Saturday, January 29, 2011
If there’s any bad rap associated with the Golden Monkey, it’s that it’s a Belgian-style tripel that pales in comparison to tripels that are actually made in Belgium. Fair enough, I suppose - especially when you consider that Victory makes a German pilsner that beats even the Germans! So if you’re expecting a world class, definitive tripel, look elsewhere. But if you’re seeking a sweet, malty, American-ized Belgian that provides a warming alcoholic kick but still goes down crazy smooth, the Golden Monkey is not to be missed! Like all the Victory beers, it flat-out tastes good. If not an authentic tripel, it’s at least one of the most drinkable Belgian-style craft beers on the American market. Candied, fruity (banana is the big note here), and bready thanks to those extraordinary Belgian yeasts, the Monkey adds 2-row German malts, spices from Asia, and an herbal hop presence that comes through winningly on the back end. At a power-packed 9.5 percent ABV, the Monkey gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling within just a few sips. I sit in my recliner, drink, and reflect on how good life is. It’s a beer so sweet and refreshing you might be tempted to take it on as your new summer beer, finally kicking Corona to the curb. But no sane person would recommend the Monkey for sessioning - one or two of these will have you down for the count! It’s actually a great beer for the winter because of how quickly and delightfully it warms body and soul. It’s sweet yet wonderfully complex, a tad boozy yet silky-smooth going down. Hoppier and a little less yeasty than all-those world class tripels, the Golden Monkey is best judged on its own merits. And those merits can be summed up in one word: delicious.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Flying Dog describes Road Dog as a Scottish porter. I never heard of a Scottish porter before! It's supposed to be malty, and that's exactly what it is. The stuff is full of malts - four different kinds, in fact. As such it comes off a little sweeter than your typically roasty porter (perhaps that's where the "Scottish" part comes in). But who wants "typical"? If every porter out there tasted exactly the same, what fun would that be? As porters go, this is far from bold, but tasty as hell. It's light, smooth, and very nicely balanced. Chocolate and licorice go together deliciously, while more subtle toasted malts (caramel, toffee) linger pleasantly on the back burner along with a finishing touch of earthy hops. More akin to a smooth session porter like Bell's than it is to the "gourmet" offerings of, say, Founders or Stone, Road Dog is a great porter choice for the average beer drinker and craft brew lovers alike. No shit!
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
On paper, HHNF sounds like a really weird beer: half fruity Belgian ale, half roasty stout. I know! That's kinda strange, right? Actually, though, it's pretty delicious. The yeasts are sweet, with fruity (figs, raisins, prunes) and sugary (molasses, candy) notes meeting the bitter chocolate malts and roasted coffee profile of a stout or porter. And it works perfectly, with the fruity sweetness cutting into some of the roasty bitterness, but not totally subduing it. In much the way a milk stout or a vanilla porter somehow heightens a roasty flavor profile by balancing it out, HHNF attains a near-perfect blend. The difference here is that the Belgian yeasts are not just there for balance - they're tasty in their own right and just as important to the beer as the dark malts. To describe this merely as sort of a sugared porter would not be quite right. It's so much more than that. You could just as easily think of it as a roasty Belgian! I can see why it's a fall seasonal rather than a winter specialty. It's rich and warming, but also sweet and refreshing, the two beer styles co-existing in a beautifully equitable marriage. And you know I'm fond of beautifully equitable marriages.
Sadly, I only have one bottle of this fine ale left. It won't hit store shelves again until August at the earliest. But that's ok. It gives me something to look forward to. Michael Floyd's coming back for another season! Bell's Hell Hath No Fury, like Notre Dame football, will be a force in the fall of 2011.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I'm not saying that I reserve Founders beer for special occasions. But in the event of a special occasion, you can bet I'll be drinking Founders. Last night for the BCS Championship Game, I broke out a bottle of Red Rye PA - a Christmas gift from my wife's godmother. After one sip, my taste buds were rejoicing in heavenly song. The Red Rye PA is essentially a cross between a rye beer and an IPA. Like any good IPA, it's hoppy as hell. Super-hoppy doesn't always work for me, but in this case it totally does. The piny hops, so common in beers of this style, are assertive to say the least. But it's the Amarillo dry-hopped grapefruit taste that flat-out dominates. Mmmmm! This is a big, bold beer - yet so clean and smooth! A hearty dose of Belgian caramel malts and the spice of the rye add balance and complexity, but the citrus notes are large and in charge. This is a dangerously drinkable ale. I thought I would savor it last night but ended up draining my glass before a single point had been scored! Never fear, I had a Founders Porter in the fridge and game night meant a beer doubleheader. What a game it was, too. Not quite what I expected, but definitely a true classic and ultimately worthy of all the hype. You could say the exact same thing about the Red Rye PA!
Monday, January 10, 2011
Friday, January 7, 2011
Thursday, January 6, 2011
I first received a six-pack of the Auburn Lager two Christmases ago from my uncle and aunt in-law. This was a wonderful surprise. First of all, I react to receiving beer as a gift the same way most women do to receiving fine jewelry. Secondly, I didn’t even know they had a brewery in Fort Wayne! As a traveler I always enjoy partaking of the local brews. Even if it’s not the best beer in the world, it’s part of the regional culture and should be experienced. If someone came to visit me in Pennsylvania, I’d want them to try a Yuengling Lager. Love it or hate it, it’s integral to who were are in these parts. I don’t know if Mad Anthony’s beer is equally significant to the culture of Fort Wayne, but perhaps it ought to be. The Auburn Lager is a relatively simple beer compared to your average “micro” brew. It’s not hopped to insane extents or made from exotic ingredients culled from some unheard-of island in the South Pacific. It’s just a good, solid American amber befitting Fort Wayne’s blue collar Midwestern profile. It’s got a decent caramel-ish malt character with some sweet fruit notes, and hops are noticeable but far from overpowering. It has a slightly sour finish that gives it kind of a distinct taste, but it’s not a yucky sort of sour. All in all, this is a darn good beer. It’s a nice option to have on hand when I need a beer to drink with a meal but crave something a little better than corporate swill. I liked it enough to ask for some for Christmas when my wife and I returned to Fort Wayne this past December, and I’ve been enjoying it at home ever since. Unfortunately I was unable to purchase any more Mad Anthony selections while we were out there (no beer sales in Indiana on Christmas Day or Sundays - Boo!). But we’re going back to the Fort in May, and I will be ready to shop. Harry Baals, I’m coming for you!
Monday, January 3, 2011
Given the depths of my anti-Michigan U zealotry, it was almost painful to purchase a beer made in Ann Arbor. But it’s in no way painful to drink it. Olde Number 22 is marketed as a “drinkable dark ale”, and that’s exactly what it is. I like drinkable, and I like dark ales. This beer couldn't miss, right? Right. Leaving Busch’s supermarket in Plymouth, Michigan with a six-pack of this stuff, I was safely in enemy territory. But still I half-expected to be jumped in the parking lot by Brutus the Buckeye or met with a reproachful stare by a disapproving nun. It would have been worth it. Altbiers are German-style brown ales that are rendered remarkably smooth by a longer-than-usual period of conditioning. Olde Number 22 is a special kind of alt known as a sticke or “secret alt”. Back in the day, when German laws mandated that beers be priced according to their alcoholic content, pubs would brew these richer, maltier stickes for their most loyal customers, who would only be charged the price of a regular alt. Although relatively low in alcohol (5.5 percent ABV), Olde Number 22 is most definitely rich and malty. At just 27 IBUs, there’s very little bitterness to this fine ale. Its richness of flavor comes not from hops but rather its malts – some roasty and some sweet. As ales go, it is pretty sweet - but thankfully not too sweet. Compared to a lot of today’s highly celebrated craft ales, maybe it’s nothing extraordinary. But not every beer needs to be extraordinary. Sometimes a man just needs a solid, drinkable ale that goes down easy and can be consumed in great quantities. With its modest alcoholic content and smooth taste, it’s the ideal session beer. It goes great with food but works just as well on its own. You can be sure I’ll have my fridge stocked with Olde Number 22 the next time Michigan plays The Irish. Next year it’s really going to happen. Notre Dame's going to beat ‘em. I'll even predict the score: 63-54. I may need to drink a few.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
For precisely the reasons a lot of beer geeks dislike the Vanilla Porter, I'm quite fond of it. It's light-bodied, comparatively mild in flavor, and really sweet once the vanilla hits. Made with real vanilla bean from Papua New Guinea and Madagascar, this porter reminds me a little of drinking a vanilla-flavored Coke at Steak 'n Shake. It's got the roasted malts and bitter chocolate goodness that make the porter style a favorite of mine. But the huge, sweet kick of vanilla makes this a porter unlike any other. Some porter fans might feel the vanilla sweetness takes away from the roasty flavor and thus ruins what could have been a decent beer. Yet I really like the way the vanilla taste blends with the nutty cocoa/coffee notes. This is by no means a hoppy version of the porter style, so it's not like the sweetness needs to be there for balance. But you know what? I like it there anyway! Maybe it's only because I like drinking this beer while eating Ghiradelli dark chocolate squares, but there's something almost perfect to me about this particular combination of flavors.
While not as impossibly delicious as Bell's Porter, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter is similar in that it's more accessible to the average beer drinker than a lot of craft porters are. If you like milk stouts - or vanilla Cokes - give it a shot!