't detect any cinnamon or vanilla. After the beer warms and the bubbles fade, some hops emerge along with a hint of booze. Believe it or not, the alcohol really compliments this beer as it is hard to distinguish the booze flavors from the nutmeg and mace tastes. I'm glad the nutmeg works well with the alcohol, as this ale tops out at 7% abv. Without the strong spices, it could be more difficult to drink.

Overall all the flavors fit together quite nice. While 'Hoppy Holidaze' is a clear play on words for a beer to match the strong flavors of a holiday feast, it's not the hoppiest beer in the world. If I worked for Marin Brew Co's marketing department I might have gone with "Naughty or Spice" and focus on the intense spices instead of emphasizing the hops. Either way when the holiday season comes you should give this brew a try. Or don't wait and try it now. It worked for me. Cheers.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Redhook Ale Brewery: Slim Chance

The line between macrobrew and microbrew has been blurring in recent years. Macro-breweries have begun to create fuller bodied beers (see Budweiser American Ale), some micro-breweries have grown so much in size that they now are dubbed craft breweries (see Sierra Nevada Brewing Company), and some breweries have formed alliances and mutual investment agreements in an attempt to tap into the micro and macro brew markets. (see Redhook brewery).

Redhook use to be a small Washington brewery that has since formed alliances with Budweiser and Widmer and has expanded its distribution and line of beers. Redhook's most recent creation is a "Light Ale" known as "Slim Chance". I was intrigued by the idea of an ale with a lighter body so I gave the beer a shot. Don't make the same mistake as I did; Slim Chance is no light ale. It's a run of the mill light lager. It looks and tastes like many light lagers: think Amstel Light or Modelo Light. While Slim Chance doesn't have the metallic taste of some light beers it lacks any significant body and has a watery aftertaste.

I probably gave Redhook took much credit when I purchased this beer. I love Redhook's Winterhook and Copperhook and assumed they wouldn't create the traditional light lager. But they did. As America becomes re-obsessed with beer it will be interesting to see how this micro/macro balance progresses. More and more research, books, and movies are being done on the beer industry and I'm excited to learn more. In the meantime, I think I'll grab a real ale with more flavor. Cheers.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Weyerbacher Brewing Co.: Slam Dunkel

Bocks don't normally crack my my favorites list. (I have a hard time believing Rogue Dead Guy really is a Maibock.) But last week I had a pretty stellar bock, and I gotta share it.

Slam Dunkel is one of the very smoothest beers I can remember having. It's got a very well rounded malty flavor, accented by some spiciness that is reminiscent of a witbier. On top of that, it has a distinctive banana flavor and possibly a touch of raisins too. It is pretty flat so far as carbonation goes and is not all that hoppy either, so it doesn't have much of a punch to it. You might think from this description that it would be too sweet, but there is just enough of an earthy hoppiness that gets through to temper the malts. Mouthfeel is medium--not thick like some bocks--which helps.

Roasted malts. Spiciness. Bananas. Odd combo, but a great result. Good job again, Weyerbacher.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Weyerbacher Brewing Co.: Heresy

I have to get in at least one more stout before the season's over. Soon the warm weather will be here and I'll be on a steady diet of Coppers, Pales, Wits, and Czech Pilsners. So it's time for one last hurrah, and we might as go out with a bang. Here's another Pennsylvania brewery for you: Weyerbacher. They call their imperial stout "Heresy," which seems like a fitting name for any imperial stout you'd consume on Easter weekend.

Imperial stouts are without a doubt the biggest and baddest of beers. In terms of raw flavor power, they are unmatched (except perhaps by Ruination-esque IPAs). And Heresy does not disappoint on this front. Right away you get blasted by an overload of roasted malts and a slight alcohol kick to boot. As the alcohol and malts begin to fade, a collection of other flavors begin to emerge: There's some dark fruit (cherries and blackberries I think), a little bit of vanilla, some black licorice, as well as some mild hoppiness that lingers on after the rest of the flavors have subsided. The mouthfeel is pretty thick, though not as thick as some of the truly devastating Russian stouts (Stone and Lagunitas come to mind).

I'm a big fan of imperial stouts, and Heresy certainly didn't disappoint. It's a little bit sweeter than I would have preferred, though the benefit of the mild hoppiness is that you can really start to pick up on all the other flavors that are hiding in the pitch blackness of this brew (no joke--this beer is an alcoholic black hole). A solid offering--better than most, though not quite up to competing with the likes of Stone and Bell's.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lost Coast Brewery: [8 Ball] Stout

I don't know what took me so long to try this brew. Lost Coast has a stout with a giant 8 ball on the label. Right up my alley: I love sampling California brews, I savor stouts, pool is a great bar game, and '8' is my favorite number. Well, Lost Coast only sells this ale in 22oz bombers, so it can be difficult to locate. I found a store that sells 'em and it's time to give the brew a review.

Not surprisingly this stout pours with a pitch black color and is topped off by a decent sized head; evoking imagines of a liquid 8 ball. While the head is more a light tan than a true white, I still like the title. The beer is very carbonated and bubbles dance around on the tongue during the first sip. Flavors of dark chocolate initially emerge and are followed by bitter hops and coffee. A coffee bean after taste lingers in the mouth for a few seconds after each sip creating a very strong overall flavor. While the stout is initially too carbonated for my tastes if you let it sit for a while, the fizzyness dissipates and then the beer has a creamy body to compliment the powerful flavors.

With a title designed for my liking, after drinking the beer I was hoping to shout: "Eureka, I found it!" However, this Lost Cost offering is not the best stout I've ever sampled. But it's pretty good. Definitely worth a try. I definitely get behind the 8 ball again. Cheers.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yuengling: Porter

As I mentioned a while back in my post on Yuengling's lager, Yuengling is a major east coast brewery and is the iconic beer of the Philadelphia region. Kim, one of my friends here at Penn, had the brilliant idea to take a trip to the Yuengling brewery in Pottsville. Having nothing better to do on Friday, four of us headed up to see America's oldest brewery. Besides the usual explanation of the brewing process and tour of the facilities (including their awesome bottling-and-canning facility), we got the chance to sample some of Yuengling's other brews. I was particularly impressed with their porter.

Yuengling is not a brewery interested in bold experimentation with complex or novel flavors. They go for getting the perfect take on traditional genres. Subtlety isn't their usual game, but I found that their porter is actually a pretty complex beer. It's got the typical dark roasty malts that are suggestive of coffee and chocolate, but there's some other flavors hiding in the background like cherries (props to Jon for figuring out that one). For a porter, this one's pretty well carbonated and has a lighter mouthfeel, making it unusually drinkable for a dark beer.

Good job on this one, Yuengling. Glad to see that Philly's flagship has a bit of versatility.