Monday, December 26, 2011

Beer of the Year!

Happy holidays to you all! If you’ve ever wondered what Christmas is like at the Rutledge household, I will tell you that this year’s family celebration began with a ghost pepper salsa eating throwdown, which quickly caused my dad to make strange screaming noises and go sprinting towards the bathroom in a panic. Upon his return, he announced that he ought to have this salsa on hand the next time he’s forced to give a urine sample at the doctor’s office. For the next several minutes we were all subjected to a detailed account of his recent doctor visit and how they “surprised” him with the unreasonable request for a urine sample - which he was unable to provide despite a most vigorous effort over a ten-minute time period (“I wasn’t prepared for that!). I am still unsure if there was any connection whatsoever between his consumption of the fire-hot salsa and his immediate need to urinate, but my father has never been one to let facts get in the way of a good story (or in most cases, a not so good story).

It seems that a precedent has been set wherein all future Rutledge holiday gatherings will be required to include some sort of eating challenge. I am a traditionalist at heart and will surely spend the next 51 weeks coming up with some way to up the ante. While we’re on the topic of holiday traditions, one new one I’m starting in 2011 is to end the year good and proper with my official beer of the year proclamation. I last posted a beer top ten in May, and there has been great chart movement in the ensuing months. Here, then, is the new list in all its glory:

1. Rogue Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale
We have a new #1! Founders Breakfast Stout relinquishes the top spot to a mighty red ale brewed in honor of the coolest Deadliest Catch captain. Hoppy at 80 IBUs, yet defined by a mighty, malty backbone, this is the man’s man’s micro brew. BEER OF THE YEAR, folks!

2. Founders Breakfast Stout
A beer so amazing, I feel almost guilty bumping it to the #2 spot. And, yes, by all means I do recommend you have this for breakfast.

3. Troegs Mad Elf
Is it just me, or is this year’s batch of this cult classic Christmas ale even better than usual? Or maybe it took me all those years to comprehend its greatness! I’m convinced that actual elves make this beer and sprinkle it with magic dust. Or is it fairies that have the magic dust? No worries, Troegs has cherries and honey.

4. Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Aphrodite
A cocoa-vanilla stout from Montreal. Tastes heavenly!

5. Stone Brewing Co. Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale
There are big beers, and then there’s this! Not for the faint of heart.

6. Smuttynose Baltic Porter
I love regular old porters, but there’s something about the Slavic fruity notes and extra heartiness that gives Baltic porters the leg up. Perfection.

7. Founders Dirty Bastard
Scotch ales are a particular favorite of mine, and this one’s my most favorite.

8. Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA
Remember when I didn’t like IPAs? My, how I’ve grown! Paid $13 for a bottle of this stuff, and it was worth every penny.

9. DuClaw Brewing Co. H.E.R.O. Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter
The winning entrant in DuClaw’s home brew contest, this beer sounds like the best thing ever…and tastes like it too!

10. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
There’s nothing like a Russian imperial stout in the cold weather months. This is the smoothest imperial I’ve had - which makes it hella dangerous!

On a side note, my wife asked me if the Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale was so good that I would be willing to give up my left testicle for an unlimited supply. I have decided that no beer is worth my left nut, although perhaps that may change in 2012. I’ll pose the same question to my dad next Christmas. He may have some interesting opinions on the matter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ridgeway Brewing Very Bad Elf

Ridgeway Brewing out of South Stoke, England gets into the Christmas spirit in a major way. In addition to brewing seasonal favorites like Reindeer Droppings and Lump of Coal, Ridgeway offers an entire line of Bad Elf beers that get progressively “worse” by degrees. There’s Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Criminally Bad Elf, and Insanely Bad Elf (weighing in at a whopping 12 percent alcohol by volume!). Being a moderate sort of fellow, I went with Very Bad Elf. If you’re a bottle collector, you’re gonna want the entire line since the artwork on all of them is really freaking cool. But from purely a drinker's perspective, I feel like I made an excellent choice. Technically, Very Bad Elf is more of a winter warmer than it is a Christmas ale. I don’t taste a lot of holiday spices. What I do taste are the time-honored elements of an English Special Bitter, kicked up to 7.5 percent ABV for the cold weather season. This ale is based on a recipe going all the way back to 1795. It uses “an ancient pale malt” and a “rare variety” of Fuggles hops. So it doesn’t taste exactly like every other English ale you’ve had. It’s got a little uniqueness to it. All in all, though, it’s a classic tasting ESB with a nutty, sweet-roasted malt character and a balancing leafy hop bite. I enjoy beers that prominently feature caramel malts, and this one fits the bill nicely. The alcohol is well-hidden, so you get the “warming” features of a winter beer without the boozy taste. This is quite the tasty beer – sweet and roasty with a rich flavor and high drinkability. Very nice. Apparently certain states have banned the sale of these Ridgeway Christmas beers due to the artwork potentially appealing to children. Seriously? Do state legislators have nothing better to do? What a bunch of Scrooges!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Victory Brewing Company Otto

I love a beer with a story. Victory Brewing Company founders Ron and Bill first experienced smoked beers in 1987 when they visited Bamberg, Germany. The two have, for a long time, brewed their own smoked beer (rauchbier) called Scarlet Fire - which I love! Not long ago, Ron and Bill came up with an idea. What if they added the smoked malts of a rauchbier to a Belgian style dubbel? Smoky and sweet: wouldn’t that be an interesting flavor combination? And so the ale called Otto was born. It’s named after St. Otto of Bamberg – “father of the monks” and best remembered for his missionary work with the Pomeranians. The title of the beer has been somewhat controversial due to the fact that Otto’s is the name of another craft brewery in Pennsylvania. I don’t know if Victory will be forced to change the name, but I sure hope they don’t change the beer! Bottle-conditioned and made with German hops, Trappist yeast, Munich malts, Belgian caramel malts, and of course smoked malts, this “smoked dubbel” is one of my all-time favorite Victory ales. From a perspective of uniqueness, it’s pretty much unprecedented. More importantly, from a taste perspective the combination really works. Because of the rich, smoky flavor, this beer comes off more like a rauchbier than a dubbel. Yet it does combine elements of both. The nose is smoky, and so is the taste upon first contact. But the Belgian yeast and candied fruit sweetness really come through in the finish along with some nice balancing hops. I’d say if you’re the kind of person who dismisses plain old rauchbiers as “liquid bacon”, you might find this a more palatable smoked beer. The smokiness, while certainly the prevailing note, is far from overdone. As the beer warms, the dubbel-like qualities do rise from the background and make themselves known. All in all, Otto is wicked drinkable for its alcohol by volume (above eight percent!), and in my opinion it’s got one hell of a nice flavor. Then again, I’m nuts about bacon.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Schlafly Christmas Ale

I feel your pain, St. Louis. I really do. I went through this same thing when Reggie White left the Eagles. It’s a real bummer. It’s unthinkable that your boy left you. Your heart is broken. But let’s think positive. The Angels may have Albert Pujols, but you’ve still got the championship. And you’ve got Schlafly beer. Schlafly beer! Yes!

Having sampled a few underwhelming Christmas ales this week, I had my faith restored by Schlafly’s ho-ho-ho seasonal. This is what a Christmas beer should be: warming (eight percent alcohol!) and spiced out the wazoo. Schlafly uses orange peel, ginger root, cloves, juniper berries, and cardamom to flavor its Christmas Ale, while honey, caramel, and chocolate malts add an assertive sweetness redolent of a Belgian. Yet at just 30 IBUs and relatively light-bodied, this is one of the most drinkable Christmas beers out there. And like all of Schlafly’s brews, it’s nicely balanced. It takes skill to successfully walk the line between sweet and “too sweet”, but here is a case where the brewer really pulls it off. Spice is nice, but you don’t quite want it in your face. Hallertau hops come through in a big way to round off this brew. While this ale will never rival Troeg’s Mad Elf in my heart, it’s one of the few Christmas beers that I’ll look forward to purchasing again next year. Very tasty. Get in from the cold, have a seat by the fire, and savor the flavor. It sure ain’t snowing in Anaheim.

Monday, December 5, 2011

DuClaw Brewing Co. H.E.R.O. Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter

On paper, a chocolate peanut butter porter sounds like the greatest thing ever! But it’s the kind of beer that can go very, very wrong if it’s not 100 percent perfectly concocted. It could easily end up too sweet or way out of balance or terribly “fake” tasting. Nine times out of ten, a peanut butter porter is likely to be pretty awful. But one time out of ten, it’s gonna be amazing. And that’s what we’ve got with DuClaw’s H.E.R.O. Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. Winner of DuClaw’s homebrew contest, this creation of Tony Huckestein and Doug DeLeo is no “gimmick” beer. It’s a delicious, drinkable porter full of tried-and-true roasted malts and chocolate/coffee notes. The addition of peanuts, while an unusual tweak, genuinely works!

Rewind to last Wednesday night. I tell my wife I’m almost out of beer. She surprises me be telling me that she’s going to take me on a beer shopping trek on Saturday. As a bonus, there’s going to be a side trip to the DuClaw brew pub. I immediately feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve. We look up the new arrivals at our beer store. The H.E.R.O. immediately grabs our attention. A chocolate peanut butter porter? I must have it! It goes to the top of the list I’m submitting to Santa Claus. On Saturday I buy two bomber bottles of the stuff. I drink one the very next day. Let me tell you- I wish I’d gotten more!

In all honesty, I’ve never been blown away by DuClaw beers. Their Oktoberfest is semi-ok at best, and their black ale is solid but nothing spectacular. I had their house porter and their seasonal Scottish ale on draught Saturday. I liked ‘em both, but they were “B” beers. I’m always looking for an “A”. I got precisely that with the H.E.R.O.!

Maybe it’s just because I’m partial to the porter style, but the H.E.R.O. might be one of my top ten beers for 2011. Porters always make me think of John Wayne in The Quiet Man, asking for “one of those black beers”. Man, was there ever a lot of porter being downed in that movie! I would have loved to have been a regular in that bar. And while porter purists might find it sacrilegious to add peanut butter to this classic black ale, Messieurs Huckestein and DeLeo have brewed up a porter that’s in most ways respectful to tradition. The addition of peanuts, while significant, is quite subtle. They didn’t just toss a ton of peanuts in there and call it a day. I drink a lot of porters, and this one’s top shelf. It’s smooth and robust with a creamy mouthfeel. The peanut butter element is discernible in the nose and upon the first sip, but it’s not overdone. Like any great porter, it gives you a nice mix of bitter, roasty, and sweet notes. The peanut butter is complementary to all of that. So while this is not quite a liquid Reese’s cup, it borrows a little bit of that sensibility. The novelty factor may be what grabs everyone’s attention, but it’s the amazing taste that will keep people going back for more. If you’re a porter geek like me and have access to DuClaw products, you need this beer. Really!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

There are three yearly activities that I refuse to engage in prior to Thanksgiving night. They are listening to Christmas music, publishing my Christmas list, and drinking holiday beers. Well, here we are. The magical moment has come. The turkey has been conquered, and it’s soon time to settle in to watch the Harbaugh Bowl on the NFL Network. I’ve already “shared” two Christmas songs on my Facebook page. In case you were curious about my Christmas list, I will now share it in somewhat lavish detail:

1. I would like a large sum of cash specifically for the purpose of allowing my wife to quit her job. I am not a greedy man. I am not asking for riches. None of these funds would be used to procure luxury items or finance indulgent vacations. I would just like enough money to allow Tami to take a hard-earned vacation of exactly five years so that she may relax and de-stress. $300,000 or thereabouts should suffice.

2. I would like six pounds of kielbasa from Stanley’s Market in Toledo. Note, it must be from Stanley's.

3. I want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. Yeah, I know: it’s not happening this year. Hardy har har.

4. You know that Sting box set that was recently released? I would like all copies to be destroyed.

5. I would like a Steak N’ Shake to be built within five miles of the Fitzledge residence.

6. I would like Stepbrothers to be retroactively awarded the Oscar for Best Picture of 2008.

7. Just once, I would like Chick-fil-A to be open on Sunday.

8. I would like a pink Forever Lazy with matching footies.

9. How about a Husker Du reunion concert? Come on, guys. Just one show. Please!

10. I would like an entire case of 22-ounce bottles of Victory Baltic Thunder.

As for my first holiday beer of 2011, I went with a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. And let’s just say it was no letdown! Like most beer geeks, I get more than a little excited about the annual arrival of SNCA. It’s a “different” kind of holiday beer. It’s not a winter warmer. It’s not a spiced ale. You won’t find any cinnamon or nutmeg in this magnificent concoction. Brewed every year for a Christmastime release, SNCA is an American IPA made with the first, fresh hops of the growing season. In existence since 1981 and brewed with the same recipe since 1983, this can rightfully be called a “classic” of American micro brewing. Perhaps some people tire of all the praise that is lavished upon Celebration, but in my opinion it really is that good. Its blend of Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops creates a flavor that’s part piney, part citrus-y, and part spicy (hence the perception that it’s a “spiced” ale). I’m not going to lie and say it’s not a hoppy beer. It’s loaded with hops. But while I’m by no means a hop-head, I downed my first bottle at the speed of light. Good lord, does this stuff go down easy for a 65 IBU, 6.8 % ABV beast of an ale! It’s so fresh, and the mouthfeel is like heaven on the tongue! Two-row pale and English caramel malts provide just enough balance. And the hop bitterness is actually quite nice, leaving a pleasant aftertaste that makes me want to drink more! Should I drink more? Why the heck not? Another bottle beckons! ‘Tis the season!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Uinta Brewing Company BABA Black Lager

Black lagers don’t generally get a lot of love from beer geeks, and the utter mediocrity of Guinness Black Lager isn’t exactly helping. But in my humble opinion, a well-made black lager is hard to beat. There are times when I’m in the mood for neither a pale lager nor a rich stout, but rather something perfectly in between. And that would be a black lager! Utah’s highly-respected Uinta Brewing Company has given us a black lager that really hits the spot. BABA is not a particularly complex beer, but then again it’s not supposed to be. It’s lighter bodied than a stout yet more fully flavored than a standard lager. The taste is of dark roasted malts, with minimal hops and little if any bitterness. It’s drinkable but by no means “weak” tasting. Balanced and crisp, this is a simple but absolutely wonderful beer. Always one to appreciate the simple things in life, I have mad respect for a brewery that can make an A-caliber beer even when it's doing the basics. BABA is straight up delicious. I could drink it every day of the year! By all means, this is what Guinness Black should have tasted like!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Great Divide Smoked Baltic Porter

A smoked Baltic porter just sounds like something I’d drink. I really like smoked beers (Rauchbiers), and I love Baltic porters. Great Divide’s Smoked Baltic Porter is kind of a combination of both, although technically it’s a lager. In any case, it’s a fine beer to sip on as we enter the cold weather season. Because of its smoky character (achieved through the use of Bamberg smoked malts), it doesn’t have the prevailing dark fruit accents you’d normally expect from a Baltic porter. And at 6.2 percent alcohol, this is a lightweight beer compared to a real Baltic porter. But with a hybrid style of beer, no one’s asking for “normal”. What matters is taste, and this beer tastes great. A lot of people are skeptical of Rauchbiers. I mean, who besides me wants to drink a beer with the flavor profile of bacon? GDSBP takes the best elements of the Rauchbier and combines them with the porter-like qualities of a malty dark lager. Roasty flavors of dark chocolate and caramel malts mix nicely with the smoke, which is pronounced but not overpowering. The finish is clean, and there are just enough hops for balance. This beer comes in a big 22 ounce bottle, and you will be surprised how quickly you finish! All in all, another outstanding product from one of America’s best craft breweries.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rogue Shakespeare Stout

Since it’s International Stout Day, why not have a stout tonight? May I offer a suggestion? One of the best stouts out there is Rogue’s Shakespeare, a true cult classic of American craft-brewing and an exemplary oatmeal stout. Oatmeal stouts are my favorite stouts because they’re so creamy. It’s like drinking velvet! Mmmm! But with Rogue’s version of an oatmeal stout, you get so much more than that. Most stouts are predominantly roasty or coffee-ish, but the 69-IBU Shakespeare has got enough hop bitterness to really balance things out. The flavor is big, bold, and complex, with notes of burnt roasted barley, dark chocolate, fruity/floral hops, and of course rolled oats coming together like heaven on your tongue. The aftertaste is a delicious mix of bittersweet chocolate and coffee. What’s not to love? This is a fine American stout – black in color with a creamy head, and a mouthfeel that’s chewy but not oppressively thick. It’ll make that six-month-old Guinness currently sitting in your fridge taste downright weak. Six bucks for a single 22-ounce bottle may seem like a lot of money. But come on! It’s International Stout Day! Live a little!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Smuttynose Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale

Now that we’re past Oktoberfest season, it seems like a Thanksgiving-themed beer ought to be in order. It’s kind of too soon to break out the winter warmers and Christmas ales, right? While not exactly a Thanksgiving beer, Smuttynose’s Pumpkin Ale seems to fit the bill pretty well. It honors the brewing traditions of some of America’s earliest brewers. Beer-makers of colonial times, who couldn’t always afford pricey imported malts, often made do with locally grown ingredients like squash and pumpkins. Smuttynose takes that classic concept and marries it to the premium ingredients and meticulous craftsmanship of contemporary micro-brewing. Real pumpkin puree is added to the mash along with “traditional spices” (allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg) to create an ideal flavor profile for the fall season. Unlike typical pumpkin ales, this one doesn’t rely on the “essence” of pumpkins. And unlike typical pumpkin ales, it’s got an earthy hop bitterness to it that somewhat subdues the sweetness of the pumpkin and cinnamon. Damn, this is a spicy beer! It smacks you in the mouth with spice! But it’s a great beer. It delivers a wonderful smoothness and a ton of flavor. The hops and seasonal spices are way out in front, while the pumpkin, toasted malts, and fruity yeasts play a perfect complementary role in this delicious concoction. Compared to a lot of pumpkin ales that come on like liquid pumpkin pie, Smuttynose’s version is less dessert and more beer. Consider it a “beer drinker’s” pumpkin ale – and a damn fine one at that! Something tells me that the Pilgrims never drank anything quite like this.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Brooklyn Oktoberfest

Here’s the thing about Oktoberfest beers. I love ‘em. I’m a malt guy. I could drink Marzen-style lagers 365 days a year. But ultimately there’s not much you can say about them from a beer-blogging perspective. They’re not particularly interesting beers. It’s not creativity or boldness that makes a good Oktoberfest. Instead it’s about balance, subtlety, and careful adherence to brewing traditions going back hundreds of years. But is that really a bad thing? What’s wrong with a simple style of beer that’s done well and tastes great? Not a thing! There are a ton of American craft Marzens out there right now, and Brooklyn’s Oktoberfest is one of the very best I’ve had. It’s brewed “true to the original style, full-bodied and malty, with a bready aroma and light, brisk hop bitterness”. The use of Bavarian Heirloom Munich and Pilsner malts contributes to the classic Oktoberfest taste. And unlike some Americanized Marzens that do taste a little “thin” or “bland”, this one’s packed with flavor. The malty blend of caramel, toffee, bread, and nut notes is rich and delicious but in no way excessively sweet. The finishing hop twang is, as advertised, “brisk”, and lingers pleasantly on the taste buds. Nice chewy mouthfeel, too! Basically this could pass for a German Marzen, but it’ll taste fresher since it’s made in the States. If you like Oktoberfest beers, get this one for sure. If you don’t like Oktoberfest beers, give this one a shot. It may turn you to the dark side.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Flying Dog The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale

"Why is there only one time of year – as goblins, ghouls, and ghosts frolic on front lawns – when we embrace THE FEAR? At all other times, THE FEAR dominates us, controls us, and prevents us from greatness. What is there to THE FEAR? Disagreement? Criticism? Humiliation? Whatever THE FEAR is that consumes you, embrace it, along with this Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Only then will the true artist in you rise up."

Flying Dog, America's most beloved Hunter S. Thompson themed brewery, has delivered one whopper of a Halloween seasonal. Say hello to The Fear, my friends! Pumpkin ales tend to be hit or miss. Most are the latter, but this one's most definitely the former. Black in color due to the use of chocolate malt and black wheat, The Fear is strong. I'm talking nine percent alcohol-by-volume strong! Yeah, that's no joke. But unlike some "big" beers, this one's mega-crazy delicious. Or maybe I should say scary delicious. Brewed with local squash puree and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and allspice, this ale comes on like liquid pumpkin pie. Mmmm! I love all that spice (too much? No way!). And I love the full-on maltiness, which keeps the substantial alcohol and hops in check. Pumpkin ales can easily come off funky or in some way "off", but The Fear cannot be resisted. You might even seek it out. Do not fear the "imperial" tag. Do not fear The Fear. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Dark times require dark beers.

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen

It’s the prime time of the year for Oktoberfest lagers (a.k.a. Marzens). And if you’re going to drink a Marzen, it’s hard to beat the Germans. Maybe some of the top-rate American craft brewers deserve credit for delivering bold or "interesting" twists on the Oktoberfest style. But if you want a classic Oktoberfest, by all means turn to the always dependable Ayinger brewery. This is the stuff: smooth and malt-dominant, with a great blend of toasted and sweet caramel malts. Herbal tea-like hops blend in nicely but take a back seat to all those malts! Compared to lighter German lagers that can be quite strong, a good Marzen is an easy-drinking sort of beer. Smooth but flavorful, this is a definitive Marzen. Whether you’re washing down a plate of brats & kraut or just sitting on the front porch enjoying a crisp autumn evening, you cannot go wrong with this seasonal standard. A+!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Aphrodite

For a special treat a couple times a year, my wife takes me to State Line Liquors in Elkton, Maryland so I can stock up on craft beer. The place is freaking awesome. It’s like a candy store for microbrew fanatics. We were in there a half hour yesterday and spent over $240. I was on a mission to score lots of pumpkin ales and Oktoberfest lagers, and by all means I succeeded. But the real fun is always getting home and trying out the beers my wife chose for me. For a non beer-drinker, she really knows how to pick ‘em! The first Tami choice I sampled last night, Brasserie Dieu du Ciel’s Aphrodite, just might be her greatest pick yet. Clearly she’s not just looking at labels and making random guesses. She knows a thing or two about what I like in a beer! I always considered the Founders Breakfast Stout to be the A1 gold standard for craft stouts, but this vanilla cocoa stout from Montreal’s Brasserie Dieu du Ciel could very well be its equal. It’s absolutely incredible. In Canada, it’s called Aphrodisiaque. In the States, it’s sold under the more P.G. rated moniker Aphrodite. Either way, it’s possibly the smoothest-tasting stout I’ve ever had. Made with organic fair-trade cocoa and vanilla beans, this stout is fantastically balanced. The vanilla and cocoa go great together, both standing out but neither dominating. I love the combination of sweet and bitter. Think dark chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream on top. Mmmmm. The flavor is rounded out nicely with roasted malts, subtle notes of coffee, and a surprising hoppiness for a stout. All in all, it’s a delicious and silky black ale that goes down easy. I suppose you could call this a “dessert beer” if you wanted, but somehow that seems a bit of a slight. I don’t just compare this to other sweet stouts. I compare it to all stouts. I’ve had a lot of stouts in my day, and Aphrodite/Aphrodisiaque easily rates in my top five. It’s got that great roasty flavor you love in any good stout, and the sweetness from the vanilla somehow makes it even more pronounced. Last year it was ranked the 76th greatest beer in the world by Rate Beer. Sounds to me like it’s underrated!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Bier Ale

I’m a man who loves his black beers, and it doesn’t get much blacker than Dark Horse’s Reserve Special. I mean this stuff is really black. Brings to mind that old “Nat X” bit Chris Rock used to do ("Now get ready for a man so black, lightning bugs follow him in the daytime!"). In addition to being perhaps the blackest black beer out there, it’s also one of the best. It’s kind of like a stout, but it’s not. It’s kind of like a porter, but it’s not. What the hell is it? Who knows? But it’s freakin’ delicious! Heavy on malt, roast, and dark chocolate flavors, with supporting notes of molasses, coffee, charred wood, and burnt fruit, this is a bold and genuinely unique dark ale. If you’re like me and like dark beers in general, you’ll like this one too. But what’s cool is that it doesn’t taste like any other dark beer out there. The last thing this world needs is another Guinness clone. At 7.5 percent alcohol, it’s got a little more kick than your everyday stout. And it’s got a nice hoppy finish that balances out all those strong dark chocolate and coffee notes. The flavor is intense, yet at the same time crazy drinkable. All in all, another extraordinary beer from the makers of my beloved Dark Horse Raspberry Ale. And unlike some dark beers that only come out in the fall and winter, this one’s available year-round. Nice! Once you go black...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale

“Think classic sea fairing ports, local pubs, and weathered old fishermen,” says Founders Brewing Company of its Curmudgeon Old Ale. Now that is a drinking demographic I’d like to be associated with! It sure beats Bud Light and the social climbing d-bags they pander to in their TV commercials. So what’s an old ale, you ask? Well, without getting too overly technical about it, old ales are traditionally sweeter and stronger than your regular ales, largely due to extended aging (hence the “old” part). I’ve never tasted a Founders product that I didn’t love, and the mighty Curmudgeon is no exception. Brewed with molasses, heavily malted, and oak aged, this bad boy is ridiculously smooth for an ale that weighs in at a whopping 9.8 percent alcohol. Like any good old ale, it’s a little bit boozy tasting and a whole lot sweet. The molasses, caramel, and dried fruit notes dominate this malt bomb’s bold flavor. But at 50 IBUs, there’s just enough hop bitterness to balance things out and separate the Curmudgeon from all those dark ales out there that are just too sweet. If not quite the best ale that Founders makes, it’s still quite excellent and dare I say underrated. Old ales aren’t exactly the “sexiest” beer style. But as a connoisseur of malt-forward dark beers, I have to rank this style high on my list. The Curmudgeon is great for this time of the year, when temperatures begin to decrease and you wanna sit back with a warming, flavorful brew. I could totally see myself drinking with the weathered old fishermen in some Upper Michigan Peninsula dive, sipping my old ale and savoring every malty swig. And where would the Bud Light drinkers be? Out the door once it became apparent there was no Black Eyed Peas on the jukebox. Curmudgeon men prefer Johnny Cash - or Iggy Pop!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Arbor Brewing Company Red Snapper Roasted Pale Ale

I’ve never in my life opened a beer review by talking about head. But there’s a first time for everything! Arbor Brewing’s Red Snapper Roasted Pale Ale (formerly known as Red Snapper Amber Ale) has got head out the wazoo! Seriously, the thing is volcanic! Pour this stuff out of the bottle into a glass, and you’ll have two inches of liquid and a veritable mountain of head! If you try drinking straight out of the bottle, you’re gonna get a face full of foam. Holy carbonation, Batman! But be patient with the Red Snapper, for it’s actually quite the decent beer once it settles. Part English bitter, part American pale ale, and part amber ale, this “roasted pale ale” combines a pine/citrus hop bite with a roasty & sweet malt character. Perhaps the bitterness wins out a little, creating a more assertive hop presence than you’d generally expect from an amber ale. But that’s part of what makes the Red Snapper different. It’s an amber ale, and then again it’s not. Think of it as an Americanized version of an English pale ale, or perhaps an Anglicized version of American pale ale. All in all, the flavor is nice. It’s not quite as “roasted” tasting as advertised, but the caramel and biscuit-like malt notes rise pleasantly to the forefront after that initial hop sting. The mouthfeel is on the thin side, and a nice dry finish makes this one ideal for quenching a monster thirst. Just be careful with the pour – you don’t want all that head overflowing onto your kitchen counter!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pabst Blue Ribbon

It’s been a really long time since I’ve reviewed a swill beer. With football season upon us, I will be drinking my fair share of swill. Of course I’m a craft beer aficionado. But I’m no snob. I like a good cheap beer as much as the next guy. Notice I said good cheap beer. I would sooner imbibe my own urine than drink a can of Natural Light. Even swill beer should taste good (at least in comparison to other swill beers!). Say what you will about the venerable PBR, but in terms of taste it’s pretty much at the head of the swill class. This beer’s level of credibility has risen and fallen so many times that I’ve lost track of whether or not I’m “supposed” to like it. First it was considered rotgut garbage suitable for only angry old men with dulled taste buds. Then it was adopted by hipsters and quickly became “cool”. Then, precisely because it had been adopted by hipsters, it became “un-cool” again. This back-and-forth will continue until the end of time, and ultimately a man has to take a stand. I’ll say it: for what it is, PBR is a perfectly fine product. It’s not, as some bearded indie rockers in ironic trucker hats would lead you to believe, a “secret” craft-quality beer. Nor is it, as many beer snobs maintain, completely interchangeable with Coors and Bud. What it is, really, is a solid “American style” lager and a great value for its cost. Like any beer of its style, it’s got corn adjuncts out the wazoo. But relatively speaking, PBR isn’t a terribly skunky macro lager. And the corn funkiness is far less an issue when it’s served cold. The flavor, for a swill, is pretty much ideal: clean and crisp with a teeny-tiny peck kiss of grassy hops going down. “Paired” with pizza, subs, or nachos, it’s tasty and refreshing. It’s easy to take pot-shots at PBR and knock it because it’s contract-brewed or because people buy it for the label. Hmmm: funny how no one thinks any less of Coca-Cola for having an iconic label. When push comes to shove, PBR is far more than just good branding. It’s good beer as well. I’d say it’s earned that blue ribbon fair and square.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sierra Nevada Tumbler

“As the nights grow cool, the leaves on the valley oaks begin to turn and fall. In honor of this yearly dance, we bring you Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale and invite you to enjoy the show. We use malt within days of roasting at the peak of its flavor to give Tumbler a gracefully smooth malt character. So pour a glass, and grab a window seat to watch as the leaves come tumbling down.”

Never in my life have I actually spent a fall day sitting by the window and watching the leaves drop. Inspired by Tumbler, perhaps this year I will. Autumn days are beautiful, and so is this ale! Smooth, dark, and malty, Tumbler has “Josh Rutledge beer” written all over it. Like any good fall seasonal, it’s heartier than the light summer beers but way more easy-drinking than those big ales of winter. As advertised, Tumbler is all about the malts. Crystal, chocolate, and two-row pale malts are the starring players, while Challenger hops play an understated supporting role. Sometimes a “malty” beer means a sweet beer, but in this case the prevailing notes are of the nutty, toasty variety. Mmmm! Technically this is a brown ale, but don’t go thinking this is just another mild-mannered and totally “blah” American brown. It’s a cut above. The hops kick back real nice on the finish, giving Tumbler more bite and complexity compared to the average brown ale. And all in all, you just can’t beat this beer when it comes to pure roasty deliciousness. If winter is my favorite beer season of them all, then fall is a close second. Maybe I won’t be sitting by the window watching the leaves fall. But I’ll be sitting in my recliner, watching college football, and savoring this splendid season one sip at a time. A+!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest

You can’t beat early September! Football is back, and so are the fall beers. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the Oktoberfests! Magic Hat’s Hex Ourtoberfest is far and away one of my favorite fall seasonals. Technically, it’s not an Oktoberfest beer (it’s an ale, not a lager). But in many ways it’s like an Oktoberfest beer. It has many of the same qualities. So we’ll call it an alternative Oktoberfest. This amber ale is typical of the kind of beer I love best: it’s super-malty... and smooth as all get-out. The flavor profile is heavy on toffee and caramel sweetness, which is balanced by toasty bread notes and a soft kiss of hop bitterness. It’s got a smoky, almost burnt cherry finish to it that mixes nicely with the hops on the back end. All in all, it’s sweeter than normal for an Oktoberfest. But like any good malt-forward ale, it manages to not be too sweet. This beer is precisely what it purports to be – a unique twist on the Oktoberfest style that is in many ways the same and in many ways different. Most importantly, it’s freakin’ delicious. I’m half-tempted to shell out $40 for a case of this stuff – that’s how much I like it! Bonus points for the label and its Halloween-ish motif. If you drink Ayinger Oktoberfest-Marzen while downing brats and kraut, you can switch to Hex when the time comes to don your zombie costume and terrify trick-or-treaters. Yay, fall!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dark Horse Brewing Co. Raspberry Ale

In the majority of cases, I’m not a fan of fruit beer. Fruit beer typically makes me think of the disgusting concoctions that my dad is fond of making. He’ll mix Coke with grapefruit juice and orange juice. He’ll blend root beer with grape soda and diet tea. He’ll put V-8 in his 7-Up. He’ll mix lime juice with strawberry pop. And in his old age, he’s become obsessed with putting tomato juice in his light beer. This would maybe be okay if it were not practically the only way he drank beer. You should see his face when he asks for tomato juice with his beer at a restaurant and they tell him they don’t have any. He takes it as a personal insult. He’s truly outraged that a dining establishment would dare to exist without stocking tomato juice. And don’t dare try to get him to accept bloody Mary mix as a substitute! Sometimes he adds not just tomato juice but also fresh ground pepper to his beer! So yeah, it comes as no surprise to me that when he's not drinking Coor's Light Tomato, he opts for fruit beer. Because most fruit beers are gross in the same way that his homemade concoctions are gross. But Dark Horse’s Raspberry Ale is another story entirely. I bought some on recommendation from my man Darrell. And I’m glad I did! It’s not just the best fruit beer I’ve ever had. It’s one of the best-tasting beers I’ve had of any kind.

Fruit beers often taste nasty for two primary reasons. First, they tend to use the “essence” of fruit instead of real fruit. Second, they tend to taste less like real beer and more like carbonated fruit drink. Eww! But Dark Horse gets it right. Their motto is “beer first, fruit second”. And they use real raspberries. The Raspberry Ale- a “light bodied, easy drinking ale”- is exactly what it’s purported to be. It’s not a “big” beer. It doesn’t “challenge” the palate. But for what it is, it’s perfect. The flavor combines a bready/biscuit malt character with a touch of wheat and a subtle sweet/tart quality from the raspberries. Delicious! I love that the raspberries don’t overpower the other components of this beer. You can tell that they’re there, but they’re not overdone. This is a real beer, not a hard soda. It’s a refreshing choice on a hot day, but it’s smooth and flavorful enough to hold up year-round. If you like fruit beers, you absolutely must try this one. And if you don’t like fruit beers, this could be the one to turn you to the dark side. If my old man rejects this one, I'm giving up on him entirely.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Maumee Bay Brewing Company India Pale Ale

Summer beer season is over, and Oktoberfest season hasn’t quite arrived. Seems like a good time to review an IPA. I don’t review a lot of IPAs. Hell, I don’t even drink a lot of IPAs. But Maumee Bay’s IPA is one of my favorites. Maybe I like IPAs way more than I used to, or perhaps this one’s just better than most. But I had a bomber of this bad boy last night, and it tasted like heaven. In many ways, it’s your standard IPA. Citrus and pine hops hit you hard up front, a grainy/sweet malt backbone emerges for balance, and then the floral & fruity notes leave a lusciously bitter aftertaste. But there’s something really great about this particular IPA that sets it apart. At 80 IBUs, you might be expecting a hop-bomb. Yet it really isn’t. Sure, the hops are the star of the show. But they don’t flat-out dominate. The caramel/bready malt component of this beer is really understated, but it plays a key role in creating a remarkable smoothness. And what can I say? Centennial hops are one of God’s greatest creations. This is truly a well-made IPA. It’s balanced, delicious, and SO smooth! It’s nothing fancy, groundbreaking, or extraordinary. But sometimes the most extraordinary thing a brewer can do is stick to a classic style of beer and simply get it right. Toledo, represent!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mt. Carmel Brewing Company Amber Ale

You probably don’t think of craft beer when you think of Cincinnati, but that may change thanks to Mt. Carmel Brewing Company. In business since 2005, MCBC is a family operation based out of a farmhouse on Mt. Carmel-Tobasco Road. Brewers Mike and Kathleen Dewey endeavor to “provide exceptional craft beers to the greater Cincinnati area”. They’re clearly doing a good job - their average beer rating on Beer Advocate is a B+ (an astronomically high score considering the notorious snobbery of the voting pool!). I decided to start with their Amber Ale for a couple of reasons. First of all, I enjoy ambers. And secondly, I figured this sort of beer would really test Mt. Carmel’s brewing chops. After all, amber ales aren’t considered the most “interesting” style of beer. They’re not hop bombs. They don’t really “challenge” the palate. They’re simple beers, and they can taste pretty generic if they’re not done well. It takes subtlety and craftsmanship to deliver an amber that rises above the pack. When I find brewers that can make smooth, tasty ambers, I know they can make any kind of beer. And by all means, Mt. Carmel has come through with a truly outstanding amber ale! It’s at least as good as a Fat Tire - if not better. It’s balanced and wicked smooth, yet at the same time far hoppier than your run-of-the-mill amber. Roasty and caramel malts hit you first, giving way to buttery, bready deliciousness a la an English bitter. And then the finish is all piny and citrus hops, the bitterness boldly cutting through those sweet malts you notice upfront. The hops are by no means overdone (this is, after all, an “easy drinking” style of brew!). But compared to a “typical” amber ale, it’s got quite a bite to it. All in all, this is an “A” grade amber that I could drink every day, all year. I’ve been fully converted. The next time I’m in Ohio, I’m going hard after the Mt. Carmel beers! I can’t wait to try their nut brown ale and stout!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA

Shawn Abnoxious, my friend and a great American, will find it quite funny that I paid $12.99 for a single bottle of Three Floyds Dreadnaught. He might even advise me to have myself committed. Shawn, after all, enjoys iconic North American swills like Miller High Life and Labatt Blue. When he spends $12.99 at the beer store, he goes home with a case! I went home with 22 ounces. I must confess that I sought my wife’s consent before proceeding to checkout. She said, “Buy one, and if you like it, we can come back later and get more.” Yeah, I know: I’m a lucky man.

Here’s the really crazy part: I’m gonna buy the Three Floyds Dreadnaught again. That’s a certainty. I have no regrets about my decadent splurge on an absurdly premium beer. I mean, I wouldn’t buy that sort of brew every day (or even every month). But for special occasions, I’m willing to go a little nuts. I’m a beer lover, for Christ’s sake! Life is short! Savor the flavor! The key is that it’s gotta be worth every penny. And the Dreadnaught absolutely is. It’s one of the best beers in the United States. It deserves its own statue - and perhaps even a theme song.

I’m sometimes lukewarm on standard IPAs. But when it comes to imperial IPAs, I am all over that shit! You have to love a beer that flat-out wants to kick your ass. But like any world-class DIPA, the Dreadnaught has way more going for it than just a nuclear assault of hops. Sure, it’s strong. But it’s also balanced, drinkable, and incredibly great-tasting. Mango and peach notes add a little something extra to the familiar pine/grapefruit hop wallop, and all that assertive bitterness is countered nicely with a rich caramel malt backbone and a nice grainy sweetness. The mouthfeel is to die for: so silky and creamy that you’d think there’s no way it could have come from a bottle! Sure, the alcohol by volume (9.5 percent) and IBU count (99) are through the roof. If you like “big” beers, this one is absolutely ginormous. But while you can admire the Dreadnaught purely on the basis of ballsiness, it merits equally high marks in the deliciousness department. The clerk at the Mishawaka Belmont Beverage led me to believe that Three Floyds beers are hard to find in that neck of the woods. Apparently this brewer’s wares are distributed on such a limited basis that when they hit the store shelves, people quickly come out of the woodwork to snatch them up, beating each other with sticks if necessary. Based on what I’ve tasted from the Three Floyds beer lineup, that sort of fervor is most understandable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

North Peak Wanderer Session IPA

Operation 200, a key component of Fitzledge Midwestern Tour 2011, turned out to be an epic fail. My goal was to eat my way over the 200 pound plateau while vacationing in the Land of Good Food. It was going to be the gluttonous grand finale of my annual bulking phase (you know you’re a meathead if your winter bulking phase extends into August!). I was going to top two bills on the scale and then spend my fall dieting down to 175. I had an ironclad assemblage of accomplices: Steak N’ Shake, Burger King, Tony Packo’s, Famous Dave’s, Grand Traverse Pie Co., Handel’s Ice Cream…There was just no way I could lose! But I stepped on the scale this past Monday and discovered I’d only made it to 198. In spite of gorging myself on sausage, beef, and beer for ten solid days, I fell two pounds short of glory. So close…yet so far! On a more positive note, at least I’m two pounds closer to 175. And a second component of the trip, Mission Brewski, was a decisive victory. I successfully purchased 150 dollars’ worth of craft beer in three different states, and now I’m fully stocked for the arrival of football season. The first of my booty to be sampled: North Peak’s Wanderer Session IPA.

So what the hell is a “session IPA”, exactly? Is it really an IPA, or is it just an assertively hopped APA? What the hay - I’ll give the brewer the benefit of the doubt! Citrus and pine are the prevailing notes. There’s a bitter bite to the flavor. An IPA it is! And at just 4.2 % alcohol and a modest 45 IBUs, it’s most definitely sessionable! Call it an “IPA light” if you wish, but the Wanderer delivers an extraordinary amount of taste for such a low ABV. You can drink 4 or 5 of these and not get blitzed, and that is precisely the point! If other warm weather seasonals come off like concessions to the average Joe, this one is a beer connoisseur’s session brew. Hopped with Perle, Willamette, Centennial, and Citra, and incorporating hops local to Traverse City, Michigan, this bad boy combines a clean finish and maximum drinkability with a strong, grassy hop kick. I’m funny with hops – sometimes modest little APAs taste gross to me, whereas I quite dig the full-on knock-your-socks-off bitterness of a double IPA. I’ve never quite warmed to the idea of a “drinkable” IPA…until now. The Wanderer is a balanced and tasty beer, and one I’d like to see upgraded to year-round status since it’s not really your typical “summer” ale. Then again, in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, “warm weather” beer season lasts about two months before it’s time to shelve the session beers and break out the imperial stouts. No wonder Michiganders have such outstanding beer – they deserve it!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bell's Oberon Ale

If you think about it, craft beer and indie rock are practically the same thing. One’s for the ears, and the other’s for the taste buds. But the principle is the same: an alternative to the mainstream, crafted not for the masses but rather the select few who can’t abide mediocrity. I am one of those select few. Sure, I like the classics as much as the next guy. I grew up on the Stones and The Who. I’ve seen them both in concert. But if you’re talking “contemporary” artists on my iPod, you’ve probably never heard of any of them. Something Fierce? Missing Monuments? Miss Chain and the Broken Heels? Yeah, like I was saying. Even most of the “old” music I own (Replacements, Clash) was the micro-brew rock of its time. It may be every eastern Pennsylvanian’s birthright to drink Yuengling, and I do from time-to-time. But to be totally honest (and risk deportation from the commonwealth), I gotta say I’ve lost my taste for Yuengling Lager. It’s not that I’m a snob. But having inundated myself with premium hops and malts on a daily basis for several years now, I’ve reached the point where beers that are made mostly from water and corn adjuncts just taste gross. Honestly, I want to like Miller High Life. I like the idea of the classic American beer. But the major corporate brewers, for financial reasons, chose to water down their product at some point in the 1970s. If you want a true classic beer, you probably have to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

If Samuel Adams is The Stooges of craft beer - the true progenitor of all that’s good - then Bell’s Brewery out of Kalamazoo and Comstock, Michigan might be micro-brewing’s Dictators or even Devo. Bell’s goes way back to 1985 - almost prehistoric times in craft beer terms! Literally thousands of American craft breweries have come along over the past 25 years or so and revolutionized beer drinking in this country. But Bell’s, one of the founding fathers, remains one of the very best. I love their porter, and I love the Hopslam. And come summertime, I love the Oberon. A wheat ale fermented with Bell’s “signature house ale yeast”, this is the last summer seasonal I’ll review this year. And it just might be the best! While many popular summer beers boast of “crisp” and “refreshing” qualities, Oberon is all about quality and flavor. It’s considerably hoppier than the typical wheat beer, which helps balance the citrus twang and yeasty sweetness that define this ale’s easy-drinking character. The wheat malts smooth everything out and make this perhaps the most quaffable beer you’ll taste all summer. Mmmmm! This is one of the few summer seasonals I’d drink year-round. If you don’t mind a summer beer that’s more “flavor-forward” than most, the Oberon is a must-buy. And if you do mind, go ahead and drink Bud Light Lime. I won’t think any less of you- so long as you don’t make me drink any!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Great Lakes Holy Moses White Ale

It’s hard to believe that summer beer season is almost over (current temperature outside right now: 97). The fall seasonals will begin rolling out within the next few weeks, and a lot of your summer standbys will soon disappear from the shelves. Better stock up now! I’ll be in Great Lakes country in early August, and I’m praying that the Holy Moses White Ale won’t be gone for the year! We’ve probably got another 7 weeks of hot weather left to enjoy (or detest, if you’re my wife). I plan on keeping my fridge stocked with summer beers well into September. And out of all the summer beers I drink, Holy Moses is one of my most favorite. A Belgian-style witbier with orange peel, chamomile, and coriander, it’s crisp and refreshing but also has quite a kick to it. Upfront the spices are really strong - and not in a bad way. This is not your grandfather’s summer beer! It’s fruity and peppery and really snaps your tongue. Mmmm! Going down it’s got a yeasty malt character that seems appropriate for the style and the season. Drinkable enough to quench your summer thirst but full-flavored enough to still taste great when you find that odd bottle in the back of the fridge come November, Holy Moses is just one of many fine brews made by Great Lakes. Cleveland may have the worst pro sports team of any large American city, but it’s damn well got one of the best breweries going!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Abita Turbodog

Sigmund in Sandusky wants to know if I, on the eve of my second wedding anniversary, have any advice on how to identify true love. Well, Sigmund, on matters such as these I try to keep it simple. I can tell you that when I met my wife, I knew straight off that she was The One. I knew this largely because from the moment we met, I was able to be myself. It just felt right. I didn’t have to mentally rehearse how I’d act around her. I didn’t worry about trying to be the man I thought she wanted. I let her see the real me, right off the bat. There really was an instant connection. And it was easy. That’s how it should be. If it’s not easy, if you have to try too hard to make it work, is it really meant to be?

Sigmund, you might agree that it’s the same thing with beer. You might hear about all kinds of beers that you’re supposed to like. A beer might boast 25 gold medal prizes and an A+ rating on Beer Advocate, but if you drink it a few times and you’re stilll like, “Eh”, at some point you realize that you don’t have to always agree with the “experts”. Me, I’ll take a love-at-first-sip beer over an “acquired taste” any day of the week. Abita’s Turbodog (out of Louisiana) floored me the very first time I had it, and it’s quickly rising to near the top of my favorite beer list. It’s everything I love in a beer. It’s dark and malty, with just enough hops for balance. It’s ridiculously smooth. A dark brown ale brewed with Willamette hops and a blend of pale, caramel, and chocolate malts, Turbodog is rich, medium-bodied, and out-of-this-world delicious. It’s got a predominantly chocolate and toffee like flavor with a touch of fruit and sweet bready grains to finish. I’m crazy about English brown ales, but this Americanized version is better than any of ‘em. You could almost say it’s porter-like, yet still very much a brown ale. Whatever it is, I just love it. I could drink it every day and never get tired of it. This beer and I - we were meant to be.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Brooklyn Summer Ale

Out of all the summer beers out there, Brooklyn Summer Ale might be my absolute favorite. Like any good summer beer, it’s light and thirst-quenching. But it’s got more flavor than most, and like anything off the Brooklyn line that I’ve tasted, it’s simply an awesome beer. A modern rendition of the “light dinner ales” they used to brew in England in the 1800s and early 1900s, Brooklyn Summer Ale uses premium English barley malt for a bready malt-forward flavor. German and American hops add crispness and floral, lemony notes. All told this is a supremely delicious warm weather beer. You can suck it down fast after a hard day of laboring in the summer sun, or just as easily sip it as you relax on the deck with your pals. It will obliterate your thirst but still bring a ton of flavor. Some summer beers are glorified water, and others are just too fancy for their humble purpose. Brooklyn Summer Ale gets it just right. I hate to say this, since I love Samuel Adams beer. But Brooklyn Summer Ale beats the pants off of Sam’s Summer Ale. I think I’m gonna buy an entire case!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dogfish Head Festina Pêche

Our tour of great summer beers continues with Dogfish’s version of a Berliner Weisse. This tart wheat beer style, a traditional summertime treat in Berlin, is generally doctored with woodruff or raspberry syrup for added sweetness. But there’s no need to add syrup to your bottle of Festina Pêche. It’s sweet and fruity already because it’s fermented with peaches! It’s a classic Berliner Weisse in a lot of ways. It’s crisp and intensely tart, with a green apple like character derived from fermentation with lactic cultures. At only 4.5 percent ABV and a mere 8 IBU, it’s the very definition of a “light” summertime beer. It was made to be consumed two or three bottles at a time. The twist, then, is that the peaches take this particular Berliner Weisse to a whole new level. The classic sour snap is still there, but it’s balanced by a nice peachy tang. Whether you treat it as a “dessert” beer or simply gulp it like a maniac after coming in from mowing the lawn on a 90 degree day, Festina Pêche is an absolute essential of summertime beer drinking.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Victory Summer Love Ale

New tradition: it’s not officially summer until I’ve had a Summer Love Ale. Clean and refreshing but still flavorful enough to satisfy the discriminating beer drinker, Summer Love gets it hops and malts from Germany and the United States. Like a lot of summertime beers, it’s on the lighter side and really quenches the thirst. But with its noble hop character and lemony tang, it will not be confused for a Land Shark Lager. Its mildly bitter hop profile is perfectly balanced by light grainy malts and sweet notes of citrus. And the finish is crisp and dry – just like you’d expect from a good warm weather beer. Victory, maker of some of the finest ales and lagers in the world, is not afraid to brew a session beer. I’d say that this is Victory’s most sessionable beer. Enjoy one at your next pool party or cookout, or have a bottle while you're listening to the ball game tonight. Live it up: the summer will have come and gone before you know it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rogue Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale

Holy crap! This beer is so freaking good it brings tears of joy to my eyes! Tasting it is like being visited by the beer gods and having them smile upon you. I might, at some point, be forced to kill for a bottle of this stuff. It would behoove you at that point to not be in my way. Like any Rogue ale I’ve had, it’s world class.

A big, strong red ale brewed in honor of Sig Hansen and his brothers Edgar and Norman, Rogue’s Northwestern comes in a 22-ounce bottle and is worth every pretty penny it’ll cost you. A portion of the proceeds will support the Fisherman’s Fund, so why not treat yourself and support a worthy charity at the same time? At 80 IBUs, you’d expect a hoppy red ale. And it is. But it’s aggressively malted as well to create a balanced, insanely delicious ale that goes down smooth. It’s a Rogue ale, of course, so it’s made from the best stuff on earth (Wait, no, that’s Snapple). If you think you’d enjoy an ale made with Carastan, chocolate, Micro Barley Farm Dare & Risk malts, Amarillo hops, Rogue Micro Hopyard Revolution & Rebel Hops, Rogue’s Pacman Yeast, and free range coastal water, then this, my friend, is the beer for you. It comes on with a piny/grapefruity nose and flavor, backs it all up with a ton of bready and sweet malts, and finishes with a lingering, near orgasmic aftertaste that’ll make you wish you’d bought an extra bottle. There was a time in my life when 22 ounces of beer seemed like too much to drink in one sitting. That time has passed. Pour yourself one of these the next time you watch The Deadliest Catch. Herring heads are optional.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stone Brewing Co. Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale

I'm kind of funny sometimes. Tired of the overly assertive IPAs that seem to be all over the place right now, I sought relief from a beer that's exponentially more assertive! I know that’s hardly logical, but this bad boy was exactly what the doctor ordered. Yes indeed! There’s no denying that Oaked Arrogant Bastard is all it's cracked up to be: a big, bold beer that is not for the faint of heart. But here’s the thing: it's as delicious as it is assertive. Stone won't reveal the IBU count, but I'm guessing that it dwarfs the hoppiness of all those beers I write off as "too bitter". The key to this ale's awesomeness, then, is that it brings the malts BIG TIME. And that's the way it ought to be. If you're going to brew a "big" beer but the only thing big about it is the hops, then you're only half way there. Maybe that's what bothers me about a lot of IPAs: the floral/grapefruit hop bite is dialed up so high that you just don't taste anything else. I like hops, but I love malts. With rich notes of vanilla and caramel, Oaked Arrogant Bastard comes on like a malt bomb. Then it quickly sends you across the room with a hefty hop kick. Thank you, sir. May I have another? What a wonderfully complex and rich flavored ale this is! It's bitter and sweet and fruity and grainy and even a little woodsy from the oak chip aging. Mmmmmm! Far from a typically one dimensional hop monster, this ass-kicker of an ale is everything that's good about a beer...times ten! I think I paid something along the lines of $5.50 for one bottle of the stuff, and even at that price I got a real bargain. Without a doubt: one of the best beers on earth!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mad Anthony Brewing Company Gabby Blonde Lager

I’ve been on American pale lager kick of late (must be the warm weather), but that doesn’t mean I’ve been downing Bud and Miller High Life left and right. Fort Wayne’s finest craft brewery, maker of my beloved Auburn Lager, has not neglected the everyman. Gabby Blonde Lager is a “beer drinker’s beer” through and through – clean, crisp, and thirst quenching, but without the nasty aftertaste of mass produced swill. "Connoisseurs” of beer, of course, will hate it. They’d probably wonder why a quality brewery would waste its time making a macro-style lager when someone can just go out and buy a six-pack of Coors for five bucks. Well first of all, it’s not our job as beer lovers to “convert” our friends into IPA drinkers. Some people (myself included) genuinely enjoy “watery” beer. And if you’re in the brew pub business like Mad Anthony’s and want to offer beers appealing to everyone who might stop in for a meal, it’s not a bad idea to brew a macro clone. Furthermore, a really good micro-brewed adjunct lager is usually an upgrade from the corporate stuff. Bud, for what it is, is a perfectly decent beer. Mad Anthony’s Gabby Blonde is considerably better. It’s light on the hops, no doubt, and mild tasting like a macro. But it’s got a sweet pale malt taste upfront with very subtle fruit and floral notes. There’s not much of a flavor, I admit, but it’s a good flavor nonetheless. And the aftertaste is malty sweet, not corn adjunct funky like you get from a $12 case of PBR. All in all, it’s refreshing and light - a perfect beer for the summer and an ideal liquid accompaniment to pizza, burgers, et al. I think I'll have one tonight!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Three Floyds Pride and Joy Mild Ale

Three Floyds is the big dog of Indiana craft beer and to boot one of the Midwest’s most venerable microbrewing institutions. You don’t stay in the craft brewing business for 15 years and counting unless you make damn fine beer. Pride and Joy is one of those beers – an Americanized British mild ale that really hits the spot as we enter summer beer season. Kind of like a pale ale and kind of like a mild ale, this beer satisfies me way more than a typical craft APA. Beer geeks like to talk about balance, and in this case the balance is absolutely spot-on. It’s hoppy like an APA but malt-forward like a British mild. It goes down easy while still delivering a complex, rich flavor. The hops are crisp and bitter; the caramel malts are sweet and bready. It all comes together deliciously, and a pint of this stuff will disappear from your glass so fast that you might as well order two right off the bat. Looking for a session beer, are you? This might be the ultimate session beer. Yeah, I know it’s expensive. But you get what you pay for. Pride and Joy is simply a great freakin’ beer – and worth every penny.

Horse Piss Beer

Hey! It’s my first-ever Kentucky beer! With a name like Horse Piss Beer, it’s gotta be a gimmick, right? Well, yes and no. True enough, it’s nothing special and probably isn’t worth the micro-brew price. But given that Horse Piss is a charity-based venture, with a percentage of profits going to disabled jockeys and horse adoption programs, it seems wrong to knock it. If it is a gimmick, it’s at least a cool gimmick. The label is funny, and if you collect bottles you’ll want this one. And considering the beer is called Horse Piss, it’s not nearly as awful as you might expect! My wife picked this brand out while we were beer shopping in Fort Wayne last weekend, and as always her instincts were golden. I really like it when craft breweries, as a concession to the average beer drinker, come up with better versions of macros like Bud and Coors. And let’s face it: the typical paying customers at a Louisville race track aren’t interested in an IPA or a Belgian tripel. They just want a clean, watery lager to quench their thirst. And Horse Piss will do just that, minus the funky/corn adjunct aftertaste of your run-of-the-mill cheap beer. Light, grainy, and surprisingly malt forward, this beer is at least a small step up from a macro. Is it so much better than Bud as to merit the higher price? Not really. But come on! It’s for charity! Have a heart! I, for one, will be getting this again.

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale

Wow, that was some season of Celebrity Apprentice! In a day and age when so few things in the world ever live up to expectations, Gary Busey never fails to come through. You hope for crazy, he gives you beyond crazy. You expect a guy living on his own planet, and you get a guy living in his own galaxy. But who knew that freaking Meat Loaf would be even more of a train wreck?! When he wasn’t sobbing like a baby, he was spewing obscenities and threatening to rip people’s heads off. It was pure awesomeness. In no other avenue of life can a man behave in such a manner and have his boss continually respond merely by saying, “He’s got a lot of passion.” I don’t care for the man’s music, but he can be on my reality TV show any day. Yep, I’m planning my own show. It will be called Josh’s Next Favorite Beer. It will be a competition show, of course, and every week I’ll eliminate a different beer until I find my elusive favorite beer. If this doesn’t sound like something that could ever be green-lit by the TV industry, I’ll just take Meat Loaf with me to the pitch meetings and have him scream at the network executives until they relent. Should he become unavailable due to a sudden crying jag, I will have Busey waiting in reserve.

Honestly, it really bothers me that I’ve never found a “favorite” beer. For whatever reason, I just can’t commit. And that is so unlike me! I am not a fence-sitter. I can easily name a favorite color (blue), TV show (Sopranos), and meal (bangers and mash). When I met my wife, I knew right off that no other woman would ever again have a chance with me. I’ve had a favorite band (The Clash) since I was in my mid-20s. I’ve had a favorite writer (Kurt Vonnegut) since high school. When it comes to pro sports, I’ve been a diehard Philly guy all my life. But when it comes to beer, I just haven’t found “the one”. You know what I mean: a year-round, every day go-to brew. A beer I would buy by the case and have in my fridge at all times. A beer that would be my beer. Most of the beers I rate the highest are not serious candidates. Founders Breakfast Stout is purely a winter delight, and even then something I only drink a few times a month. At $70 a case, Victory’s Baltic Thunder is way out of the running. Samuel Adams Boston Lager merits consideration, but is a tad too aggressively hopped to be “my” beer. My primary beer goal, for so long, has been to play the field and sample all the many varieties the brewing world has to offer. But now I need to get serious and find the one. It’s time to stop being superficial and start really getting to know the beers I drink. I don’t want to buy singles all the time. I need to buy more six-packs. I need to buy more cases.

While I haven’t yet identified my beer, I know a thing or two about what it will be like. It will be dark. It will be smooth. It will be balanced, but it will be more malty than hoppy. Once I get my reality show in production, I’ll invite a couple of old standbys like Bell’s Porter and Warsteiner Premium Dunkel into the competition. Then there will be some new contenders, and Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale will be one of them for sure. The only thing this astonishingly delicious beer has going against it is that it’s an import. I’ll never have the pleasure of drinking it on draught or getting a bottle fresh off the line (unless I moved to northern England, of course). Otherwise it’s got all the makings of a Josh favorite. It’s smooth and creamy, amber-brown in color, with a flavor that combines sweet malts, a toasted grainy backbone, and a dry hazelnut finish. In the tradition of any fine English ale, the hops are mild but nonetheless provide crucial balance. Brewed in Yorkshire with well water and local yeast, this is a brown ale that flat-out blows away more popular competitors like Newcastle Brown or even American craft variants like Bell’s Best Brown. It’s off-the-charts smooth yet packed with flavor. Could this become my next favorite beer? Well, it is everything I’m looking for in a beer. And I most definitely could drink it all the time. I’m not sure if I could buy it by the case due to inflated import prices and questions of freshness. But I can’t eliminate it from the competition just yet. It’s just too freaking good! I will need to drink more of it and get back to you all in a few months.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Founders Cerise

I sing the praises of fruit beer about as often as I sing the praises of the New York Mets. But Founders Cerise is a fruit beer I truly love. It’s one of the few spring/summer seasonals that I actually get excited about (I’m way more stoked for fall and winter beers, generally speaking). Using only fresh Michigan tart cherries and adding them at five separate stages of fermentation, Founders has created a delicious fruit ale that’s both sweet and tart. At just 15 IBUs, this summer treat is about as far away from bitter as you can get in a beer- something I really appreciate in this season of assertively hopped APAs. Truth be told, it’s exactly what it’s purported to be - predominantly cherry flavored, with a nice balance of sweetness and tartness going down. It’s light-bodied and highly drinkable, with a nice malty backbone that distinguishes it from a wine cooler or cherry pop. It is what it is - a perfect summer beer for us grown-ups who loved cherry slushies as kids. And I love that it uses only Michigan cherries - this is not a beer that could be duplicated with cherries from California or Washington. Overall, this may not be the most acclaimed beer in the Founders lineup. I’d even dare to call it kind of underrated. While far from a “big” beer, it’s as exquisitely crafted and expertly balanced as World Beer Cup winners like Dirty Bastard and Centennial IPA. Ever notice how utterly nasty fruit beers sometimes are? That’s because it’s really freaking hard to make a fruit beer that’s not too sweet or too sour or simply fake-tasting. Major respect to Founders for pulling off the near impossible! I will be in Founders territory in early August, and I’ll be looking to stock up. If the Cerise is sold out, my weeping will be audible from miles away.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

And the winner is...

Beginning what I hope will become an annual tradition here at WFB, I will answer a question I’m sometimes asked: “What are your favorite beers?” Having made 45 posts over the course of six months, I’ve demonstrated that I like a lot of different beers. Although my position on this question is bound to change as I sample new brews and rediscover old ones, at this particular moment my overall Top Ten Beers are as follows.

10. Troegs Troegenator- a late winter/early spring seasonal, this criminally smooth double bock is my favorite offering off the formidable Troegs line.

9. Bass pale ale – a true classic. Drinkable, dependable, timeless.

8. Bell’s Hopslam – I’m not the world’s biggest IPA fan, but when I’m in the mood for an IPA this is the best I’ve ever had. I’m currently cellaring a few of this year’s crop to enjoy at a later date. Extraordinarily delicious.

7. Samuel Adams Boston Lager – often the only craft beer you can get at a restaurant. Because it’s so popular, beer snobs tend to forget what an exceptional beer this amber lager really is. Robust, balanced, and tasty, this is the beer that started microbrewing.

6. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout – the tastiest Russian imperial stout I’ve ever had. The thought of drinking one of these again almost makes me wish it were winter!

5. Warsteiner Premium Dunkel – smoothest lager ever!

4. Founders Dirty Bastard – I know, I should have ranked it higher.

3. Bell’s Porter – not an “extreme” version of the porter style, but easy to drink and truly one of my all-time go-to beers.

2. Victory Baltic Thunder – Baltic porter is basically English porter on steroids. Smuttynose makes a great version as well, but Victory’s is still tops. A “big” beer in every respect, but crazy drinkable nonetheless.

1. Founders Breakfast Stout – This may never relinquish the #1 spot. EVER.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Warsteiner Premium Dunkel

Warsteiner Premium Dunkel is one of those classic international beers that’s predictably underappreciated by aficionados. Its Beer Advocate score is B-minus. Rate Beer gives it a 48. But me, I give it an A for sure. No, it’s not obscure or hip or ultra-rare or hopped with the ashes of a dead poet from the 16th Century. What it is, though, is a damn fine beer with a taste so smooth that it brings tears of joy to my eyes. Like Bass Ale, another marginally maligned import, it’s in my personal beer top ten ahead of countless “critically acclaimed” micro brews. Dunkels, dark lagers that originated in 16th Century Bavaria, are one of my favorite beer styles because they tend to be rich and flavorful but not at all bitter. Typically they’re gently-hopped beers that get their malty taste from triple decoction and their dark color from liberal amounts of Munich malts. Warsteiner’s version of the dunkel may not be the best in the world, but it’s up there! Perhaps it suffers in the eyes of beer geeks because it’s not a “big” beer. Its flavor, while delicious, is very mild and subtle. It won’t blow you away. But I don’t necessarily want to be blown away by a beer. I want a smooth, tasty beer that hits all the right notes. And Warsteiner Premium Dunkel is precisely that. It’s sweet and malty (but not overly sweet!), and the notes are some of my favorites: toffee, caramel, toasted grain. Man, it’s just so smooth! Sometimes advertising catch phrases like “smooth and drinkable” just mean that a beer tastes like nothing, but in this case it’s God’s honest truth. If I had to select for myself a “last meal”, it would be either A) two Tony Packo’s MOAD hot dogs with paprikas dumplings and a bowl of chili or B) a German sausage buffet of bratwurst, rostbratwurst, bockwurst, knackwurst, and leberkase (with a side of kraut). In both cases, I’d wash it all down with a 48-ounce boot mug of Warsteiner. Mmmm- what a way to go out!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale

Given that beer is only made from four ingredients, it seems that all four ought to be pretty important. We beer geeks talk all the time about hops and malted barley, and when the subject of Belgian ales comes up, who doesn’t mention the yeast? But rarely does water get any love. I’m not the biggest fan of Coors, but give that brewery credit for emphasizing its greatest asset. Water can make or break a beer. Remember how Rolling Rock used to be a solid macro lager when its water source was the “glass lined tanks of old Latrobe”? Now it’s made from the swamps of Jersey, and boy does it taste like it.

Typically, good water makes the biggest difference in a simpler beer, which was the logic behind Victory’s Headwaters. Victory has been in business for 15 years plus, but had never made an American pale ale until now. Headwaters Pale Ale is Victory’s 15th anniversary celebration beer - a crisp, refreshing ale designed to showcase the headwaters of the east branch of Brandywine Creek. These waters are the source for Victory’s beers. Having such great water a mere 14 miles from the brewery has certainly been a large part of Victory’s success. Headwaters is Citra and Centennial hopped and made from all-German malt. And although it’s got a watery, thirst-quenching quality to it, it’s super hoppy with strong grassy and citrus notes. A bready pale malt backbone adds balance, and the finish is dry and clean like it should be. All in all, this beer is as delicious as it is simple. The always dependable Victory has done a great job of creating a “lighter” beer that still brings the flavor in abundance. And while it’s nice that this beer does allow the water quality to shine, it’s probably an even better showcase for those Citra and Centennial hops. Who knew that a session beer would end up a special treat for hop heads?! This is one you can drink all night. Just because a beer is made from great water doesn’t mean it should taste like water.

Photo courtesy of Read the review here:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Smuttynose Summer Weizen

There are quite a few common beer drinking practices I morally oppose, and one of them is putting fruit in a beer. I will not, under any circumstances, soil a beer glass with a slice of lime or orange. If I am served a beer with fruit in it, I will remove the fruit immediately and demand to see the manager. Seriously, if you need to put a piece of fruit in your beer, it probably means the beer sucks. It’s not that I don’t get the point of the fruit - it generally cuts an excessively wheaty or otherwise offensive flavor profile (or in the case of Corona, it gives the beer all of its flavor!). But a really good wheat beer doesn’t need the fruit. It’s balanced to begin with. Smuttynose’s Summer Weizen is a case in point. It’s by category an American pale wheat ale - an Americanized version of the German Hefeweizen. Made with domestic and continental wheat and barley malts, light hops, and a Belgian wit yeast, it compares favorably to outstanding American craft summer ales like Samuel Adams Summer Ale and Bell’s Oberon. But unlike, say, a Blue Moon, it balances its high proportion of wheat malts with mildly sharp hops and a zesty lemony finish. Ahhh! It’s refreshing and as wicked smooth as a summer beer should be, but rarely does one encounter a wheat ale with such tremendous complexity. Of course the wheat taste is front and center, but biscuity malts and an herbal, grainy finish add a lot. And the bottom line is that great brewing is about getting all the little things right - this is a Weizen that’s perfectly in balance. There are lots of beers that are generally of this style - and to tell you the truth I’m not a huge fan of wheat beers overall. Most of them are just a little “off” in some small way. But this one is so spot-on in every respect, and it may be my #1 favorite warm weather brew. There’s nothing like sitting out on the deck on a warm summer night, firing up the grill, listening to the Phillies game on the radio, and knocking back pints of Summer Weizen. Okay, actually I don’t have a deck. Or a grill. But if I did, you know which beer I’d have loaded in the cooler.