Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Troegenator Double Bock

Two winters ago, I gave up beer for Lent. I will never do that again. As any good Catholic knows, beer is the one thing you're supposed to have during Lent! First brewed by the Paulaner monks of Munich in the late 1600s, the strong lager doppelbock was like "liquid bread" in that it provided nutrition and sustenance during long periods of fasting. The Paulaners even sent a cask of their doppelbock to the Pope in hopes that the Holy Father would officially condone their Lenten drinking. As luck would have it, the beer spoiled en route to Rome and tasted so awful that the Pope determined it had to be good for the soul and could thus be heavily consumed without guilt. Traditionally very malty and darker than a standard bock, the double bock has gained an increasingly higher concentration of alcohol over the centuries. The Paulaners dubbed an especially strong version of their double bock "The Salvator", thus creating a precedent for naming this beer style with the "ator" suffix. The Troegenator follows in this tradition. It's not only one of America's finest double bocks but also one of my five favorite beers, period. If you're lucky enough to live in one of the eight states that sells Troegs beer and you're not drinking The Troegenator, you are missing out!

Double bocks are great, but a lot of them are way too sweet. The Troegenator gets it just right. The sweet malts, with their notes of caramel and fruit, are the first thing you taste. And, boy, are they delicious! But with a tiny bit of hop bitterness and a wonderful toasted grain flavor, the Troegenator achieves the perfect balance that frequently eludes double bocks. It’s unbelievably smooth, yet at the same time it provides the feel-good, warming sensation of a classic winter lager (at 8.2 percent ABV, it’s deceptively potent!). As beer geeks we can sometimes get lost in pedantic statistics and fancy ingredient lists, but at the end of the day all that really matters is how a beer tastes. The Troegenator, simply put, is one of the three or four most delicious beers to have ever crossed my lips. To use a highly advanced term, it's yummy.

I plan to sample a great number of double bocks during Lent 2011 (What will I be giving up? Candy, cookies, ice cream, and various other assorted sweets). In fact, I may drink nothing but double bocks in honor of the monks who have piously imbibed this fine brew for hundreds of years. But the Troegenator is not just a winter or Lenten beverage. It's brewed year-round, and I drink it year-round. If not quite the best beer in America, it's at least the best beer in the state of Pennsylvania. A+!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve Ale

Santa’s Private Reserve is not your father’s Christmas ale. Usually when you think Christmas beers, you think traditional holiday spices. You think ginger, you think cinnamon. Santa’s Private Reserve is by all means a Christmas beer, but this is a winter warmer that’s hopped rather than spiced. And when I say that it’s hopped, I mean that it’s hopped! Basically it’s a variation of the St. Rogue red ale - with literally twice the hops! Chinook and Centennial hops are the stars of the show along with a secret hop simply known as “Rudolph”, giving the beer its piney, citrus character. Like any great winter warmer, it’s heavily malted – its savory caramel notes brought on by Harrington, Klages, and Munich malts. But even with all that sweet malt power, the hops easily prevail. This isn’t to say that the beer isn’t nicely balanced. It’s just that the hops are so big and bold that the malts really have to fight for your attention. And that’s probably a good thing. I’ve tried a lot of winter warmers that are just too sweet, and they kind of leave me wishing for a touch of hop bitterness. Santa’s Private Reserve provides that and then some. It's a big, tasty beer that ought to be served at every Christmas dinner table. With its bready, fruity complexity, it almost suggests a holiday fruitcake – but I’ve never had a fruitcake in my life that was this good!

At 6 percent ABV, Santa’s Private Reserve packs a lot less alcohol than the typical winter ale – a good thing considering it comes in a 22-ounce bottle! No sense in capping that bad boy - you can't help but drink it all in one sitting! Of course it ain't cheap, but you know you’re getting quality stuff with a Rogue beer. Your run-of-the-mill brew sure isn’t made with free range coastal water and John’s proprietary top-fermenting Pacman yeast. I can totally see why Santa would pick this as his preferred holiday beverage. The man delivers toys to millions of children, all in one night, capping an exhausting season of personal appearances, letter-reading, reindeer training, and careful observation of who’s been bad or good. After all of that, he deserves only the best.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

If I’m beer shopping in the presence of my wife, she’s certain to encourage me to buy something I’ve never thought of trying before. She knows me too well. Left to my own devices, I’m sure to purchase something I’ve had six million times before. Even if I buy a “new” beer, it’s probably going to be something predictable like a porter or a pale lager. Tami is not a beer drinker, so I can’t say for sure what her beer selection criteria might be. All I know is that her record is impressive. She’s never steered me wrong. She can walk through the colossal domestic craft brew section at The Andersons and magically pick out some of the finest beers on the shelf. The Dark Horse Reserve Special, Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury, and Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale were all picks of hers the last time we hit T-Town. She’s like the Nostradamus of beer. We were at Wegmans on Saturday night, and I got myself a six-pack of Troegenator double bock. Tami suggested I get something else as well. She almost went with Stone Levitation Ale but ultimately convinced me to try the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. Holy crap! Did she ever hit that one out of the park!

So I’m supposed to be Mr. Black Beer. I’m all over stouts and porters. How in the hell did I never have a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout before?!!!! I’ve had a lot of stouts – and this is easily in my top three or four. Triple-mashed and made from six varieties of black, chocolate, and roasted malts, the Black Chocolate Stout is complex enough for any beer geek yet smooth enough for the average Joe. For a Russian imperial stout, it’s unbelievably smooth. It is what its name says it is – black and chocolate-y, with a delicious roasted coffee flavor and just a touch of hop bitterness. Imperial stouts, first made in the 18th Century in Britain for export to Catherine the Great, are typically big, strong beers (they had to be to in order to keep from freezing en route to Russia!). And while the Black Chocolate Stout surely is big and strong (10 percent alcohol), it’s remarkably accessible for the style. I don’t really taste all that alcohol. What I do taste are the dark unsweetened chocolate and the dark roasted coffee. It’s a rich and roasty stout – not as sweet as you might think, but incredibly tasty and remarkably easy to drink. This beer is so freaking good that I get a little sad once my glass is emptied. But at 300 calories per bottle and 10 percent ABV, drinking more than one at a time could be highly hazardous to my health! No worries, though. All the finest things in life are best enjoyed in moderation. And although the Black Chocolate Stout is only available in the winter, there’s still plenty of winter remaining. I wonder if it’s too late to ask Santa for a couple of 4-packs of this stuff.

A lot of the time when we run to the beer store, Tami waits in the car while I go in and choose a few beers to buy. The way she's been picking 'em, I'm starting to think it should be the other way around!

Friday, December 10, 2010


Because it went so well for Oprah, I’m going to talk about my favorite things. My wife would probably agree that favorite thing #1 has to be going to bed on Friday night knowing that we can sleep for the next 13 hours if we wish. #2 favorite thing: NFL Red Zone (that one Tami will not agree with!). #3: a Philly cheesesteak with whiz. #4: the Alec Baldwin scene in Glengarry Glen Ross. And rounding out the top five are…Irish pubs! I love me some Irish pubs. Give me a big plate of bangers & mash and swords hanging on the wall, and I’m a happy camper.

So, what does one drink with bangers & mash or shepherd’s pie or corned beef & cabbage? Truly, I like Guinness as much as the next guy (actually more than the next guy, I’d wager). But six times out of ten, I’m going another route. Occasionally I’ll get all wild and crazy and order a black & tan or a Magners, but typically I’m boring and just ask for a Smithwick’s. It’s never a bad choice. Of all the big-name import beers, it may be the most underrated. If it’s not the best Irish red I’ve ever had (that would be Great Lakes Conway’s!), it’s at least a solid B+ ale. And surely this world would be a better place if there more B+ beers and less C- beers. We can marvel over the fact that Guinness has been going strong for 250 years plus, but how about three cheers for Smithwick’s and its three hundred years of brewing excellence?!

John Smithwick began brewing ales in 1710, on the site of an old Franciscan abbey in Kilkenny where monks had brewed beer since the 14th Century. The original plant still stands as Ireland’s oldest operating brewery, and Smithwick’s is still the definitive Irish red ale. Like so many tried-and-true classics on the beer market, it may seem a little tame compared to the daring concoctions dreamed up by the more recent generations of craft brewers. But sometimes you don’t need daring. Sometimes you just need a good beer. Smithwick’s is a splendidly balanced mix of sweet malts and bitter hops with requisite tea flavor and a touch of coffee notes from its roasted barley, pouring ruby red in color and seemingly made to be consumed next to any traditional Irish dish. If you’re just shooting the shit with your friends and drinking the night away, then by all means you can go with Guinness or Harp or god forbid something English like Bass (just kidding!). But with a meal, like a piping hot serving of shepherd’s pie in all its delicious glory, Smithwick’s cannot be beat. Don’t forget to ask for some soda bread!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Founders Dirty Bastard

Founders claims its Dirty Bastard Scotch ale is “so good it’s almost wrong.” Not since the release of Dick Cheney’s memoir War Makes Me Hard has there been such truth in advertising. If I’ve ever had a better beer in my life, it would have to have been another Founders standout, the Breakfast Stout. But even then, we’re talking a neck-and-neck race. The Dirty Bastard is ridiculously, outrageously, impossibly delicious. The moment I tasted one bottle, I knew I’d have to buy an entire case. I literally danced in my man cave when I found out there was a distributor in town that carried it.

Featuring seven varieties of imported malts, the Dirty Bastard seems a candidate to come off disgustingly sweet. Forget it! All those glorious malts are balanced by notes of smoke and peat and a healthy dose of hops. End result: flavor perfection. This is what a “high-end” beer should taste like – not too sweet, not too hoppy, not too roasty, but rather a great combination of all three elements. Scotch ales, due to their lengthy boiling process, tend to be distinct from other ales. They are traditionally sweet, high in alcohol, and roasty caramel-ish in flavor. The Dirty Bastard is all of those things and more. While I sometimes get just a little bored with mega-malty wintertime ales, the Dirty Bastard has got way more going on – and all of it good! Sure, the malt sweetness and boozy flavor are up front in full force. When the caramel and dark fruit notes hit, they hit hard. But the malts are as roasty as they are sugary, and 50 IBUs of piny hops provide a much-needed bitter finish. And at that risk of sounding like a wine geek, I’ve gotta say this stuff smells great! The chocolate and caramel notes are such heaven to sniff that even my cat had her nose in my glass last night!

One thing I always notice about drinking a Dirty Bastard is how fast it goes down. I like to sit down with a beer every night while I’m watching a ball game or a TV show and really enjoy it. I like to take my time and truly savor a good beer. But I just can’t do that with a Dirty Bastard. I take my first sip; and before I know it, my glass is empty. At 9 percent alcohol, this sure ain’t a session beer. But it’s so freaking delicious that it ought to be.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I have nothing against cheap beer. Truthfully, I enjoy cheap beer. But a good cheap beer has to meet certain conditions. First of all, it actually has to be cheap. If you’re paying $40 for a case of Corona when you could get 24 bottles of Coors for half of that, you’re getting robbed. Second, it can’t taste completely disgusting. I know we’re talking about macro lager here, so it’s not like any of them are going to win prize ribbons for taste. But some varieties of the species are just god-awful. You can buy a 6-pack of Natty Boh cans for less than five bucks, but your own urine would be less offensive to your taste buds. This leads me into point three: it has to be available in bottles. Beer out of a can just tastes nasty. The “scientific” reason for this is that skunky beer is a result of exposure to temperature change, and aluminum is an inferior insulator to glass. And if you actually drink it out of the can? Ewwwww! Finally, a good cheap beer has to be fresh. There’s nothing wrong with picking up a case of Miller Genuine Draft off the store shelf – just make sure it hasn’t been sitting there since last year.

My go-to macro is Iron City Beer, but that's a hard brand to find in these parts. So I tend to rotate my cheap beers in hopes of finding one that always does the job. Nothing tastes better with a Tony Packo’s hot dog than a Labatt Blue draught, but the import pricing keeps LB out of the running for highest honors. Same goes for the Schlitz ‘60s formula – which is supremely delicious but priced more like a micro brew. A lot of the throwback brands – Rolling Rock, Old Milwaukee, Stroh’s – are now corporate-owned, contract-brewed, and frankly not what they used to be. I want to like Miller High Life because its TV ads crack me up, but it’s got that gross corn adjunct aftertaste that too often plagues cheap lager. Ditto for Yuengling Premium. It loathes me to admit this, but the much-maligned Budweiser might be the highest quality American adjunct lager on the market. Sure, sure: there’s not much to it. You barely taste any hops. The flavor is, at best, subtle. But the key to a great cheap beer is to hold the bitter aftertaste to a minimum and keep the product fresh. Bud comes through on both counts (the “born on” label is one of the best things to ever happen to American beer). It's a quality, consistent product. When it comes to this style of beer, you have to ask two questions: A) Does it taste good on a hot day when you’ve just come in from mowing the lawn and you’re dying of thirst? and B) Does it go well with pizza? If we’re talking Bud, the answers are “yes” and “yes”. I even had a bottle of Bud at my wedding (only after downing a couple glasses of Guinness, but still…). If Bud was good enough for the greatest day of my life, I sure as hell can’t knock it.

Like anyone who’s ever gotten into craft beer, I went through my phase of writing off the likes of Bud as horrendous corporate swill. But let’s face it: who’s got the money to buy micro brews all the time? I spent $16 at the beer store last week and only came home with four bottles! Even the most discriminating beer drinker needs a good, solid cheap beer in his fridge for hot days and greasy burger meals and unexpected visits from friends. Budweiser just might be that good, solid cheap beer. Contrary to what the hipsters might tell you, it’s better than P.B.R.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Victory Yakima Glory Ale

Nobody makes better beer than Downingtown, Pennsylvania's Victory Brewing Company. Victory's flagship beers - the surprisingly balanced HopDevil, the big Russian imperial Storm King, the crisp and boldly-hopped Prima Pils, the hugely popular tripel Golden Monkey, the appropriately-named Hop Wallop, and the underrated helles-style Victory Lager - are hard to beat. But dare I say some of the Victory seasonals are even better? Yakima Glory, a late fall/early winter specialty, is darn near the best IPA I’ve ever tasted.

Yakima Glory, formerly known as Yakima Twilight, is more flavorful than the HopDevil and better-balanced than the Hop Wallop. It’s by definition a black IPA but actually pours a brownish red color. As you would expect from an ale that showcases the world-famous hops of Yakima Valley, Washington, it’s very hop-forward in taste. It hits straight off with a huge and delicious floral hop blast, tickles the taste buds with some sweet roasted malts, and closes with an enormous grapefruity finish. The IPA is not my favorite beer style, but it has been rising up the charts the last year or two. And if more IPAs were like this one, I'd be all-in! Somehow the Yakima Glory manages to taste both dominantly hoppy and beautifully balanced - perhaps coming on a little strong upon first sip but ultimately going down silky smooth and leaving me thirsty for more. The grapefruit finish is pronounced and lingering - but this is one aftertaste that I'm not dying to obliterate. And although it's the dark malt presence that makes this ale different from Victory's year-round IPAs, the best part of drinking a Yakima Glory is that first hoppy sip. Mmmmm! One doesn't always think of an IPA as a session beer, but I could drink two or three of these easily!

The Yakima Valley, uniquely situated on the 47th parallel, has those long summer days farmers need to grow good hops. The valley produces 30 percent of the world’s beer hops and three-quarters of America’s. I'm not going to say that one taste of the Yakima Glory will compel you to fly out to Washington state and kiss the ground its hops were grown in. Then again, I'm not going to say it won't.

The World's Finest Beverage

Let it be known that the title of this blog is not my intellectual property. Should there ever be a book deal or a Hollywood movie or a bobblehead doll collection spawned from this humble corner of cyberspace, one Dave Getzoff – esteemed college radio disc jockey and longtime contributor to my defunct Now Wave Magazine - will be duly credited and compensated for patenting the phrase “world’s finest beverage”. Will he be paid in beer? Probably.

All the good ideas I had for blog names (e.g. "Top of the Hops") were already taken, but then it dawned on me that "World’s Finest Beverage" had to be it. For most of the year 2007, Dave and I knocked back pints in various drinking establishments all over the city of Philadelphia and points north whilst watching bands such as Jukebox Zeros, Mean Streets, and Beach Patrol play to crowds of dozens. Yuengling and P.B.R. were our go-to draughts, but we downed everything from Brooklyn Lager in Brooklyn to Heineken bottles at the South Philly dive J.R.’s. More often that not, we didn’t refer to what we were drinking as “beer”, but rather as “the world’s finest beverage”. Dave, back in the mid-‘90s, had an under-21 friend who had lamented being legally unable to buy beer, saying, “I don't see what the big deal is - why on earth would anyone have to be 21 just to enjoy the world's finest beverage?” And just like that, a phrase was coined.

Kind of seems appropriate, though. Beer really is the world’s finest beverage. It’s been enjoyed by human beings since the 6th millennium BC. Of all beverages, only water is older – and that hardly counts! And if you’re like me, it’s not at all about the alcohol. It’s about the taste. Great minds from Plato (“He was a wise man who invented beer”) to Benjamin Franklin (“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”) to Homer Simpson (“I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer”) have articulated the sensory delights of tasting good beer. A wise man named Todd Trickknee once said, “I never met a beer I didn’t like”, and that always stuck with me. Whether it’s a pricey IPA, a good old pint of Guinness, or a cheap bottle of rotgut swill, beer is beer. It is delicious. It is thirst-quenching. It brings people together. I’m neither a home brewer nor a beer expert. I do not possess a "refined palate". I’m just a person who enjoys beer writing for other people who like beer. As such, I want to cover everything from Bud to barleywine to Russian imperial stout to malt liquor. And the best part about writing about a beer? I have to drink it first.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Yuengling Lager

Alright, I’m not gonna try and tell you that Yuengling Lager is the greatest beer in the world. But for what it is, it's pretty damn good! As a Pennsylvania boy born-and-raised, I consider Yuengling an integral part of my cultural heritage. Lord knows I’ve drunk hundreds of pints of the stuff over the years, so it can’t be that bad. Hell, it’s the President’s favorite beer!

Yuengling, America’s oldest brewery, is one of the last standing of the pre-Prohibition old guard. Most of the others either went under or got bought out by one of the corporate beer powers. During the prohibition years, Yuengling survived by opening a dairy and also producing “near beer”. In the later part of the 20th Century, when Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors were conspiring (successfully, for the most part) to wipe out all the smaller, regional breweries, Yuengling somehow pulled through – largely on the strength of the Lager. Reintroduced in 1987, this amber lager was brought back as sort of a working class version of the upstart Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Its combination of blue collar simplicity and rich flavor made it a hit from the start – probably saving Yuengling from extinction. It has become a barroom fixture not just in the state of Pennsylvania but across the entire mid-Atlantic. Demand became so great that Yuengling had to buy an old Stroh’s plant in Tampa in 1999 and build a third brewery in Port Carbon, PA in 2000. Today Yuengling is the second-largest American-owned brewery in existence - trailing only Boston Beer Company. Its influence can be measured not just in sales but also in its effect on regional beer lingo. If you walk into any bar in eastern PA and ask for a “lager”, they’ll pour you a Yuengling.

Although apparently I loved to drink from my dad’s mug when I was 4, I was never really a beer drinker until my early 30s. I had given up Coca-Cola as a protest against Jim Rice’s exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame. I turned to beer, and it was love at first sip. And when I got into beer, Yuengling Lager was what I drank. It was what most people in these parts drank. It was my birthright as a citizen of this commonwealth. Perhaps if I’d started out with Bud or Miller or (God forbid!) Coor’s Light, things would have turned out very, very differently. Maybe I would have ended up a wine aficionado or a Dr. Pepper freak. But the lager hit the spot, and it was beer for me from thereon out. I would eventually move on to other beers, but even nowadays I won’t object to a pint of Yuengling. It really is a perfectly decent beer – at the very least a few steps up from a standard macro. While the ubiquitous corn adjunct funkiness of all cheap American lagers is there for sure, it quickly gives way to a sweet malt presence, nice yeasty notes, and just a touch of hops. It is what it is – a “beer drinker’s beer” with more taste than most. And while I find it a little baffling that Barack Obama wouldn’t prefer a Goose Island IPA, it could be worse. At least he’s not touting Michelob Ultra.