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 DailyBeerReview.com. Read the review here: http://www.dailybeerreview.com/2011/03/headwaters-pale-ale.html

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.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Troegs Sunshine Pils

If I were to ever join a class action lawsuit, it would be false advertising complaint against Miller Light’s “great pilsner taste” advertising campaign. Come on, man! Great pilsner taste? Are you fucking KIDDING me?! It’s light beer - it’s neither pilsner nor great-tasting! A pilsner, by definition, is golden-colored, heavily hopped, and spiced with floral and citrus notes. Miller light, well, they got the color right. Troegs Sunshine Pils, on the other hand, has got the classic pilsner taste. Available April through August only, Sunshine Pils is a staple of my warm weather beer diet. It’s crisp and thirst-quenching yet aggressively hoppy. Like any good pilsner it’s made from noble hops (in this case Saaz, Mitt, and Hallertau) and adds balance with biscuit-like malts. Although quite light, it’s by no means a mere “lawnmower beer”. It brings a surprising amount of flavor for such a clean, summery beverage. Sure, you could guzzle it down after you mowed the lawn on a hot day, and it would do the trick. But you could also enjoy it with a nice meal or as an ideal session brew in the company of friends. Notes of grass, citrus, pine, and bread come together to create a crisp, enjoyably hoppy taste that would do even the Germans and Czechs proud! Without a doubt, this is one of the best summer beers on the East Coast. I'd laud it for its "great pilsner taste", but legally I'm probably not allowed to. Drink up!