Sunday, December 11, 2011

Brother David's Double and the Trappist Investigation

There's nothing quite as consistently excellent as an Abbey Style beer. Sophisticated, delicious, warm (in, like, you know, a conceptual sense, not a temperature sense. They're best served at around 45 degrees), Abbey Style beers are beers that are firing on all of their little flavor cylinders and are sort of like celebrating how completely and entirely awesome a good brew is.

And why shouldn't they be? Their modus operandi is to emulate a recipe that came from the very cradle of good beer - Belgium. Notice how I say emulate- actually, we come to a fun little lesson with this one.

You know how the booze world is filled with little distinctions that qualify the origin and quality of a certain type of alcohol? Champagne is one thing but Sparkling Wine is...well, the same thing, really, but was created in another part of the world, namely not France? And only whiskey that comes from the United States can be called Bourbon? Abbey Style beers are sort of like that. Only, we're in the camp of "imitator" with Abbey Style beers. That is to say, Abbey Style Beers are unofficial replicas of beers brewed in the Trappist tradition.

So, what is a Trappist Beer? A holy concoction that is brewed using only ambrosia, fermented in the holy grail and blessed by a local Shaman? Well, if you've had one, you might swear that to be the case. But if you haven't, don't feel too bad about it- there's only seven official breweries creating Trappist Beers in the world. Six are from Belgium, and one is Dutch. Odds are you've heard of Chimay- that's one example of a Trappist beer.

Only beers with this underwhelming logo are truly Trappist. 

Why so elusive? Well, to be a Trappist beer, a beer needs to actually be brewed in a Trappist Monastery. By actual monks. The recipes are closely guarded secrets, and the sales of these beers are almost entirely charity-based; proceeds go toward the daily lives of the monks and the functioning of their monasteries. 

Thank you, sir, you have my adoration. I would love nothing more than to hug you.  Picture from wikipedia.

Taking a step back, there's a second distinction for other beers that, while not officially Trappist, are branded Certified Belgian Abbey Beers- beers that, while not Trappist, are:

1. Overseen in some part by an Abbey
2. Charitable in at least some part to said Abbey 

There are 18 of these types of beer, ranging from the obscure (Maredsous is one example, and one of my favorite breweries, please try it if you see it) to the almost common - Leffe Blonde is one you've probably heard of, and with good reason. It represents the "Abbey brand" of Stella Artois (a solid beer that is albeit considered the "Budwiser of Europe," and is owned by Inbev - the beer conglomerate and relatively new owner of Budweiser.)

So, now we have two levels of Monkish-ness-ocity: Trappist and Abbey Certified. That leaves us with the third: Abbey Style. By now we're probably relegated to the depressing third string, in the realm of karaoke singers and minor league towel boys, right? Well, not really.

Trappist beers truly are exceptional and they have absolutely nailed the essence of beer. But you know, there are people passionate about beer outside of Belgium, and their passion is a fine ingredient to have in their various brews. With said passion, it is entirely possible to create a beer that is every bit as delicious as their Trappist role models, regardless of the distinctive seals and logos (and, of course, without the charitable notions). Anderson Valley Brewing Company in particular has one fine example of this.

Brother David's Double 
Abbey Style/Strong Ale
9.0% ABV

Brother David's beer makes no efforts to hide the fact that it is recalling the Trappist tradition - it is called Brother David's, after all. The label is two-tone white and brown, there's a lil dude that looks vaguely like Breaking Bad's Walter White dressed in Monk garb, and the label informs me that it is brewed in "very limited quantities" in a "cloistered nook," it is clear what David is aiming for.

There's no Meth in it, but it is ADDICTING! (lol?) Picture from

For one, be wary- it doesn't taste or drink like a 9% ABV beer. It's thicker bodied but sweet enough to go down quickly. Crisp bitter chocolate fades into sugar cane; there's nothing particularly refreshing about this beer, and it's not meant to be. Sip it near a fire over a discussion with friends, if you're given that sort of opportunity. Or put it out for Christmas Eve. Just keep it away from your dad because HE TAKES FOREVER GETTING UP CHRISTMAS MORNING.

Either way, this beer is exceptional for this time of year (sorry Dad).

See you next week, everyone.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Las Vegas Beer Life: Battle of the Pubs

I had every intention of writing an exposé on the beer life of Vegas, complete with a play-by-play of the various beers I encountered while I was there. But, yeah...Vegas has a way of, well, distracting you. "What happens in Vegas", and all that.

So while I didn't get to the point of leaving mattresses on rooftops or wandering out of a nightclub as the sun rose, I was frequently in no position to remember the actual name of every beer I was drinking, much less writing articulate notes about flavor profiles.

But that in and of itself is a significant point - Las Vegas is, like every city you'd like a chance to visit for a few days, is increasingly a beer city. That is to say, pretty much every single bar or restaurant not only had a beer list but an impressive one at that.  Sure, there was your typical host of the average brews, which seemed to be the only options available if you were playing table games (though I don't know for sure, I didn't try), but the restaurants certainly had brewskis like me covered.

So, while I may not remember every beer I had (one of them had a turkey on it? I think?) I say with some certainty I know where I went. Probably. Here were some of the highlights:

Todd English P.U.B - Public Urban Bar 

Todd English P.U.B's very excellent bar. Picture from Vanrooy.

The first of two restaurants utilizing the self-titled naming scheme, Todd English PUB (Or Public Urban Bar if you prefer your restaurant names eye-rolly) was probably the culinary highlight of my trip. It's a great sort of environment, complete with all of the great bar staples like withheld lighting, exposed brick and polished brass, taken to another level of fancy flourish. It walks the line of fine dining and dive bar and lands somewhere completely different.

The menu features all of your bar menu staples - onion rings, soft pretzels, even pot pies and fish and chips - all taken to an exceptional new level you'd never expect of something deep fried.

And, oh yeah, there's a lot of beer. Not so many as the other Pub (we'll get into that in a minute), but the place does seem to relish in having a grand spectrum. From PBR (yes, they had PBR and, with a $6 pricetag, they treated it as some special beer gimmick that simply needed to be experienced, for some reason) to the elusive Chimay Cinq Cents (though it was out on draft, which almost ruined my entire trip in an instant).The menu also featured what they called "Beer Cocktails," concoctions that included two or more beers in lieu of a mixed drink. Most seemed too gimmicky to warrant a try in my opinion, but the rest of their selections more than made up for it.

Cleanly divided into simple categories such as "Crisp and Clean" and "Fruit and Chocolate," it was pretty easy to narrow in on what my mood dictated. I opted for a selection from the "Big Boy" section- more "advanced" beers with higher alcohol content - a fantastic Belgian Tripel beer called Bosteels Karmeliet, a medium-to-thick bodied beer with a great sweetness and balance that makes a perfect compliment to pretty much anything.

As an added bonus, all of their drafts are available in pitchers, too, though a pitcher of a Tripel isn't recommended unless you hate yourself and want to end your evening pretty quickly.

So there's not much to hate about P.U.B. It's a fantastic night out that feels both completely new while still being very familiar. It is, in many ways, the layman's fancy restaurant. Come for the beer, stay for the awesome mood and menu. Try the corndogs!

The Pub
Street of Dreams, Monte Carlo

The second place, again sporting the clever moniker "The Pub," doesn't try to be a fine dining establishment. No, The Pub, featured in one of Vegas's many indoor shopping "streets," called the "Street of Dreams" (which is an odd moniker, given that the other shops found here are an alcoholic slushie shop and a weirdly erotic candy shop, so I'm not sure whose dreams they're catering to) is quite content with being a very solid sports bar.

I had a great time watching the Ravens game here, and the tremendous space is riddled with a huge collection of screens with every possible game playing. It gets a bit confusing to hear intermittent rallies bursting out around the room, but it's kind of cool to be among such a wide variety of traveling sports fans from all over the country.

They don't make any attempts to be uppity, and while their nachos don't reach the next culinary level, The Pub features pretty darn good bar food. As a side note, I saw one man as I was leaving attempting to consume what could have only been one of those if-by-some-miracle-you-can-consume-this-in-an-hour-it's-free food challenges, so it's one of THOSE kinds of places.

As for their beer selection, though?

Great. Googly. Moogly.
Pictured: A mere fraction of their "We Have Pretty Much Every Beer Ever" Collection. Picture from Trip Advisor

While The P.U.B hosted a very impressive and well thought out beer collection, The Pub sort of brute forces it and features, well, pretty much everything. With literally hundreds of beers from every possible variety, their beer menu is nothing short of intimidating. But with some pretty exceptional menu organization, the flood of beer becomes a bit more manageable, though the huge list lends itself pretty well to frantically waving your finger over a page and picking out something random. Or, do what I did, and ask the waiter for what she thinks. I opted for a local brown ale that turned out to be pretty tasty.

And you'll want to keep the beer menu after your order is placed, if only because it makes some great reading, as each type of beer is given a succinct but very interesting description of what makes it what it is. The "oddities" here are especially fun; they have a $150 bottle of Chimay Reserve, for example, that was fun to talk about. There's also a mini beer "museum" near the front that features some of the more elusive and "important" beers from around the world (Read: Trappist Belgium).

So, which of the Pubs is better? They're too different to compare, despite their names, if you can believe it. Honestly, you need to do both.

If pompous French restaurants or stuffy steakhouses aren't your thing, then consider P.U.B for your fine dining training wheels, or start the night off there with a beer and order of onion rings at the bar. It's worth experiencing.

The Pub is the perfect place to watch your game of choice if you happen to be in Vegas for gameday, but it's also excellent for a beer enthusiast just to see the should-be-emanating-beams-of-light beer menu. It's the perfect place to be adventurous and try something you wouldn't otherwise.

Vegas is a beer lover's town. Who knew?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

La Goudale Blonde Ale

Last week I talked about France's knack for wine. That doesn't stop the country from venturing its culinary prowess into the realm of brewing beer, of course. And there's quite a few options out there that, while decidedly solid brews in their own right, tend to taste, well, incredibly French. La Goudale is one such beer.

La Goudale
Gebrouwen Door: Les Brasseurs de Gayant Brewery, Douai, France.
Blonde Ale, 7.8% ABV

They didn't even bother to translate the label. It's like Parisian Snobbery, bottled. 
I stumbled upon this guy in a grocery store (thanks again, California) among a small collection of unapologetically French beers. With nary a word of English on the entire bottle - save the typical government warning, of course - and a corked bottle, you feel compelled to save this one for a special occasion.

La Goudale "Biére  Blonde à l’Ancienne" (a "blond beer of old" - thanks!) and I'm sort of confused by that label. I've had plenty of European beers in the "Old Style,"- like Duvel or Chimay- so I figured there would be some elements in this one that I could probably comfortably expect - a particular emphasis, for example, on fruity notes, or a caramel color and a medium body. But what I got was something rather more unexpected. And disappointing.

The "problem," with Goudale, is that somewhere during the brewing process its beermeisters sort of forgot they were making, you know,  a beer, and steered unabashedly in the direct of champagne. Somewhere through your first class you realize that this barely registers as a beer at all, and that's where Goudale the identity crisis comes in (or, if you prefer, "le crise d'identité")

I've already mentioned that I'm no wine connoisseur (more French!), so the assumption that I hold champagne in a similar regard is a fair enough assumption. But based on my limited champagne experience, all those things you associate with that champagne experience is here and accounted for. None-too-subtle dryness- check. Excessive bubbling - check. Hell, there's even a blossom on this beer - a brief moment when you first sip it that may or may not be notes of honey and caramel that quickly subside into a generic bite of bubbles and not much else. 

That's the problem here. It's all so stereotypical. I've had champagne style beers that were exceptional (Sam Adam's Infinium, for example, is brilliant, and needs to be at your next New Year's party, but we can get into that later), La Goudale seems to go "by the numbers" and doesn't do anything exceptional. Two seemingly incompatible worlds - champagne and a white ale - come together to create crazy results! It's like the Katherine Heigel RomCom of beer. 

And no one wants to drink that.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bonus Post: PBR and Beer 30 Light

I appreciate that beer, to some people, is merely another drink. Some people treat it as a vessel to a drunken paradise, and aren't really concerned about the taste it takes to get there. The more watery the better, in fact, because what's easier to chug than beer flavored water?

Back in Philadelphia, PBR - Pabst Blue Ribbon for those few of you who have somehow remained uninformed - was the favorite brew of the masses. Not because of its taste obviously; because it was cheap. More than once did I see vagrant hipsters at my favorite beer haunt - a great little beer bar called Prohibition; go there if you're in Philly - reaching into their skinny jeans and pulling out a few wadded up dollar bills so that they could order a PBR.

Never mind the amazing selection of rotating craft beers they had - it was PBR for them. It was revered as some sort of magical elixir for the downtrodden masses (which, incidentally, is how it's marketed in China), despite how damn awful it tasted. But that can of mediocrity transcended being simply a bad beer. It became a symbol of an entire culture - the hipster. Because, in addition to rejection of materialism and consumerism (which seems to cost quite a bit, if the hunt for my "Dirty Hipster" costume of last year's Halloween was any indication), hipsterism also consists of completely and entirely hating their own taste buds.

Oh, PBR. I drink you for your price tag and social pressure.
Yes. I am a beer snob. I'm at peace with this. I just couldn't get into PBR. Not even on a casual-its-what's-in-the-cooler-just-drink-it-you-asshole level. I'm not so far gone that I'll whine at a bark yard barbecue that opts for a limited selection of of Bud Lite and Coors (what sort of heathens are you!?), I really do have a hard time getting through a PBR. In Philadelphia, many bars offered a city-wide special - a PBR and a shot of  cheap whiskey for a very reasonable price. In these situations, I would often find a friend to trade my PBR for their shot. The taste was about as pleasant, but at least it was far briefer.

As my group of friends moved west, so did many of their beer tastes. Some evolved past cheap beer. Others did not. "If I never drink good beer," explains my friend Dan, "my taste buds will never know the difference." I suppose there's a depressing sort of logic to that. PBR is here (sadly), but it doesn't seem to have quite the prevalence it did in Philly. It's ok...there are substitutions, such as the one we're about to discuss courtesy of, of course, my buddy Dan. 

Beer 30 Light Premium Beer
24 oz.
Melanie Brewing Co., La Crosse, WI
ABV: Unknown. Probably a bit more than your average Snapple.

Yes. It's actually called "Beer 30." 


Yes. I actually exist. 

I imagine two of the most exceedingly white dudes on the planet sat around a table, wondering what they should call their atrocity of a beer and, after many rounds of shots, they landed on Beer 30. They then presumably pounded fists. 

Additionally, it's available around here in 99 cent Only Stores - supermarket sized stores that offer a wonderful combination of great deals and dubious produce that may or may not have fallen off of some truck somewhere. So, yes, this thing is 99 cents.

And I kind of want my money back. 

It comes in a big gaudy purple can and tastes almost kinda like beer. A little bit. If you imagine the sort of beer that you use for a game of beerpong with people you don't care about, and then leave that beer out in the rain overnight, you have a concoction that probably tastes like Beer 30. I'm sort of done here. Think about a beer you'd buy at the dollar store and ask yourself how good it tastes. 

But hey, you know what? I kinda like it better than PBR. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wine People and Beer People/New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale

Hey! I'm mobile now. Check out my blog from your new-fangled i-whatevers! Thanks Ryan :)

How about something a bit more sophisticated, shall we?

It is said that the best wines come from France. I'm not sure who says that, actually, I don't drink wine. But it's a stereotype very much ingrained into my psyche by movies and fancy restaurant menus (and really, what more reliable sources are there?)

"Ah, this is a very good year," ye olde wine snob doth proclaim, though I always question whether or not they really have any clue at all. I can appreciate that the grapes were especially flavorful for that crop, or perhaps the balance of the barrels was just right. I don't know. As I've said, I lack the interest to really figure all of that out. I'll take a beer, thanks. And shouldn't something you love just be good? You know, despite the year? Is there really someone out there who can look at a bottle's date stamp and dismiss it as inferior? Kudos to you, good sir or madam, if you really exist. Maybe that's why I like beer (well, reason number whatever out of a very high number); if I have this beer here, now, in a glass, I can assume that it's going to be an amazing experience despite how well the crop of malts turned out. This is a gross oversimplification of course, as a large variety of factors exist that can make a beer experience differ wildly, but I like the, well, reliability, of my favorite beer.

But I suppose as I consider it, there's some innate differences from a "concept" standpoint that make the markets of fine wine and fine beer significantly different beyond the obvious realm of merely taste, mouthfeel and the like.

For one, wine, based on my perceptions, doesn't have much of an expiration date. Which I suppose is why certain years can be celebrated and revered ("Ah, 1954 was a good year, terrible shame that it expired 20 years ago. Missed quite an opportunity there, didn't we?") People of affluence include wine cellars in their homes, while others dedicate a shelf in their kitchen to hosting a more humble collection; they save the them for use at an appropriate celebration, be it a wedding or a Friday evening well-spent in front of a television. Either way, they may sit there until they're needed.

The (recommended) shelf life for beer is not so indefinite, with your average bottled brew lasting a few months or so before its flavors fade into vaguely beer-flavored bubble water. Breweries remedy this through two rather opposite tactics:

1. Producing an absurd amount of a beer
2. Producing a very small amount.

Sam Adams is a great example of this model. They have their standard Lager circulating year round. They also have their seasonal mainstays - Noble Pils, Summer Ale, Oktoberfest and Winter Lager - that resolutely shift every year. Taken a step further, they offer a smaller host of "small window" beers - such as summer's Coastal Wheat - available for smaller time frames than even their seasonals.

For me, that beer embraces this "limited time only" structure. Sure, I can have my Lager year round, but as the seasons and holidays shift, it's nice to have something tailored to that event. There's something very comforting about having a Winter Lager with my family on Christmas Eve. The ingredients of beer seem to lend themselves more readily to being wildly poked and prodded into fitting the flavors of the season. Pumpkin to Peppermint, Lemongrass to Grains of Paradise, that basic beer formula embraces them readily. So, drink your wonderful 1992 Pinor Noirs. This beer seems to fit this moment a bit more perfectly.

Brown Cow: Chocolate and Wine. Things get weird when wine gets adventurous.

But I digress. Quite a bit. Sorry about that, you wanted to hear about a new beer, I suppose. Remember how I said France has Wine? Well, "The France of Beer is Belgium" (man, that's a stupid sentence). Let's try one, shall we?

1554 Enlightened Black Ale
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO
Black Ale. 5.6% ABV
Look at how pretty that is. You're automatically more sophisticated for having read this blog, too. Congratulations. 

The theme of this post is sophistication. While that shouldn't suggest that the beers reviewed up to this point haven't been "sophisticated," there's something special about this one-- the label itself recalls a Renaissance still life. It's a "Black Ale" - a style evocative of beer's origins, the sort of the style they were pumping out way back when (it's an interesting topic, but we'll revisit it some other time). The brewery, New Belgium, claims that the recipe comes from "an ancient, crumbling library book." I can't attest to the truth of that (it sounds like something that would maybe give you a bonus to your magic attribute in a video game, not a recipe for a beer, but either way it's sort of win win), but I can tell you New Belgium has a wonderful beer with its version of a black ale.

What is a black ale? If you've had a Guiness, you're in the right ballpark but you're not quite there. BeerAdvocate denotes a black ale from its "roasty notes," a description that is on point. It's dark - nearly black - in color, with a medium body and thick head. It's not quite stout thick or porter intense, and it actually much sweeter in flavor than its appearance might suggest. It's best served above ice cold- around 45 degrees recommends the bottle - and be prepared for a very dry finish. Refreshing it is not.

But it doesn't need to be. The beginning of the sip is a sort of one-dimensional crispness followed by an awesome "after gulp" that proves to be the source of all the great flavors found here. There's a burnt flavor here, which in the world of beer, isn't nearly as unpleasant as it sounds; notes of coffee and chocolate hit you, but they've been soaked in the delightful charred taste of a campfire - which is where it makes me want to be, really.

So, beer drinkers should love this. The fledging? You know, maybe. It's just sweet enough and the hops are roped in so that this could just possibly be a good choice for just about anyone.

I hope I kept all of you up to this point! I know this was wordy, what with the essay of sorts preceding the beer review, but that seemed like a great way to stand out. Beer blogs may be a dime a dozen, but how many wax philosophical about the organic significance of beer? Or something?

Don't forget to follow me! See you next week guys, thanks for reading. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA

There's a precedence with this one, and I regarded it fondly before I took a sip.

Bias? Maybe, but I have a special bond with this brewery, silly as that may sound. Earlier in the year, my family hosted a backyard "Beer Fest," our first annual beer tournament where participants brought a favorite brew to compete in a single elimination round robin. The "battlers," as we were called, clambered around a small table adorned with two trays - succinctly labeled "A" and "B." And we, amateur beer enthusiasts that we were, would sip thoughtfully, discuss, and, if we thought that maybe our beer was up to bat, campaign. A scribble on a small piece of paper and our vote would go into the little metal bucket on the table. We'd then cleanse out pallets with the crackers and pretzel sticks and eagerly await the next round. As the rounds progressed, this became a more boisterous and wobbly system. They might have been just a single chug's worth of beer, but even that had a tendency to add up...

Our interest and expertise in beer varied wildly from largely disinterested (there was a small collection of my sister's friends, for example, that would not so subtly gag down some of the porter and stout contenders and giggle as they voted for "The Crackers!") , but I was the resident beer snob, the guy who turned his nose up at beer pong-grade beer, the dude who, you know, would eventually think enough of his beer taste to start a damn beer blog, I wanted this victory.

My entry was Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice. Think of one of the better sumer ales you've had and then melt a caramel-dipped creamsicle in it and you're in the right ballpark. It's a brilliant beer, and I had a lot of confidence in it. Though I had more or less forgotten the taste of my beer when the tournament came, there was one little cup of joy that I was enamored with every time it came out on a little tray. "I don't know which one this is, but man, it's good," I said after I unknowingly gulped down my own beer.

At the end of it, I stood victorious, Anderson Valley Summer Solstice my winning race horse, and I felt that my infatuation with beer as an artform was maybe a bit more validated. Maybe I did know beer. And I had the tacky awesome plastic necklace trophy thing to prove it.

Me and my tournament-winning beer. Pardon the broski-overload. 

Anyway, this brewery is quite great, and I was excited to try another from its respectably concise collection:

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA
Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Boonville, CA
Pint bottle, though it comes in regular bottles, too. 7% ABV

I'm noticing that the beer of choice around here seems to be the love it or hate it IPA. While beerhouses don't appear to be immensely common around here, those that exist seem to have a healthy collection of IPAs on draft. For the uninitiated, IPAs, India Pale Ales, tend to ramp up the hops in their brew, the portion that gives the beer its "floral quality," or, if you're my mother, the part that makes it "taste like glue." Regardless of what you taste, the amount of actual hop flavor in an IPA can vary wildly - from the relatively restrained (like this one, which we'll get into in a minute) to the ones that taste like they dumped a bag of potpourri in it and called it a beer (The Exit series from Flying Fish comes to mind).

Hop Ottin comes in at the more reserved end of the spectrum, and while it out-hops your average Pale, there's still a lot more going on here than just the flowery notes. It may starts as an IPA but by sip's end there's a great sweetness, almost as though they went a "half-and-half" route with something a bit more sugared, like a brown ale. While this might not necessarily be the case, there's a great combination going on here. "Hop flavors prevail," claims the label, and they do, but they're complimented by a lot more than the relative brashness of the typical hop flavor.

This is another one of those beers that is best a bit "warm" - 44 and 50 degrees, the company recommends - so it lends itself great to sipping during dinner. Chugging for drunkenness, probably not. But hey, don't let me stop you.

So, IPA enthusiasts rejoice. This one's great. But for the hop weary, try this, it just might be the gateway you need into the more "advanced" beer tiers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Firestone DBA

Firestone Double Barrel Ale
Amber Ale/British Style Bitter
Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, CA
12 oz., 5% ABV

This is an unapologetically, unequivocally, beer's beer. Sans gimmicks, flavorings, or quirks, this DBA is a beer for the sake of being a beer. And you know what? It's pretty solid. The company claims a "passion for the pale," and it shows through here. It doesn't hit you over the head with a floral mallet like an IPA would, obviously, but the hops are even more subtle than you'd have in your average Pale. It's got a simple, crisp, cleanness that holds off its mild bitterness until the very end of the sip. The company may call it a British Bitter, but there's not much of a bitterness here. Also, the company claims I should pick up on some "vanilla and toasted oak." Not so much. But I didn't miss them.

It drinks a bit heavier than its mild ABV would suggest, but it goes down quickly (that is to say, it lends itself pretty well to chugging, if that's your thing).

Availability note: The website claims that this guy has an availability limited to the West Coast, Nevada and Arizona.

So that only leaves one of the great beer drinking mysteries; when a beer like this - a reliable, perfectly drinkable beer full of great, unadulterated beer flavor that won't fill you up or make you a drunken mess - why do people keep drinking the standard garbage?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hazelnut Brown Nectar

This one has been sitting in my fridge for a bit. Not because of trepidation, or intimidation, but rather expectation. Not to suggest that I thought this would be the Holy Grail of beers, per se, but I found it very tempting to work into some sort of food pairing. That, and there's a certain connection to the season that I felt the beer could possibly have, and I was excited about that.
Well, I never got around to developing any sort of pairing (soon!), and it's a Saturday evening and it remained sealed which is clearly a situation that needed to be remedied.

Even here in Southern California, Fall has taken grip on the weather and I like to adjust my beer tastes accordingly. Back home, Fall meant a yard full of leaves, and a quickly encroaching briskness that I find myself missing. Here, there's a completely different version, but it still resonates as fall: thick dampness and gray fog that hangs heavy above everything with a foreboding that somehow falls just short of being dreary.

Regardless of coast, though, the feel has an affect on food and beer habits. If I wander into a coffee shop (or rather, when; where as beer might be my favorite addiction, coffee is more socially acceptable to chug immediately after waking up), I find myself now needing some other flavor in there. It's more subtle than Christmastime, perhaps, when I shrug off the extravagance of an eggnog latte with a mirthful "Hey, it's the Holidays!", but still, something else needs to be in there. Hazelnut is one of my go-tos for that.

Which is why this sounded interesting:

Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar
Brown Ale. Undetermined ABV (seems somewhat formidable)
Rogue Brewing Company, Newport Oregon
22 oz bottle (I shared, dammit)

Rogue calls it a "nutty twist to a traditional brown ale," and it delivers soundly on that promise. It sports a sweet, creamy head (I supposed if I'm going to reach any level of professionalism I'm going to have to learn to not giggle at that sort of thing, huh?), a medium body and a great deep amber color, and most certainly a great nut-like flavor. Bummer is that it's not particularly the hazelnut flavor that shines.

The hazelnut flavor, which you get a hint of at first sip, along a pleasingly tame bitterness, comes from "hazelnut extract," according to the label. I appreciate the subtlety of flavors, of course, but I wish they had pushed it a bit more here. As someone has only recently come unto the wonders of hazelnut (I was deterred for years by an anti-hazelnut mother. After years of assuming that it was disgusting, an accidental encounter with a Rocher candy proved that my mom was perfectly incorrect about the humble little hazelnut), I see the potential for a great flavoring agent of beer. Rogue has hinted at it, without embracing it as much as I wanted them to.

Still, Rogue's Nectar - an interesting an fun descriptor, by the way - is a great sipping beer that stands well as a fun Autumn brew. Chill it, but don't allow it to get "ice cold," but go ahead and give it a try. It's a great beer, even if the hazelnut aspect doesn't shine as I would have hoped.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Red Trolley Red Ale

Anyone even remotely in the know has been kept more or less up to date on my life (and, really, if you're not, who do you think you are?) knows that I've landed in California recently for a second round of effort in finding work. While leads are few and hope may dwindle, I, at the very least, now have an absolutely wonderful excuse to buy beer on a regular basis.

Which is quite easy here, as it were. No, I don't mean easy in the way that a hopeful 17 year old sweet-talks his way into purchasing a 30 pack of Natural Lite, but rather that you can get it pretty much anywhere, including the Ralph's grocery store a few blocks from my apartment. The selection isn't tremendous, but the humble aisle they do have has already presented me with a few new beer experiences. So, here we go.

Red Trolley Ale
Irish Red Ale.5.8% ABV
Karl Straus Brewing Co., San Diego CA.

This is a local boy. The first one I had was preceded by a "few other" beers earlier in the evening, and my instant opinion wasn't so glowing. Warbled with the tastes of IPAs, the Red Trolley didn't win my adoration immediately. The next day, with a cleaner pallet (and a clear BAC), it stood a bit better, as a solid, if not particularly elaborate Red Ale.

Lesson time!

Here in the US, the title of Irish Red Ale doesn't actually denote much more than a beer's color. It more or less tends to be your basic lager that sports a stylish red color that comes from the special malts they use.
Which seems to be the case here, too. The strongest flavor is certainly the caramel note that sneaks up on you towards the end of the sip. Sip. Cold spark then the subtle sweetness and crispness at the end.

According to the brewer's description (, they "brew it with a half ton of caramelized malts for a rich copper color and toffee flavor." True enough, this. The caramel flavor is the most notable aspect, and it does resonate nicely. "After adding the perfect mix of hops for balance, we warm ferment the beer to bring out a hint of dried raisins and currants." Oh. Missed that part. Side note...dried raisins? Is this not redundant? They claim that the beer started out as their Holiday Ale, but to me it's a far-cry from the expressive, spicy, soothing beers that I like to experience at Christmas. As a by the numbers Irish Red, Red Trolley is a solid option that would lend itself well to backyard barbecues and alongside burgers. As the weather turns crisper though I'm looking for something a bit more of a deeper beer experience.

And Let There Be Beer

Well, there was always beer. For a significant part of history at least (and I don't particularly care to think about the scary, dark time that existed before beer did.

I'm sure there's some great opportunity here to delve into the history of beer (which, as it were, is pretty fascinating, actually; go wiki it sometime), but this blog is about beer as related to my history. Or, at the very least, how it became one of my greatest interests and passions.

Really, I'm not sure why I hadn't started something like this before. I suppose it's because I knew there was for sure a supersaturation of random dudes and broskis who decided that they were probably qualified enough to start a blog about beer. That this background, for example, that artsy depiction of beer bubbles, was one of the available default selections from the interface designer was not a promising sign that I was blazing any new ground. But that shouldn't suggest that I'm going to be any more qualified than any of those other guys who started this sort of endeavor. But I am fairly certain of two things 1. I enjoy experiencing beer, and 2. I'm a halfway decent writer, and that seemed like a potent enough combination to, at the very least, give this a shot.

I suppose from the outset that this will begin as your average Boy-meets-beer, boy-drinks-beer, boy-tells-unenthusiastic-masses-what-he-thinks-about-the-beer blog. Eventually I would like to evolve this into a sort of beer-pairing blog, as a complement to my burgeoning interest in cooking, and a further consideration of the blossoming significance of beer in the realm of fine dining, a relatively recent phenomenon that I for one feel is well overdue. Beyond that, if the stars align, I'd like to foray into actually brewing my own beer.

But for now, please join me as I give this blog thing a shot. And, of course, thanks for the interest.