Tag: craft beer

Fun With Beer: New Belgium Springboard

So there was a time, back when people were crapping into a dry bowl and sleeping with it under their bed, when instead of medicine we had a bunch of witch-doctor herbs and barks and such.  Luckily we have gotten our bathroom situations mostly sorted out (save for a rare camping trip, America’s Funniest Home Video septic tank explosion, or vacation to India) and we rarely have to consider our voiding a serious problem.  Unfortunately, our health, our position in this world escaping the shadow of death that follows us, has only done slightly better.  One’s bullet train to the grave can be slowed down now that we don’t treat a toothache with honey and lard, and all these microscopes and xray spectrometers and controlling the evolution of bacteria to actually solve more problems than they cause has given us an average of 30+ years across the board.  However, there are still people out there, mainly people with a burning desire to bring up something about themselves to smugly lord over us “normal” types, that reject the lifespan increase, reject the logic, reject the droves upon droves upon droves who’ve dedicated their lifetime to helping their fellow man, and instead say, “Naw, the herbs, man.  It’s NATURAL.”

Yes, we can all share a special, intimate shame that we are nearly genetically identical to these people.  Even your average middle-aged forwarded-email-reader (FWD: fwd; RE: THIS IS AMAZING!!!!!.txt) in love with their Acai berries and “superfoods” will still err on the side of the drug store when their river starts to flow the wrong way, but the person who asks the 20-something white-guy-dreadlock sporting, Greatful Dead tattooed, unemployable mouth-breather at Whole Foods for health advice is a whole other beast.  And that mouthbreather?  Oh he’ll give you some advice.  One of them might just be a $13 dollar bundle of “unstressed” rosemary!
 Which brings me to the beer.  It may pain me to say it, but I think New Belgium is jumping the shark with this one.  Springboard is a Belgian Pale Ale, born from a, no joke, “A Dream the Sustainability Director’s acupuncturist had about making a beer with New Belgium.”  An acupuncturist had a dream about someone paying them for something ridiculous?  A “Sustainability Director” had an acupuncturist?  WOAH, the room is spinning, let me sit down!  So the three got together in some herb shop, probably cleared away the bongs and nude mags, and hashed out a beer.  Presumably, it was a brewmaster shooting down the most disgusting tasting of the suggestions, until we have a beer with Gogi berries and Schisandra.  Ever heard of them?  No?  Good.
Now, seeing as how there is so little of these magical fruits, and their bio-availability is so scant already in their whole form, lets not even get into the health benefits of a beer made with them.  As far as the beer itself, it pours a cloudy pale yellow with a big foamy white head.  The nose is pretty indicative of a Belgian style pale ale, mainly sweet bready malts and citrus.  Oddly enough though, there is a hint of some grassy hops, a positive note.  The taste is rather sweet, with a bit of spice that didn’t let on in the scent.  It’s nicely inoffensive, but ends with a bit of a chalky dryness that could have done without.  Otherwise a good beer, but I’m expecting the funky Chinese natural medicines didn’t do it any favors, flavor or otherwise.

Fun With Beer: Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

What’s in a name?  A moniker?  A hashtag even?  So what’s in Rye?  Consider the rye, if you will, and tell me what you see.  Is it a toasty bread with fennel seeds, literally sandwiching a pile of salty pink meat?  Is it a brown liquor, kinda spicy and sweet and filling the glass of a man from the 1950s?  Or is it an IPA with a real animal spirit to it?  Yes, if the world of IPAs was football, I think Rye IPAs would be rugby.  Slightly different, a little more scary, but oddly unappreciated.  Not to mention largely ignored by the media.  Regardless, there are some real honeys of Ryes out there.  One of which are a seasonal release by the famous desert brewery, Sierra Nevada.  While it seems that they don’t get much play outside of their wheelhouse beers, this seasonal is more celebrated than any of them.  I’m particularly fond of their hefe, but that’s neither here, nor there.  You can find this IPA in grocery stores even these days, bought up by the sixer and twelve pack.  Of all the beers that occupy that kind of “no-man’s land” between bottom-shelf gas station fodder and proper bottle shop alums, Ruthless Rye IPA is certainly… one of them.

Ok, I have to admit, to myself and the world, that I just don’t really swallow the hype on this one.  I’m not saying it’s bad or anything, I’m just saying that to judge it as a Rye IPA, it doesn’t really cut the mustard (screw thousand-island, I’ll make my Reuben how I want).  I’m thinking that sometimes these kinds of beers are given a bit of a leeway with how they are judged, considering their middle-market competition.  It’s like the fact that you generally see something next to the shrink wrapped bud lite tall-boy three pack, anything above a “Blah” gets a gold star and a pat on the back and free tickets to a magician.  If Sierra Nevada wasn’t already so big, and the standards for big places so low, Ruthless Rye wouldn’t shake so many money-makers.  Or hell, at least it wouldn’t be a freakin’ ninety-something on review sites.  Alas, let us observe it objectively.
So Ruthless Rye pours a solid dark amber, pretty clear, and has a pretty large, fluffy, and retaining head.  I did mine in a tulip glass, but the aromas coming off of it were strong enough without it.  Very floral, and a good enough hit of a grapefruit citrus note, but all were cranked up to eleven.  It made it a little hard to appreciate the namesake, the rye.  Maybe in the taste then?  Well, the first thing you get is just a ton of resinous hops and a very sweet, almost cloying bready malt.  The overt sweetness I can contribute to the rye, and there was a kind of aftertaste of a spice, but for a Rye IPA to be a fairly one-dimensional IPA with hardly any Rye, I don’t think this is deserving of the praise.  The resin lingers in a kind of chalky dryness, dissuading me from trying more.  I think that is the real Achilles’s Heel here, it just brings down the drinkability so much.  I am sad to say that of the several I drank in this past week, I barely finished the first one, and let the other attempts at trying it out go to waste.

Fun With Beer: Sweetwater IPA

The beer today hails from the most “Northern” Southern city, Atlanta, Georgia.  The ol’ ATL is the city that gave us the rapper Ludachris, the previously game-changing but currently terrible Adult Swim programming block, and my favorite comedian David Cross.  Plenty of good entertainment has come from or otherwise passed through the 404 area code, but what of beer, perhaps the ultimate entertainment?  There are a few craft brewers in and around the city, but not one so eye-capturing and further distributed than Sweetwater Brewing Co.  Usually emblazoned with a big Rainbow Trout in mid catch, there are definitely some solid beers coming from their fermentation vats.  There are a good share of bombers and special-release things in their catalog, but their two main year-round beers are their Exodus Porter and their simply named IPA.  The IPA has a very surprising “excellent” rating on rateBeer at 97/100 at the time of this writing, putting it right up there with some of the big name best IPAs in the world.

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Fun With Beer: Faust Brewing Co. – Altered States

Just around the corner from the historical district of New Braunsfeld, there is a four-story hotel called the Faust.  Below the four stories of vintage-decor rooms is a brewpub that fills up every night with locals looking for a good place to unwind and have a pint or two.  Among their taps of imported German, domestic craft, and the usual suspects, there are a few that are brewed on-premises by brewmaster Ray Mitteldorf.  One of the styles he is brewing in the “Character Series” is called Altered States, the tap handle showing a fiendish devil staring you down.  However, if you look closely and take the hints from the cryptic styling, flipping the portrait of Old Scratch makes the image appear as a kindly German Opa with a big curled mustache.  That’s a good thing to keep in mind with this beer; it all depends on the angle at which you look.

The Altbier style is an interesting one because it developed in a place that was not effected by the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516, so in the cooler Rhineland they were able to experiment with storing fermented beers in cool places over long periods. Thus, the Altbier or “Old Beer” was born.  It is generally characterized by a dark brown or amber coloring with a lager-style dryness and a bit of a fruity characteristic to it.
With a recommendation at my request of something “interesting”, the bartender poured out a pint of this interesting brew.  It had a healthy white, soft head that left a good level of lacing.  The color wasn’t exactly black, but it sure wasn’t light.  It was a very super-dark brown, still fairly clear upon inspection.  Something that surprised me a bit was the viscosity to it.  It wasn’t super thick like a stout or syrupy like some Belgian old ales.  It truly did seem like a much darker lager, not thickened out by too much.  I gave it a good smell, and boy I was taken aback.  This beer has quite a good aroma to it, very malty and enticing.  I got a good sweet, almost on the verge of a toffee note, and a touch of a fruity yeast.  I must admit, this beer was lining up to have a bit of a unique palate to it.
The first taste was very malt-forward, but not in the way I anticipated it.  Sure, there was a strong portion of the sweet brown sugar toffee malt, but the overall characteristic of it was extremely refreshing and crisp, just as crisp as a beer a mile down in shades of color.  There was a bit of a hop characteristic to it, a great balance.  It provided that little hoppy bitter that we have all come to love.  Upon deeper tastes, I noticed some good stone fruit and bready yeast coming out in the after tastes.  I finished my pint in short order, simply from the excitement of going in and enjoying this unique blend.
Microbrews and Brewpubs are always a terrific place to try a thoughtful individual’s take on a style.  Whether it is a strict way to perfecting a centuries old recipe or a unique brew incorporating ground-breaking flavors, it’s always great to be this close to where “the magic happens”.  There’s something to be said about being right in the thick of it, and the Faust is a great place to enjoy that feeling and one heck of a great Altbier.

Fun With Beer: Coronado Brewing CO. – Mermaid’s Red Ale

I think it’s unfortunate that one of the beer varieties being somewhat passed by in development is the Red Ale.  IPAs are getting straight up nuts, stouts have had every other flavor under the sun in there, but what of the humble red?  Dang it all, a red ale is more than its colorful malt blend, it’s a canvas for experimentation like any other.  That’s why I was pleasantly surprised with Coronado Brewing Company’s version, Mermaid’s Red Ale.  I tried their coffee stout and their Imperial IPA, and was admittedly quite content with them.  They weren’t super crazy, but they had some character to them, enough at least to take them away from being too “defined by the style”.  And what’s better was that they had some stuff going on that I wasn’t expecting.  Their IIPA was wonderfully complex and had some neat herbal notes, and the stout had more dark fruit than any other I can remember.  Will their red follow in the same vein?  Let’s find out together, friends.
Now, despite the homogeneous nature of the style, I still think the soul of a Red is in its malt profile.  Those sweet, fruity notes have to just jut out, and it don’t mean butt if it ain’t got that jut.  However, we all know it’s just not as easy for it to really POP without disregarding the idea of having a hop balance.  In light of this, I simply couldn’t hold it against Coronado if they went down that road.  Readers, if you did recommend me a Red ale that really focused on having a good malt blend and remained well balanced, I would most definitely appreciate it.
I actually ordered this one on tap.  I got the pint glass at a very proper temperature; not too cold, not body-temperature warm.  There was a good finger of bubbly head, but it wasn’t retained very well.  There was a good level of lace, the sticky kind that leaves a byte of memory recording your gulp sizes down the side of the glass.  The color was, of course, amber-red.  Maybe even a Rosewood red.  It wasn’t super clear, but far from cloudy.  The aroma was the real surprise though, very resinous and piney, almost a bit like fresh (and I mean STICKY fresh) rosemary.  There is still plenty of sweet bread malt scents, but very strongly contrasted with hops.  Could this be a sign of some interesting complexity?  One hopes…
The first taste was, yet another surprise, not hop-forward!  I noted a distinct sweet toffee malt flavor before the piney, sticky hops scrunched me up.  Yes, this one is a bit of a palate painter.  It may have been the shock or the actual staying power of the hop bitter, but it took a while to get some proper tasting done with this beer.
The hop profile may not have been exactly one-note, but it was definitely played in the key of PINE.  Some citrus-y notes may have worked their way in, but were playing second fiddle.  Getting past that, the malts revealed themselves to  be a good harmonic chord of burnt sugar, toffee, and roasted malt.  Once this beer gets into its rhythm, it’s quite the crescendo of flavor!

Fun With Beer: J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin)



Big things come in small packages.  That is the maxim that I would say describes this downright mammoth of a beer.  I was surprised how a little 9.3oz bottle can hold so much flavor, and such a complex symphony of it.  J. W. Lees has been doing some really interesting stuff as of late, and this is one of the more interesting I’ve seen in a while.
J.W. Lees is a British brewery and chain of pubs, mainly doing very British style beers.  Lagers, bitters, a dark one here or there, and an interesting little outlier called Harvest Ale.  This one’s described as “Silky smooth, syrupy sweet, and gum-tinglingly warm” and weighs in at a whopping 11.5% ABV.  Wow, I guess that’s what they meant by warm?  With something so thick, so high in ABV, and presumably very strong in flavor with the Lagavulin, maybe 9.3oz is too much?  Oh, and don’t even get me started on the price, holy smokes…
Regardless, I intended on purchasing this.  I am a fan of both Lagavulin and heavy ales, so something like this is right up my alley. However, I had some advice from a fellow beer drinker who was more experienced in JW Lees stuff regarding the sediment.  Apparently, their bottling process is a little… less than scrupulous when it comes to how much yeast gets in the bottle.  So, before I opened it I carefully held it up to the light.  Yikes.  Ok, so there is going to be left over, and my price per usable ounce of beer ratio is starting to make gold blush.  So, I poured it out into a few tasters because, hey, share the wealth.  May as well be dropping flif like a sultan if I’m going to be drinking like one.  Or maybe it’s a prince?  Either way, the frugal dollar-store meat shopper inside me is sweating profusely.
It pours observably thick and syrupy, and a murky reddish brown.  Hardly any head, and whatever is there dissipates quickly.  Even with my careful and conservative pouring, there was still a couple little bits of yeasty sediment.  Sad, but oh well.
Now, how would you guess the scent is?  What would you say is the dominating note with a beer that’s been aged in barrels of the smokiest, peatiest scotch out there?  Yeah, it was smoky as hell.  Not smoky like a Rauchbier, which is usually all burnt wood and ash, but a peaty smoke.  So definitively peaty that it is almost like someone just diluted cask strength Lagavulin with a very strong barleywine ale.  Besides the peat, you also get some scents of sweet golden raisins and molasses.
The taste is, like I said, too danged big for this bottle.  There is much more to be had of the peaty Lagavulin smoke, and even more sweet, sugary toffee flavors.  There is also a noted boozy heat, expected in something this high.  The mouth-feel is almost stifling in it’s thickness.  Its almost a strange tactile sensation of eating/drinking together, you can feel it move its way down your throat.
Overall, this beer is quite amazing.  However, like the delicious whisky that inhabited those barrels before, it is meant to be sipped daintily and delicately.  I had a little taster, and it was more than enough to get me by.  Now, whether it was worth the money… that’s a question you can ask yourself.  I know could have bought something a little cheaper and got myself that much more discontinued sausage from the dollar store, but I would have missed out on one heck of an experience.

Fun With Beer: Rogue Chipotle Ale


Well, they can’t all be winners, folks.  I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Rogue brewing, but I’m really starting to loose some of my optimism when I try something new from them.  Now, you can’t chalk this up to me becoming some kind of jaded snifter-swirling beer snob.  Well, not this time at least.  I would accept that as a possibility if my criticism hinged on it being just boring, but dang it all if this one wasn’t down right bad.  How bad?  I didn’t even finish it.  It seems like for every winner like their Double Chocolate Stout or HazelNut Brown Nectar, they have a flop like that Voodoo Maple Bacon Doughnut debacle or… THIS.

I picked up a bottle of their Chipotle Ale a little while ago, hoping to have something that was a bit ‘out of the box’ in flavor.  The fact that they were a pretty low price of about six wing-wangs sealed the deal, but in retrospect, I should have picked that Clown Shoes PIMP collaboration I had my eye on.
Disclaimer time:  this beer has a bit of a split reputation on beer review websites.  Some, even those called experts on some sites, will rate this pretty highly.  Others, they’ll average rather low.  More of my theories on this later.
I poured a hand full of fingers of this into my chalice and observed.  Where I was expecting this to be as dark as a Mole, or at least as dark as New Belgium’s Cocoa Mole, it was a a golden amber.  Hazy, but with just a bit of white head and good lacing.  The aroma wasn’t to disconcerting, but was kind of similar to a German smoke beer, rauchbier.  Very smoky, a bit malty, and even a touch of hops.  A very crisp basic “Ale” scent, besides all the smoke.
Here’s where things get a little…  boned up.  I taste, and the first thing I get is SMOKE.  Not like a camp fire, like a straight up arson.  Worse yet, arson on a Band-Aid factory.  Some impurities in beer have been known to produce a “band-aid” or medicinal flavor, usually when a fermenting vessel isn’t properly cleaned.  I don’t know if that is what happened here, but it was bad.  The smoke itself reminded me of actual liquid smoke seasoning, in a kind of artificial flavoring way.  It was kind of hard to get past this and parse out the rest of the flavors, but I did get a very nice sweet malt and the tangy cascade hops.  As for any actual chipotle flavors… There was a little bit of a bite after a few tastes, but nothing on the level of other chili beers.  No real burn, no jalapeno-style fruity/vegetable flavor, just… smoke.  A kind of smoke like I’ve never gotten from an honest chipotle.
Truthfully, if I ever see this on tap, I will try it to make sure.  I really don’t think the beer I had was meant to taste the way it did.  Hell, I’d almost be tempted to toss a little actual chipotle in there to balance out that huge artificial smoke flavor.  But the band-aid flavor, I guess I can give that one as an impurity.  A darned shame, and a waste of six bucks.  I think Rogue needs to get back to their roots and work on how their beers taste, rather than how they sound.

Fun With Beer: Marionberry Hibiscus Gose


There is a bit of a rare style of beer that has emerged in popularity in recent years called Gose.  It’s a very peculiar brew made with top-fermenting yeast and inoculated with lactic bacteria, the same used in many sour beers.  Besides this, there is a very unusual addition of coriander and salt to the brew.  Salt… In a beer?  This style is a regional specialty of Leipzig, Germany, leading me to believe that people in Leipzig are totally crazy.  Because of these additions, they style didn’t conform to the Reinheitsgebot, the 16th century Bavarian purity laws that governed the brewing of beer.  Besides being already unpopular, that was a first bullet dodged in the style’s history.

The one brewery that made it was nationalized and closed in 1945 amid… harsh times, we’ll say.  One person who worked there took the secret of brewing gose and passed it down, eventually allowing it to fade in and out of popularity until today.  Now, there a few breweries doing this off-kilter beer in Germany, and even a few here in the U.S. trying their hand at it.  Cascade does a few, Cigar City even had one, but perhaps the most interesting would be from the Widmer Brothers Brewery of Portland.
In their classic and easily recognizable label, with a deep carmine pink, is their Marionberry Hibiscus Gose.  With a subtitle touting, “Perfecting the Art of Tart”, I knew I just had to try it.  Hey, I like hibiscus and corriander, marionberries aren’t bad, and a lactobacillus imbued beer has always piqued my interest.  Of course, nothing on the label said anything about salt, but I wouldn’t think the Brothers would cheat me out of that experience.
It pours a very dark, slightly opaque pink, almost the same color as on the label.  The head is there, but not for long, leaving hardly any lacing.  This almost looked like it was going to be one of those candy-like lambics, the type best complimented by a scoop of ice cream floating.  The smell however, was more reassuring than that.  True, there was some sweet berry to it, but the scent was dominated by wheat and floral hibiscus.  There was also a bit of some light yeast.  Nothing on the level of some Belgian styles, but still there.
I readied myself for a hit of tartness, but found myself pretty over-prepared for it.  It was somewhat tart, but was more a wheat beer than anything.  You got some pretty good coriander notes at the end, which I was pretty happy with, but the stars of the show remained the berry and floral parts.  Personally, tasting this left me with the impression that a traditional style gose would be a nice thing to drink.
Something that makes this style interesting is the salt.  There’s something about it that adds a kind of subtle savory characteristic to it.  It is a sort of dryness, and I assume it does the thing salt does and amplifies the flavors.  It is kind of unfortunate that such a strong flavor like marionberry was there to overshadow what could have been some really interesting flavors coming through.  Gose is worth a try for it’s unique taste, and although I enjoyed this one, maybe start with another a more traditional one.