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!