Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

There are three yearly activities that I refuse to engage in prior to Thanksgiving night. They are listening to Christmas music, publishing my Christmas list, and drinking holiday beers. Well, here we are. The magical moment has come. The turkey has been conquered, and it’s soon time to settle in to watch the Harbaugh Bowl on the NFL Network. I’ve already “shared” two Christmas songs on my Facebook page. In case you were curious about my Christmas list, I will now share it in somewhat lavish detail:

1. I would like a large sum of cash specifically for the purpose of allowing my wife to quit her job. I am not a greedy man. I am not asking for riches. None of these funds would be used to procure luxury items or finance indulgent vacations. I would just like enough money to allow Tami to take a hard-earned vacation of exactly five years so that she may relax and de-stress. $300,000 or thereabouts should suffice.

2. I would like six pounds of kielbasa from Stanley’s Market in Toledo. Note, it must be from Stanley's.

3. I want the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. Yeah, I know: it’s not happening this year. Hardy har har.

4. You know that Sting box set that was recently released? I would like all copies to be destroyed.

5. I would like a Steak N’ Shake to be built within five miles of the Fitzledge residence.

6. I would like Stepbrothers to be retroactively awarded the Oscar for Best Picture of 2008.

7. Just once, I would like Chick-fil-A to be open on Sunday.

8. I would like a pink Forever Lazy with matching footies.

9. How about a Husker Du reunion concert? Come on, guys. Just one show. Please!

10. I would like an entire case of 22-ounce bottles of Victory Baltic Thunder.

As for my first holiday beer of 2011, I went with a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. And let’s just say it was no letdown! Like most beer geeks, I get more than a little excited about the annual arrival of SNCA. It’s a “different” kind of holiday beer. It’s not a winter warmer. It’s not a spiced ale. You won’t find any cinnamon or nutmeg in this magnificent concoction. Brewed every year for a Christmastime release, SNCA is an American IPA made with the first, fresh hops of the growing season. In existence since 1981 and brewed with the same recipe since 1983, this can rightfully be called a “classic” of American micro brewing. Perhaps some people tire of all the praise that is lavished upon Celebration, but in my opinion it really is that good. Its blend of Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops creates a flavor that’s part piney, part citrus-y, and part spicy (hence the perception that it’s a “spiced” ale). I’m not going to lie and say it’s not a hoppy beer. It’s loaded with hops. But while I’m by no means a hop-head, I downed my first bottle at the speed of light. Good lord, does this stuff go down easy for a 65 IBU, 6.8 % ABV beast of an ale! It’s so fresh, and the mouthfeel is like heaven on the tongue! Two-row pale and English caramel malts provide just enough balance. And the hop bitterness is actually quite nice, leaving a pleasant aftertaste that makes me want to drink more! Should I drink more? Why the heck not? Another bottle beckons! ‘Tis the season!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Uinta Brewing Company BABA Black Lager

Black lagers don’t generally get a lot of love from beer geeks, and the utter mediocrity of Guinness Black Lager isn’t exactly helping. But in my humble opinion, a well-made black lager is hard to beat. There are times when I’m in the mood for neither a pale lager nor a rich stout, but rather something perfectly in between. And that would be a black lager! Utah’s highly-respected Uinta Brewing Company has given us a black lager that really hits the spot. BABA is not a particularly complex beer, but then again it’s not supposed to be. It’s lighter bodied than a stout yet more fully flavored than a standard lager. The taste is of dark roasted malts, with minimal hops and little if any bitterness. It’s drinkable but by no means “weak” tasting. Balanced and crisp, this is a simple but absolutely wonderful beer. Always one to appreciate the simple things in life, I have mad respect for a brewery that can make an A-caliber beer even when it's doing the basics. BABA is straight up delicious. I could drink it every day of the year! By all means, this is what Guinness Black should have tasted like!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Great Divide Smoked Baltic Porter

A smoked Baltic porter just sounds like something I’d drink. I really like smoked beers (Rauchbiers), and I love Baltic porters. Great Divide’s Smoked Baltic Porter is kind of a combination of both, although technically it’s a lager. In any case, it’s a fine beer to sip on as we enter the cold weather season. Because of its smoky character (achieved through the use of Bamberg smoked malts), it doesn’t have the prevailing dark fruit accents you’d normally expect from a Baltic porter. And at 6.2 percent alcohol, this is a lightweight beer compared to a real Baltic porter. But with a hybrid style of beer, no one’s asking for “normal”. What matters is taste, and this beer tastes great. A lot of people are skeptical of Rauchbiers. I mean, who besides me wants to drink a beer with the flavor profile of bacon? GDSBP takes the best elements of the Rauchbier and combines them with the porter-like qualities of a malty dark lager. Roasty flavors of dark chocolate and caramel malts mix nicely with the smoke, which is pronounced but not overpowering. The finish is clean, and there are just enough hops for balance. This beer comes in a big 22 ounce bottle, and you will be surprised how quickly you finish! All in all, another outstanding product from one of America’s best craft breweries.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rogue Shakespeare Stout

Since it’s International Stout Day, why not have a stout tonight? May I offer a suggestion? One of the best stouts out there is Rogue’s Shakespeare, a true cult classic of American craft-brewing and an exemplary oatmeal stout. Oatmeal stouts are my favorite stouts because they’re so creamy. It’s like drinking velvet! Mmmm! But with Rogue’s version of an oatmeal stout, you get so much more than that. Most stouts are predominantly roasty or coffee-ish, but the 69-IBU Shakespeare has got enough hop bitterness to really balance things out. The flavor is big, bold, and complex, with notes of burnt roasted barley, dark chocolate, fruity/floral hops, and of course rolled oats coming together like heaven on your tongue. The aftertaste is a delicious mix of bittersweet chocolate and coffee. What’s not to love? This is a fine American stout – black in color with a creamy head, and a mouthfeel that’s chewy but not oppressively thick. It’ll make that six-month-old Guinness currently sitting in your fridge taste downright weak. Six bucks for a single 22-ounce bottle may seem like a lot of money. But come on! It’s International Stout Day! Live a little!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Smuttynose Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale

Now that we’re past Oktoberfest season, it seems like a Thanksgiving-themed beer ought to be in order. It’s kind of too soon to break out the winter warmers and Christmas ales, right? While not exactly a Thanksgiving beer, Smuttynose’s Pumpkin Ale seems to fit the bill pretty well. It honors the brewing traditions of some of America’s earliest brewers. Beer-makers of colonial times, who couldn’t always afford pricey imported malts, often made do with locally grown ingredients like squash and pumpkins. Smuttynose takes that classic concept and marries it to the premium ingredients and meticulous craftsmanship of contemporary micro-brewing. Real pumpkin puree is added to the mash along with “traditional spices” (allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg) to create an ideal flavor profile for the fall season. Unlike typical pumpkin ales, this one doesn’t rely on the “essence” of pumpkins. And unlike typical pumpkin ales, it’s got an earthy hop bitterness to it that somewhat subdues the sweetness of the pumpkin and cinnamon. Damn, this is a spicy beer! It smacks you in the mouth with spice! But it’s a great beer. It delivers a wonderful smoothness and a ton of flavor. The hops and seasonal spices are way out in front, while the pumpkin, toasted malts, and fruity yeasts play a perfect complementary role in this delicious concoction. Compared to a lot of pumpkin ales that come on like liquid pumpkin pie, Smuttynose’s version is less dessert and more beer. Consider it a “beer drinker’s” pumpkin ale – and a damn fine one at that! Something tells me that the Pilgrims never drank anything quite like this.