Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quick Sips: Allagash Confluence 2011

Well hell, I was supposed to like this. I was supposed to like this a lot. Instead it left me disappointed.

But don't blame Allagash, who are one of the finest brewers of high end beers on the East Coast, blame the cruel mistress that is "expectations." You see, my intel on Confluence was bad. I thought this was meant to be a sour beer. Thought for sure it was meant to be a sour. But it's not.

So when I gleefully slipped this from the beer stash, grabbed my favorite tulip glass, and hit the back deck for some funky sour goodness, I was dealt a harsh blow to discover it's "just" a wild Belgian style ale. Argh!

(Why would I want a sour beer? Trust me, they're delicious.)

I write "just" a wild ale with some sarcasm because it's a great style, and this is the perfect brewery to be doing them. Along with Ommegang and New Glarus, Allagash are one of the great American brewers of Belgian styles. When you get an Allagash, you're getting quality.

And this was indeed a quality wild ale. The beer was musty and murky, tasting like lightly yeasty biscuits and delicious bread. It had a grassy aroma like wide open fields during the summer. Though there was some spicing happening here, it was more mild than you'd expect. Very approachable, very drinkable. If you could drink a picnic, it would taste like this. You could share this beer with anyone and they'd probably like it.

But I wasn't looking for this, dammit, I was looking for a sour beer that would pucker my mouth and carpet bomb my taste buds. This ain't that.

So really, if there was disappointment, it was because I expected the completely wrong thing. Shame on me, I suppose. Try it if you enjoy wild ales, Belgian pales, and beers with a little bit of mild murky grassy funk. But sour? Despite reviews that mention sour notes, there were none to be had here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien, Hobbits, and BEER

So, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Yeah yeah yeah, I know what you're thinking. "This is a beer blog. Why the hell are you posting about the dude who wrote about elves and hobbits and all that?"

I'm doing it because Tolkien and beer go together like me and Kate Beckinsale. (Just go with me on this, please.)

Tolkien loved his beer, something reflected in his fiction by way of the Hobbits' passion for a pint and the way in which a good pub is shown to be central to finding true contentment. Throughout The Lord of the Rings, for example, Merry, Pippin and Sam are forever looking for their next opportunity to have an ale. (Frodo was a bit of a stick in the mud about that, what with fleeing from the Black Riders and all.) The theme comes up again and again. They lament missing a great pub on their way out of the Shire, Merry and Pippin rejoice at finding good beer in the ruins of Isengard, Sam pines for a pint while slogging his way through Mordor, and one of the Shire's best years, 1420, was marked by an especially excellent season of beers.

If Tolkien was a Hobbit made real -- and in many ways he was -- he made clear from the start that a good, comfortable life involves generous portions of beer (among many other comfort foods). In The Hobbit, Bilbo keeps barrels of beer in his cellar and even serves some to the dwarves for breakfast. Balin, Bilbo's great friend among the dwarves and the leader of the ill-fated expedition to Moria, specifically asks Bilbo for beer, which the hobbit supplies. Porter was among the styles he had on hand.

"Some called for ale, and some for porter, and one for coffee, and all of them for cakes; so the hobbit was kept very busy for a while." --from The Hobbit, 'An Unexpected Party'

Indeed, for Tolkien, being a good host involved supplying your guests with beer.

None of this should come as a surprise to those familiar with how Tolkien socialized. Many of his ideas were hashed out over beers with friends like C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia. They'd sit at the pub for hours smoking, drinking, and talking mythology, literature, and what they were writing at the time. These "Beowulf and beer" sessions, as one writer deemed them, proved to be a vital component in Tolkien's lifelong work of building Middle-Earth's vast mythology. He and his other friends did this for nearly two decades, famously calling themselves the Inklings and likely consuming a vast quantity of ale while doing so.

Sitting about with friends over a pint or three influenced his work not merely in the way in which he presented a great pub as an essential to a comfortable life -- as Tolkien readers know, both The Prancing Pony and The Green Dragon are central locations for hobbit happiness -- but also in allowing him an outlet via which to share his ideas with companions who also happened to be writers, philosophers, and professors. These sessions fueled the excitement necessary for him to tackle the vast mythology projects he did. (The extended Middle-Earth mythology, presented only in part in The Silmarillion, was all but unpublishable prior to the explosive popularity of The Lord of the Rings. Likely Tolkien knew it, too, yet he worked on it for his entire life.) A pint shared with good company kept him content. Energized. Happy. Excited.

So yes, J.R.R. Tolkien enjoyed his beer, and this is reflected in his life's work. He enjoyed quiet times and good conversation and a great pint.

And who doesn't?

Plenty more geeky talk about Tolkien, Doctor Who, comics and more in Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture, a book I coauthored with four other great authors. For other reading on Tolkien and beer, check out this post at Smokes and Booze, and these suggested beer pairings for celebrating his birthday, which takes place in January. Cheers!

Visit my personal website or check out my independent editorial services at Your Awesome Editor.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Quick Sips: Fort Collins the Incredible Hop Imperial Black IPA

You'd forgive the awful photo if you could experience the gigantic hoppy goodness of Fort Collins' fantastic Imperial Black IPA.

So what the hell is an Imperial Black IPA, anyway? The name and style are both relatively recent inventions (and even the name is in dispute; the style is also called a Cascadian Dark Ale). Imagine a beer that has the dark, fat, malty, roasted body of a stout, but has the huge, aggressive, floral hops of a big India Pale Ale. That's a Black IPA.

In the case of this beer by Fort Collins, "big" is the right word. It clocks in at 10% ABV. You'd never know it, though. There is so much taste going on here that the alcohol doesn't stand a chance. The hops are GIGANTIC, smelling like a musty old forest of citrus and pine trees -- and I mean that in the best way possible. The bitterness is big, too, but the malty backbone of this beer stands up well to the assault of all those hops. There are tastes of roasted chocolate and coffee throughout, and plenty of murky blackness for folks who like their beer black coffee-dark.

If you want an aggressive beer that will blast your mouth with flavor, this is it. Highly recommended for hop heads and malt addicts alike.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quick Sips: Fegley's Brewworks Hop'Solutely Triple IPA

The folks at Fegley's Brewworks have been around for a while, brewing up beers in the Leigh Valley of Pennsylvania (quietly one of the best beer states in America). They brew some very adventurous beers and have won local accolades. Their best known beer is Hop'Solutely, touted as a triple India Pale Ale (IPA). At least one beer writer named it his Beer of 2010.

I can't say I agree. Hop'Solutely hits you with high bitterness on a hefty malt body, but it's got hints of mild sourness that just don't blend well with the rest of the package. The hopped-up bitterness here bordered on was medicinal and antiseptic rather than floral and cleansing. Little pungent aroma, no piney or citrus-laden notes in the taste.

On a positive note, though this beer boasts a huge alcohol content, the alcohol taste wasn't hot or off-putting. It drank surprisingly well despite approaching 12% ABV. It takes a skilled brewer to craft a beer this big that doesn't taste like it.

Though my initial impressions were lukewarm, I'll give this another whirl one day. Big beers like this can vary from batch to batch. At the moment, though, can't recommend it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yuengling tries their hand at seasonal beers

If you live on the East Coast, chances are you know Yuengling. They tout themselves as America's oldest brewery (a title they claim in part because unlike other breweries, which switched to other products during Prohibition, they kept brewing by making near beer) and run neck and neck with Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams, as the largest American-owned brewery.

That's right, folks, your Budweiser is actually owned by a Belgian company, Miller is owned by a British company founded in South Africa, and Coors is owned by a Canadian company. You want to support American beer? Stop drinking Bud, Miller, and Coors.

Anyway, Yuengling is not known for their inventive beers, creative marketing, or ridiculously high-endbrews. They are known for producing traditional, very standard lagers and ales and offering them at a low price. Nothing wrong with that. They provide a great alternative to the giant brewers mentioned above. Their beer is better, the price is the same, and they're local.

(Full disclosure: I'm not a big fan of Yuengling's beer. It's really not that different than Coors or Heineken or whatever to me, fairly ordinary stuff all around, though I did drink a lot of it at one time and think for the price, their porter and black & tans are fine purchases. Also, if you're having a party or just stocking the fridge with some normal, everyday quaffing beers, it's hard to go wrong with 12 packs for $6.99. So I may not drink it, but I'll still recommend Yuengling for people who enjoy Bud, Miller and Coors. It's a good alternative that won't hurt your wallet.)

So Yuengling is known for doing the everyday drinking beer. Craft brewers dabble with special releases and seasonal beers and all the rest. Meanwhile, Yuengling just keeps chugging along.

But for only the second time ever, Yuengling will be doing a seasonal beer, specifically an Oktoberfest. (The first was their bock beer.) The thing is, it will be easy to miss. It will be available on tap only, and they are doing almost no marketing for it. From this news story:
Most drinkers are stumbling onto the new brew the same way Terry Mentzer did last week at the Market Cross Pub in Carlisle.

The Adams County Yuengling drinker just happened to spot the bright orange tap handle and decided to give it a try.

He wasn’t disappointed.

“It’s a little heavier than the lager, and it’s got a nice, smooth mouth feel,” Mentzer said.
Even the folks at Yuengling admit this is new territory for them, and that juggling many varieties of beer is "difficult." It's just not what they do. This is a traditional brewery, so no surprise that they brew in a traditional, conservative manner. That will translate to the beer, too. You can expect that whatever seasonal beers they make will be quite approachable and won't assault your taste buds, making them perfect for the casual drinker but uninteresting for the ardent beer geek. That seems to be the early verdict, too.
“I’m glad Yuengling is expanding their horizons,” Otto said. “I wouldn’t say their Oktoberfest is the best, but it is less aggressive than some of the others, and you can drink more of it. Definitely anyone who drinks Yuengling will be happy with it.”
I'm glad they're expanding what they do, too. I may not be a regular consumer of their beer, but I respect what they do and would like to see them succeed in helping chip away at the big guys.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Quick Sips: 21st Amendment Hop Crisis Imperial IPA

Yes, you can get great beer in a can. The 21st Amendment Brewery has been doing it for over a decade. Despite the stigma against cans, it's actually better for your beer. Cans protect against light, and since it's light exposure that causes beer to skunk (temperature has nothing to do with it; that's a myth) that's a good thing. And as long as you're pouring your beer into a glass -- you ARE pouring your beer into a glass, aren't you? -- you won't taste can, since modern cans are lined. No metallic taste.

Anyway, back to Hop Crisis, 21st Amendment's imperial IPA (India Pale Ale). This is a big, bitter, hoppy monster with loads of bitterness riding on a fat body of sweet malts. The brewery slams it with a mess of different hops. At just under 10% alcohol you won't encounter many bigger beers in a can. It drinks big but well, never tasting boozy, and the big malts are hefty enough to balance well with all those hops. There are better DIPAs/Imperial IPAs out there, but this one holds its own pretty damn well.

Huge IPAs are a dime a dozen these days, but huge IPAs in a can aren't. You want to impress some non-beer snob friends with what canned beer can be, grab a four-pack of this. Perfect for bringing to a BBQ, camping, a party, whatever.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thank you, Beer Labelizer

You don't need to be a homebrewer to appreciate this handy web tool. Fun to mess with and ridiculously easy to use, you can crank out great looking labels in no time. My son and I have also used it to label sodas we've made at home. (Strawberry vanilla cream soda = yummy.) There are multiple templates, and it's easy to do further adjustments in your image editing software of choice. Check out how nice they look from this recent batch o' homebrews I brought on a weekend trip:

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(For those curious, from left to right that is Hophurst, a double IPA; The White, a Belgian witbier; Summer Slices, a heavy wheat beer with orange peel and coriander; Old Kicker, an oatmeal stout with chocolate and coffee; Summer Ale, an ale brewed with key lime; and The White With Cherries, a Belgian witbier with sour cherries.)

Do you need to label your homebrew? Of course not. Some markings on the cap are all you need to identify your beer. But it sure is a lot more fun to share with people when you've got them dressed up in spiffy labels. Take a gander at my Colonial Maple, a colonial porter/spruce beer brewed in fresh maple sap. Looks much classier than it tastes:

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