Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quick Sips: Bell's Porter

Evvvverybody loves Bell's Brewery, one of the best breweries in the Midwest (and yet oddly only the second best in their own state, after Founders). It's easy to see why in the rare opportunities I have to enjoy their beer. I'm in New Jersey, you see, and Bell's doesn't make it here. I have to get their stuff courtesy of friends like Jim McDevitt (also my coauthor). When I have, it's generally been excellent. Bell's are probably best known for their Two-Hearted Ale and summer favorite Oberon, not to mention the beer geek lust of Hopslam.

So, a porter? A simple, traditional beer like a porter? It's not exactly beer geek territory. So is it good?

Yes. Very much yes. Bell's porter is smoky like roasted chocolate on a bed of cool coffee, very nice malts with slight hints of caramel. It's dark, full, and delicious. Nothing fancy about it, nothing unusual about it, it's just a straight ahead fantastic porter. In fact, I'd rank it only closely behind two of the best American porters out there, the American trend-setter of this classic style, Anchor Porter, and another from their own state. Yup. Founders Porter, for my money the best classic porter made in America.

Bottom line: Bell's porter is the very definition of this style. Get it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Samuel Adams unfairly scorned by beer snobs

Become immersed enough in beer geek culture and you eventually reach a layer of people who don't just look down on Bud Light Lime, they look down upon American craft beer pioneer Samuel Adams, scorning it for being a mass-produced, too-popular line of beers. The beer is bland and safe and populist, they say. It's boring and watered down and not adventurous, they say. After all, everyone can get Samuel Adams and almost anyone can like it. It's just mass-produced beer masquerading as crafted, they say. And I suppose they have something of a point ...

But you know what?

Every time I have Samuel Adams I'm reminded why I came to like them in the first place. (For the record, when I first got into craft beer too many years ago to mention, it was Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn, and Yuengling that paved the way.) It's true they almost never make the best beer in their chosen style, or even rank supremely high in each style they brew. Their Boston Lager remains the definitive American lager in part because very few American brewers do lagers these days, sure, but little of what they do inspires hardcore beer geeks to say, "This is frickin' outstanding!"

They do "solid" beers, rarely "extreme," and for many beers snobs "solid" isn't good enough. These days, people want BIG.

But so what if they don't knock it out of the park with every beer? Even if we set aside the fact that Jim Koch and the Boston Beer Company have been pioneering so-called "extreme beers" for many years, from 1994's Triple Bock to their rare and sought after Millennium to the highly expensive Utopias (one of the strongest real fermented beers in the world) to the ground-breaking brew experiment of Infinium (which may have failed in taste but which broke big new ground in the brewing process), the fact is that Samuel Adams produces a slew of styles each year, and they're almost always decent examples of the beer style in question. Not the best, maybe. Sometimes not even great. But rarely (with the exception of the unfortunate fruit lambic that shall remain unnamed) ever approaching outright bad, and often approaching pretty damn good. Their Black Lager, Holiday Porter, Noble Pils, Scotch Ale, Octoberfest and others are nice (and sometimes awesome) examples of each style.

And they continue to experiment with higher end brews, too. Their Barrel Room Collection is made up of big beers blended with a special, unreleased beer they call Kosmik Mother Funk. You can see great photos of their barrel room here, taken by fellow beer geek Jason Jammallo. They do an Imperial series that can be hit-or-miss, but hits well when it does hit. They even do a number of one-time, tap-only beers. For as long as they've been around they keep trying new things. They keep experimenting. They keep trying to broaden what they do.

As other bloggers point out, Samuel Adams no longer has to do stuff like this. They're the largest of the craft brewers. They're well known. Recognizable. A really big frickin' fish in the small pond of craft beer. They don't need to keep pushing themselves. But they do.

And this isn't even getting into how they helped bail out many microbrewers during the 2008 hop shortage, the way their annual Longshot contest supports homebrewing (did you know every Samuel Adams employee is given a homebrew kit upon employment?), or how they offer loans to startup breweries.

These guys are awesome.

I write this after having ignored their new Rustic Saison and East-West Kolsch all summer long. Finally broke down and got the last summer variety pack in my shop, though, because after some 17 years of drinking Samuel Adams beer I didn't want to let these two slip past without at least giving them a shot.

And they were good. The saison was bright and a bit funky (but not much) and had some nice spice. It was a good saison. I've had better, but dammit, it's a good introduction to the style for someone new to saisons, and for old vets it's still a good, refreshing beer. Same with the Kolsch. Clean, crisp, tasty. The best? No. But who cares? Excellent way to show beer drinkers, "This is the Kolsch style of beer" and make sure it's available to millions.

That's freakin' great. And it's just one of many reasons for beer snobs to stop being pricks about Samuel Adams.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

This is the way writers podcast

That's Jim McDevitt. He's my coauthor on a little book called A Year of Hitchcock: 52 Weeks with the Master of Suspense. We also do a podcast of the same name together, a light-hearted, casual audio companion to our more serious look at the work of Alfred Hitchcock. (I post a bunch about the book at my main blog.) We sometimes ramble, go far off topic, bust one another's chops, and generally botch the entire idea of podcasting well.

And you can see why it's light-hearted and casual and borderline trainwreck at times. Because when Jim and I record podcasts, we also enjoy some fine beers. That's what we do.

That's also why they're a fun listen.

Hey, let's make this a "contest" of sorts: Anyone who can name the two beers shown in this picture gets a shout-out on a future podcast. Click for a larger image. Just post your answers in the comments or in the comments on my Facebook page.

So yeah, writing, podcasting, beer. Is there anything beer can't do?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Quick Sips: Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA

Japanese Green Tea IPA. By the name alone it's probably easy to tell whether or not you'll like this, because it is exactly what it sounds like. An IPA -- a huge double IPA, actually, clocking in at 9.2% ABV -- dosed heavily with green tea.

Stone, brewers of the well known Arrogant Bastard, brewed this in conjunction with Ishii Brewing Co. in Guam and Baird Brewing Co. in Japan as a collaboration beer.

But with its giant malt profile, big hopes, and overall largeness, it's all Stone.

Despite its name, this beer doesn't overwhelm you with the taste of green tea -- which would be hard, since green tea tastes pretty mild. But it's present and detectable if you're a green tea drinker (which I am). The more it warms the more noticeable the green tea is, but even when it reaches room temperature -- at 9.2% ABV it's a sipper, so it will eventually reach room temp if you're drinking slow -- it never takes over. It's an accent that makes it just different than your usual double IPA.

This beer's high alcohol content is fairly well masked, getting a bit "hot" as it warms but otherwise not stepping all over the taste. If the alcohol content is noticeable it's in the lack of a head. Even poured down the middle into a tulip glass, this beer generates very little head that quickly dissipates. What's left is a beer that looks like a light-colored syrup or cooking oil.

Yeah, I know, not doing a good job selling this, am I?

But it's worth trying if you can find it. (Quantities are limited, especially here on the East Coast.) It's got a fresh, "green" taste that is a nice change from your usual double IPA, well balanced and drinkable despite being potent enough to knock you on your ass. Give it a whirl if you see it.

Dogfish Head Bitches Brew makes its return

According to the folks over at, Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew will return to shelves this month. This was a beer brewed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark Miles Davis record of the same name. You can see a full description of the beer at the Dogfish website.

Joining it will be a re-release of Hellhound on My Ale, another beer made to honor a musician (blues legend Robert Johnson) and Faithfull Ale, a beer brewed to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Pearl Jam's album Ten. It's a Belgian style golden ale brewed with black currants. I can't verify for sure, but I'm pretty sure this was once a brewpub beer brewed under a different name, specifically Au Courant.

I'm a fan of all three musical acts, so these beers are fun based on that alone. Thankfully, they're worth drinking, too. (Well, the two of them I've had, at least.)

Bitches Brew is a big imperial stout with a pleasant honey flavor at the end thanks to blending in Tej. It doesn't sound like it should work, but it does. The initial aftertaste is surprising but wonderful. The beer was featured on the short-lived show Brew Masters, and as a result became very difficult to find. Bottles flew off shelves the same day. They sometimes sold for $40-50 on the aftermarket. Expect this one to sell like mad this time, too. But do make the effort to find it; it's delicious.

The Hellhound is a pretty good imperial IPA with some lemon zing to give it a twist. Like most of DFH's big IPAs it's very sweet and thick and borders on syrupy. This one works better than their others due to that lemon, in my opinion, which gives it a bit of needed zest. Clocks in at a robust 10% alcohol by volume, so it's a big beer. If you don't care for their 90 min or Squall take a pass, otherwise give this one a look. It's a nice sipping beer, especially on a warmer day. This beer was once brewed under a different name, too. It was a brewpub exclusive called A Romantic Aromatic.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Quick Sips: Timmerman's Kriek

A Kriek is a Belgian lambic beer fermented with sour cherries, making for a fruity, slightly sour, slightly sweet concoction that will make you wonder if you should call it "beer" at all. Rest assured, it is beer ... but it's probably the sort of brew the average beer drinker in America has never imagined existed, much less tasted and enjoyed.

But don't let the word "sour" fool you. Timmerman's is far from sour. It's just tart enough to counteract the sweetness of the cherries, but it fails to even slightly pucker the mouth. The beer pours a rich red color (click the image for a larger view and noticed how red it is at the edge) with a hazy pink head. The visual cues suggest this will be fruity, and it is.

Arguably too fruity. Fruit-laden variations on lambics such as krieks and the framboise style can be delicious without making you feel like you're drinking candy. They remain a beer, albeit a beer that challenges your preconceptions of what a beer is. Thanks to the light body and active carbonation, though, this one drinks more like a heavy cherry soda. The cherry sweetness is candylike. Very little in the way of malt or bready aromas or yeast. This is pure distilled cherry sweetness disguised as a beer.

It's tasty in its own way, but I'm not sure I'd ever want to have more than one.

Timmerman's is fairly easy to find and fairly affordable, so if you're interested in trying out this style it'll be a snap to locate. You won't be tasting the best of them, but it'll get you started.