Thursday, December 20, 2012

12 Beers of Christmas: 10 5 Golden Rings and 11 Gifts of the Magi

The presents are all wrapped, the cookies are baked and the Christmas Eve beer is chilling in the fridge; the big day is upon us, but there's still plenty of time to be enjoying the season's finest brews. If you've been following along, you know we're reaching the final beers in my First Annual 12 Beers of Christmas, a coveted position saved for the finest beers I have experienced this season. These are beers that you shouldn't hesitate to try. My Christmas Gift to you:

5 Golden Rings 
Golden Ale, 750 ML. Bottle, 11.5% abv
The Bruery
Placentia, CA

5 Golden Rings is the fifth beer in five years from The Bruery's own 12 Beers of Christmas (Last year was 4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens before that and so on...), and for me they've been one of the high notes for my Christmas season.

5 Golden Rings is regal, a massively elaborate beer that actually tastes golden. Anyone who is a fan of Fin Du Monde  from Unibroue will find a lot to love in Golden Rings. Both are spicy golden ales, and like its Canadian cousin, it  has a powerful presence with a smooth but sparkling body and a noticeable kick from the high alcohol content.

But while Fin Du Monde is great as a year-round Dinner Beer (and for your Apocalyptic endeavors, since Fin Du Monde is "End of the World" in French, though that's more likely a nod to the hangover you'll get if you overdo it), 5 Golden Rings of course has a more pronounced Christmas feel to it.

The theme of Gold is prevalent, too, with not only its shining color but also its ingredients - pineapple and cake spices, caramel and cinnamon. The flavors are festive, evocative of sweet glazes and cookies and everything you love about the season, but pineapple wins out (that's Christmassy, isn't it? Something about welcoming people into your home?)

How, uh, festive?

It starts sweet with a tart finish from the pineapple. And, like any beer of this fortitude (more than 11%, remember), it lends itself well to sipping and savoring, preferably over the course of a meal. But, please, try to find this if you can. It's an exceptional beer.

Gifts of the Magi
Winter Ale, 10.7% abv
Lost Abbey/ Port Brewing Company
San Marcos, CA

While some beers may overload themselves with flavors to beat you over the head (DO YOU TASTE HOW CHRISTMASSY I AM?), others are content to merely evoke the feeling of the time of year. Gifts is one such beer, and it's a splendid beer that bursts with the flavor of, well, good beer. Copper colored with a spicy nose, wonderfully balanced malts and a hint of hoppiness in the finish, it's a wonderfully clean flavor that is really wonderful to experience.

It harkens back to "old times," (which I grant you I was no part of), but it evokes an old world sensibility and tastes warm and embracing, completely devoid of anything that would deter its straightforward flavors. I had the pleasure of tasting this "fresh from the tap" at Port's brewery after Thanksgiving, and I can tell you it holds up bottled tremendously well.

It sounds like the beer might relegate itself to "basic" with a "play-it-safe" appeal to simplicity, but there's actually a a great deal of Christmas Beer magic going under the hood. While thankfully sans the gimmick of gold leaf (no, it DOESN'T cut the inside of your lip, you goldschlager chugging sorority girl), the other two portions of its namesake are present, with Frankincense bark providing the bitterness and the myrrh giving it the herbal notes. I can't say I've ever consumed either before, nor that I could distinctly hone in on their particular flavors, but whatever their effect, it is anything but unpleasant.

The most unique aspect of the beer, though, might be the use of brettanomyces - literally, "British Fungus," a sort of wildcard of a yeast that is added at the last moments to "shake things up." The yeast is added after brewing has neared completion in hopes of sort of multiplying the flavors. It's a sort of gamble, though, as the yeast can be regarded as a pesky contaminant in other circumstances. Here, though, it brightens the flavors perfectly.

So, there you have it. My cream of the crop, my favorite beers of the season. Please, I implore you, to find these beers and give them a try. Delicious on two completely levels, they'd make any self-proclaimed beer snob (holler!) very merry indeed. Stay tuned for one final Christmas beer!

If you aren't following me on twitter, do so! Lots of mini beer thoughts on there.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

12 Beers of Christmas: 8 Jewbelation 9 Delirium Noel

So after a brief detour into the realm of disappointment and despair (hope I didn't dampen anyone's Yuletide spirits...if I did, by all means drink up), we have returned to a selection of beers that, while perhaps not on my short list for the season, are certainly tasty or at least interesting enough to warrant a try.

Without further hesitation:

16th Anniversary Ale
He'Brew, Shmultz Brewing
16% abv (seriously)

Let it never be said that I don't employ some level of diversity in my drinking - while beers celebrating the Festival of Lights may be relatively few (and by the way- I should hope that no one is silly enough to think that the beers of that other winter holiday are reserved for the Gentiles), a brewery out of New York has taken the Jewish culture and run with it. And run and run and run...

Presumably their first anniversary beer was kinda boring. Image from  Shmaltz
While Hanukah may be over, the brewery had a beer in time to celebrate it (and its own 16th Anniversary) with the Jewbelation, a behemoth of a beer that features a whole lot of everything - 16 hops, 16 malts and 16% abv. Hanukah beer is serious business.

But how does it taste? Well, it's certainly an experience.

The beer is very...everything. Bold, imposing and rich, it practically demands careful sips (chugging is out of the question) given its girth and heavy body. It activates every one of your tastebuds but no sense dominates. Bitter, sour, maybe a bit sweeter - all accounted for. Perfectly black and so thick you could chew it, the mass of malts stand out more than the whole hop harvest, but the flavors sort of cancel each other out. There's certainly a chocolate prevalence here, but it is sort of muddled. Each sip tastes pretty much the same, front to back, from first sip to last dregs.

So it doesn't sound like I liked it very much does it? I won't lie and tell you it's one of my favorites, but there's still something fun about it. Two friends and I stood around and discussed it, sipping and contemplating until a buzz had taken over. Not many beers would command that sort of discussion, so from that perspective the beer is truly fascinating and simply fun to experience. Whether or not I need to do it again is another matter.

The beer itself may be hard to find at this point (sorry...) but look for it next year, when they almost surely find another hop and malt to add...

Delirium Noel
Huyghe Family Brewery, Belgium
10% abv
750 ml 1 pint 9.4 fl oz

If you're reading this blog, you almost certainly have heard of Delirium Tremens, the flagship brew for a small family brewery from Belgium. For whatever reason (that is to say, a reason I will assuredly I investigate in a future in a future blog post), Delirium seemed to spearhead the emerging prevalence of Belgian beers in the United States. For many blossoming beer connoisseurs, Delirium Tremens was their first stop in a tour of more complicated, poignant beers.

And with good reason, really; tasty in its own right, it is well spiced, thoughtfully crafted, and decidedly more intoxicating than your average American pisswater (though it is probably a telling detail as to why anyone picked it up to begin with).

With that in mind, Noel should innately appeal to these drinkers, and it really doesn't disappoint. Noel starts a lot like Delirium, with a bright opening, but it fades into something warmer, gentler, than its year round cousin. The Christmas spices come to the forefront and its body is lighter and its color more coppery brown.

There's a lot of flavors present - a hint of this, a hint of that, a hint of orange, a hint of clove - that burst mid sip before combining into a melded sweet finish. Malts are prevalent here, not the hops, meaning this would please the most staunch IPAaphobe.

It should be familiar and welcome to anyone who is a fan of Tremens, but it manages to be a unique beer all it's own. Noel should be readily available at your favorite beer speciality store.

PS, this totally happened: A flight of 10 different Christmas Beers as part of my Christmas Homecoming Dinner. Tis the season, huh?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

12 Beers of Christmas: 6 and 7 -The Lumps of Coal

Every year, there's bound to be something you just didn't want, wrapped and waiting for you somewhere.

We've all been there - a giftcard to some obscure restaurant chain that is so totally not anywhere near you (oh thanks a burden), or some half-hearted appeal to a hobby they heard you might or might not have. You appreciate the idea but...ugh.

If you give me Bud Light for Christmas, Baby Jesus will cry.
Even worse than that though, is when a package, nicely wrapped and full of promise, reveals itself to be something far, far worse. Like that one Christmas where the package was obviously an N64 game and you so wanted it to be Mario Party (pleeeeease let it be Mario Party), and you told Santa you wanted it to be Mario Party, and you opened it and it turned out to be... Quest 64.

This game also probably made Baby Jesus cry. 
While I might be alone in that specific example, there's a theme here we can probably relate to year-round: when something fails to deliver on its promise, either based on expectation or reputation. Christmas Beer can be a great vestige of this concept, since pretty bottles and relished breweries abound. But things can go wrong, either in concept or execution. Which brings us to...

Yule Smith
Double Red Ale, 8.5 - 9.5% ABV
Ale Smith Brewery, San Diego CA

I find red ale (here an ode to its color, not really a style - it's certainly not a Flemish Sour Red) a somewhat odd choice for the seasonal selection. They tend to have at least some relation to your "standard' IPA, with a more aggressive hop flavor, and evoke a feeling of late summer, maybe early fall more than winter.

Yule Smith is another interesting concoction, since the nose is incredibly floral and hoppy, but the taste doesn't hit as hard as you'd expect. It's a loud flavor at first but simmers down as it goes along. It's got a bit of toasty, maltiness that puts it a bit more firmly into the season, but there's not much in terms of surprising flavor, or spice, or the unexpected. It's pretty content to be a "Winter IPA," if such a beast exists.

As I write this I'm sort of mad at myself for not adhering to my policy of drinking the beer while I write (I'm working from notes for a lot of these), but at I walked away with much of these beers with at least an impression. That's why Yule Smith is a lump of coal; it's not particularly bad, it just didn't do anything particularly special, either.


St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Christmas Ale, 10% ABV
Brewery St. Bernardus, Belgium

It's no secret that I obsesses over Belgian beer - the flavors, the balance, the body, and yeah, of course, the elevated ABV - everything I treasure in a beer is exemplified by the old family brouwejis in Belgium. So, when they decide to make a beer dedicated to one of my other favorite things - Christmas - the combination makes me far happier than any consumable should.

But something went wrong.

All of the Christmas and winter flavors you'd want out of a Belgian Christmas ale are present and accounted - sweet, malty and creamy with some spice and vanilla, and a lighter body than you'd expect given its dark brown color and ABV. This is obviously not where the problem comes from. No, the issue comes with the inescapable flavor of banana-flavored candy. There was certainly no mention of a banana flavor on the labeling, especially one that tastes like the little yellow boomerang Runt candy (and, really, what says Christmas like fake banana flavor?). So, what happened?

"Come Children, time to observe the ancient Christmas tradition of filling our pockets with Runts in order to appease Santa"

It's just not what they intended, which makes it a different kind of of disappointment. St. Bernardus was bottle-conditioned. To over simplify it, bottle conditioning is a technique that allows the beer to mature and ferment within the bottle instead of before bottling, and is very common with beers of Belgian origin (and, really, any home kit you're going to use). This allows for all sorts of great flavor interaction, but at the same time it subjects the beer to all sorts of variables, especially temperature which is where this particular beer ran into a problem.

One particular type of beer yeast will thrown off, get this - banana flavors - if the yeast is allowed to ferment at too high a temperature. In other words, in its journey from Beglium to Southern California, the beer was allowed to get too hot, and tainted what would have been a fantastic beer with that weird candy vibe.

Again I offer the disclaimer here that St. Bernardus Christmas Ale isn't THAT bad - it's hardly undrinkable, but I don't believe the beer I had was the beer I was intended to consume. Which is what makes beer so fascinating, especially bottle conditioned ones; I had a bad St. Bernardus. Maybe the one in your store won't be. Maybe this year just didn't come together as well as they wanted, and next year will be a return to form. Like wines and their vintages, beer, especially winter seasonal ones, differ so much year to year that they're practically different beers each time you experience them.

So if you stumble upon a bottle of Christmas Ale, chance it if you'd like, it's certainly a fun experiment. But either way, don't dismiss the brewery for one hiccup that may or may not have been their fault. There are just better Christmas beers this year.

5 Days to Go!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12 Beers of Christmas: 4 Snow Day and 5 Brown Shugga'

How're your pallets faring? Beered out yet? If you said no, thank you, and this is why we're friends. So, let us continue on this wintery adventure with two more six pack offerings, doofy Santa hats optional (though encouraged). Today we feature the Christmas Weirdos, like that uncle after drinking a bit too much of that scotch that you buy just for him (I don't actually have one of those, but I imagine it's a thing, right?) Tasty in their own right, they do something a bit different and unexpected than their chilly weather cousins.

Snow Day 
Winter Ale , 6.2% ABV
New Belgium Brewing
Fort Colins, CO

Snow Day is something of an odd brew, a seasonal beer with a bit of an identity crisis. From the outset , the color - deep, dark and nearly black - has you expecting a stout, but the body is lighter and the typical stout staples - like chocolate and coffee - aren't really present. The flavors arrive in layers - a hoppy opening is supplanted mid taste by the yeasty malts before you can label it anything close to resembling an IPA. A confusing beer, indeed.

It combines bits of pieces from a lot of different varieties and assumes its own identity. The flavors are mellow and mingle well; a bit of smoke and a lot of toasty flavors lend well to its classification of a seasonal beer - don a fez and grab a fireplace and this beer would suit you very well (if you're so inclined). Read A Christmas Carol aloud while you're at it for a festive kicker.

While White Christmas and Winter Solstice are crowd pleasers, Snow Day's slightly off-kilter flavors might not appeal to everyone. The psuedo-stout might appeal to fans of  your Guinness of New Castles (I personally liked the pint I had, but couldn't imagine chugging through a six pack), but beer newbies would probably find the mixed bag of flavors a bit too bizarre to really get into.

Kitschy scarf not required for enjoyment, though it hardly hurts ya know? Image from 

Brown Shugga' 
American Strong Ale , 9.9% ABV
Lagunitas Brewing
Petaluma, CA

Another enigma in a bottle, Brown Shugga' takes everything you expect it to be and defies you in one festive swoop, like some sort of tricky elf, if that exists in the Christmas mythos. With something that contains, according to Lagunitas themselves, "boatloads of brown sugar," you'd expect desert in glass, right? Not so much. But that's ok, actually, because it's something that's still pretty tasty. As it were, the brew itself was borne of a mistake - the brewery botched up another of their seasonals, and in hopes of resurrecting it, added all of that brown sugar. The result was something entirely new and as such has entered their annual offerings.

The brown sugar is certainly there - the flavor, that is, but not really the sweetness. In fact, the bitterness from the hops balanced with a bit of sourness is what really prevails here. It's surprisingly dry - the brown sugar notes flicker quickly at the beginning before hiding behind the hop flavors. It's tongue-tingling, and it activates your entire tongue (if you're into that).

It's called Strong Ale for a reason - at 9.9% abv its no slouch in the alcohol content, and its from this that it garners its "warmth." Still, as Lagunitas says, "Life is short, don't sip," and Shugga' went down surprisingly fast given its heft.

I personally enjoyed this beer but I anticipate many people would walk away from it after a sip or two. I won't say it's misnamed, but if you come in expecting some sort of sugary brown ale, you're in for a (tricky) surprise.

Photo from

Monday, December 10, 2012

12 Beers of Christmas: 2 Sam Adams White Christmas and 3 Anderson Valley Winter Solstice

Welcome back to Ben Likes Beer's 12 Days of Christmas! Let's continue with our friendly six-packs, the lovably chuggable brews of the season that you should be able to pick up just about anywhere with a decent beer selection. Pick up these guys for your Christmas Party with confidence as they should please just about anyone with a pulse.

Day 2: Samuel Adam's White Christmas 
White Ale 
Sam Adams Brewery, Boston, MA
5.8% ABV

What we have here is a seasonal beer done right. On paper - Sam Adam's calls attention to its "familiar citrus and wheat characters" - makes it sound like another run of the mill summer Hefe, but there's something more interesting at play here. 

It is indeed familiar (the sweet, medium bodied flavors of Sammy's lager are recognizable and welcome) , but its fun, too. There's a caramel warmth from the malts, and a whole hint of every flavor you'd identify in your favorite Christmas cookie - cinnamon, clove, nutmeg. There's a hint of citrus, sure, but it's content to remain behind its spicy buddies. It's sweet, in a sense, but not cloyingly so, meaning it's perfect to wash down your favorite baked goods with.

The front is crisp and the finish is smooth, and though it's not a tremendous departure, that turns out to be one of its greatest assets; it is a spirited beer that is easy to drive and derives its festivity from balanced flavors and not gimmicks. 

A word of caution - Be careful not to pick up the other Sam Adams seasonal brew, called Winter Lager, when hunting for White Christmas. Winter Lager is more likely to be plentiful on the store shelves, and there's a reason for that. While White Christmas may not be a huge departure from its Boston Lager base, Winter Lager offers hardly any difference at all. A bit spicier, maybe, but not as flavorful and not as "Christmasy" (though, to be fair, Winter is its seasonal release, not its holiday one). It's kinda boring, to be frank, so look carefully for White Christmas. If all else fails, it's part of their Seasonal Pack, featured among a few other less available Holiday offerings, though White Christmas should be the highlight for you. 

Picture from

Day 3: Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice 
Seasonal Ale
Anderson Valley Brewing, Boonville, CA
6.9% ABV

Those of you who have been following this blog for awhile (thanks Mom!), you know that Anderson Valley is one of my favorite breweries out there, with none of their offerings scoring below a "Solid" in my book. There's one general general kudos they invariably deserve - those guys can texture a beer, and Winter Solstice continues the tradition into the Holiday Season with much fanfare. 

Creamy, smooth and wonderful, Solstice has a wonderful mouthfeel that goes down with all the fuzzy goodness of liquid velvet. Anyone who enjoyed the Summer Solstice will find a lot to like here as well, as it shares many of the same sweet flavors. Like its Summer Solstice brother, the caramel goodness is in full force here, but the creamsicle vibe is traded in favor of the spices of the season, with ginger and cinnamon taking the forefront. There are hints of metallic flavors and the hops lend a touch of bitterness to balance the sweet, but you have to really look for them. 

Like White Christmas, Winter Solstice is a really well-rounded, crowd pleasing brew that is as delicious as it is simple, with the flavors of the season being used but not exploited. Creamy, sweet, and festive, Winter Solstice is yet another Christmas beer for the masses. 

This one should be widely available, in both cans and bottles.

Picture from 
Wonderfully similar but distinctively different, both have a place at your festivities. Christmas beer countdown continues! 9 to go!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The 12 Beers of Christmas : 1 Sierra Nevada

Good tidings, beer friends!

It's a really awesome, terrific, wonderful, totally brilliant time of year, don't you agree?

Pardon my excitement, but I put a lot of pressure on myself to inhale as much of this Christmas stuff as I can in one month's time. I have joked that December is the only time I'm really happy; I truly dig the whole yuletide thing - the lights, the countless (and awful) renditions of "Santa Baby", the limited edition flavors hastily advertised on coffee shop chalkboards - it's all pretty great, and I turn giddy as soon the season is upon us.

And possibly drunk. Pictured: Not me.  That you know of. 

It's that last point that I'm especially fond of. Christmastime gives us license to go above and beyond with the goodies - egg nog, baked goods, obnoxiously overpriced lattes. But it turns out that many of those flavors associated with the season - cinnamon, clove, orange peel - happen to lend themselves to one of my other favorite passions:

Beer, obviously (Ben likes beer).

So, welcome to the 12 Beers of Christmas, where I use the season as an an excuse to drink copious amounts of seasonal beers and share my thoughts with you fine people. 12 different kinds of beer may seem like a lot (and my wallet is probably inclined to agree with you), but it's actually only a small sampling of what's a pretty enormous "category" of beer, especially given that I'm wrapping, however unjustly, Christmas beers alongside their broader Winter brethren. Still, there tends to be a running theme across the lot, and, despite a few random surprises (which we'll get into), they all seem to fit snugly into a certain collection of expectations - warming, spicy, brown, medium bodied. And we're running the gamut here, from widely available six-packs, to highly sought after, limited batch from the monasteries. Without further adieu...

First Day of Beermas

Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop Ale 
Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, CA. Widely Available.
6.8% ABV

Sort of a lob to start this thing off, Celebration is a beer you've likely encountered as a seasonal offering at your local bar (I'd say "or grocer," but most of my Pennsylvanian/Marylander readers don't have that luxury), and it's a dependable, drinkable choice.

Hoppy, but not bitter (aside from a small nibble at the outset), the sweet malts take over mid-sip. Even though the term "Fresh Hop Ale" might evoke a sense of Spring, there's a distinct "wintery" taste here, with a nice warmth that comes along despite its lighter body and decided lack of spicy flavors (maybe due in part to its ever-so-slightly elevated ABV). Still, Fresh Hop is an apt label that does well to highlight the crisp flavors at play. So, more fresh snowfall that freshly cut lawn, if you will. Celebration is a very casual entry to the 12 Beers of Entry, an option that should suit a wide array of tastes, since it doesn't do anything too crazy or outlandish.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop Ale might not necessarily be a beer to look forward to come Christmastime, but it doesn't have to be; it's comfortable with what it is: a very drinkable, very tasty beer that tweaks the standard Sierra offering into something that would do well as the go-to beer for your Holiday gathering.

Celebration Christmas Ale. Picture from

Check back for the next beer soon!


Monday, November 5, 2012

Ben Likes Bevmo and...Arrogant Bastard?

I have no qualms over the fact that, if you are reading this, you are likely my friend and are doing so as a small ode to this bond (thank you, you patronizing pal, you). Perhaps along the way you have come to respect my opinion on the godly nectar known as beer (Please?). Maybe you just happen to find my brand of sarcasm occasionally giggle inducing (Double Please?). Or maybe you wandered here after an evening of haphazard Googling (If so you're probably drunk and should therefore consider being my friend).

Regardless of what brings you here, I assume that if you're, here you are at least somewhat familiar with my life. For the uninitiated (looking at you, Gallivanting Googler), I don't do anything beer related for a living. I'm not a cicerone -- that is, a beer sommelier, but it's on my immediate to-do list, so stay tuned! - I'm just a guy who happens to like to write, drink beer, and figured combining the two seemed like a pretty solid idea (and not particularly risky, unlike other combinations involving beer).

So, no, I don't write for a living, either. Most you know I'm an aspiring 3D artist, and I'm not afraid to admit that California has more or less spit me out in terms of that dream. I have no intentions of giving up, of course, but there comes a point where reality comes crashing into your happy comfortable dream world with all the subtlety of an unconvincing drag queen blaring an air horn.

"I'm here for your soul." 

So that means finding another job. Well, I'm happy to announce that I've found some part time work to hold me over, and it's actually due in no small part to this blog. HUZZAH! I have started as seasonal associate and token beer bro for BevMo, a west coast booze proprietor, and I'm pretty excited about it. It also means that, in addition to sharing my passion and knowledge about one of truly most appreciated elements of my life, I get a store discount. This is perilous.

Perilously awesome. 

Training was today. As I was given a manila folder filled with hand outs about proper ID checking, wine label facing, and work related injuries, it was about as exciting as you might expect (though eased by a very cool manager who understood the innate lack of seriousness associated with the sales of a substance that is just so awesome), but there was a silver lining. "We have two bottles left of the limited edition Arrogant Bastard left. Do you want to buy one?"

Well, duh.

Lucky Bastard - "A Self Tribute to 15 Years of Arrogance" 
15th Anniversary Ale
Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA
8.5% ABV

I recognize that Stone makes quite a few appearances on my blog, and I admit I'm not entirely sure why that is. For one, it's readily available on both coasts, which does make it easier to write about so that both coasts I care about might actually take interest. But I think it's more like an old rival; not a friend, per se, but someone you've run into in the past and seem to enjoy the competition. I don't tend to love their odes to themselves (however tongue in cheek they may be), but touring their garden and brewery remains one of my favorite beer moments so it's hard to deny it a place in my beer soaked heart.

Lucky Bastard is their anniversary present to themselves, gaudily wrapped and ostentatiously given, with all of the Arrogant Bastard staples - aggressive hops, distinct bitterness, oddly self indulgent labels (this time jumbled in a barely comprehensive world scramble). But...*ahem* (to be said in your best Professor Farnsworth voice) GOOD NEWS EVERYONE!

Me, ready to party. 
I kinda like this one.

Or, at least, I don't hate it. The bitterness is here, like I said, but the way it spreads smoothly over your pallet is really nice. The hops here are classified (though the similarity to others in their line suggest maybe Chinook) but they manage to dissipates into a nice almost sweetness as it finishes. The ruby color and medium body go down smoothly with small gulps. It's a limited batch that just released on Halloween, and they recommend that you consume no later than January 2013. If you have any interest in a hoppy beer at all, try to seek this one out. They've earned their stripes this time, and maybe, just this once, they're more Confident than Arrogant Bastard.

As it were, I anticipate that I'm not going to be able to help myself from using this BevMo opportunity to broaden my horizons - try out new varieties, new countries, new breweries...if you have any requests of a beer you'd like me to try, let me know! Send me a facebook message or leave a comment here and I'll look for it.

Stay thirsty, my buds!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Great Hop Divide Part 2: Hop & Contrast

The masses are divided. And by masses I mean the, like, twenty people I talked to. And by divided I mean that, by and large, people aren't in love with IPAs. Yanked from a off-handed poll on my Facebook:

Andrew, succinctly and with vehemence, claims they "taste like soapy dishwater." Fair enough.

Jessie has a hard time placing just what it is that doesn't work for her, claiming that "[IPAs] don't have a taste I have ever tasted elsewhere...but I guess it's the opposite of what sugar tastes like." Kurt, meanwhile, has a problem with the "brute force" nature of the brew, and he prefers "a balanced beer that has more subtle flavorings."

The aversion isn't universal, however. An impressively vocal few not only like variety, but can also tell the difference between a given selection. That is to say, not all IPAs taste alike.

As a self-proclaimed beer lover and pseudo aficionado (and, dammit, I run this blog so I assume you care what I think to some minuscule degree), I'm going to have to side with those of the pro-IPA persuasion. That shouldn't suggest that I claim them to be my favorite breed by any stretch, but to lump them all together into one class of beer (which, I grant you, the industry by and large does) and then adorn it with a big crimson A is sort of unfair to some of the wonderful things going on in some of the IPAs out there.

But then again some of them do totally taste like ass. Speaking of which...

Sublimely Self Righteous Ale
Stone Bewing Co., Escondido CA
1 Pt. 6 Fluid Oz. Bottle, 8.7% Alcohol per Volume

As discussed in Part 1 of this ordeal, hops are a common and necessary factor of every beer. However, "hops" aren't a type of universal plant that a brewmeister merely shoves into every beer in existence and calls it a day. There are dozens of types of hops, each with their own subtle flavor profiles and intentions. They also have cool names like Apollo and Super Galena, which is pretty important.

Ben Likes Beer: Wiki-ing shit since 2011 so you don't have to. Source: Wikipedia 

What IPAs do have in common is their use of bittering hops which, as you can probably deduce, are added to beers to create a bitter taste. "Why would you WANT a beer to be bitter?!," I hear some of you hypothetically cry to move this article along (thanks for that, by the way). Well, when combined with some other types of hops, the effect is quite nice. Still, some IPAs don't do that. Some beers are, well, arrogant. 

Like Arrogant Bastard's Supremely Self Righteous Ale. The entire brewery is known for boastful  ("substantial mettle," they call it) use of hops, and with this malevolent concoction they certainly outdo themselves - and there's a lengthy diatribe on the bottle to prove that they know it; they're "not inclined toward senseless braggadocio" (try looking that up when you're drunk on their douchey beer).

Handle with caution. Or not at all. From

The brew makes use of two hops whose main purposes appear to be distinctly for the bittering of a beer - Chinnok and Simocoe, and as such the beer is exceptionally brutal, unfriendly, and sort of tastes like it hates you. The beer is far too aggressive for me - it's not necessarily a celebration of hops, but rather a mean-spirited taunt. I am sure that certain beer fans adore this particular beer, and I am willing to admit that perhaps my pallet is not quite ready for it (a critique I accept graciously), but I rather despise the clumsy brutality of this particular beer.

On the other hand...

Widmer Brothers Nelson Imperial IPA
Widmer Brothers Brewing, Portland, Oregon
1 Pt. 6 Fluid Oz. Bottle, 8.6% Alcohol per Volume

First and foremost, a mini lesson: be wary of the label "Imperial." This innocuously regal term, when used in a beer title,  actually translates to "I WILL put you on your ass," as will this one if you enjoy too quickly. This IPA is, in contrast, quite delicious. Golden, sweet, and discrete about how formidable it is, I enjoyed this beer from start to finish. There's bitterness  yes, but it twists around a lemony crispness and a hint of floral.

The friendlier, good-natured IPA From

So what makes it so different from the aforementioned hop demon? The hops it utilizes - Nelson Sauvin (named after the wine grape and meant to mimic its fruitiness), Cascade and Willamette are all bittering hops, but have a secondary  purpose - floral and citrus notes - that Righteous hops lacked. The result is a lovely melding of flavors that doesn't smash your taste buds in with a crowbar.

The crux of it, then, is that while some people aren't going to like IPAs no matter which you place in front of them (which is going to be the result of an aversion to BITTERING hops, not hops in general), the varieties of hops that go into each determine whether you're going to have a pleasant beer with some sophisticated tastes blending, or if you're going to be bludgeoned upside the head.

Happy beering, friends.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Great Hop Divide Part 1: Reinheitsgebot

There's a division in opinion regarding hops.

Well, not hops themselves, perhaps; a blanket statement of "I don't like hops" would be a rather unreasonable dismissal of one whole quarter of the holy beer quartet - water, barley, yeast and hops. It'd be sort of like dismissing the bacon in a BLAT (I'm adding avocado to my metaphorical sandwich for the sake of, in addition to being delicious, keeping the number of the ingredients the same; besides, all of the aforementioned ingredients are of bacon-level importance, really).

Pulling out any of those three key ingredients and you have something that is decidedly not beer.

In fact, for a certain period in certain country there was something called the Reinheisgebot.

Here's a country hint, if you couldn't tell from the number of syllables: they have a running theme throughout history of being pissed off and demanding.  Picture from
The Reinheisgebot (literally, purity law) was an on again-off again law in history that, in addition to price regulation, prohibited the use of ingredients other than those previously mentioned. At its origin, in the early 16th century, the laws actually didn't yet mention yeast, as their role in glorious, glorious inebriation wasn't yet known, and wouldn't be until the 1800's.

Presumably they thought all the buzz came from some as-of-yet-undiscovered property of water. From BuzzFeed 

Each ingredient had a separate and implicit purpose. Hops were for flavoring, certainly, but more meant as a reliable means to preserve the beer for shipping. The further the beer needed to travel the more hops the brew featured-- fast forward a few centuries and this is actually the origin of the IPA - India Pale Ale - style; the extra hops made it so transport to India was possible (but we'll cover that some other time).

The Reinheisgebot was a point of great pride for the German people, who maintain a confidence that rivals France with Wine and the US with toddler pageants.The law was eventually dissolved by the EU as a means to pry open Germany for trade with the rest of Europe and the world, but many German brewers still proudly adhere to the no-frills ways of old (though new amendments allow for the use of a few other basic additions, such as cane sugar and of course, yeast), making it the oldest food regulation in existence [1]. Meanwhile, other breweries abroad, such as Anheuser Busch claim to stick to Reinheisgebot, if only for marketing purposes.

Impressive that they can manage to make four simple ingredients taste like piss. 
So, what was this long winded aside all about? Well, it was mostly a quick investigation of a very important note in the history of beer, but it was also a lengthy set up to an interesting discrepancy among beer drinkers - the intense dislike of  hops. Which, as all of the above should suggest, really, just does not compute. The likely translation is the dislike of an abundance of hops, in such varieties of beer as IPAs and Pale Ales. For many of the less "advanced" beer drinkers (and I don't mean that derisively- these varieties are almost certainly an acquired taste), these are universally detestable and are about as pleasant as chugging from an exhaust pipe. For these good people, there are no subtleties, no differences in flavor. There is only the bitter, bitter embrace of the over-hopped elixir, and they want nothing to do with it.

But even among the fans there's a divide, or at least a caveat. While a few fans will universally enjoy an IPA, those subtle differences tend to determine whether or not an individual will like a certain hopped beer. Personally, there's a 50/50 shot of me either loving or detesting a "hoppy" beer.

So, where does this come from? What's the difference among these hoppy beers? Why are some loved and others reviled. Let's find out in Part 2.

Stay thirsty, beer bros.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Return of the Blog! Firestone Walker's Reserve

I'm back! As is usually the case, I got distracted by other life-stuff, enough to pull me away from the keyboard for awhile (at least for it's purposes as a "writing utensil", that is. The keyboard is well worn on a daily basis for my Digital Artist career...especially the Escape button, which I slam in frustration to cancel slagging renders). This doesn't mean, obviously, that I quit drinking.

But, truth be told, I haven't been holding out on you. Ya haven't missed anything.

It's been pretty par the course this Late Spring/ Early Summer, beer-wise. Nothing fantastic, nothing awful- unless you consider the Miller Lite my friends prefer, now with an additional punch tab, so you can chug it just quick enough to avoid actually tasting it.

So while I have sampled a few different beers here and there, nothing in particular has stood out. Aside from one, which is what we're here to talk about.

Walker's Reserve
Porter, 5.8% ABV, 650 ml
Firestone Brewery
Paso Robles, CA

Firestone's Walker Reserve Porter. From

Firestone brewery is one I stumbled onto when I was out here. I wasn't particularly familiar with brand, despite it's relatively wide distribution (especially for a Craft level brewery - you can get this stuff on the East Coast). Firestone claims that Walker's Reserve is representative of their "finest brewing efforts," meaning they consider this stuff their crown jewel. An "elegant dark ale," claims the website, a "porter" claims the bottle (a bit of investigation suggests they're more or less interchangeable terms, by the way), with lots of "complexity and flavor."

The first time I had this was in draft form at a Hollywood whiskey bar called Rock & Reilly's on Sunset Boulevard, an evening that included lots of whiskey and hanging out with Bania from Seinfeld.

Seriously. And he was awesome. Picture from imdb

In draft form, I recalled chocolate and cherry. In bottled form, there's an overwhelming taste of campfire and smoke. That sort of thing sounds sort of repulsive to your everyday beer chugger but smoked beers have become relatively commonplace out there, and they tend to fit somewhere between excellent grilled meat companion to "Aw, gross, who poured liquid smoke into my beer." Firestone wants me to taste "toffee, dark chocolate and caramel," but, try as I do, I really just can't get past the essence of campground. Ok, fine, a bit of oatmeal, too.

It is lighter than most porters when it comes to mouth feel, and a sweet head gives way to a sharp finish. But it all sorts of becomes one note by the end of the glass. I recall adoring this beer when I tried it at the bar, but it didn't hold up for me in bottled form. A bum batch? Maybe. I'd be willing to give it another shot, but for now, a quick summary: see Walker's Reserve on tap, by some chance, and it's worth experiencing. Bottle you can skip.

Until next time, Chuggers.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Aloha Series Koko Brown

I've said it before, but I suppose it bears repeating: beer changes with the seasons. Just like those silly feel-good propaganda Sam Adams commercials, different weather dictates different ingredients and beer styles. And now that the weather is warming, and those beautiful days are returning...

Yeah, only not. The weather here has sucked, which more or less defies every stereotype you've heard about SoCal's beautiful Eden-like reputation. But that doesn't mean I can't live vicariously through my beer choices, sipping flavors that beckon sunnier skies, including such entries as:

Aloha Series Koko Brown
Brown Ale
Kona Brewing Co. 
Kona, Hawaii 
ABV: Inexplicably unlisted, so unknown, but it's got to be low. 

Hawaiian imagery! SUNSHINE AND BEACHES! 

So, setting aside that "Koko Brown" sounds like the name of some porn actress on her way to a prolific career (and, actually the first Google search points you to, where you can find "interracial...erotic romance with a plot!"), the brown ale is actually one of the seasonal offerings from Kona Brewing company, a decent enough brewery that embraces its "Hawaii-ness" with labels featuring palm trees, and beer names like Longboard Lager and, well, Koko Brown.

I don't really hold it against the brewery. In fact, I have a sort of sympathy for any company from Hawaii that feels the need to embrace the stereotypical iconography of a lei to ensure the livelihood of their brand, but Kona was never one of my favorite breweries. None of their previous beers that I've had has really stood out. But hey, this was on sale. You can't argue with the chance of economics. 

Koko is a Brown Ale, which means it has a medium body, a slightly nutty flavor, and a sweet finish; the typical host of attributes is here and accounted for. What's different, though, is the fact that it's "brewed with toasted coconut and natural flavor added." And though they don't elaborate on what the "natural flavor" in particular is (it could be anything but since they're going with the Hawaii theme I'm going to guess lava rock and sea turtle), the coconut flavor is here. In spades. This is no "hint" or "whisper" of coconut - this has all the coconut subtly of an Almond Joy. And it's really tasty! 

Coconut, much like cilantro, seems to be one of those things that divide the culinary masses, forcing you to stand firm in the For or Against Coconut initiative. Personally, I wave the Coconut Flag like a champ - macaroons are one of the most surefire ways to win me over. Unlike cilantro, though, the coconut detractors seem to lament, as Dallas says in Zombie Land, "not the taste, [but] the consistency." So by that logic there might be some haters out there that might actually like this one because, gratefully, the beer lacks any rubbery rubber shavings associated with coconut. But if you're one of those true haters that hates every aspect of the noble coconut, taste and consistency, you're obviously not going to be a fan. 


So this isn't the sort of beer that you're going to turn to on a regular basis - it is after all, one of those "gimmicky" beers, that hits one note. But it hits that one note incredibly well and I liked it a lot. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Beer Tripping, Volume 1: San Diego, Part II

Stone Brewery was only one part of the beer adventure, and with as many options as there are in the area (there are literally dozens, as I previously mentioned; they call themselves the San Diego Brewers Guild, and they make San Diego a beer lover's heaven) it was difficult to call it a day at just one. So we didn't.

While Stone was certainly the crown jewel of the brewery collection, the scattered "little guys," while maybe being sans an outdoor bistro and beer garden,  were still every bit as appealing.

Lost Abbey Brewery 
Escondido, CA
Beers Encountered: Avant Garde, Devotion, Judgment Day, Red Barn

Running a brewery of any scale is not a condensed operation. One fermentation tank can range from 10 to 100 hl (that's hectoliters, as in, 100 liters). A site will obviously vary in the size and quantity of their tanks depending on the size of the brewery but as a general theme it's not exactly something you can run out of your bedroom.

Still, if there is such a thing as a "hole-in-the-wall" brewery, Lost Abbey is most certainly it. The space is more or less a warehouse and it makes no efforts to hide it. While we didn't tour the actual brewery (I believe they offered a tour but we arrived well past the time in which that was an option), it was easily visible in the open air environment of the brewery, and appeared to be fairly standard. In fact, it used to be Stone's house before they moved shop up the road, and they still utilize some of their old equipment while adding some new of their own.

I would happily accept some brewery's hand-me-downs. 

 The more appealing part, though, was the ragtag bar they had set up in the front. Utilitarian to an extreme, Lost Abbey's bar relishes in its bare-bones feel, but that's really part of its charm: concrete floors, an open loading bay door for natural light, barrels as tables, and seats that are, no exaggeration - bags of barley. It's not exactly comfortable but it's still pretty cool - I kind of imagine it's what a shipyard bar feels like. And over a couple of beers, you really don't mind. It's just fun.

Shabby chic is awesome when you have a buzz 
The bar itself offered samples of pints of Lost Abbey's impressively extensive beer list. Ranging from their hallmark Red Barn Ale (a very tasty ale with a flavor profile of summer, including citrus and ginger notes) to their version of the strong 10.5% beer wallop called, what else, Judgment Day (See? Remember what I said about over the top names?), there's plenty to try. Originally a local Californian brew, Lost Abbey has been spreading across the US at a pretty impressive rate - it should actually be easily available in the Northeast according to their handy website map - So, in short, yes, if you stumble upon a Lost Abbey six pack it's very much worth a try.

The only disappointing aspect of Lost Abbey was an apparent lack of...well, passion, from the girls running the bar. There was no denying that someone was putting love into their delicious beers - a banner hung overhead exclaiming, "In Illa Brettanomyces Nos Fides" - In the Wild Yeast We Believe, after all, but this passion was decidedly absent in the ladies running the front of the house. There was no interest in conversation at all, let alone any discussion about the beers they were serving me. I was certainly fine with entertaining myself with my parents, but it would have been nice to hear what they liked, which beers were their favorites, just anything. But instead I sort of felt like an inconvenience to them. Whatever, at least I had beer.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beer Tripping, Volume 1: San Diego, Part I

So, uh...there's a lot of beer out there. The craft beer phenomenon has truly exploded (perhaps too much so, but that's an essay for another time...), and the selection has become nothing short of intimidating. For those brewphiles out there, seeking out new beers to experience sort of becomes second nature. Some of it is readily available at your local generic sports bar (or, you know, grocer, CVS or book store if you're in California...). Or maybe you'll go to your local beer bar for a wider, more interesting selection. Or sometimes, if you're a bit adventurous, you go to the source. 

Brew Tours 101 

Brewery tours, for the uninitiated, are an absolutely fantastic way to spend an afternoon. Of all of the tours I have been on, this gist is largely the same: sign up for a time slot, go through a tour of the brewery, and then, as the grand finale, sample free beer. The limits of what and how much they give you tend to differ from brewery to brewery, but the general abstract remains the same: free beer. 

In general, it's most likely that you'll be able to check out a tour on a weekend, which means that a lot of people have the same exact idea. As such, weekends are obviously the busiest times for tours, and they tend to fill up quickly. So, check out the respective brewer's website and pick a tour time - there's usually anywhere from five to seven tours a day, depending on the size of the brewery - and show up an hour or two in advance.

Critics of brew tours (if they even exist, the jaded hypothetical bastards) might complain that every tour is more or less the same - "this is barley, these are hops, this is where the yeast ferments...," - and in many ways, that's true. It's definitely a How It's Made crash course that covers the bare basics of beer crafting- the basics never change. But, without fail, there are subtitles that you discern between breweries, whether it be the methods of brewing, ingredients, ideology, or a subtly different corporate spin, brew tours always manage to be a different trip.

So, then, allow me to share with one of such tours I had the excellent opportunity to experience.

Stone Ale Brewing
Escondido, CA
Beers encountered:
Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine, Stone Levitation Ale, Stone Pale Ale, Stone Smoked Porter, Stone IPA, Arrogant Bastard Ale, Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale

The entrance lobby. "Stone" gives the interior decorator people a pretty solid direction to head in. 

Situated just a bit outside of San Diego, Stone Ale Brewery is sort of miraculous. A shining bastion of beer, a paradise of pale ale, a haven of hops, a...well, you get the point. Not to mention it was named one of the top breweries to visit in the US by Forbes. (

The place is pretty stellar.

Stone has a unique, devil-may-care branding that it completely owns. One of it's more potent concoctions - their tour-du-hops called Ruination- was briefly mentioned in my last post for adhering to a "we'll name it whatever the hell we want to" vibe. And it's only one such example. One of its staples and arguable calling cards is christened Arrogant Bastard, and the entire brewery exists without a marketing budget. That it subsists entirely on word of mouth is a grand testament to the quality of its beer. Or merely an interesting statement on how many people think it's HILARIOUS to tell people they bought you a beer "that totally fits your personality."


Taking what constitutes a typical brew tour and eclipsing it a few times over, Stone Ale Brewery is more of a Brew Resort (literally, actually...they're in the process of building of a hotel). Most breweries are relatively humble in their scale: a small bar with a host of the brewery's beer, a gift shop, and of course the admittedly expansive set up required to produce a national beer. Stone has all of that on top of a complete restaurant, terrace bar and garden.

What they don't tell you is that you actually have to hunt and kill the beer in its natural habitat. 

I embarked on this epic journey with my beloved and increasingly beer loving parents (a wondrous and valuable contribution to their lives if I may be so bold). We arrived two hours in advance, as per recommended by the website, and signed up for the 3 o' clock tour. That gave us plenty of time to develop a healthy buzz on the beautiful (stone) terrace. I had their Old Guardian barley wine - a high proof sipping beer that drank far easier than it should have and some pretty tasty soft pretzels to sop up a bit of the alcohol.

And by healthy buzz I mean, "I'm not sure I can handle a free beer tour after this"

From there the actual tour began. Stone keeps things tame by keeping the groups small - 25 people per tour - and arms their tour guide with a microphone. Ours is a short guy rocking Christ chic, and his passion and the thoroughness of his knowledge is undeniable. Hailing from a record store, he found the position on a Craigslist posting and was an absolutely perfect guide.

From there everything proceeds largely as planned, with a passing of the ingredients of a typical beer, a peek at the fermentation tanks, and an impressive explanations of the perils of pressing the emergency stop button. But, as I mentioned, things are different no matter where you go and Stone has its own manifesto it adheres to. Namely, "MORE HOPS."

Their reverence of the good plant is almost, well, arrogant - they pack more hops into their brews than almost anyone, but manage to do so in unique ways for each beer, so none of their selection taste particularly similar. They may exist on different levels (Levitation could be considered a beginner's version of Ruination, for example), but each is its own beer. In fact, at the tour's end, the samples given to us were given in order of increasing amount of hops. Still, even those avoid IPAs and the like the the floral grenades that they can be, could find something to like here (Mom, who regards hops as the source of that "glue taste" made it through 2 of the beers before bowing out). The beers are more sophisticated than others of the sort, and are certainly work experiencing. Arrogant Bastard is my personal favorite - a brazen amber color ale that bites pretty hard but has such a great flavor that you don't mind. 

Insert "Beer Jesus" joke here - the tour group certainly did. 
So, please. 
Go to San Diego area. It's phenomenal in its own right. But when you do, go to Stone Brewery. No matter what level of a beer fan you are, Stone Brewery is a gorgeous testament to the growing significance of beer in our culture. And I can't wait to experience it again. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Beer Called Terrible

I can't wait to have my own craft beer. And it's not why you think.

Well, I mean, it is - the ultimate culmination of one of my passions, the chance to prove my knowledge beyond a few lines in a blog, a grand exploration of the art form that is being a beer meister, etc. and blah blah...

But the real reason I can't wait to have my own beer is because I really, really just want to come up with a name for one. 

I have a hunch that's a big part of fun for a lot of the little guys and medium sized breweries out there, if the names are any indication. Unlike most food and drink products out there, beer companies tend to go delightfully berserk with their packaging and naming (again, I'm sticking to the smaller batch stuff here -- the Goliaths of the beer world  obviously tend to adhere to the boring, rigid and by-the-numbers marketing that you'd affronted with on a daily basis), and it sort of makes it a lot more fun. 

My uninteresting name and packaging tells me you don't really care what I taste like. Sort of like when you're buying toothpaste. 

What's more, the name often tells you absolutely nothing about the beer itself. Sure, they may tack on "Ale" or "Lager" to give you a hint as to the direction you're headed, but beyond that, you're largely on your own. And that's sort of part of the fun, and is what makes randomly picking a fun looking bottle off the shelf such an enjoyable game of chance. 

My favorite example of this "We'll name it what we damn well please" phenomenon comes from the host of beers that host powerful, devastating, almost Biblical vernacular in their names. Ruination IPA from Stone Brewing. Fin Du Monde from Unibroue. Russian River's Damnation. Or, my absolute favorite: the "Stout of Morning Destruction," from Staple Mills. Tell me that's not one of the best names for anything ever. I dare you.

Granted, all of these may not-so-subtle nods to what their higher-than-usual ABVs could be doing to your general well-being, but I like to think their marketing meetings consisted something along of the lines of "I dunno, man, it just sounds f-ing cool." It also sort of suggests that the Apocalypse will come on a chariot of barley and hops (which I obviously welcome). 

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy- AND DIE IN A FIERY BLAZE OF BEER DRENCHED JUDGMENT" - Ben Franklin 

But then, sometimes, there's an even more extreme scenario. After a long week of desperately trying to name their new beer, a brewery will just say "Screw it!," sweep their desks dramatically clean, wear their ties around their foreheads and call their beer "Terrible". 


Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec, Canada
Dark Ale, 10.5% 
Pint bottle with cork 

From the people that brought us Fin Du Monde comes Terrible - "A beer that's anything but!" They don't actually use that slogan, thank whatever advertising deity you ascribe to, but inane as it sounds it's exceedingly appropriate. It's from Quebec, and their pronunciation of "terrible" is admittedly less awful sounding, but it still evokes a second look and perhaps a quizzical curiosity - which is maybe why I picked it off the shelf to begin with (marketing baffles me). But trust me. It's good stuff.  

Terrible is a dark ale that runs carefully through the host of your taste buds in a careful and articulately delicious order - sour, sweet and bitter - and appears to evoke many wine qualities, with its menagerie of subtle flavor hints that come together in a great way but leave you questioning exactly what you're experiencing with each sip. That sort of complexity isn't uncommon among French style beers - see my La Goudale post from a few months ago - but this one banks on the realm of exceptional. 

A not-so-subtle title belies the amazing, amazing nectar that lies within. 

It took a few sips (ok, FINE, two bottles...) to be sure, but I detected cherry, burnt notes and citrus melding into a very unique experience. It's unlike any beer you've ever had, of this I am certain. And best yet, it's reasonable in price at 8 bucks a bottle. I often hear talks of reasonably priced wine that could go toe-to-toe with pricier bottles, and I think Terrible is a fine parallel to that concept. It's one of the best beer experiences I've had (and, fine, it gave me a great buzz if you measure quality by that sort of unit). 

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ben's Pleasant Surprise: Holland's Heritage Collection

Hiatus over.

You may think that enjoying a wide variety of beer and dissecting is easy work and, well, it kind of is, really. But as is so often said, it is certainly very possible to have too much of a good thing, and beer has the pretty grand potential of being quite a contender for "Best Of" in that category.

My Christmas and New Years was sort of like that, if truth be told. I experienced a fantastic collection of beer - Affligem Noel, Corsendonk Christmas Ale, Sam Adams Infinium, and a wonderful bevy of others - but it took it's delicious, delicious toll. I felt, well, schlumpy. So much so that I didn't even write about anything for awhile, as you fine readers may have noticed (which I'm disappointed for - stick around til next Christmas will you? I promise to do a Christmas beer exposé that the "genre" of beer surely deserves). And thus, a brief interlude: a beer moratorium.

But clearly this was doomed to be a short interlude. You don't keep yourselves from your passions (unless it's like, you know, crack, or something. Don't be passionate about crack), and I don't want to keep myself from beer. Besides, it was my birthday...

When word gets out about how much you like something, esoteric or otherwise, people tend to latch on to that concept, and, for all foreseeable gift-giving opportunities, adhere to that as a protocol for what constitutes a thoughtful gift. And that's not to say it isn't, but it can be tough to escape. When she was little, my sister thought piglets were cute. Flash forward a decade or more later, and the poor girl has been inundated with the most absurd collection of adorable piggy products that a person could possibly want. The deluge has ebbed over the past few years, and that dead pig is thoroughly beaten, but it's an interesting testament to how quickly a heartfelt gift can become arbitrary.

Those in my general vicinity have been clued into my beer passion. And you know what? It's not nearly as bad as having 300 stuffed piglets.

Unless it's this one. I kind of want this one.

Given the variety out there there's a pretty decent chance they're going to get me something at least new and different (we're past the stage where I have to worry about getting a 30 pack of Bud, thankfully). But when someone who can't stand beer gives you a case of beer for your birthday, there's a natural knee-jerk reaction as to how this could possibly go.

Pretty, well actually.

Holland's Heritage Limited Edition Collection

My lovely roommate gave me a case of Heineken's Heritage Collection for my birthday, which was a thoughtful gesture, especially given her aversion to any and all beer. Honestly, on the scale of drinkable mass produced beers, Heineken ranks rather low in my opinion. The bizarre smell, can't quite place it after taste (ash tray? Maybe?), and sort of one-tone flavor mean it's not one of my favorites. And it apparently represents a quarter of Holland's beer heritage.

And this Light version is another quarter. Are you even trying, Holland?

But I called the collection a pleasant surprise, and I meant it. The pleasantness comes from the other half of this collection -Heineken's Taewebock Wheat Bock and Dark Lager. 

Tarwebok Wheat Bock 6.5% ABV

Perhaps the more unexpected of the two is the Tarwebok, a wheat bock. Bocks are traditional German beers, traditionally a bit stronger than your usual beer and at 6.5% this is just that. Heineken's version seems to hark the brewing styles of the Belgian masters, with a caramel color, medium body and distinct sweetness. 
The body isn't quite as thick as those of the Belgian variety, but it does have more "chuggability" than its inspiration. 

And it's a pretty decent facsimile of the "real thing," aside from one thing - it's so incredibly sweet. Belgian beers tend to be quite sweet, certainly, but they're often cut with a nice bitterness or some other flavor note that balances it a bit. That's not the case with Tarwebok. The first sip is pretty great, really, but the overwhelming sweetness really mars it by the end of the bottle. Congratulations if you can drink more than one in a row. I couldn't. 

That doesn't sound like a glowing review really, but I don't necessarily hate it; it was an unexpected experience to come out of a Heineken "variety" pack. I think it has the heart of some of the more sophisticated forefathers out there, but none of the finesse. It's flavor, while initially pleasant, steamrolls over your pallet and quickly becomes overwhelming. 

Heineken Dark Lager

Easily the best of the bunch, the Dark Lager is a smooth and very drinkable lager that evokes a bit of Guinness's body and burnt flavors with a bit more sweetness (they must have a surplus of sugar over there). It sort of seems similar to the Tarwebok in some ways, almost as if this was the starting point and then they went off the edge by prodding it and adding more than the beer needed. Which works fine, really; try a six pack if you see it. 

So have I converted my opinion of Heineken? Not particularly. But it was a nice surprise to see something something different and more interesting than their standard fare. 

Thanks for reading!