Thursday, June 21, 2012

Great Lakes Brewing Co. Lake Erie Monster

What kind of brewery makes its summer seasonal a double IPA? An awesome one! I’m weird since I dislike American pale ales because they’re “too hoppy”, yet I like the far hoppier India pale ales. And I like double IPAs twice as much as I like regular IPAs. Perhaps it’s because double IPAs balance all those hops with tons of malts. This may be blasphemy, but I’d say the Lake Erie Monster is just about as good as the vaunted Bell’s Hopslam. At worst, it’s a nine out of ten compared to Hopslam’s ten out of ten. Not too shabby! And hey, you don’t really have to take sides since one comes out in the winter and the other comes out in the summer. I just love it that while almost every other craft brewery is bringing wheat beers and fruit ales and pale lagers for the warm months, Great Lakes goes big for the summer. Named in honor of the Lake Erie monster, South Bay Bessie, this beast of a beer weighs in at 9.1 percent ABV and 80 IBUs. Up front it’s, of course, a hop bomb. You get that big blast of Simcoe and Fuggle hops the instant the beer hits your tongue. But as you continue to drink, the malts (primarily Harrington two-row) really step up. And so you’re left with an ale that packs a punch but ultimately comes off as perfectly balanced. This is not just another hopped-up ass-kicker of a beer that’s all brawn and no finesse. It’s smooth and flavorful, buoyed by a powerful dose of citrus hops and a nice malty backbone. As imperial IPAs go, it does not get more drinkable than this. Considering the higher price point and scary percentage of alcohol, this is not quite a “typical” summer beer. You probably don’t want to slam two bottles right after you finish mowing the lawn. Or maybe you do. I’m not going to judge you. If I were going to go out on Lake Erie in hopes of catching a glimpse of Bessie, I’d take a four-pack of this stuff with me. Or maybe two four-packs. I really want to see that monster.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy

There are lawnmower beers, and then there are lawnmower beers. Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy is the lawnmower beer to end all lawnmower beers. Its rating on Beer Advocate is a paltry 71 – definite proof that a lot of craft beer connoisseurs have prejudices against “average Joe” brews. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly well-crafted. Hell, a beer like this that could easily be terrible if it were not perfectly in balance. So hats off to the Leinenkugels for getting it right! Summer Shandy is their take on a traditional German Radler – half pale lager, half lemonade. It is, of course, brewed specifically for the summer months when something cold and refreshing is in order. And boy, does this stuff ever hit the spot! It doesn’t taste “off” or too sweet or disgusting. For what it is, it’s pretty darn perfect. It may be a lemonade beer, but it’s still a beer. The lager component is rock solid. And if you hate the idea of lemonade in beer, that’s a matter of taste and not a knock on the quality of this product. Honestly, I haven’t mowed a lawn in almost 20 years. But coming home from the gym in a non air-conditioned car is kind of similar to coming in from mowing a lawn. And I do that a lot. Both cases are fine occasions to pour a Summer Shandy! The cynic will say that the booming sales of this beer are a sign that it’s lowest common denominator swill. But conceptually, there’s nothing wrong with a beer that almost everyone can love. It’s simply a matter of whether it’s quality or garbage. If Bud or Miller tried to make a shandy (and trust me, they will sooner or later), they’d fuck it up royally. Do not underestimate the Summer Shandy!