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!