Monday, December 16, 2013

Quick Sips: Flying Fish Exit 16 Wild Rice Double IPA

“What exit?” is a New Jersey thing, so it’s fitting that New Jersey’s largest craft brewery, Flying Fish, has a whole series of beers devoted to New Jersey Turnpike exits. For a brewery that has largely leaned on drinkable takes on traditional beer styles, the Exit series has been their opportunity to experiment with things that are a little more offbeat, almost always with a New Jersey twist.

Perhaps that's why it has also resulted in their very best beers.

Previously one-time beers only available in 750ml bottles, a few of those Exit beers have now made their way to six-packs. Exit 16 is one of them, a beer that sounds odd when you name it but one that tastes so right when you have it. This is a wild rice Double IPA – and yes, it’s actually brewed with rice. If that brings to mind tasteless macro lagers, set your fears aside. This is a complex yet utterly drinkable beer that gives off aromas of citrus and tangerine, and drinks far easier than an 8% IPA should drink. It has all the flavor of a great DoubleIPA, but with a softness on the palate that really makes it stand out, with subtle notes of brown grain behind the bright, orangy citrus. It's maybe the second best thing to come out of Jersey (after pork roll, egg and cheese, of course).

If you love IPAs, you simply HAVE to try this.

Portions of this piece originally appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly and are reprinted here with permission.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Quick Sips: Ommegang Hennepin

It sounds ridiculous to someone who has never had the experience, but there are beers that can capture places and times in ways that few others things can.

Ever step out onto a grassy field or fresh farmland and been invigorated by the lush, clean, Earthy smell of the air? That’s Hennepin (a beer I have touched on before). It’s made by Ommegang, America’s best brewers of Belgian styles – though that’s kind of cheating, what with being owned by Duval and all – and it is one of the definitive examples of the elusive saison style. Saison is a broad category, but the basics are that they tend to be pale, musty, and have some herbal spice kick. This beer is exactly that to perfection. Hennepin is effervescent but complex, easy drinking but strong (7.7%), and so good it will leaving you pining for the glorious taste of horse blanket … which sounds gross to most, but those of you who get it, get it. And if you’re a city dweller who has never gotten out to the country and can’t understand why “fresh farmland” is awesome, I’m sorry for your loss 

Almost all of this review was taken from the Philadelphia Weekly and is used here with permission.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Quick Sips: Troegs Mad Elf

Some beers are born of cults. I swear it.

I don’t know if Satanists or Pagans or something are getting together in the woods each winter to bust cherries, but I DO know that each winter they – and everyone else – are scrambling to get Troegs’ The Mad Elf ale, which is the sort of beer you’d get if a bunch of drunk Pagans brewed the most cherry-poppin’ beer they could imagine. That, and the devil himself would have to have thought of adding honey to the mix, because the most evil things are also the most sweet, right?

So, yeah. There is that.

Okay, I rammed the analogies into the ground. Fine. So just taste the beer. You’ll find yourself struggling with the insane 11% ABV, even as you revel in the sweet sin of this beer’s sweet, fruity nectar. Those nutty Troegs people, they know how to do it, don’t they? How on Earth is a beer this big so devoid of alcohol burn?

Oh, and here’s a secret not many people know since folks scoop this up every winter and drink it ASAP: this beer ages pretty well. If you have a few bottles, don’t be shy about stashing them away for a few year, because it holds up well and mellows into a nice beer to have with a cigar on a cold night. Cheers!

Portions of this first appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly and are reused here with permission.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Quick Sips: Victory Storm King

Oh, you big, big beers. How we love you.

There are a bunch of different giants. Hill giants, frost giants, cloud giants, and of course, storm giants. Each has different hit dice and abilities. I’m not sure why it is important for you to know that when all you really need to know is, Victory’s Storm King is big enough to stomp a village into dust.

With this beer, Downington, PA’s favorite brewery proves that a massively complex beer doesn’t have to cost you half a paycheck. Storm King is huge, but it's priced pretty nicely when you consider how well it stacks up against other beers its equal. Not only does this inky black, 9 percent beer taste of rich chocolate, tobacco, licorice, and charred toffee, it also ages beautifully.

Really, get a bottle, stash it away, and open it four years later. You’ll be in love. Storm King is the biggest, boldest, best value for your dollar when it comes to imperial stouts brewed in Pennsylvania. (I specify PA because to be honest, the best deal in imperial stouts is Imperial Russian Stout by Stone,  a beer that is merely $6 a bomber but is better than most "limited" beers triple its price.) Your puny 1stlevel fighter doesn’t stand a chance.

Portions of this review were originally written for the Philadelphia Weekly and are reprinted here with permission,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Quick Sips: Samuel Adams New Albion Ale

I do love me some trips into beer history.

Before there was Samuel Adams or Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head or anyone in craft beer, there was Jack McAuliffe’s New Albion brewery, the first craft brewery of the modern era. But in an era of bad canned lager made in dying regional breweries, America wasn’t ready.

New Albion opened in 1976 and closed its doors in 1982, a whisper in terms of business. Their legacy, however, endures. In some ways they were the Velvet Underground of beer. Not many people drank them, but everyone who did started their own brewery. They influenced countless others and helped introduce the idea that American beer can be hoppy, an approach that has all but come to define American craft beer.

Samuel Adams recreates New Albion's influential flagship with New Albion Ale, brewed with the original recipe provided by McAuliffe himself. Considering how far craft beer has come in the more than 30 years since New Albion folded, you’d expect this to be pretty tame. You’d be wrong. It’s a bright, hoppy, bitter-but-drinkable brew with an aroma that would not be out of place on today’s shelves. Have to admit, I was a little surprised - and impressed. It’s a little taste of history, sure, but if you don’t care about history then just look at it as a taste of something good. Because it is

Portions of this piece originally appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly and are repeated here with permission.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

For Jim Koch and Sam Adams, variety is the spice of life

If you have one of the best selling and best known craft beers on the market, it would be easy to understand putting your time and resources into expanding its reach. When that beer is a pioneering brew like Boston Lager by SamuelAdams, it’s especially easy to understand.

Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams, doesn’t see it that way. For him, being safe is boring.

"The day I want to make the same beer every day is the day I retire,” Koch told me during Philly Beer Week. “It is as exciting today as it was in 1984 when we first started."

During the week-long celebration of all things suds in the City of Brotherly love, Koch bounced around to various tastings and tap takeovers and food pairing events, during which yet another array of new Samuel Adams beers were showcased. There was Honey Queen, a braggot that will soon be released as part of their Small Batch series, a barrel aged porter, and a load of others – not to mention creative pairings, such as pancakes made with their Blueberry Hill Lager. Even this year’s summer mix pack contains several new beers, including a really tasty rye witbier called Little White Rye brewed with orange peel, coriander, and sage.

The question is, why? When you have one of the most successful flagship beers in craft beer history (Boston Lager) and some of the most popular seasonals on the market, why the never-ending flow of new beers?

"A brewer always wants more beer. One of the things that continues to motivate me is that there are some really innovative styles of beer that no one has made yet. I want to be one of the brewers who makes them,” Koch said.

It might be easy to dismiss that as marketing speak if it wasn’t for the fact that Samuel Adams has done exactly that for years. Way back in the 1990s they blew the lid off what beer could be with Triple Bock, a barrel-aged brew that at the time was the strongest in the world and which was like nothing that had ever been done before. That sort of rule-breaking and innovation continued with beers like Millennium, a 20% ABV barrel-aged strong ale, Infinium, their ground-breaking champagne replacement, and Utopias, which is perhaps the most complex beer on the planet.

Meanwhile, in addition to constantly introducing new beers in their mix packs, their Barrel Room Collection introduces big, challenging beers in limited quantities, and their Small Batch Series has turned into a line that is constantly doing interesting things, such as double IPAs, gingerbread stouts, bocks with chocolate and chili peppers, and Americanized versions of the elusive Gose style of beer.

I had my first Samuel Adams in 1994, and over the years I’ve had over 90 different beers by them. Over ninety! And I’ve missed quite a few in recent years, brews that slipped past me before I had a chance to get them. Koch keeps variety whores like me in a constant state of “oh, here’s something new to try!” He likes it that way.

“I’ve been doing this 29 years. I don’t have anything to prove. I just want to enjoy my job,” Koch told me.

And pushing the boundaries as if they were still the fiery little upstart they were in 1984 is one way he does that.

Can’t say I’m inclined to argue with him.

(Photos taken from various other blogs)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Founders All Day IPA: 10 Beers of Summer

Look, hops are great. Hops are awesome. Hops are glorious.  But hop bombs are not necessarily the way you want to fuel your summer yard work. That's why the advent of "session" IPAs (which are IPAs in name only, they're actually bitter pale ales) is a great thing.

And it couldn't have been done by a better brewery than Founders, one of my very favorites.

See, the whole craft beer revolution has lacked in one major respect: providing tasty beers that are still low enough in alcohol that you can drink them all day. Hey, don't take my word for it. Look at the Data: The average ABV for beer is about 4.5 percent, but if you drink good shit the average ABV of new beers hitting the market jumps to 7 percent. Well farking hell, you can't spend an entire day playing cornhole and downing brews if you're drinking 7% percent beers!

(Well, I can't, at least.)

Founders addresses this with All Day IPA, a bright, hoppy brew that comes in at a modest 4.7 percent ABV. You'll smell tangerines and mango and pine in this bitter-but-not-too-bitter brew, a beer that has flavor enough to satisfy while being easy enough on the alcohol that you can keep at cornhole without getting smashed. Yep, this is a tasty beer made even better by the fact that you can quite literally drink it all day. In other words, perfect for summer.


Portions of this post originally appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Duvel: 10 Beers of Summer

I bet Duvel doesn't strike you as a summer beer. Heck, take a look at the background on that photo. It's pretty clear the picture was not taken during summer. (It wasn't; I snapped it during the winter.)

Look at it this way: Not ALL summer beers need to be low-alcohol beers for all-day quaffing. Sometimes you need a sipper. Ommegang Hennepin is one of them. Duvel's world famous golden ale is another. It is light and effervescent enough to drink nicely on a hot summer day, but at 8.5% ABV and featuring intense aromatics it's the sort of beer you're going to want to savor.

Duvel is a Belgian strong golden ale, and in many ways it is the definitive beer of its style. The unique yeast strain gives it a bold, spicy aroma of Earth, grass, and pepper, and the taste is all spiced crackers and lemongrass and just a hint of barnyard, balanced out by perfectly matches noble hops. The fact that it's crisp and dry seems at odds with its potent alcohol content, but it's also what makes this beer (and this style in general) something special.

If you've never had a Belgian strong golden ale, make this your first one.

And DO drink this beer during the summer. When the day is winding down and you're relaxing with a cigar around the fire pit at dusk, this is a great sipper to cap off the day.

CONTEST: If you dig summer beers, be sure to enter to win loads of awesome summer beer stuff! It's EASY!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bell's Oberon: 10 Beers of Summer

I've written about Oberon before, but it's worth touching on again. Bell's beers are not available in New Jersey -- a tragic thing, that -- so I've had to rely on the kindness of friends to enjoy their beery goodness. I don't think I've ever had a dud from them. This one, in fact, is low down the list of my favorites by Bell's, but it was my first Bell's, and it's still a good beer, AND it's a great summer, beer ...

So here we are.

I had my first Oberon about seven years ago when a friend from Michigan brought some to a BBQ I hosted. He said it was served in Michigan garnished with orange, so that's how I had it. I fell in love instantly. I ended up in Michigan not long thereafter, and since then a friend and coauthor has kept me supplied every summer.

Oberon is an unfiltered American wheat beer with a medium body, bubbly carbonation, and a zesty, slightly bready taste. It drinks easy and is very approachable, making it right for summer, but has just enough character to be right for lovers of better beer. Some might liken it to a cleaner, crisper Blue Moon (if you like Blue Moon, try these beers). I'd liken it to something that is good. Tastes nice on its own, and if you're inclined to blaspheme it with fruit -- I'm all about garnishing some beers -- it goes great with both an orange slice or a very thin slice of lemon.

If you're in New Jersey you're SOL, but elsewhere? Well, then you probably already know that Oberon is a summer tradition.

CONTEST: If you dig summer beers, be sure to enter to win loads of awesome summer beer stuff! It's EASY!