Saturday, January 29, 2011

Victory Golden Monkey

I’ve been drinking so many black beers lately that I felt it was time for a change. I was in a beer rut. Every night it was roasty, dark malts and coffee/chocolate notes. That’s usually my thing, but I needed one evening of light and sweet to re-charge my beer batteries. I’ll surely go back to the porters and stouts and dark ales, for it is that time of the year. But last night I had a hankering for something golden and sugary. So I walked into the beer store with a purpose. And there it was right in front of me. The Golden Monkey. Exactly what I was craving! It may only be the fifth or sixth best beer on the Victory roster, but that’s kind of like being the fifth or sixth best player on the Pittsburgh Steelers. You’re still talking All-Pro caliber. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Lawrence Timmons of beers.

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 Road Dog Porter

A Hunter S. Thompson themed beer has an awful lot to live up to. Road Dog Porter is more than up to the task. Road Dog was the first Flying Dog beer to be illustrated by Ralph Steadman, and Thompson himself was a fan and a friend of this fine beverage. Thompson even wrote an essay in honor of Road Dog's release, in which he cited an old Celtic proverb "Good people drink good beer". It took years of court battles before Flying Dog could finally sell Road Dog with the "Good beer, No Shit" slogan on the bottle – all the more reason to appreciate the uniqueness of the packaging! But what about the taste? After all that buildup, it had better be good beer. It is.

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

New Holland The Poet oatmeal stout

It's that time of the year when I could go for a stout every single night. With there being so many outstanding American craft stouts out there, sometimes even the classic Guinness pint won't do. New Holland's The Poet is up there with just about any stout I've had. It is everything I love about this style and delicious in numerous ways. Like all good oatmeal stouts, it's smooth with a touch of sweetness. It's got the wonderfully roasty character you'd expect, with coffee and chocolate flavors hitting all the right notes. The oats add an extra dimension of taste and a super-silky mouthfeel. Hops bring a just-right bitter finish, and all in all this is pretty close to a perfect stout. It's rich and full-bodied yet drinkable and thirst-quenching. We often think of an oatmeal stout as a heavy, "meal in a glass" type beer, but The Poet is surprisingly sessionable. It's got a moderately low alcohol by volume (5.2 percent) and goes down wicked easy. Suck it down all night, or slowly savor a single bottle as you warm yourself by the fireplace. Either way, you can't let stout season go by without enjoying The Poet.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bell's Hell Hath No Fury...Ale

I picked up a six-pack of Bell's Hell Hath No Fury en route to the Notre Dame/Western Michigan game this past October. The Irish won but would not pick up another victory for an entire month. The morning of November 13th they sat at 4-5 and had been written off entirely, mocked by the usual scoffers who pegged the Brian Kelly hire as yet another failed attempt at reviving a fallen power. But the Irish would beat a ranked Utah team that day and not lose again the entire season, a run culminating in a New Year's Eve beasting of Miami that gave the domers a respectable eight wins for 2010. Similarly resilient is the Hell Hath No Fury, a Bell's mid-fall seasonal that originally got lost in the shuffle of my sizable Andersons beer score. I rediscovered it months later, a couple of bottles hidden in the fridge behind a wall of porters and stouts from my Christmas brew spree. It's hard to believe I wasn't touting this stuff months ago. What a terrific beer!

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

Founders Red Rye PA

Founders beer is so unbelievably good that it makes me a little suspicious. How could one brewery make so many incredible beers? Do they sprinkle their mash tuns with magic dust? Are they privy to mysterious techniques and alien technologies provided by the albino elitists who live under ground and secretly control all the world’s governments? Do they top off every bottle with a drop of blood from a virgin sacrifice? I've tried six of their beers so far, and every one has been out of this world. There are still at least nine more Founders varieties I've yet to taste, but rest assured I'll get there. My bucket list is full of references to Founders beer.

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

Moose Drool Brown Ale

Moose Drool, the best selling beer in Montana, is supposed to be "the best brown ale you've ever tasted". Honestly, I have had better (Newcastle, Dogfish Head...). But nonetheless the hype over Moose Drool is to be believed. It's a creamy, drinkable, and unquestionably tasty take on the American brown style suitable for beer snobs and Joe Sixpack types alike. Malty as heck, but not overly sweet, it's got the nutty bread notes and roasty bitterness I like in a good brown ale. The caramel and chocolate malts in particular deliver a rich, nicely lingering flavor. If Moose Drool pales slightly in comparison to the Dogfish Head Indian Brown, that's hardly a dishonor. I'm not a hop-head, but I have to admit I'd be more apt to give Moose Drool an A-rating if the hop profile were a little more aggressive. Still, though, this is a top five caliber brown ale and one I'll surely buy again.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Great Divide Hibernation Ale

Finally an outstanding winter beer! I’ve tried quite a few since the weather turned cold, and I hadn’t found any I cared to drink again besides old standbys like the Sam Adams Winter Lager and the Samuel Smith Winter Welcome. I picked up a bottle of Hibernation Ale not knowing what to expect. Score! Although technically not a winter warmer (it’s an old ale), it is most definitely a winter beer. Like most winter beers, it’s sweet and malty and high in alcohol - ideally suited for these miserable cold nights we still have to endure for the next two months. Unlike most winter beers, though, it balances its sweetness with smoky malts and an aggressive hop profile. The big flavor tickles the taste buds with notes of caramel, chocolate, toffee, and dark fruit, kicks in with toasty complexity, and finishes bitter with piny hops that pack a punch but don’t upstage the malts. With every sip, I get that warm and fuzzy feeling. Just as importantly, this is one of the most delicious beers of any style I’ve had lately. Fat-bodied, complex, and wicked smooth, the Hibernation Ale almost makes me wish the winter season were longer!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mad Anthony Auburn Lager

Mad Anthony Wayne was a Revolutionary War general renowned for his triumph at Stony Point. Dubbed “Mad” due to his fiery temper and poorly-masked disdain for incompetence (he was kind of like the Bobby Knight of his day), General Wayne later served in the Pennsylvania state legislature and was a U.S. representative for the state of Georgia. He was called back into military service by George Washington, leading the Legion of United States in warfare against native Americans who refused to surrender the lands of Ohio. He led American troops to victory in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in what is now Maumee, Ohio. During this military campaign, Wayne ordered the establishment of various forts, one of which was named in his honor. Today, Fort Wayne is the second-largest city in the state of Indiana. It has not forgotten Mad Anthony. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA D-League feature the talents of former college hoops stars like Rod Wilmont, Darnell Lazare, and Walker Russell. Fort Wayne’s Mad Anthony Brewing Company features beers such as Harry Baals Irish Stout and Ol’ Woody Pale Ale. I regret to say that I have yet to try either of the above. I can, however, attest to the worthiness of the Auburn Lager.

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

Arbor Brewing Company Olde Number 22

With my wife and I holding a combined three Big Ten diplomas and me through marriage inheriting Notre Dame football as a way of life, I have developed an ever-growing hatred for the University of Michigan. Needless to say, my last three autumns have been filled with the gleeful and unadulterated enjoyment of the Wolverines’ gridiron failings. Rich Rodriguez, soon to be fired, has gone 6-18 against the Big Ten and 2-11 against Top 25 opponents. Only 12 teams in the entire country allowed more yards per game than Michigan this season, and the once-fearsome Wolverines gave up an unfathomable 448 points in 13 contests. When the sixth-most-potent offensive team in the nation only goes 7-6 and loses a New Year's Day bowl game by 38 points, that’s hardly a laughing matter. Unless, of course, you hate Michigan. Then it’s absolutely hilarious. If I had my way, RichRod would never be fired. He'd be given a lifetime contract and provided police protection 24/7. I’m really starting to enjoy this Penn State beating Michigan thing, and I would have no complaints about it continuing infinitely. And by all means, keep Greg Robinson on as defensive coordinator! Under his guidance, the MU defense has exhibited the sort of charity and generosity that as a good Catholic I can truly admire and only hope to emulate. Go Blue!

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

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

Breckenridge's Vanilla Porter is far from the highest-rated porter out there (Beer Advocate users grade it a B-; its Rate Beer score is 74). But in my book it's easily one of the most enjoyable examples of the style. And I love porter, so you know I'm not fooling around.

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!