Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Oskar Blues - Ten Fidy Imperial Stout

This beer was given to me by my good buddy Keith in Tampa, FL.  We had first sampled it at World of Beer (Carrollwood location) and were very impressed.  It is definitely a beer a that deserves a more in-depth evaluation.  Please note, that this blog will include more pictures than usual because there are several cool visual features to this beer.

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 12/12
Wow, there are some amazing things going on here!  There is definitely dark chocolate present and I'm not talking milk chocolate.  I'm talking bitter, dark, 90% cacao beans type of chocolate.  Please do NOT read that as the beer smells like 90% chocolate; that is not the case.  The aroma is based in a dark fruit/black licorice smell, but is not so overpowering that you cannot also detect the other contributing members: dark roasted malt, woody hops, and a dark toffee note.  What more could you ask for?!  While it smells like coffee and dark sweetness, it still maintains a balance with its hop and malt friends.  Perfection.

Appearance 3/3
This beer is exactly what they style demands.  It pours like used motor oil into the glass and produces a good-sized brown head.  Awesome.  In an imperial stout everything about the beer should be dark and Ten Fidy does not disappoint.  The head is dark-khaki brown and the beer is black.  I mean tar-pitch black.  Outer space black.  Keith (the giver of this beer) would say its "blacker than the blackest black times infinity."  Even the head retention was decent and it stuck around long enough for me to get a sip.
Picture is my own.
OK, so one last note on the appearance.  I know the EPC scale apparently goes down to 138, but can we give this beer a ranking of "infinity."  It is completely opaque!  In fact, to demonstrate how opaque this beer truly is, I held it up to the sun.  You still cannot see through it.  There are no ruby hints around the edges or dark brown variances toward the border of the glass; it is simply black.  Or as I like to quote, "darker than a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night."  Check the picture and judge for yourself!  Do you see how washed out everything in the background is?  That is how bright it is behind the beer.  This is the black hole of beer.
Picture is my own.

Flavor 19/20
This flavor is just short of what its aroma offers, but that is hardly a criticism.  Things initially come as one would expect - an assault of bitterness.  However, this wave gives way quickly to the sweet notes present in the aroma.  The dark fruits are here with the coffee and toffee, and accompanied a puff of smokiness.  The sweetness is the primary theme, but it is far from lonely.  There are so many "chords" of flavor, with each note making the others better, that when one holds it in the mouth, you can keep coming around and "re-noticing" each flavor.  Its finish and afters continue the dark fruit flavors and give hints at Ten Fidy's warmth.

Mouthfeel 4/5
With how thickly this beer seemed to pour, I was surprised how light it felt in the mouth.  Not to say that this is a "light" beer by any means, but appearances can be deceiving.  One could safely classify it as a medium bodied beer with low carbonation.  The warmth of this beer is very deceptive, hiding itself away and only making it occasionally known that this is a 10.5% ABV beer.  It is a bit easier to detect during exhale.  The lighter-than-style body of this beer and its camouflaged  warmth make this beer much easier to drink than it should be.

Overall Impression 10/10
If you are going to do something, do it 100%.  The people at Oskar Blues have obviously taken this to heart. The beer meets nearly all of the style guidelines, adds interpretations, and comes out a winner.  It is flawless in aroma and appearance.  Other categories, while not flawless, are still excellent and result in a superior beer.

Total 48/50 (Outstanding)
This beer rightly earns the description of "world-class example of style."  Stylistically on the money with complimentary creative license, this beer was fantastic.  It is big, bold, and black.  Hard to believe that beer like this comes in a can, but in the future I believe that this trend will not be as surprising as cans continue to grow in popularity.  Not only is the beer amazing, but the people at Oskar Blues do some pretty cool things.  They include a "shotgun target" on the can so you know where to puncture the can (not that I would EVER shotgun this 12 oz. of nectar), they have musical events in their facilities, encourage recycling on their packaging, and they distribute their beer in cans.  Not only does Oskar Blues make beer to be unashamed of, they also unabashedly do what they love.  Kudos to you Oskar Blues!  This is one of my top beers.  Ever.

Things that make this can awesome: "this dog'll hunt," "Pack it in.  Pack it out."  Shotgun target.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Brauerei Pinkus Müller - Organic Hefeweizen

Ah, spring!  That magical time of year when the "wits" and "weisses" and "weizens" start to fill the air with their sweet, sweet perfume.  I know I just reviewed a weiss, but I think I can be excused by "spring fever," and the fact that I have not cracked open a bottle larger than 12oz in quite some time.  I am fairly excited to try this, not only because it is spring, but also because the last organic that I reviewed turned out so darn tasty.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 7/12
I feel that this is a bit of a generous rating, but am chalking it up to a perceived subtlety of the beer.  The aroma is dominated by the lemony esters and perhaps some coriander.  The wheat peeks out just a little, but not enough to add to the overall bouquet.  Most hefeweizens want to beat you over the head with a banana smell, but this one might be hinting at something a bit more reserved.

Appearance 2/3
A pour that was far from aggressive yielded a more-than-generous, white head that sat around 1.5 inches.  It was very light, almost whipped in its texture and it even stuck around a bit.  While it left an extremely small amount of lacing, the foam did persist as a layer on top for the majority of the glass.  The clarity was appropriately foggy, but the color was light for the style.  Also, there was no sediment in this bottle.  Sure, it can happen in different brands of unfiltered beers, but I always hope to see just a bit. EBC is 11.

Picture is my own.

Flavor 12/20
For a style of beer that is usually bursting with flavor, this one is not.  It does have the lemon essence and it is crisp, but errs on the side of dull instead of subtle.  The malt, which should be the secondary part of this style, is present, but is only so in a weak wheat flavor (true to the aroma).  It is the same level of unenthused sweetness in the intial taste, when held in the mouth, and in the finish.  Almost similar as when one adds too much lemon to water.  It is there and effects the flavor, but it is far from a bold taste.  In fact, the timid nature of this beer's flavor is what keeps it from being distinguished as subtle and instead is just "weak."

Mouthfeel 2/5
This is probably the weakest part of the beer.  Its body is far too light and offers no creaminess that would normally compliment the esters.  However, since the esters are so light and flighty, this mouthfeel is probably a suitable match.  The carbonation was adequate and appropriate for the style.  The light body does make it easy to drink, but at what expense?

Overall Impression 5/10
In case you could not tell, this is not the hefeweizen that is going to reach out and grab you.  This beer either aimed for subtlety and missed or went with sub-par organic ingredients that could not pass muster.  It is far too light for the style in several categories and does not contain the rich flavor experience that one expects when drinking a hefeweizen.

Total 28/50
While there are amazing organic beers out there, organic goods as a whole have only come into great popularity in the last several years.  That said, I am willing to give Pinkus some time to work things out.  In the meantime, I am hoping that all their offerings do not stray this far from their intended style.  Not that all style differentiations are bad, but usually they add something to the style, not water it down.  You could probably add a lemon to a much less expensive lager and get a similar beverage experience.
     I would not use this beer as one to introduce people into craft beer.  While lighter (or fruity) beers are generally a good way to do this, one must make sure that the offering is still tasty.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Two Brothers Brewing Co. - Ebel's Weiss Beer

A very good friend of mine happens to live in Warrenville, IL.  He also happens to live but 5 minutes from the Two Brothers Brewing Co, and his recommendation should come as no surprise.  There are several reasons that I am very happy to review this beer.

1.  It was recommended by a friend.
2.  It comes from an area not known for its craft/microbrews.
3.  I have not heard of this brewery before.

This is not coming from Portland, OR or some funny town in Wisconsin; this is coming from the Chicago suburbs.  Perfect!  The more unusual and unexpected the better.  Surprise me!  Give me an experience!  Again, big thanks to Luke for the recommendation.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.

Aroma 11/12
From a 3oz sample the first scent is unmistakably vanilla.  Underneath it is a  rich, bready malt which is perfect for the style.  The bits of clove also make themselves known.  No fruitiness to speak of and that is nice.  I could see how one could confuse the vanilla and clove combination for the traditional "banana" smell, but this beer manages to avoid it well.  Perhaps, it is the scent of a more authentic vanilla and not one based in high fructose corn syrup?  This aroma is perfectly done to style, but a bit darker and I like the subtle change.

Appearance 3/3
As seen in the picture above, this beer poured with a very generous , cream-colored head.  If you have read any of the recent reviews, you know I have been struggling to find beers that not only pour a larger head, but also retain it.  This beer did both and it made me smile.  Finally!  The pour was a dark, cloudy yellow with lots of visible sediment and yeasty treats.  The cloudy is to style, the abundance of yeast is not always present.  I hope it does not effect the flavor negatively.  On appearance alone, this beer again nails the style and adds something extra. EBC is an almost exact 20.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 17/20
This is a superbly balanced beer.  It does not attack you with sweetness or fall back upon it to cover up any potential lackings.  The initial dark sweetness leads almost immediately with the bready malt we found in the aroma.  Just when you start to recognize the malt, in comes the hop to balance out everything perfectly.  These flavors do not bum-rush you, but rather lead almost seamlessly one to another, each complimenting the last.  It is quite a departure from beers that smack you with, "this is the malt, this is hops, this is the finish, now wait for the after.  Got it?  Good."  These all flow together and do so in harmony.

Mouthfeel 5/5
Again, almost perfect to style.  Some might see it as a bit light-bodied, but I found it to increase its drinkability without sacrificing accuracy.  I would still call it a medium-bodied beer with low-medium carbonation and bits of warmth and creaminess.

Overall Impression 9/10
Its stylistic accuracy is spot on, yet it still manages to add something new in several areas.  It looks, tastes, smells, and feels exactly the way a weiss beer should, but manages to separate itself from the herd.  This beer also manages to avoid the common pitfalls of being too sweet, too fruity, or too dependent on the ever-present orange slice (bah!).

Total 45/50
Beer in the suburbs lives!  I could not get over the complimentary nature of this beer's flavors nor its adherence to style.  I am also still very pleasantly surprised that this beer came out of the Chicago suburbs, an area now widely known for its breweries.  This beer's balance, dark flavor tones, and avoidance of fake/synthetic tasting flavors are its true calling cards.  Big kudos to Two Brothers Brewing Co!  I know that I will be making the several hour trip to visit your facilities in the not-too-distant future.  If this is any indication of the quality of beers they make there in Warrenville, then this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Genesee - Cream Ale

I was initially very excited to try this brew.  A cream ale?  I had not heard of such things before, and assumed that "cream" would refer to mostly to the mouthfeel.  Cream and ale?  I was intrigued and decided to give it a go.  However, between the period from when I bought this beer to when I decided to review it, I had read an article about beers that I "had to drink in a can."  This beer was on that list.  Needless to say, it made me a bit apprehensive.  While canned beers are gaining credence in the craft beer circles, older beers that have been doing it for a while have been doing so because it is cheap and easy.  In fact, the author of the article, Erik Desjarlais, best puts it as such,

 "I’m not talking about the microbreweries who are now canning their beers; I’m talking about the old school. The stuff my elders drank, often times with a pinch of salt. Yes, with a pinch of salt. "

Note: I will not be trying this beer with salt.  Maybe during my next can of PBR if I'm feeling like a hipster.  Needless to say, traditionally canned beers have occasionally considered salt an improvement to the flavor. It is not exactly what I would classify as "encouraging."  Which beer will I get?  The cream?  The salt?  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 6/12
The dull sweetness of grain rushes out to the nose.  Hop aroma is almost entirely absent, with the exception of a light fruit aroma.  I know it is not per the style, but it almost comes off as citrusy.

Appearance 2/3
The beer pours a bright, clear, light yellow with a generous head.  The head, contrary to popular belief, will not sustain the weight of a coin.  In fact, it barely covered the top of the beer before I could take a sip.  I had even prepared to take a photo of a coin resting gently on the pillowy head!  EBC is approximately a 20.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 13/20
First impression?  Bready.  But more like a sweet bread, say a Hawaiian roll or enriched bread.  You know, the type of bread that you could eat plain.  As with the aroma, there are virtually no hops except a nearly imperceptible hop aftertaste.  The sweetness is very pleasant, but it is basically all this beer offers.  Very simple, very straightforward.

Mouthfeel 2/5
There is nothing special going on here.  The "cream" in cream ale evidently does not apply to the beer's texture.  It is a light-medium body, with slightly less than average carbonation.

Overall Impression 8/10
For a beer you can buy 24oz of for $0.95, this is pretty amazing.  It is not the best beer in the world, but I would definitely pay more for it and it definitely beats the pants off of any other beer in that price range.  It has its sweetness and high drinkability.  A nice combination for cookouts, groups of friends, or just a night where you do not want something "too heavy."  There are lots of craft beers that charge a lot more for a comparable experience.

Total 31/50
There is something very American about this beer.  Perhaps it's the light taste and high drinkability.  Perhaps it's getting a great bargain.  Perhaps it's not being disappointed with that bargain afterwards.  There's a word for that: value.  This beer has high value and I am proud to recommend it.  Something about it (perhaps the grain-derived sweetness) is almost reminiscent of New Glarus' Spotted Cow.  I know that may be blasphemy to some craft-drinkers out there (and tons of Wisconsinites), but I stand by my taste buds.  What a great surprise from not only an inexpensive beer (I'll not call it cheap), but one you can find in a can as well.  Its simplicity holds it back a great deal as far as its score, but there is definitely a reason this beer has been around so long.  Go find out why for yourselves.  You won't need salt.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Berghoff Brewery - Rock River Red Ale

I have come to the realization that I have a beer fridge full of beer (a sure sign of God's love).  However, in order to keep purchasing and reviewing news beers, I must drink and review the beers I already have in a more rapid fashion.  That said, I look to be churning out the reviews in the coming days/weeks.

Today's sample is from the Berghoff Brewery in Monroe, WI.  They have several locally-themed brews and this one's focus is on the Rock River, a fairly large local river known for its fishing, canoeing, and general summer relaxing.  Sounds like a good theme for a beer, right?  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 5/12
I am welcomed immediately by a dull sweetness followed quickly by lightly toasted, biscuity malt.  There is no hop aroma of which to speak. This is not a major concern as red ales are typically more defined by their malt characteristics and not the hops, but I was hoping for some hints at the beer's balance and a little more complexity.  The dull sweetness can almost be described as that of a dried fruit?  It is hard to specify in the aroma, but I look to having my suspicions confirmed in the flavor.

Appearance 2/3
The clarity was great for the style.  It is not crystal clear, but still appears bright.  The color was more that of a dark orange.  Normally, I would deduct for not being quite red/dark enough, but shades of red faded in and out from the center of the glass where the least light would pass through.  I'm not going to say it was like the aurora borealis or Tiffany Glass in its shifting of light, but it was very pretty to behold.  Not many beers change shades.  The head was fairly typical in its "foaminess" and did not go out of its way to compliment the beer.

Flavor 13/20
This beer is immediately sweet on the tongue.  The biscuity malts detected in the aroma can still be tasted, but they are being edged out by the sweetness.  The sweetness is apple cider-like and defines this beer.  Even for a traditionally malt-heavy red, this beer is not balanced.  You can experience a slight sensation of the hops, but it is only ever so faint and only during the aftertaste and occasionally during exhale.  There is no "bite" in this red ale.

Mouthfeel 3/5
There are really no news of note in the mouthfeel category.  It is light bodied, light-medium carbonation, and no flaws (astringency, etc).  However, for a bottle which mentions "craft brewing" several times on the bottle, there is nothing that really stands out about its mouthfeel either.

Overall Impression 4/10
I am left wanting a bit with this beer.  Its sweetness is the predominant flavor and does not really yield to much else.  It seems like an introduction into craft beers for someone accustomed to macros.  While it is true to style, this particular offering is rather generic and does not declare itself as an excellent example to its genre.

Total 27/50
This beer has a flavor and it is sweet.  Almost to the point where it tastes like a malty, less-crisp cousin of a cider.  What makes this really unfortunate is that I have fond memories of red ales (and hefes) being a gateway into craft beers.  This one may have something to offer those who are unfamiliar to a more flavorful beer, but its single characteristic (sweetness) is far from complex and will not likely be intriguing to more experienced cerevisaphiles.  I had not experienced Berghoff Brewery before this sampling and this was one flavor in a variety 12-pack.  I am all for second chances and wish them better luck in their future reviews.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stevens Point Brewing Co. - 2012 Black Ale

As you may have noticed, I have been a bit out of commission since St. Patrick's Day.  While it certainly felt like the end of the world, I indeed recovered and decided to get cracking on some new brew reviews.  I decided to take on the "end of the world" theme and review Point's - 2012 Black Ale.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only

Aroma 6/12
The aroma is rather light for something claiming to be a black ale.  Instead of robust bitters and über-dark roast there is a dark roast present (though not nearly dark enough) with a hint of chocolate.  Perhaps even a smoky scent peeking its head out, but only ever so faintly.  But sweetness in a black ale?  It is a bit troubling and I carried on to other areas of the beer hoping for more hints.

Appearance 2/3
When they said black ale, they were not kidding!  This thing is opaque!  It is pitch black and you can barely catch a brown from the edges even when held to light.  Very nice.  The head is a dark tan that cannot maintain retention long enough for me to even take a few snapshots and take a sip.  It leaves only a small collar and no lace.  I wish I could tell you its consistency, but it had vanished.  It keeps its points for its color and clarity (or lack thereof).

Picture is my own.
Flavor 12/20
This beer definitely has flavor, but it is not true to style.  It should be considered a robust porter before it is considered a "black" anything.  Perhaps the marketing folks are getting a bit out of hand?  I have had other great beers from Point, but this particular brew misses the mark.  The first sensation is sweet; the aroma did not mislead.  While the chocolate I detected in the aroma was a mix of sweetness and roasted malt, the flavor lacks chocolate.  Instead, there is a caramel that is made darker by the roasted malt.  Hops are not individually detectable, but do make their presence noticed with a slightly bitter finish and their contribution to the coffee afters.

Mouthfeel 3/5
There were some conflicting sensations here.  However, the mouthfeel is one of the more noticeable attributes of this beer.  Before noting any flavors whatsoever, I noted at least two different mouthfeel sensations.  The first was that this beer is smooth.  I almost confused it for a creaminess, but the body was not heavy enough for that.  This is a light bodied beer (again, not true to style) but tries to cover that up with a technique that could come in handy with some other styles of beer.  That technique was the carbonation.  The carbonation in this beer was almost that of nitrogen and not carbonation at all.  It was a very light, thin carbonation that made this beer feel "creamier" than its body actually was.  A neat trick and I would not mind seeing it again.

Overall Impression 5/10
This is not a bad beer.  It is simply not to style.  This is a porter masquerading in a black ale's bottle.  It is dominated by sweetness with very little in the way of bitter.  The appearance was fantastic!  I have had imperials that were not this black.  Overall, I'd say this beer takes some of the finer points of a stout (thin carbonation, color) and a porter (sweetness, lighter body) and mashes them together quite pleasantly.

Total 29/50
This ranking puts this beer in the very top of the "Good" category as that it "misses the mark on style and/or has minor flaws."  There were no flaws I could detect.  All I can say is that this beer was sweet and that is not what one expects from a black ale.  It was a dark sweet from the get-go in both aroma and flavor and while it would be pretty darn good as a robust porter, it is not a black ale.  In fact, as a porter or brown ale, this beer would rank significantly higher.  If someone was looking to get into the "super dark" beers, I would recommend this as an introduction to the style or a transition beer from something lighter.  After all, there are few things as nice as introducing friends to new beer experiences - or exbeeriences.  Oo!  Consider that trademarked.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Harpoon - Winter Warmer

First off, you may be thinking that it is a tad late in the year to be reviewing winter seasonal beers.  You may be right, but let me defend my decision by saying that the bottle clearly states, "Best by 03/15/11."  So not only is this bottle at its best, but it is my duty to drink it before it becomes otherwise.  This beer was recommended to me by a friend during the holiday season and I had tried it then and enjoyed it.  I recently came upon it again and decided to give it a thorough evaluation.  Thank you Kelly for the bottle and Jim for the suggestion!  Lets pour.

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only
Aroma 8/12
The spice smell is super present, but not so much that you cannot detect notes of sweetness underneath.  The malt is of bread and carmel - maybe even a bit toasted.  There must be a fairly complex malt at work here, I only wish I could detect it through the spice.  The hops could be present (and earthy if so), but I think I'm merely smelling the spices again.

Appearance 2/3
The color is fantastic for a winter seasonal.  A warm dark color like pure maple syrup.  It is bright and clear with a nice tan head.  The head dissipates quickly and leaves only a collar with no lacing.  Its texture while present is light and smooth.  EBC is about 36.
Picture is my own.

Flavor 15/20
The aroma is not lying; there is an abundance of spices in this beer and they are the first thing to greet you from the glass.  It is followed by the sweet, lightly toasty malts, whose flavors make up the majority of this beer.  This beer has a lightly hoppy finish to try and balance out all the malt and leaves a pleasant bitter aftertaste.  The sweetness of the malt plus the spicy cinnamon are almost reminiscent of orchard bought apple cider.  Please do not take that to mean there are any fruity esters in this beer.  It is simply a connection that my brain finds unavoidable.

Mouthfeel 4/5
This beer features a combination that is tough to beat: a nice medium body, but light enough to be drinkable.  The carbonation is just fine, though some might find carbonation this high to be more appropriate in a summer seasonal.  It hints at warmth, but again, I believe that to be the cinnamon playing games.

Overall Impression  7/10
Spices?  Check.  Sweetness?  Check.  That should be all you need, right?  I wish that I could say so.  It is a darn tasty beer, but feel it relies to much on its one strength - spice.  In fact, this beer may be substituting "spice" for "dark."  Winter is time for the nut brown ales and doppelbocks to rear their heads and sweetness usually takes a backseat to darkly roasted malts.  This is not the case here.  Both are present, but Harpoon's priorities to be inverse from the norm.

Total 36/50
While both this beer's spiciness and sweetness do make a great winter seasonal, the beer could be improved with a bit more balance.  I would love to have more carmely malt notes shining through the flavor.  Can we not give the spice as much importance?  Could we invite some earthy/woody hops?  That said, I would have no problem sharing a sixer of this at a holiday gathering.  This beer earns a "very good" ranking and my recommendation to sample it this winter.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Glarus - Wisconsin Belgian Red

Well, friends,  I have been waiting to sample this beer for some time.  It has been sitting in my fridge for a bit, waiting for just the right moment.  Apparently, that moment was today.  This beer has a bit of a reputation (as does the brewery) and I was trying not to build it up too much in my mind - I have to give a fair review after all.  The bottle claims loudly that it is a "Belgian red style," and (a little less loudly) that it is a "Wisconsin ale brewed with cherries."  In fact, the bottle description claims that "a pound of Door County Cherries" goes into every bottle.  For those of you unfamiliar with Wisconsin, Door County is the tip of Wisconsin that extends out as a peninsula into Lake Michigan.  It is known for its wine, natural beauty, fruits, culinary delights, and other such delicacies which easily fit into the "finer things."  I'm more than anxious to try this beer.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only
Aroma 11/12
Its a bouquet of cherries.  Period.  Please do not read this as cherry cough syrup or maraschino cherry or cherry flavor slurpy.  This smells like proper cherries right from the tree.  There are sour notes and light hints of spice.  It is difficult to get much else through those cherries.  Wow!

Appearance 3/3
Besides the smell, it even looks like authentic cherries.  No candy apple reds here, just a very dark, wonderful hue of amber.  It is slightly translucent when held to light, otherwise the picture tells all.  The head size was nice from the pour, but did not stick around long.  The head originally appeared peach in color, but settled down to a nice cream color instead.  Its texture was like the lightest whipped cream you have ever had, but still maintained decent carbonation.  Just like whipped cream compliments a dessert, the head was a perfect compliment to the beer beneath.  I would like to deduct a point for its lackluster head retention, but am hard-pressed to do so when it was so very pleasant when it was around.  I think I just wanted more of it!  EBC ranking is 38.

Picture is my own.
On a side note, this beer is capped with red wax.  The was does not look as glamorous as that on Maker's Mark, but it still makes you take a step back when you see it.  Beer with wax must mean business, right?  I felt that deserved another picture.

Picture is my own

Flavor 18/20
Not to be let down, this beer delivers on its taste of cherries.  It is not the fake taste of sweeteners (New Glarus has a reputation to defend after all), nor ciders, but real, honest juice.  The taste seems too complex to allow otherwise.  The sour hints in the aroma were false, it was simply the tart of the cherries.  This is delicious and the cherries are not overwhelming.  After holding this in the mouth for a moment, a bitter taste begins to evolve.  Almost as if it were dark cherries?  I am not sure what causes this, but the bitter finish is certainly present and rounded out by a cherry aftertaste.  I would rather that bitter finish be replaced by a warmth or a vinous finish. This beer is not a lambic, nor a "wine-beer" (like Dogfish Head's 'Red & White'), but its own version of those two tastes.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The body is certainly more "beer-like" than one would expect with its juice-based roots.  However, it is still extremely light (think American lager).  I do perhaps it were not so light, but with more body this beer might fall into the  "syrupy" trap that so many other beers find too easy to do.  I also imagine a bit more warmth might make this an even more successful venture for New Glarus, but may tread the line of becoming a port (without the smokiness).

Overall Impression 9/10
A fantastic beer from top to bottom.  Despite its extreme flavor, it remains very drinkable and light.  This is definitely an experience that I recommend.  It is another excellent alternative to the lambics out there and another fun thing against which to compare them.  The only factor keeping this beer from a perfect 10 was the bitter sensations.  I found it a bit distracting.  I worry that it was supposed to be a more "mature" flavor to round out all the sweetness, but I did not find it complimentary.  There must be a better way if that is their intent.

Total 45/50
A ranking of 45 earns the Wisconsin Belgian Red the description, "World-class example of style."  The only problem is, I am not sure what that style would be.  It has more body and richer flavor than lambics that I have tasted.  It lacks the vinous nature of some beer-wines (the aforementioned Red & White, etc).  It is just plain better than hard ciders with its fuller body, delicate head, and complexities.  It is wonderfully sweet, without overwhelming the drinker.  I had no problems finishing this bottle (1 pint, 9 fl oz), nor do I believe I would have such problems in the future.  Kudos, New Glarus!  This was quite a treat.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shiner - Smokehaus

So I have been reading a bit more about "smoke beers."  Their descriptions often correlate with unicorns: rare, magical, and if you should see one, you should drink its innards immediately.  OK, so maybe the comparison falls off a little toward the end.  In any case (not a beer pun), I happened to find one at my local Wine & Liquor store.  It was the last lonely soldier, long separated from his group, but I rescued him and gave him a home.  All kidding aside, I have never had a smoke beer before and was curious about the taste.  Would it be a dry, bitter experience like campfire smoke?  Would it be the sweet smell of BBQ?  Would it be like adding liquid smoke to a macrobrew?  It is indeed a curiosity and I was ready to experience it for myself.

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only

Aroma 6/12
Now I will be the first to admit, this rating may be somewhat to blame on a partially stuffy nose.  With that in the open, the first thing I noticed about this beer's aroma was the lack of it.  It took a lot of short, short sniffs but all I received for my efforts was a lingering of smoke and I was a bit disappointed.  I have used some liquid smoke in my cooking (chili and the like) and when you open that bottle, it is quite overwhelming.  While I was not expecting that smell (or to be drinking liquid smoke), I suppose I was expecting something a bit stronger than what I did.  The malt aroma is not entirely overpowered by the smoke and is detected as a light, bready smell.

Appearance 2/3
The Shiner pours a nice golden color and crystal clear.  The head was white, small and disappeared almost immediately.  I assume the carbonation cannot maintain that form due to something in the flavoring.  I accept any and all comments from any chemistry nerds on this one.  Where is Alton Brown when you need him?  The head texture was thin when it was present.  While being deducted a point for its head, the rest is spot on for the helles style, which this beer claims to be.  It ranks roughly a 22 EBC.
Picture is my own.

Flavor 16/20
Ah, the moment arrives!  Finally, so many questions will be answered.  The first sensation is sweet.  The pale malt shines through, but only for an moment.  Very soon after, the sweet smokey flavor hits the side of your tongue.  It is far from overwhelming and it is a very pleasant sensation.  Even, those not familiar with breaking down the flavors in a beer enjoy it, offering a smile and a "Wow!"  It is a neat thing to do to a beer!  The beer again finishes sweet, but the dialogue ends with the mesquite bitters in the back of your mouth.  True to style, this is a malty beer.  As with the aroma, I expected more smokiness, but what I received was not unpleasant by any means.

Mouthfeel 5/5
I'll reiterate, while adding a new flavor, this beer remains remarkably true to its style.  It is a light bodied, medium-high carbonation, beer with a sweet finish and not warmth or creaminess.  Nice.

Overall Impression 7/10
I went back and forth with this beer.  The majority of me wants this to be more of an "experience" in the extreme.  I want an extreme smokey flavor that separates this beer from any others.  I want it to be something I can tell friends about with excitement!  On the other hand, as this beer stands it is a great session beer.  I could easily take care of a sixer on a sunny summer day.  In fact, those that want a beer with high drinkability and do not wish to turn to macrobrews or a fruity taste will find this a very acceptable alternative to those traditional summer offerings.
     This bottle labels itself as "Shiner Smokehaus, Mesquite Smoked Beer, Helles Style.  The perfect sommer bier."  While I'm not sure its perfect, it certainly does not let down on its commitment to the helles style or the mesquite flavor.  I will agree with the bottom of the bottle whole-heartedly, "Its smokin' good."  You owe it to yourself to give this one a pour.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Samuel Smith's - Organically Produced Lager Beer

I had some preconceived notions about this beer.  Having lived in America all my life and having a penchant for "good" beer, I tend to look down on lagers.  I know there are some great lagers out there, but my geography lends me a bias that lagers are watered down, flavorless, mass-produced, gutter run-off.  I know many American beer drinkers (and probably international ones as well) will agree that American lagers (or pale lagers) offer little to no appeal to the palate.  However, I have seen this bottle several times and it is always offered at a premium price.  This intrigued me and I prepared to set aside my biases.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only
Aroma 10/12
After pouring a frothy 3-4oz sample and taking several short sniffs, one can easily detect the rich, bready aroma of the malt.  It is a bold. sweet smell and not unwelcome.  The hops come later and ever so delicately. They are a light, woody smell and hard to detect through the sweet malt.

Appearance 2/3
The only point subtracted here was for the head retention; everything else was flawless.  The beer was not crystal clear, but instead a blurred, golden hue (EBC roughly 12).  The ivory head rose quickly and lost half of its volume before I was half-way through the pint (not even a collar).  The head, when present, was a lovely, creamy compliment to the light beer that created it.  My first reaction?  Wow.

Flavor 19/20
While this beer is not saturated with thick flavors like other styles (double coffees, wit biers, etc), it is not required to do so.  Lagers are generally light in body and flavor and this beer was no exception.  The aroma the malt gave initially was revisited again in taste - a rich, bready taste that filled the mouth.  The hops came along stronger than in the aroma, but not out of balance with the malt.  Their strength in the flavor was a pleasant surprise after being almost absent in the aroma.  They were light and herbal and blended well with the esters that were present.  Wait, esters?  In a lager?  Oh yes, my friends.  This beer's flavor was phenomenal for a lager.  With the esters of perhaps light lemon and/or dark honey this beer tasted more like a long lost relative of a weiss than a lager!  Very nice!  This may be the first beer that I gush over and its a lager.  Wonders never cease.

Mouthfeel 5/5
This beer has the best of both worlds.  The light body and drinkability of a lager, but with the sweetness and flavor profile (muted though it be) of a weiss or Belgian.  The body was perfect for the style and the sweet finish makes it a truly refreshing beer.  I dare you not to love this beer on a summer day.  Also true to style there was almost no warmth, creaminess, or astringency.

Overall Impression 9/10
No surprise in the rating here.  I was greatly impressed with this offering.  In fact, I'm sad it is gone.  I usually do not purchase the same type of beer if I can help it, but this beer may be the exception

Total 45/50
This rating put it at the lowest end of "Outstanding: World-class example of style."  I do not believe that rating to be inaccurate.  It offers all the classic signs of a lager (light color, good carbonation, light body/good drinkability) but with the flavors and other perks of a more "serious" beer (sweet finish, esters, creamy head). This beer is deserving of praise and your sampling.  I hope you will go out and find one, after all, why else are you reading this if not for suggestions?

Don't forget to share with a friend!  It is half the fun.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ayinger - Braü-Weisse

As with most folks, my first dive into craft brewery (or any beer with flavor for that matter) was a witbier, with weisse beers and hefe-weizens not far behind.  These are the styles of beer that I have drinking the longest and I am always excited to try a new one or revisit an old friend.  Today's sample was Ayinger's - Braü-Weisse.  I was a bit more excited than usual because this appeared to be a more authentic offering than most; there were proper (not popularized spellings), it is German-made, and (I cannot stress this enough) there were umlauts on the bottle.  It is also important for me to note that the 2 of the 3 english phrases on the label were:

1.  Brewed in accordance to the "Reinheitsgebot" Purity law of 1516
2.  Authentic Bavarian hefe-weizen

Those are good signs!  Let's dive right in.

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only

Aroma 9/12
The hops are the first thing to jump out at you.  They are, of course, citrusy and sweet; greeting the nose but not overwhelming it with sweetness.  This lack of sweetness, everpresent with the style, is to be the theme for this beer.  There was not the smell of "banana" or "bubblegum" with this beer, but instead a sweet more acidic aroma associated with apples.  This is the first hint that makes me think I may not have received a fresh bottle from my retailer.  An aroma is still certainly present, but not the rich, sweet smell of an authentic hefe-weizen.  For the style, its a bit thin and acidic.

Appearace 2/3
A lovely, golden cloud filled my glass.  What more could you ask for in a weisse?  A head, it turns out, is the answer.  The ivory-colored head was fair in size (1 1/2 fingers), but it disappeared extremely quickly (especially for the style) and I was disappointed.  For a good hefe-weizen I expect a thick, rich foam on the top which reeks of the aroma beneath and remains with me for at least half the glass.  This was not the case; there was no lace and no retention.  This is the second hint that suggests I may not have received a fresh bottle.  You can see it ranks about a 20 EBC.
Picture my own.

Flavor 14/20
I am conflicted on how to evaluate the flavor of this beer.  One part of me says, "Its not as sweet as the style should be!  Where is the smell you love?  Where are the distinct flavors?"  The other part says, "Wow.  This beer did not try to overwhelm you with sweetness.  Its very well-blended and a more 'mature' entry of the style."  While, I was able to detect some floral hops, fruity esters, and a nice even balance to me the entry was almost sour in the mouth.  This is the third hint that I may not have received a fresh bottle.  I understand if a beer of this style would want to try something a little less candy-ish and more toward other European styles of cloudy beer.  But sour?  That taste has no place in a weisse and has been dudected points accordingly.

Mouthfeel 3/5
A light-medium body with ample carbonation.  I should like a heavier body in this style (complimenting the creaminess of the head and the sweet flavors in the beer), but having it a bit lighter does add to its drinkability.  As it stands, I could have had several of these if exclusively based on the mouthfeel.  No real warmth, but a bit of astringency.

Overall Impression 7/10
While I still certainly would not mind buying another pint of this beer, I cannot help but shake the feeling I have been swindled.  I have been swindled out of the beer-tasting experience that I expected.  I expected the most from an authentic variety of this beer, however the taste was not only muted (subtlety can be nice) but incorrect to an extent.

Total 36/50
I have mentioned it several times in this review and I'll say it again; I feel I may have received a bottle that was not at its peak freshness.  Several factors from the aroma and head, to the flavor and mouthfeel were just not right for this beer or this style.  As it stands, it is still a "very good" beer ("Generally within style parameters, minor flaws"), but it could definitely be delivering more.  A good Paulaner would kick the tail out of this sample.  That said, I will be more than happy to give this beer a second chance.  I even look forward to it.  Be assured that next time I will be asking the date when the shipment arrived.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Left Hand Brewing Co. - Wake Up Dead Imperial Stout

Very excited to sample this brew!  A friend of mine had recommended Left Hand's "Fade to Black," and since I was not able to find it, I figured that this would be a close second.  I have had it in my fridge for a few weeks now and it has been taunting me while waiting for its own entry.  Here it goes.

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 6/12
The first aroma after pouring a nice 3-4oz. sample was the hops.  In fact, it was almost dominated by the hops, oddly enough.  It was a sweet smell, not unlike fresh alfalfa in the field or the sweetness that corn can attain.  Now I realize that those are grains and usually attributed to the malt, but I am allowing myself some leeway on this one.  In an Imperial Stout one would expect to the aroma dominated by the dark, roasted malt.  However, the smell does not come until much later - once the head had reduced by 1-2 cm.  Only after I had finished taking the photos was I able to smell the toasty scent of the malt really come through (and even then, only lightly).

Appearance 2/3
To steal a Sam Elliot line, an Imperial Stout should be "darker'n a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night."  This is not.  It is also where the diversion from the imperial stout style becomes grossly apparent.  This does have a great opaque color, but there are hints of dark copper toward the edges and especially if held to light.  Red?!  In an imperial stout!??!  Unheard of!!  Looking into this glass should be like staring into a cave; no hints of light and seemingly bottomless.  It fails in this respect and, unfortunately, is not the last time it will be accused of not being dark enough.
     Its head was a dark cream color (not the dark brown I had hoped for) and stayed present til about half way down my pint.  Very little lace, but it did cover the surface of the beer.  The head was thin and bubbly, not creamy.  On a side note, I would love to give this beer some extra credit points for its bottle art!  Really nice imagery.  I should have taken the red graphics on the outside of the bottle as a foreshadowing of things to come.  Note to self: next time look for imperial stouts that only have labels in monochrome.

Picture is my own.

Flavor 10/20
Please, let me first clarify by saying that this rating is not to indicate that this beer does not have any flavor!  It has a rich, dark flavor that I would rather drink that many more popular stouts.  That said, this is FAR from an imperial stout and is being deducted points for its vast differentiation of the style.  In opposition to the aroma, the malt made its appearance known first in the flavor.  Again, this brew is just not dark enough!  First impression?  Sweet like brown sugar or dark toffee or über-dark vanilla.  I even had to ask my wife to take a sample.  Was I missing the forest for the trees?  Was I paying too close attention to the minutia that I was missing the big picture?  No.  My wife is by no means a beer drinker and her (paraphrased) first words were, "Its really dark, but its sweet."  Trust me, if this beer was dark and bitter, her face would have let me know poste haste. In addition to the sweet "sugary" taste, there was also that of some darker fruits like figs or dates or dark cherries.  Something like that.  There were not fruit esters in the aroma, but a few were present (though complimentary) in the flavor.
     But where is the bitter?  Where is the toastyness?  Where is the coffee?  The hops are present (and earthy when they arrive), but this is an imperial stout and its bitterness should make me want to sit down with a slight grimace.  I expect to be knocked back by a bold(er) flavor and a high alcohol content.  This beer hints at those, yet gives me neither.  The hops are most present while exhaling during the "aftertaste."  This would be a ridiculously good brown ale and that thought keeps returning as I descend down the bottle.

Mouthfeel 3/5
Extremely light creamy texture - medium body overall.  I almost feel guilty calling it creamy at all.  It is a little too bubbly for stout.  There is a hint of warmth initially, but it gives way almost immediately.  The finish is cloying (along with the rest of the of the beer) and very sweet.  Insert disappointed sigh.

Overall Impression 8/10
This is by no means a bad beer.  In fact, I rather enjoyed the whole bottle, but it is far from what the style demands.  It is too sweet!  I want an imperial stout to dry my mouth and impress me with its big, bold, bitter, bad-boy flavor.  I want it to make me question if I should have ordered it when I look at its opacity/viscosity. I want it to suplex my tongue and put it in a choke hold until I tap for mercy.  I should probably feel the strange need to listen to Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black," while drinking it.

Look!  See!  Imperial Stout is supposed to be the blackest of black beers!!!
 Total: 29/50 Good
This score (the top "good" score given before being rated "very good") states that this beer "misses the mark on style and/pr minor flaws."  While I was worried about not seeing the forest for the trees, I found that my impressions were correct (a satisfying moment for a budding beer taster).  This beer, with modifications to the type of sweetness (nuts instead of fruit), would be a TREMENDOUS brown ale, given the characteristics in its flavor, mouthfeel, and appearance.  As it stands currently, it is an imperial stout with a lot of flavor, just not the right ones, nor were they strong enough.
     I would really like to see some darker malts involved and lots of them.  Of course, once you add all that malt, you are going to need a lot of good hops not only to balance the malt, but to give this beer the bitter kick that is, not only essential to its history, but true to its style.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Glarus Brewing Co. - Fat Squirrel

In the interest of full disclosure, Fat Squirrel has long been one of my favorite beers.  Perhaps, it is its limited availability or a reminder of trips home, but when all is said and done I have enjoyed this beer a great deal over the years.  That in mind, it is only appropriate that it is the first beer that I will be reviewing with only the best intentions of removing my bias.

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.

Aroma 8/12
While the aroma is not exactly rich, it is certainly present after pouring the beer.  It is strikingly sweet with toasty hints foreshadow the malts to come.

Appearance 2/3
The appearance (as shown) is clear with a light copper coloring.  The ivory-colored head small, crisp (not creamy) in nature and effervesces away quickly leaving no lace.  The color is where points begin to be deducted.  While Fat Squirrel never claims to be a "nut brown ale" (as is popular with the season), it certainly follows that style a great deal.  It only claims to be an ale (not even an red or amber ale!).  Given that most ales of this style are darker a point has suffered.  It shows an EBC color rating of 36 (shown below).

Picture is my own

Flavor 16/20:
Again varying from the style has sacrificed a few points.  Without the "brown," of the "brown ale," the result is sweeter than expected.  In fact, the first flavor noticed is a round, nutty sweetness of the grains and hazelnut.  This gives way to a lightly hoppy, bitter finish and leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste.  Several moments after drinking, the toastiness returns and hangs in the mouth to join the bitters.  Not especially balanced, given the different "waves" of flavors, but I rather enjoy it that way - when one sensation hits you, then another, then another.  You're waiting to see what comes next and that can be an enjoyable experience.  In the end, it is a bit light and sweet for the style.

Mouthfeel 4/5:
Medium body - not especially creamy or watery.  Average warmth for style.

Overall Impression 8/10:
While suffering in the stylistic accuracy to a beer it does not claim to be, this beer is still delicious!  While I might like to see a slightly more roasted malt, that may make it a bit too heavy (like several others in this style) and limit its drinkability.  As it stands I could drink several Fat Squirrels in a row and be quite content.  In fact, I have done so on several occasions.

Total 38 (Excellent)
This brew "exemplifies the style, but requires minor tuning."  Something a bit darker, but not as dark as New Glarus' seasonal "Back 40 Bock," would round the sweetness nicely and make it more appropriate to the style.  All this talk makes me want another (or two)!

A bit of research

I have been thinking a lot about this blog and the shape I would like it to take.  A concept that rather appeals to me is that of standardizing the tasting and rating process.  I do not claim to be in any way an accomplished beer aficionado.  However, by standardizing my tastings, I hope to discover new "favorite" beers.  At times, one can take a mouthful of brew and upon tasting, hold the glass out in front of oneself, and wide-eyed proclaim, "Damn!  That is one amazing beer!"

And then promptly forget about it.

Maybe the "magic" of the moment was not there.  Maybe you did not have a competent second opinion to affirm your wondrous experience.  Maybe you just had too many more and forgot it.  The case remains, that there are are many excellent beers that I have had which I will never recall.  I hope this rating system, not only allows me to fairly compare beers to one another, but also allows me to look back and say, "Oh yeah!  That was an amazing beer.  I wonder where I could find some."  Now even though I am not lithe to drink too much of the same beer (since there are so many deserving beers, crying out to be sampled), certainly a beer tried once and found to be excellent is deserving of a second pour!

All that in mind, here are some of the standardized tools that I will be using in order to rate the beers I drink. 

The Beer Wheel:  "Scientists have found more than 1,000 identifiable flavors in beer, yet an experienced taster can pick out perhaps only 100.

Dr. Morten’s wheel gave beer tasters a common vocabulary and caught on
all over the world. It is now used as the standard reference by the
European Brewery Convention, the American Society of Brewing Chemists,
and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas."
Quote and image from
I do not plan on being very familiar with the wheel, perhaps time shall tell.  What I do enjoy about it is the idea of a "common vocabulary."  After all, what good is a review of a beer if no one else has any idea of what I'm talking about?
Henceforth referred to SRM #1

Standard Reference Method (a.k.a. SRM):  Obviously, this is used to guage the color of the beer, or as Wikipedia so eloquently puts it, "The Standard Reference Method or SRM [1] is a system modern brewers use in beer measurement to assess its darkness. Deriving SRM involves measuring the amount of light passing through a sample of beer and multiplying the result to accommodate the sample size."

SRM #2

This image I include for different reasons.  First of all let me say that I would love to credit the creator of this image, but several websites all refer to it as "my chart."  That said, I am including this chart for a pair of reasons.

1) It does a better job than the earlier SRM chart at capturing the shades of red/amber that can appear in a beer.

2) It doesn't really mess around with all the shades of black beer.  Not to say that there aren't differences and that different levels of light aren't allowed through, but I do not have the equipment, nor the desire, to measure such minute differences.  The human eye can only measure so much and that is the primary, nay only, instrument that I will be using.

However, I feel that this chart, while capturing the red hues absent in the earlier graph, fails to capture the hues of yellow/pale yellow that exist in several varieties of beer.  The red starts far too early in the quantifying of color.  I shall primarily use SRM #1 since it appears to be the more "official" of the two.  However, should circumstances warrant, I shall not shy away from using the second if it provides a more accurate description of the beer.


While I initially had wanted to shy away from the world of beer judges, snobs, critics, et al, it turns out they have a very succinct forms for scoring and analyzing beer.  So shall I stand a bit on the shoulders of giants and use their forms as found at the following web address.

Aroma (12 possible points): Malt, hops, esters (fruits, etc), etc
Appearance (3 possible points): Color, Clarity, head (retention, color, & texture)
Flavor (20 possible points): Malt, hops, fermentation characteristics, balance, finish/aftertaste, etc
Mouthfeel (5 possible points): Body, carbonation, warmth, creaminess, astringency, etc
Overall Impression (10 possible points):   Overall drinking pleasure.  Suggestions.

For a best possible result out of 50 points.

Outstanding (45-50): World-class example of style
Excellent (38-44): Exemplifies style well, requires minor tuning
Very Good (30-37): Generally within style parameters, minor flaws
Good (21-29): Misses the mark on style and/or minor flaws
Fair (14-20):  Off flavors, aromas or major style style defeciencies
Problem (0-13): Major off flavors and aromas dominate

Let's find some 50's!!!