Thursday, December 14, 2006

Saranac is Finally Making Big Beers!

We think this is exciting news:

Saranac Imperial IPA (Big Beer Series)
We are pleased to announce that Saranac Imperial IPA, the first in our “High Peak Series”.
The Saranac “High Peak Series” is a series of Special Beers, limited to one single batch. These beers will be much bigger, more complex, and targeted to craft beer aficionados.This is a beer to be sipped and savored; a “real show and tell . . . blow your head off beer”
The first of our series, Saranac Imperial IPA, is brewed with 10 different hops and 10 different malts and is 8.5% alcohol and 85 IBU’s.
Look for Saranac Imperial IPA at your local retailer while supplies last! Very limited quantities!Available December 2006 in 6 packs and draught.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We're Too Lazy to Blog

Time yourself in the 40
Tasty Suds for November 9, 2006
By Cold, Hard Football Facts sud stud Lew Bryson

Whenever I visit the cardboard-box world headquarters to beg for the money I’m owed, I always bring two things: a pound of Habersett scrapple and five 40s of malt liquor.

The scrapple’s so they’re happy to see me. The malt liquor’s so they’re still happy when I leave with every coin and paper clip I find in the pickle jar under the ammo crates the Chief Troll uses for a stool.

That bad ol’ malt liquor. We’ve all been there, drinking liquid crack. When I was in college, we used to get halves of Olde Englishe 800e because of the superior bang for the buck: Back in those days, we could get a big half-barrel drunk-bomb for 29 bucks plus tax. It works out to about 50 cents a hangover.

We didn't know we were flirting with disaster. Malt liquor has since been proven to cause poverty, rampant alcoholism, street litter, homelessness, lethal gingivitis, panhandling, religious fanaticism, racism, historical disrespect of native peoples and their culture, and Ice Cube.

Malt liquor gets a bad rap from everyone but the people who drink it. Beer geeks cry about how awful it is: “That’s not even beer,” they wail – incorrectly. Of course it’s frickin’ beer, ya dope.

Screw the beer geeks. They’re just amusing; they’re not dangerous. Malt liquor’s most serious critics are found in the halls of government and in the pulpits of churches. In their usual scenario of blaming the substance being abused instead of the abuser, “community activists” and legislators blame malt liquor for society’s problems.

Malt liquor is genocidal, the crazier ones will tell you, and the beer companies sell it in bigger containers to force people to drink enough to get drunk. It’s a way of keeping people down so they have to keep buying malt liquor and can’t climb out of poverty, despai, and the cycle of violence.

After all, where do you see malt liquor ads? Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. You never see them in suburbs. Where is malt liquor sold? In the ‘hood. If I want to buy malt liquor, I’ve got to drive almost 20 miles. They don’t sell it in my lily-ass-white neighborhood. Malt liquor is targeted at the inner city; brewers don’t even deny it.

Spare me. If I want to buy a dressed-out goat for a barbecue, I’ve got to drive over 20 miles into Philly to the Italian market. Are the goat farmers “targeting” the Italian market? Bet your ass they are: That’s where people buy goat meat.

Malt liquor is advertised in black and Hispanic neighborhoods because that’s where people buy it. It’s kind of like why all the signs in Quebec are in French; it wouldn’t make much sense to have a lot of French signs in Milwaukee. Folks buy malt liquor because that’s what they like, that’s what they want. They don’t buy it because someone’s dumping malt liquor in their neighborhood in hopes of keeping them impoverished. Don’t you think the breweries would rather they were buying something pricier?

A new example of this kind of bullshit thinking is what originally got me writing this piece. Seattle has banned the sale of about 30 “cheap” beers and wines in two “alcohol-impact areas.” See if you recognize some of these: Colt 45 (6.4 percent alcohol), Hurricane Ice (7.5 percent), King Cobra (5.9 percent), Mickey's Malt Liquor (5.6 percent), Olde English "800" (7.5 percent), St. Ide's (7.3 percent) and Steel Reserve (8.1 percent). Damn! That’s some dangerous shit!

The "cheap wines" on the list are even scarier: Cisco (18 percent), Mad Dog 20/20 (13.5 percent), Night Train Express (17 percent) and the classic Thunderbird (18.0 percent). So if they couldn’t get malt liquor before, they could get wine.

Hey, you know what? If they can’t get malt liquor or wine, they’ll get something else … like frickin’ Listerine. Big deal. Christ, if you listen to the hand-wringers, half the Midwest is in imminent danger of being blown up by suburban housewives cooking meth in their garages, and we’re worried about a couple bottles of Mickey’s?

This isn’t about cleaning up the neighborhood. This is pure bluenosed Prohibitionism. You can tell, because the proposal is about banning cheap booze. You’ll never see a proposal to ban Bordeaux or Scotch: That’s what the people proposing the bans drink.

“Those people” drink that cheap booze; they just drink it to get drunk. Yeah, like they just buy cheap used cars to get on the road and speed. They buy cheap booze for the same reasons any of us buy anything: because we want it and can afford it. And why can’t they have a drink, just like the better-off folks writing these preposterous laws?

It's like rich people never drink to get drunk. Hey, anybody ever been to a swanky country club? Giving people a place to get loaded is half the reason they exist.

The laws are preposterous, because Prohibition doesn’t work, it never does. Ban malt liquor, and people will either find another option – dope, for instance – or they’ll buy it illegally. You won’t stop the human impulse toward better living through chemistry. George Carlin had an old bit about the discovery of drugs. “The goats eat that shit, stay up all night and PLAY! You TELL me that what we’re eatin’ ain’t wrong!”

Do some of them become alcoholic bums? Sure, here are some prime examples. Some of them get drunk and get violent. Know what? Rich people get drunk and violent, too. So, too, do guys in the NFL, and what happens when they do? Rehabilitation programs and public outcry about how they’re being made an example. Hypocrisy.

Malt liquor invites hypocrisy by being so honest. It’s made cheap and it tastes sweet, because the people who drink it just want a cheap buzz. That really pisses some people off, but get off your high friggin' horse.

If you can ride with it and not fall off, who’s to say you’re a bad guy? Like Ice Cube said: “Get your girl in the mood quicker, get your jimmy thicker, with St. Ides malt liquor.” Now, who can’t be down with that?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Guzzling Tiger Beer Catches on in Detroit

We say it's amazing what a fortuitous name and a little October magic can do for an otherwise average beer. Bet the Tigers could have used some after the way they played last night.


This brew couldn’t have landed in Detroit at a better time.

Tiger Beer -- complete with a tiger on its orange-and-blue label, which matches the ball club’s color scheme -- has been moving quicker than a Joel Zumaya fastball at area bars and specialty shops.

One of Singapore's best-selling beers, it entered the U.S. market in August, just as the Tigers were gearing up for a playoff run. The timing was coincidental, and its packaging is a variation of its 1930s label.

Now bars owners and retailers are hoping to get even more of it into the hands of Tigers fans during the World Series.

"Last weekend alone we sold 20 cases, which for an off-brand beer is a ton of beer," says Harry Kefalonitis, owner of Harry's Detroit, which is near Comerica Park. "They see the sign I put up about the beer, and people will say, 'Oh, give me that. Get me a Tiger Beer,' and then the whole table ends up getting it."

The pale lager is served in about 25 bars in and around Detroit, primarily through accounts that Detroit-based beer distributor Great Lakes Beverage has close to the stadium, including a couple locations inside Comerica Park. It also is available at a handful of local specialty shops, including Royal Oak's Holiday Market. It arrives in the United States by way of its importer, Anheuser-Busch.

Daniel Haberman, co-owner of Ferndale hot spot the Bosco, said he’s been a fan of the beer for years.

“We’ve been waiting for it to come to the market for a long time just because it’s such a popular beer in Europe,” says Haberman. “More and more people are drinking it just because the Tigers are doing well.”

He called it a basic drinking beer.

"It’s like Labatt, but with more alcohol," Haberman said. "It’s nothing super special. It’s just a basic, solid tasty beer.”

Royal Oak’s Holiday Market is selling six-packs for $7.99 and pints for $2.99 until the end of the World Series. The store is bracing itself for a big weekend and has a delivery scheduled for today.

“We sold six cases in two days,” Brian Croze, wine consultant at Holiday Market. “That’s big for one relatively unique, obscure product.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Flossmoor Station: A Great Place to Derail

I've been drinking, and of course sitting here reflecting on the way the meaning of the phrase "beer fueled weekend" has gradually shifted in my personal lexicon over the past few years. Where once the phrase carried connotations of a man so drunk he is punching his friend in the face to wake him up because he is passed out on the couch in his dorm-suite lounge and he needs to wake up and walk the fifteen feet to his bead, it now carries the image of a man driving all over the mid-west in search of a good hike, a little dose of knowlege from a friendly brewer or two, and of course a good pint of beer.

Suffice it to say, that when I write here that my last two-weekends have centered on beer fueled jaunts, I am not about to reel off a story of complete debauchery, which I suppose means there really is no point in wiiting about them at all. But since I was raised an evengelical Christian, and I know that it is truly blessed to speak more loudly and piously about you religion at times people will care the least, I feel no choice but to press on and spread the word of my new religion, Mid-Western beer.

First up is Flossmoor, IL, home of the Flossmoor Station Brewing Co., I first became aware of Flossmoor last spring during Beer on the Pier, a beer tasting event held on Chicago's Navy Pier and featuring tasty brews from all over the mid-west. Flossmoor was one of the smallest breweries there, sharing a table with a snooty-beer vendor specializing in imported belgium ales and another small brewery from Grand Rapids, MI. But what Flossmoor lacked in stature, It's featured IPA, more than made up for in bold-hoppy flavor and good crips finish. Had we been the judges, I and my three friends, a scotch-drinker, a stout-drinker and a non-drinker, would have unanimously voted the IPA best in show. Perhaps the highlight of the show was when I kept filling out extra-tickets to win a "I got de-railed at Flossmoor Station T-Shirt", size large, and I after I won, and announced there was no way I could wear this, having some 400 pound dude offer me $10.00 for it so he could give it to his 300lb girlfriend. I wanted fifteen but Icouldn't budge him, so I wandered back out into the city firmly resolving to visit Flossmoor if I ever got the chance.

Two weeks ago that chance finally game, a beautiful fall Saturday with nary an entertaning college football game on the slate, and so it was that after a short excursion to the wilds of the Medwine National Prarie and a harrowing experience with some evil looking bugs, I found my self making the short drive from Joliet over to Flossmoor more than ready for another taste of that heavenly IPA.

The brew pub itslelf is nestled in the heart of a mid-western suburban, and while it wasn't hard to find, it certainly was a kick to find myself driving past cul-de-sacs and down curvy tree lined streets confronting the ghosts of my childhood. When I finally emerged from my own haunted thrill ride, there was Flossmoor station right off the Metra commuter tracks, occupying an old remodeled train station. I was so excited to get to the beer, that I unwittingly charged up the first-set of stairs I found, across the beer garden and a backroom that was hosting a private party and directly to the bar where I promptly demanded the sampler.

While I was waiting for the sampler, I finally got around to reading the beer list, and my heart nearly sank to my shoes when I saw that the IPA was not currently on tap. The dissapontment was short lived however, when the bar tender arrived with my sampler tray of 12 four ounce glasses of beer. I will save you the touble of detailing my experiences with each different beer, all of which you can read about here, and just say that I dived in whole-heartedly only half worrying about having to still drive some 30-miles back to Chicago.

Maybe it was the fact that months of anticipation had led me to hold Flossmoor to unreal expectations, or maybe it was because I was tired and still a little hungover when I started drinking, but whatever it was, right off the bat, I was more than a little disappointed. The first few beers I drank just didn't seem to have any sort of distinguishing character or style, and that's not counting the Zephyr Light, which I had already written off as the annoying substitute beer all brewries out here seem to have for the frat girls who walk in and insist that they only like Miller Lite.

It was somewhat shocking for the Station Master Wheat to not immediately hit the spot on a hot day, and while the raspberry and cherry ales certainly held their own as curiosities, they did nothing to distinguish themselves from other fruit beers. There was a seasonal nut brown that I liked right from the stout, but on intial tasting the Pullman Porter had that sort of metallic-coffee taste that a not quite perfect porter sometimes acquires.

After about 20-minutes of sampling, I was watching the toy train traveling in circles above the bar and back behind the brauhaus and contemplating the best way to kick myself on a barstool for ruining my own personal myth of Flossmoor. I noticed that I hadn't touched the Panama Red Limited and half-heartedly lifted it to my lips. In an instant a star was born and things started looking up. It isn't often that one finds a red ale infused with nine types of malts and four types of hops all perfectly balanced. It was all I could do not to chug it all down, but there was still more to try, and now that there had been some time for them to breathe a few more of the brews started to come alive.

As I made my way through round number two of the Sampler the flavor of the Iron Horse Stout was finally beginning to build some momentum as it chugged down my throat, warming my body with a hearty roasted malt taste, and the Pullman Porter certainly did a good job of carrying away the baggage it had deposited only a few minutes before. But the hidden gem out of all of these brews was the aptly named Gandy Dancer Honey Ale, an American Pale Ale infused with honey that literally dances on your taste-buds.

30-minutes later, after a nother full pint of the Gandy Dancer had lightened my fee even more, I floated out of Flossmoor, firmly resolved that soon I would be bringing a group down on the train, and so excited about the growler of Panama Red I was carrying home, that I forgot all about checking my directions and ended up on a 35-minute detour that carried me east to Indiana and back west again before I finally got myself back on the right tracks.

I had been derailed at Flossmoor, and the trip couldn't have been better.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Expanding Our Horizons

Wisconsin on tap: A road trip with a brew

A little somethin' from the Chicago Tribune for our Midwestern readers. We think this a region that often gets overlooked, with all the love on the coasts. Reading it makes us itch for a roadtrip for some reason. It also makes us thirsty.

It was "a hobby gone horribly awry."

That was the typical response I got from brewers during a series of microbrewery road trips around Wisconsin that lasted from April into July.

I called it the ultimate pils-grimage, a sacred journey to meet the brewmasters and sample the suds at the state's 70-plus breweries and brewpubs. From my home in Madison, Wis., I hit all but a few of them in a half dozen looping trips. I also learned some related local lore, like where the fresh cheese curds were and who was doing the Friday fish fry.

My first road trip for beer was back in the late '80s when a group of college buddies and I set off from Green Bay on a two-hour drive to Stevens Point with the sole intention of touring the Point Brewery. At that time Bilko, a retired brewery employee who led the tours on Saturday mornings, prodded me in the shoulder with a finger as he asked, "And ya know what kraeusening is, don'tcha?" I had no idea.

This series of trips began with a map of Wisconsin, on which I marked up the locations (Dallas, Wis.--who knew?) of various microbrewers and brewpubs, with the intention of creating a road-trip guidebook (see end for information).

Whether you are just popping up to Milwaukee or Madison for the day, or taking a long weekend up in Chetek, Minocqua or Door County, there are beers here that any beer fan should not pass up a chance to try. Many of these brews you won't find even at a liquor store across the street from the producer.

All the breweries except Rush River Brewery in Maiden Rock have some kind of tour and samples. Nearly all the brewpubs will give you a tour or at least chat about their system if it is very small (and it often is), but that often depends on the availability of the brewmaster. In a place like Hops Haven Brew Haus in Sheboygan, the brewmaster is also the owner, bartender, plumber and janitor.

Milwaukee, the city that beer made famous, is a good place to start. Miller still turns out barrels in seven digits every year, and few are the countries around the world where you can't get your hands on some. But there are also a good number of brewpubs in the area distributing most or even all of their production over the bar.

Sprecher Brewing Co., which started brewing in 1985, is the oldest of the microbreweries in Wisconsin, and neighborhood hangout Stonefly Brewing is the newest of the brewpubs (stop in for live music and check out the tap handles, works of metal art done up by one of the bartenders). If you have to choose, Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery arguably has the best tour (with samples before, during and after)--and on Fridays, you can stay for the fish fry complete with live polka band.

But if you have time for more, take a ride on the Brew City Queen (414-283-9999), a pontoon boat that on weekends from mid-May through September does three-hour cruises with three stops--Lakefront, Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery and the Milwaukee Ale House (also the temporary home to the Museum of Beer and Brewing).

Another way to effortlessly hit multiple brewpubs is the Milwaukee trolley--the free ride passes close to Rock Bottom, Milwaukee Ale House and Water Street Brewery, as well as other major attractions downtown.

Madison is not to be left behind. The Great Dane Pub and Brewery and JT Whitney's Pub and Brewery have very loyal followings (for good reason), and Capital Brewery in nearby Middleton probably has bottles at your corner liquor store. None is to be missed. The most recent arrival is Ale Asylum where the beer is "Brewed in Sanity." Brewmaster Dean Coffey, who made a name for himself when he brewed at Angelic Brewpub, has a pale ale called Hopalicious, which caters to hopheads, and a few delightful Belgian ales that move up the scale on alcohol.

Just these pubs warrant a couple of days; add a trip to Lake Louie Brewing in the woods in nearby Arena or the Grumpy Troll Brewpub in Mt. Horeb or New Glarus Brewery (see below) to the southwest, and you could make quite a long weekend.

But if you've got more time and a full tank of gas, there are some goldmines farther afield.

Minocqua Brewing Co. is right downtown and lakeside in that popular tourist town. Besides offering great handcrafted beers it is also a great place to go for a fish fry.

If you are going all the way to Lake Superior, don't miss Ashland's South Shore Brewery or Twin Ports Brewing in Superior. If you're up here to camp, grab a growler (a half-gallon glass jug refillable at your local brewpub; pictured on the front page is one from Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton) and take it along.

Marshfield has a hit with Central Waters Brewery which is married to 14th Street Restaurant, the best eats in town. Mudpuppy Porter is quite popular, and if you want something really different, try their Imperial Stout--aged six months in old bourbon barrels.

And now for some Wisconsin microbrewery/brewpub superlatives and trivia:

Smallest brewery: It may surprise you (or not, considering the state), but the student center at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville offers a lager and a pale ale brewed on site.

Largest microbrewery: New Glarus Brewery--maker of Spotted Cow, Fat Squirrel and Totally Naked--rolls out about 40,000 barrels per year. They offer self-guided audio tours of the brewery. Next summer, the tours will move to a second facility on the other side of this little Swiss town, which will allow them to triple production to 120,000 barrels.

Most remote: Nicolet Brewing in the town of Florence is open only on the weekends but is a must stop. Florence is as far northeast as one can get without being in Michigan. In Florence County, every town, including the namesake county seat, is unincorporated. Brewmaster Art Lies will set you up with a fine pint and is an endless font of tales, most of them tall.

Most brewpubs per capita: If you don't count the travelers who come here for a variety of outdoors activities throughout the summer--and the Birkebeiner cross-country ski marathon in winter--Hayward (pop. 2,245) surely is a contender with Angry Minnow Brewery and Muskie Capital Brewery. As if the giant muskie at the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame wasn't enough reason to come.

Where would Al Capone drink? Two of the brewpubs--Shipwrecked Brew Pub in Door County's Egg Harbor and Bugsy's Sports Bar (Brown Street Brewery) in Rhinelander--have or had tunnels leading out of their basements, and local legend has it Capone used them to escape the Feds.

Only brewery with a drive-up window and playland: Falls Brewing in Oconto Falls, which set up a brewery and bottling operation in an old Hardee's. Sorry, but neither are currently in use.


Kevin Revolinski is the author of "The Wisconsin Beer Guide: A Travel Companion" (Tynan's Independent Media, $21.95). If you can't find it in bookstores, it's available online at

Monday, October 09, 2006

Shipyard Brewing Company

We visited the Shipyard Brewery in Portland, Maine a couple of holiday weekends ago. Might have been Labor Day, we're not exactly sure anymore. There are two things, aside from their beer, that we find very interesting about Shipyard. The brewery actually got its start in 1992 at Federal Jack's Restaurant and Brewpub in Kennebunkport (think George Bush the Elder). As demand grew, they expanded and moved to a new facility in Portland in 1994. That facility is actually located on the spot where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born. Shipyard has made a beer in his honour, which we look forward to trying. Sorry, but we find these sorts of things quite interesting. The second fascinating fact is that Shipyard was cofounded by an Englishman named Alan Pugsley. That, in itself might not grab you, especially since you were too lazy to click our link. Had you bothered to do so, you might have learned that Pugsley is pretty well known for his English style ales, as well as helping to design and install several dozen brewing systems in the United States, including Geary's (the first microbrewery in the Northeast - also located in Portland), Magic Hat and Middle Ages. In fact, Middle Ages founder Marc Rubenstein interned under Pugsley in Maine prior to opening the brewery in Syracuse. But we digress. Perhaps there will be more on the fascinating history of Middle Ages in an upcoming post.

So, what else can we tell you about Shipyard? Well, they make some pretty solid ales, for one. Pretty much English style with distinctive flavor from Ringwood yeast. Their flagship is a pale, Export Ale, they make a smooth IPA featuring only English Fuggles hops, and Old Thumper is an Extra Special Bitter created by Alan Pugsley's mentor, Peter Austin, and also brewed in Ringwood, Hampshire (that's Jolly Old England), and in the Orlando Airport. Yeah, you read that right. Did we forget to mention that Shipyard is partially owned by Miller Brewing and also has a small brewery Orlando, Florida? Don't hold any of that against 'em though. It's a pretty cool, pretty good regional brewery. You could do a lot worse. We happen to quite enjoy their Pumpkinhead, which is rather light and easy drinking, yet nicely spiced. Here you'll find a fairly complete link to the beers.

Shipyard does a fair amount of contract brewing, including several brewpubs: Gritty McDuff's and Pugsley's Sea Dog brand, Federal Jack's Tremont Ales, and Davidson Brothers, among others. They even originally did contract brewing for Magic Hat. The tour wasn't much, unless you like pockmarked, sweaty, men with heavy regional accents, who are about to knock off for the day and clearly are mailing it in. They did have an interesting video on the brewery's history (you can find that and more on the website if you click around a little). Additionally, it was free, they gave samples, and the giftshop was pretty good, so we ain't complaining. Contrary to their belief, Shipyard doesn't make the best beer in the world. They do have a good product and have certainly played a role in helping establish and maintain plenty of other breweries, not the least of which is the one in Syracuse.
We definitely have a soft spot for them.

If you visit:

86 Newbury St. in Portland, Maine!

Store Hours:
Mon-Sat 10:00-5:00 pm
Sun 12:00-5:00 pm

Brewery Tours and Tastings:
Daily, on the hour, every hour, from 12 noon to 4 pm

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Latest From Lew

Just Because You Can...
"Any style of beer can be made stronger than the classic style guidelines. The goal should be to reach a balance between the style’s character and the additional alcohol. The brewer must provide the base style that is being created stronger and/or appropriately identify the style created (for example: double alt, triple fest, imperial porter or quadruple Pilsener)."
That’s what Garrett Oliver read to our judging panel at the Great American Beer Festival just two days ago. We were getting ready to judge the "Other Strong Ale or Lager" category, facing some big beers of 8% and up; Garrett was the table captain. The whole point of the category was to cover beers that had bulged out the top of their "base" category, the so-called "imperial" or "double" beers. (Get all the 2006 GABF winners here.)
I’m not against up-throttling beers. Doublebock came along over a century ago, and has proven itself in the marketplace and on my own happy tongue. More recently, double IPAs and double red ales have proved popular enough to have been granted their own categories. This category is kind of the proving ground for super-sizing beers.
It was our job to test the mettle of these whoppers. We faced imperial nut browns, double (or triple) pilseners, overcharged malt liquors ("What’s this," I asked, "Olde English 1100?"), and super wits. It’s easy to make fun of beers like this – and I have, in the past – but there were two disturbing aspects in the beers entered in this category.
First, this is what passes for much of the vaunted "innovation" in American brewing: turning up the volume. Honestly, I realize that it’s not as simple as just dumping in more malt. There are issues of yeast health, proper attenuation, and maintaining drinkability. But come on. What we’re talking about is a couple brewers sitting around and saying, "Damn, wouldn’t it be cool if we made a bitter at 9%? Dude, that would ROCK!"
Sorry, that’s not innovation. It’s about as creative as making a burrito with twice the stuff. Sure, you have to use a bigger tortilla, maybe even make them yourself to get them big enough, and you have to put in more spices to balance the additional beans and beef, but…putting more beans in a burrito doesn’t make it something else. It’s just a bigger burrito.
I don’t mind bigger burritos. I ate a couple whoppers while I was in Denver and I enjoyed them, much as I enjoy a well-made big beer. But when a big burrito is full of undercooked beans, or it’s blowing out through the ends because it’s got too much stuff for the tortilla, or the ingredients aren’t fresh…it’s not an imperial burrito, it’s just more sucky burrito to plow through.
That’s the problem with some of these beers. They just aren’t well-made, or even well-formulated. There are an unfortunate number of these steroidal monsters that are flabby and fat with malt. I tasted an overstrength sweet stout that used a whacking great shot of hops to cover how overly sweet the fortifying process had left it. Sweet stout with a big bitter finish? What the hell’s that?
It’s a mess. There was a "pilsner" that was hugely malty, and it was thick, heavy, sweetly hoppy, almost syrupy. Are those words you want to hear when you’re thinking about getting a pils? So many of these beers miss the point. A super witbier? What is the best characteristic of a witbier? It’s refreshing. An 8% beer is a lot of things, but "refreshing" is not usually the descriptor that pops to mind.
I’ve said before that American brewers have swung too far from the pure pleasures of lager beers. We react against them because that’s what had hammered beer variety almost completely flat in America, an unending sea of bland lagers. But we’re throwing the baby out with the spargewater: lagers are not necessarily bland, any more than ales are necessarily interesting. Believe me, I judged American "hefeweizens" as well, and that’s plenty bland.
I think we are making an equally big mistake in swinging too far from the whole German model of brewing. The Germans don’t do a lot of experimentation. They stick to making what they know, and they put all their energy into making that the best, most consistent way they know how. They don’t have a lot of variety in their beers, it’s true, but the beers they do make are very well made.
I don’t think American brewers should stop innovating. I also judged strong barrel-aged beers, and although there were a few clinkers, this is a wonderful category of beers, started only 10 years ago. But after tasting a shocking number of beers that were tainted with diacetyl or DMS, beers that were oxidized or simply stale, I do think that maybe we should remember that it’s a good idea to master the basics before trying to improvise too much.
We need to reach a compromise position between the German model and the Belgian. Innovate, certainly, but keep your focus on technique and solid formulation. Avoid the temptation to throw in more malt or hops because it would be cool. As an old girlfriend always used to say, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The beer that finally won the category’s gold medal was a wheatwine from Rubicon in Sacramento. It was magnificent; complex, rich, and not cloying or over-hopped. It was a well-thought out beer. Innovative? Maybe not; wheatwines have been done before, although they’re far from what I’d call a popular style. But it was quite different, and definitely well-crafted. It was one of the better beers I had last week. Way to go, Rubicon.

We're suckers for Imperials, but Lew is usually right about these things. It's just hard to find fault with a beer that has a ton of taste and clocks in at 8% ABV plus. Unless it costs too much.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Brewery Review: Long Trail

This being my maiden voyage, I would love to critique a brewery as a whole. I don't know if it will work or not, but let's face it: I've been drinking.

To me, breweries are like movie directors. I know that makes precious little sense, but let me explain. As an avid filmgoer, I can usually predict the quality of a given film by recognition of the director's name. Not only can I figure out how high the quality will be, but I can also determine certain characteristics of the film. When I see a Coen Brothers film, I know there will be erudite (or at least region-specific) text and a lot of nice visuals. When I hear that Martin Scorsese has directed a new picture, I expect lots of hard-boiled dialogue and a smooth cinematographical style. Kevin Smith will pander to the lowest common denominator. Milos Foreman will make an epic life story. Spike Lee will take himself too seriously and have a stupid jazz score ruining any dialogue he's written. Michael Mann will make everything dark blue. Paul Thomas Anderson will copy Scorsese. Robert Altman will have 15 characters all talking over each other at the same time. Does any of this make any sense?

Of course not. But my points still remain. Like movie directors, you can tell a lot about a beer -- even before trying it -- by the brewery it comes from. Stone is going to be harsh. Middle Ages will all have English styles. Ommegang will trigger the gag reflex (due to strength, not taste). And today, I would like to create a brief exploration of one minor microbrew: Long Trail.

Long Trail is a brewery out of Bridgewater Corners, VT, which makes a competent, inexpensive collection of seasonal brews. They are neither elite, nor swill-peddlers. It is a fine, starter beer for those of refined and pedestrian tastes. Long Trail currently has an autumn/winter twelve-pack, with four brews: Long Trail IPA (India Pale Ale), Long Trail Hibernator, Long Trail Ale & "Hit the Trail" Ale. There are three bottles of each. This 12-pack will likely cost you about $12.99 per. But let's quickly explore each one for characteristics... (I will refer to my notes)

Long Trail IPA
: Good frothy head...dark blonde color. Surprisingly sturdy hop aroma, but with a bit of maltiness thrown in as well. Very balanced hop/malt ratio... Not hoppy enough to be considered a true IPA. Very much a standard ale with a tiny little bit of extra hops...Light bodied, pleasant enough. Nice aftertaste. Definitely don't have to choke it down. Could drink several of these in a row...Should be considered a regular pale at best.

Long Trail Hibernator
: Has a dark red hue with very little head to speak of. Has a spicy, malty scent. Flavor is heavy malt, with a honey-ish touch. Very mild, much more so than most winter ales....Surprisingly nice aftertaste...As it warms up it becomes a little more cozy. Nice mild maltiness with a slight honey kick to it.

Long Trail Ale
: Nice amber color, with a thick and bubbly white head. Clear and bubbly. Small shoots of bubbles head upward toward the surface...Pleasant malty aroma...I probably wouldn't be able to pick it out of a line up, but it's got the goods. Good flavor, even if not unique. Nice at a somewhat warmed-up temp. A little bubbly on the tongue, but smooth. This is a surprisingly solid ale...Very easy to drink. It's a good beer to have between stronger ones.

Hit the Trail Ale
: An opaque reddish brown color...Nice head. Has a sweet, malty scent to it...Sweeter than most browns. Has a pleasant, malty flavor; you can tell it's there, but it's not overbearing. The malt is overpowering, but lingers on the aftertaste. A little lighter than I expected, but that fits this beer. You don't have to choke it down... Don't know if I would drink a full sixer of this particular beer, but makes a nice change-of-pace brew in the Long Trail 12-pack.

So what can you expect from Long Trail?:

Reddish or at least darkish golden color. A decent amount of head (as if there is such thing as enough). Malty flavor. Underwhelming hops. Probably a certain sweetness, or at least sweeter than most. A light, drinkable beer. Inexpensive, but not low-grade. I would say that it's a good beer to bring if you don't want to spend a lot, but want to bring a good, solid beer to the party.

Feel free to add your twelve ounces...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Some Different Fall Beer Ideas

These fall beers put an American twist on German flavor

This comes from Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell, Philly beer aficianado. We like much of what he has to say. This may, perhaps, have something to do with the fact that we had entirely enough Oktoberfest beers this past weekend. Or maybe because we are drinking one of his recommendations even as we type...hell, just read it.

OKTOBERFEST, THE definitive autumn beer experience, begins tomorrow with the ceremonial tapping of Spaten in downtown Munich.

If you're going to do it up right, you've gotta get your lederhosen and dirndls over to Germany and celebrate by guzzling from a stein in one of the traditional Oktoberfest beer tents.

But if you can't make it across the Atlantic, there are always plenty of well-mannered American knockoffs that faithfully observe the flavor and character of the original, orange-colored lager. Known also as Marzen beer, this is an easy drinker as the weather turns cool. It contains a bit more malt than your standard lager, and it's aged longer for a smoother finish.

But forget that stuff this year. Call it heresy, but I'm going looking for a fall beer that isn't an Oktoberfest.

And I don't mean pumpkin beer.

What I'm looking for is a nice, shapely transition from the thin-bodied thirst-quenchers of summer to the strapping headbangers of winter. If it were a woman, she'd be Katie Couric - sweet and wholesome, somewhere between Paris Hilton and Etta James.

Thankfully, in recent seasons, small brewers have turned out an assortment of fall beers that fit the bill. They're more complex than a lager, thanks to the use of ale yeast. And they're frequently spiced with more assertive hops.

On first swallow, yes, these fall beers go down with the same sweetly smooth flavor you'd find in a typical Oktoberfest. But take a second, and you discover a distinctly American twist on a standard German beer.

Here's a sixpack of American fall beers. They're mostly low in alcohol (about 5 percent), so find a friend and sample 'em all. And, sure, if you need to get into the mood, feel free to play a little oompah music.

Flying Fish Oktoberfish (Cherry Hill, N.J.).

A stealth Oktoberfest, it's an ale posing as a lager. The brewer says it's made with Dusseldorf Alt yeast, known for producing a very clean, lightly sweet flavor. Still, this brew finishes with a tart slap. Think of it as Sister Theresa with a ruler on your knuckles.

Weyerbacher AutumnFest (Easton, Pa.).

Only a sharp-eyed label-peeler will notice the tiny "ALE" printed on the bottle. If you went by looks and taste alone, you'd think it was a classic autumn lager. This is a gorgeous beer, the color of the burnt orange leaves that fall along the river drives around Columbus Day. The aroma reminds me of those hard spiced cookies Mom used to pack in my lunchbox.

And the flavor? It's well-balanced with just a bit of hop bitterness.

Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale (Chico, Calif.).

If there's a father to the harvest ale style, it's this one. Available only in limited supplies on draft, it gets its name from the late-summer harvest of fresh hops. Unlike most ales hopped with dried flowers (or even concentrated pellets), this beer's so-called wet hops are rushed straight to the brewery and into the kettle. Take a long draw from your pint, and you get the gardenlike aroma of freshly cut grass.

Redhook Late Harvest Autumn Ale (Portsmouth, N.H.).

In the words of the brewers, this is an "homage to the autumnal equinox." Try saying that after a couple of these bottles, which are available only in the East. This is yet another fall beer that is really a tribute to hops, balanced nicely with roasted German malt.

Southern Tier Harvest Ale (Lakewood, N.Y.).

This inventive western New York brewery had a little fun with a standard pale ale. The malt seems roasted, giving it a bigger bite than most pales (think Melrose Diner white toast, hold the butter). And that's a nice complement to the lemony Palisades hop flowers.

It pours gold but goes cloudy in the glass, then fills your nose with a huge, hoppy aroma.

Magic Hat Jinx (Burlington, Vt.).

Dark, but that's a deception. Yes, it's a bit stronger than most of the others in this sixpack (7 percent alcohol), and you'll detect some smokiness. But this medium-bodied ale goes down pleasantly. You'll want to pull it out at sundown on the last gasp of an Indian summer afternoon.

Full disclosure: We love the Southern Tier Harvest, not so keen on the Redhook, need to revisit the Magic Hat, and are dying to try the Sierra Harvest. As for the other two, we shall see, but we are a fan of Weyerbacher in general. For more from Joe Sixpack click here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It's Official: Hops are Hot (and Wet)!

This comes from the Wall Street Journal via the Pittsburgh Post Gazette via the Internet, but we found it interesting and didn't want to risk losing it.

To toast a new crop, brewers roll out 'wet hop' beer

By Conor Dougherty, The Wall Street Journal

First there was Beaujolais nouveau. Now comes beer nouveau.

The end of the growing season has been celebrated by everyone from apple growers to winemakers, but lately brewers have started marking the renewal of their own annual cycle, with beers that are brewed with hops picked only a few hours before. Called "fresh hop," "wet hop" or harvest beers, they begin appearing in late September, typically on tap and lasting only until the kegs run dry.

Harvest ales started showing up in the last decade or so in hop-growing regions like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. But as the style catches on and more farmers plant hop yards, the beer is increasingly found outside of its traditional home. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. sold its Harvest Ale in all 50 states last year, up from five in 2000. Late next month Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., will release its first fresh-hop beer, Fed-Extra Mild, an English-style ale with two varieties of hops: one freshly picked and shipped overnight from the West Coast, and a second grown in an employee's yard. And while the majority of wet-hop beers are poured from tap handles, some brewers are now bottling it. Denver's Great Divide Brewing Co. started bottling its Fresh Hop Pale Ale three years ago, and now the brew is distributed in seven states including Texas, Florida and Massachusetts.

The season's first hops are also cause for festival-style celebration. At O'Brien's Wet Hop Beer Festival held at San Diego's O'Brien's Pub, bar owner Tom Nickel plans to serve 35 beers this year, double the number at the inaugural event two years ago. (New names at last year's festival included Hop Trip from Deschutes brewery of Bend, Ore., and Last Hop Standing from Blue Frog Grog & Grill in Fairfield, Calif.) While so-called craft brewers are leading the trend, industry giants have also taken notice: Last year an Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fort Collins, Colo., released its Front Range Fresh Harvest Hop Ale for festivals and at Anheuser-Busch tour centers.

These beers are the latest expression of brewers' obsession with hops, the sticky green cone of the Humulus lupulus plant that gives beer its bitter flavor. Classically, beer has four main ingredients -- the others are water, yeast and grain, typically barley. Before hops, brewers had balanced the sweet taste of malted barley with herbs including yarrow, coriander and ginger. Around 900 years ago they began adding hops, which imparted flavor and also served as a preservative.

Much more recently, hops became a rallying point for U.S. craft-brewers -- a movement that took off in the 1980s as a reaction to the big-brewery beers that critics dismissed as too light, too watery, and too stingy on the hops. Bitter became better for a subset of craft-brew drinkers, many of whom tend to measure a beer's worth in proportion to its hoppiness. The measuring stick is the International Bittering Unit, or IBU, with the biggest beers logging in at 100 plus IBUs. Mainstream brews from Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors are typically around 10 or 20 IBUs.

The hop infatuation has resulted in a game of chicken among brewers, who have continued their effort to out-bitter the next guy -- as evidenced by beer labels that boast mixed hops, extra hops or triple hops. Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, Calif., calls its Stone Ruination India Pale Ale "a liquid poem to the glory of the hop!" Delaware's Dogfish Head has pioneered a pair of hop-enhancing technologies, including a "continuous hopping machine" that adds hops gradually over up to two hours of brewing instead of throwing some in at the beginning, middle and end, as is customary. The brewery also invented a method for delivering a final hoppy hit to kegged beer by running it through a hop-stuffed chamber before it hits the pint glass. Dogfish Head calls the device Randall the Enamel Animal, and some bars and beer stores have also started serving "Randalled" beers.

But for a few months in the fall, brewers stop worrying about more hops and focus instead on fresh hops. When first plucked from its stalk, a hop flower is green and about 60 percent water by weight. For brewing purposes, hops are usually dried and refrigerated, or made into pellets that resemble rabbit food. Wet-hop beers use flowers that have been picked just hours before, so they still possess the volatile flavors that are lost during processing. Brewers compare beer made with these moist hops to a meal cooked with just-picked herbs -- entirely unlike one made with dried oregano and parsley from the back of the pantry.

A fresh-hop beer can often, in fact, be less bitter than a corresponding version with dried hops, and instead is powered by floral, citrus tastes. The retained oils line the inside of the mouth and have a tinge of greenish, vegetal flavors. (Many brewers recommend drinking their wet hops with a glass of water.) It's easy to taste the difference between a normal brew and a fresh-hop version -- though that isn't always a good thing. "If you're not careful you can end up with a beer that tastes like lawn clippings," says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery.

Brewing, of course, has a long tradition of following the seasons. Before refrigeration, beermakers were eager to get their hands on the first hops of the season. They tended to make beers in the fall that highlighted them, before switching to maltier beers as stored hops lost their character. (Germany's Oktoberfest is a slightly different story: The two-week festival now marks the fall with copious amounts of beer, but got its start as a wedding celebration.)

Randy Mosher, a beer author and instructor at Siebel Institute of Technology, a Chicago brewing school, says there's little historical precedent for using hops within a few hours of picking. "What people are trying to do with craft beer is put people in touch with their food again, and remind them that they're drinking an agricultural product," he says.

Fresh-hop beers started popping up about a decade ago when Sierra Nevada brewed its first Harvest Ale. The style attracted other brewers, and there are now several dozen versions available. Sierra now makes three wet hop beers, including one using "estate grown hops," while Steelhead Brewing Co. in Eugene, Ore., last year made a pair of fresh-hops, "Fugglerama GBP 1" and "Fugglerama GBP 2," with two varieties of Fuggle hops. There's even a nascent movement among brewers to grow their own: Today in Kearney, Neb., Trevor Schaben, owner of Thunderhead Brewing, plans on heading out to a hops field 10 miles from his brewpub to pick with a handful of customers (it's the brewpub's second attempt at a wet hop).

Though wet-hop beers inspire brewers' creative fancies, they also pose a logistical challenge. Many breweries are set up to use pellet hops, which are much easier to filter out than the leftover plant matter from wet hops. A wet hop requires a special filter or trapping system to keep the debris out of the finished product.

But the bigger problem is getting the hops in the mix before they've spoiled. Victory Brewing Co. contracts a refrigerated truck to collect hops from a grower in upstate to New York then drive straight back to the brewery in Downingtown, Pa. Come fall Russian River Brewing owner/brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo gathers about a a dozen friends and family members to pick hops on a quarter acre plot a few miles from his brewery in Santa Rosa, Calif. As they pick he begins brewing, then throws in the hops as they arrive from the field. Sierra Nevada uses two varieties -- Centennial and Cascade -- that have different picking periods that overlap for a day or so. The brewery sends a truck to collect the last of the Cascade harvest, then to another field to collect the first of the Centennials, then back to the brewery in Chico, Calif. "I never know what day it's going to be," says brewmaster Steve Dresler.

And for brewers who don't have their own hop farm, this often means paying to have fresh hops sent overnight, multiplying their hop tab. One thousand pounds of hops from Washington state grower Yakima Chief, for example, runs about $2,800 for overnight delivery, compared with $400 for the same amount by slower shipping. Because fresh hops contain so much water, brews that incorporate them can require several times more hops by weight, boosting the price even more. Russian River charges $165 wholesale for a keg of its HopTime Harvest Ale, $50 more than it charges for its Imperial Pale Ale, and $6 per pint in its brewpub, $2 more than it charges for other beers.

But for calendar-watching beer drinkers, the once-a-year brew is worth the splurge. "It's like being able to get vegetables from the farmer's market," says beer aficionado Richard Sloan, a computer programmer from San Diego. "You better be there, or they're gone."

A Taste of the Harvest

Brewers and brewpubs will release fresh-hop beers starting in late September, mostly on tap. Here is a sampling:

BREWER/LOCATION: East End Brewing Co. Pittsburgh
BEER NAME: Big Hop Harvest Ale
COMMENT: This year-old brewery will release its second wet-hop beer this year. The Big Hop Harvest is a variation on the brewery's India Pale Ale, a hoppy brew called Big Hop IPA, but has 7 percent alcohol, compared with Big Hop's 5.8 percent.

BREWER/LOCATION: Left Hand Brewing Co. Longmont, Colo.
COMMENT: Most wet-hop beers are poured from the keg; this Colorado brewery sells its variety in bars as well as in 22-ounce bottles distributed to 15 states. The beer is named for the Warrior hops the brewery gets from Washington state.

BREWER/LOCATION: Rogue Ales Newport, Ore.
BEER NAME: Hop Heaven
COMMENT: For three years, Rogue has brewed a wet-hop beer using Newport hops grown on a farm about two hours from the brewery. This year the company is switching to Centennial hops, and the resulting beer will be ultra-bitter, the brewer says. It will be available on tap nationwide.

BREWER/LOCATION: Russian River Brewing Co. Santa Rosa, Calif.
BEER NAME: HopTime Harvest Ale
COMMENT: Russian River has made wet-hop beer since 1999, with distribution mostly on tap in California. This beer has a grassy taste -- a common feature of fresh hops -- with melon and lemon-zest flavors, says brewer Vinnie Cilurzo.

BREWER/LOCATION: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Chico, Calif.
BEER NAME: Harvest Ale
COMMENT: Sierra Nevada has made its harvest ale for 11 years, one of the first breweries to do so. Kegs of the beer make it to all 50 states, but it still pays to live near the brewer: Sierra has other wet-hop varieties mostly for local distribution.

BREWER/LOCATION: Victory Brewing Co. Downingtown, Pa.
BEER NAME: Harvest Pilsner
COMMENT: Most wet hop beers are ales. This is a rare harvest lager -- in the Pilsner style -- that uses hops grown in upstate New York and trucked to the Pennsylvania brewery just after they're picked. Its brewer touts its "earthy, spicy" taste.

BREWER/LOCATION: Pelican Pub & Brewery Pacific City, OR
BEER NAME: Elemental Harvest Ale
COMMENT: Cool link and pics. Looks like a really interesting joint. Perhaps we shall be lucky enough to visit one day.

A Good Beer Blog

We know what you're thinking, and no, it's not this one. This blog is by a Canuck, goes by the name of Alan from Ontario. He does a nice job, and we enjoy that it often has a very Upstate-centric lean to it. He has several correspondents, but Alan's tend to be the best entries. He has good taste in beer, knows his stuff, and is no stranger to Ithaca and Syracuse. You won't be wowed all the time, but give it a read periodically. We guarantee you'll find some good stuff on there. Make sure to check out the archives too. We'll add it to our blog roll for your convenience.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ripped From the Headlines!

Best of the brews: Penn Brewery's Weizen is champ among tasters again

Editor's Note: This is how we blog, by cutting and pasting the works of others. We did add loads of great links (almost 50) for your edification. We hope that you try them sometime. Every beer mentioned is linked to its description and rating at Beer Advocate. We have yet to try anything from Penn (even though our boy, Lew Bryson, is a big fan). We think we'd best try some soon. Perhaps you should as well.

(Our thanks to Bob Batz Jr., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, our latest unwitting guest scribe. Thanks as well to our embedded reporter in the Syracuse office for directing us to this.)

Penn Brewery is proud that its Weizen, or Bavarian wheat beer, has been judged a grand champion for an unprecedented fifth straight time at the U.S. Beer Tasting Championship.

Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
The naming of Penn Brewery's Weizen, or Bavarian wheat beer, as Grand Champion for five years running at the U.S. Beer Tasting Championship is "truly amazing," said Jeff Glor, a co-founder of the event. The beer was also named by Men's Journal magazine as one of the 25 Best Beers in America.

Penn Brewery to mark 20 years

Penn Brewery recently held its Restaurant 20th Anniversary Party featuring a German buffet, beer specials and entertainment. It's a sort of warm-up for Oktoberfest, set for September 15-17 and 22-24. On those Fridays and Saturdays, you can enjoy the music, food and Penn Oktoberfest (as well as Weizen) in the outdoor fest tents. For more: Bojangles will hold our first annual Oktoberfest on Saturday, September 23. There will be lots of good stuff there, too. More soon...

It's also just been named one of the "25 Best Beers in America" in the October issue of Men's Journal magazine.

For the summer competition of the U.S. Beer Tasting Championship's 12th annual competition, judges examined 358 beers from 129 breweries. In each of a dozen beer categories, the USBTC named both a grand champion and the best entry from each of six U.S. regions.

USBTC co-founder Jeff Glor said other beers have had great runs in the competition, but none as long as Penn Weizen's, which he called "truly amazing."

The story in the current issue of Men's Journal, meanwhile, ranks Penn Weizen 13th of its 25 picks, lauding it as right up there with Germany's Weihenstephaner Weisse, "with the hazy, bright gold color, banana-bread aromas (which come from esters produced by the yeast), lemon- and orange-rind flavors, and general chuggability that make traditional German wheat beers perennial warm-weather favorites."

Penn's Tom Pastorius said the hefeweizen (it translates as "yeast wheat") is becoming the North Side brewery's most acclaimed beer, having won silver, gold and bronze medals at the Great American Beer Festival (in 1997, 2000 and 2002) and the silver medal at the World Beer Cup (2002).

"We know a few things about the correct way to make it that I don't think anyone else in the U.S. knows," Mr. Pastorius said, adding, "There were some good breweries making some good beers in this competition, so this is a particularly gratifying award."

Pennsylvania has three other USBTC grand champions:

In the maibock category, St. Boisterous from Victory Brewing Co. in Downington (one of 17 maibocks judged).
In the bitter/ESB category (19 beers), Purist Pale Ale from the Appalachian Brewing Co. in Harrisburg.
In Belgian/French Specialty (25 beers), Farmhouse Amber Saison from McKenzie Brew House in Chadds Ford.

The other grand champions:

India Pale Ale (64 beers): Big Sky IPA, Big Sky Brewing Co., Missoula, Mont.
Pale Ale (37 beers): New River Pale Ale, New River Brewing Co., Atlanta, Ga.
Amber/Red Ale (21 beers): Ruby Red Ale, McNeill's Brewery, Brattleboro, Vt.
Golden Ale/Kolsch (25 beers): Poleeko Gold Pale Ale, Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Boonville, Calif.
Bock/Doppelbock (28 beers): Subliminator, Frederick Brewing Co., Frederick, Md.
Pilsner (35 beers): Tuppers' Hop Pocket Pils, Old Dominion Brewing Co., Ashburn, Va.
Dortmunder/Helles (19 beers): Portsmouth Lager, Smuttynose Brewery, Portsmouth, N.H.
Fruit Beer (25 beers): Generation Porter, Sprecher Brewing Co., Glendale, Wis.

Pennsylvania brewers took 11 of 20 regional champion and runner-up spots in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region.

For the rest of the winners, methodology and other details, visit

Meanwhile, the more subjective "25 Best Beers in America" in the current Men's Journal also include other Pennsylvania brews: Stoudt's Pils (from Stoudt's Brewing Co. in Adamstown), which ranked No. 3, and Victory's St. Victorious Doppelbock at No. 22.

Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewing Co. gets two best spots, for Holy Moses White Ale (7) and Burning River Pale Ale (14).

Other best beers ranked and described in the article are:

1. Firestone Walker Pale Ale (Pasa Robles, Calif.)
2. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (Milton, Del.)
4. Russian River Temptation Ale (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
5. Avery Mephistopheles' Stout (Boulder, Colo.)
6. Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale (Boonville, Calif.)
8. Full Sail Session Lager (Hood River, Ore.)
9. Rogue Brutal Bitter (Newport, Ore.)
10. Bell's Expedition Stout (Comstock, Mich.)
11. Southampton Double White (Southampton, N.Y.)
12. Smuttynose Big A IPA (Portsmouth, N.H.)
15. Ommegang Hennepin (Cooperstown, N.Y.)
16. Samuel Adams Black Lager (Boston, Mass.)
17. Sprecher Hefe Weiss (Milwaukee, Wis.)
18. Alaskan Amber (Juneau, Alaska)
19. Deschutes Broken Top Bock (Bend, Ore.)
20. Lost Abbey Avant Garde (San Marcos, Calif.)
21. Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere (Dexter, Mich.)
23. Allagash Interlude (Portland, Maine)
24. Alesmith Speedway Stout (San Diego)
25. New Glarus Yokel (New Glarus, Wis.)

For the past two annual best beer rankings, visit

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Olde Saratoga Brewing Company

We have been so busy lately moving and traveling to visit breweries that we have neglected our duties as a blogger. Time to remedy that. We recently made our first real trip to the Olde Saratoga Brewing Company (they almost have their own website!), and we came away impressed. Olde Saratoga is an interesting place. Their main function is actually as the East Coast brewing arm of Mendocino Brewing of California. Factoid that may interest only us: Mendocino opened as California's first brewpub in 1983.

Saratoga's brewery is located just off Broadway, the main thoroughfare of Saratoga Springs. This place, at least the public part of it, is set up just like any real bar. It has a dart board, a couple of televisions, a few high pub tables, and long bar in the center. There is also a cooler at the end of the bar with several of their beers available to go as six packs or mixed singles.
Olde Saratoga doesn't have a traditional liquor license for selling beer for consumption on premesis. They get around this by offering handsome logo pint glasses for $4 each. These glasses come with (at least) two fills of your beverage of choice. We're talking full pints here, too, not shot glass sized samples. This brings us to the beer. Ah, the beer. When we visited, they had an impressive variety on tap:

Mendocino Summer Ale
Saratoga Lager
Red Tail Ale
Red Tail Lager
Blue Heron Pale
White Hawk IPA
Eye of the Hawk Select Ale
Black Hawk Stout
Black Eye (blend of Eye of the Hawk and Black Hawk)
'05 Winter Ale (Double IPA)
Talon Barley Wine
Kingfisher Lager

Mendocino, for some reason, enjoys naming beverages after predatory birds. We highly recommend both the Summer, a fine Belgian White, and the Winter Ale, an absolutely fantastic Double IPA. Everything else is at least solid. Many of their beers can also be found at popular prices ($4.99 a sixer) in Albany. Mendoncino does all of the North American brewing of Kingfisher Lager, which is India's most popular beer. Just an educated guess on our part, but we think their brewing it may have to with this. Olde Saratoga also does contract brewing for, among others, Southampton Publick House of Long Island, and Schmaltz Brewing Company - makers of He'brew Kosher Ale. Roughly a third of Olde Saratoga's brewing capacity goes to Mendocino brews, a third is dedicated to Kingfisher, and the remaining third to contract brewing. They brew up to 30 different kinds of beer in a year and recently underwent an expansion to up their nearly maxed-out capacity. The tasting room is open 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday and noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday. We highly recommend a visit.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Beer O' the Moment - Lagunitas Shut-Down Ale

Lagunitas Under Investigation Shutdown Ale

We also think this is a rather clumsy name for a fantastic beer. Lagunitas has quickly become one of our favorit breweries, even though it is located in California. Even Slick's has their PILS on tap. Good stuff. We're almost prepared to say these guys do beer better than Stone (though the art may be slightly inferior). In fact, we had an all Lagunitas night recently: a couple PILS at Slick's, as well as a bangin' Maximus IPA (fantastic beer, but not all that different from their regular "flagship" IPA) and Sirius Cream Ale back at the ranch. Damn, son, if that ain't L-I-V-I-N! No, honestly, very impressive stuff. Believe, 'cause we hate everything west of Cleveland!

Read on for more stolen "journalism"...

The Lagunitas St. Pat's Day Pot Bust

Back in the saddle again...Lagunitas Brewing got fined last year and not allowed to sell beer for 20 days after three people were arrested at the Petaluma, CA brewery's regular Thursday night tasting party for possession of marijuana. This came after an eight week undercover investigation by the California Alcohol Beverage Controld Board.
Two agents repeatedly tried to buy marijuana from people at the tasting. It was offered free, but no one would sell it to them. There's a lot more to it. [Ed. - there likely is, but we're here for the beer, not pot smokin' retards. Also, it seems to have resulted in a fairly kick ass beer.]

Anyway, the brewery's new seasonal is Undercover Shut-Down Ale. The funniest part is what founder Tony Magee wrote on the label in very small print:

``We brewed this especially bitter ale in remembrance of the 2005 St. Patrick's Day Massacre and in celebration of our 20 day suspension back in January of this year.


Shhh. Be vewry vewry qwuiet. We're sneakin' around lookin for grownup taxpaywers dowin tings we don't appwoove of. Be wery kwiet. Dare awound here somewhere.....Shhhhhh.Be vewry vewery kwiet..


From the day of the first congress at the moment of the passage of the first law, we became weaker. The extra-large B.Franklin said it well that you can tell the strength of a society by the paucity of the pages in its book of laws. Today we are all surrounded by laws – tax law - civil law - criminal law. Statutes and Bills. Laws that make large and small criminals of us all.

And sometimes just doin' something that you like to do and hurts no one is also criminal, or at least strongly discouraged. Seems we can't be trusted to live well and safely on our own. On our own we would all probably descend quickly into mayhem, cannibalism and ultimately shoplifting and jaywalking.If only we all could be trusted. It's good having such wise fathers looking out for us isn't it. Whatever. 707-769-4495. CHEERS!

And...we're back! Let us all bear in mind that what is important here is that this is a damned fine beer. Bitter, sweet, strong, fun, and 9.9% ABV. We laughed, we cried. Highly recommended. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up, fine holiday fun.

It cost us about $3.29 for a 22 oz. bottle. Do it if you can.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Uncle Sam Wants You (to Help Choose)

Sam Adams will be adding a new brew to their Brewmaster’s Collection next year, and Sam wants you to make the pick. The brewer will be sampling two craft beers nationwide at dozens of local bars in key markets. Called the Beer Lover’s Choice program, tasters like you can cast your vote for either Honey Porter or Smoke Lager. You can visit the website to see the times and locations for the samuel_adams.jpgtasting events in Boston, Chicago, Charleston, SC, Colorado Springs, CO, Dallas, Las Vegas, New York City, Phoenix, Washington, DC, and other locations. The winning brew will join the 12-pack Samuel Adams Brewmaster’s Collection in January 2007. This is actually the second annual tasting event, and Marketing Blurb regrets we missed joining 11,000 beer enthusiasts at more than 430 tasting events to select Samuel Adams Brown Ale over Samuel Adams Bohemian Pilsner for this year's Brewmaster's Collection. Okay, now—we have already forgotten which beer is which, so serve us another round of each—thanks. Cheers to Promo Magazine for bringing this to our attention.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Live From Schenectady...It's Saturday Night!

We here at Beerjanglin' thought it might be fun for our readers to bring you, just for one night, into our glamorous world. Here you are, hope you enjoy your Saturday night!

We prefer the hamburger to the cheeseburger, and the fries to the rings. We also enjoy the fact that they are not franchised, and seem to be located exclusively in the ghetto. Oh, and they may well be available in your local grocer's freezer case. Ours were from Paterson, New Jersey, a complete and total hellhole.

Solid German style double altbier from Vermont. Great label, good brewery. This beer always seems to be missing something, despite it's 7.2% ABV. Ain't nothing wrong with it, though. And that is one great label.

This double IPA is 10% fun! We paid $2.80 for a single bottle at a local beverage store. Very hoppy, yet with a solid malt backbone. Brewed in April, but still had an almost musty taste (not in a bad way). Worth $11.99 for a sixer? Let's just say we'd pay $6 for a 20 oz. draft without too much of a grimace.

Weyerbacher (PA) is a brewery known for their big beers, and their Hops Infusion, albeit a mere IPA, does not disappoint. We highly recommend this one. $8.99 six pack

Full disclosure:
We also enjoyed a Mendocino Summer Ale ($4.99 for six0 and a Saratoga Lager ($3.99 for six) - also from Mendocino of Saratoga, but we were not able to find acceptable pictures of either. Perhaps we should just travel the 25 damn miles to the brewery and it's damned fine tasting room - set up just like a bar - and expose it to the world. Mendocino's home brewery is in California, but they do all of their East Coast brewing in Saratoga Springs, as well as plenty of contract brewing, including the entire U. S. supply of India's famous Kingfisher Lager, bottling for Long Island's Southampton Publick House, and the supply of Montana's Spanish Peaks east of the Rockies. We're sure there are more that we are not yet privy to. Anybody interested?

Feel free to try this at home, kids.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

We'd Write This Ourselves, But What Would be the Point?

We feel that these are important things for you to know...

A stench in the nostrils of the Beer Gods

Tasty Suds for July 5, 2006

By Cold, Hard Football Facts sud stud Lew Bryson

You know the old story about how an Italian knows when spaghetti is done? They fish a piece of pasta out of the pot and fling it at the wall. If it sticks, it’s done; if it falls, they cook it a bit longer. There’s a technical explanation about why it actually kind of works – some stuff about starch chains and adhesion – but the picture’s great, right?

Anheuser-Busch must like it so much that they’ve got it framed. A-B is throwing new beers – or beer-like … things – at the market wall every month and just hoping that they’ll stick. The recent list of spaghetti includes some really weird stuff:

Tilt – a “bold berry-flavor” beer with caffeine, ginseng and guarana. (What the hell’s guarana? It’s wacky weed from Brazil; check it out:

9th Street Market – a whole series of fruit beers, and I do mean fruit beers – blood orange grapefruit, lime & cactus, pomegranate raspberry and Tuscan orange. Sounds like this "9th Street Market" is a real effin’ yuppie joint. (A-B’s home brewery is on 9th Street in St. Louis.)

Be (B-to-the-E) – a carbed-up jolt juice that makes Tilt look like Ambien in a can.

Wild Blue and Blue Horizon – not one but two different blueberry beers.

Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale (pictured here) – just what it sounds like (“Jack’s” pumpkin spice, get it?).

Peels – a line of fruit-flavored, “natural” malt beverages aimed at women … that they’re taste-testing in spas and beauty salons.

Jekyll & Hyde – maybe the strangest thing; it’s liquor, or more precisely, two liquors in two bottles that come together in a package intended to be mixed together. “Jekyll” is a 60-proof scarlet berry booze; “Hyde” is a black, J├Ągermeisterish, 80-proof concoction. Yum.

Twixt thee and me … I don’t think any of that crap’s gonna stick to the wall … except maybe the pumpkin beer. People really like beers with pumpkin pie spices in them, and a good one will sell strongly in the fall.

Happily, they’re also throwing out some real beers, too. Spring Heat Spiced Wheat is a witbier, a cloudy wheat beer spiced with citrus and coriander, like Hoegaarden or Blue Moon Belgian White (a Coors product, by the way), and there’s a pretty tasty Michelob Marzen out in the fall. They’re test-marketing Wild Hop Lager, an organic beer that’s aimed at upscale supermarket shoppers. Then there are two bruisers that may or may not return next winter: Michelob Celebrate and Winter Bourbon Cask, a couple of holiday beers that were heavy-handed but well-intentioned. A-B also just released two new regional beers: Demon’s Hop Yard IPA in the New England market and Burnin’ Helles lager in Ohio.

And of course, there’s the usual shtick: Michelob Ultra Amber, which is surely a sign of the Apocalypse – a dark light beer – and Bud Select, which … um … is, uh … actually, can anyone tell me exactly what Bud Select is? Don’t they already have Bud Light? What’s this, Bud Lighter? Anyway, these beers are naturally instant successes, as the Bud sales force spreads out across the land with them and beats accounts into submission until they buy and buy and buy.

Wow! How much would you pay for all these new beers? But wait! There’s more!

A-B isn’t just throwing beers against the wall, they’re throwing ways to serve them, and I don’t mean smashing glassware. In perhaps the oddest idea to come from a brewery since, well, since stimulant-infused energy beers, A-B has published a booklet with an assortment of 24 “beertails,” recipes for cocktails based on Anheuser-Busch beers, with names like the Bud Light Orangutan, Hamptons Iced Tea, and the BEatch. No, really. They’re serious.

What the hell’s going on here? Some marketing guys at A-B trying to justify their jobs? Acid in the Bud Select test batch?

It may look like A-B is scared of the craft beer boom, and some beer weenies have actually been fool enough to float this theory on some of the more excitable websites. Sure, and we’re pressuring Iran to stop making uranium for costumed ninnies to do fan dances with because we’re scared they’re going to blow us all up with one little pissant atom bomb … before we turn them into a black, glass-lined crater. It’s about as likely. A-B’s not scared of anything smaller than Corona (and they own 50 percent of that), but they do know good profits when they see them, and they might want some of that $8.99 six-pack stuff.

What’s really going on here is what we talked about a few months ago: They truly are afraid of wine and spirits, both of which are booming after years of being on the skids. They can see the numbers, and they show wine and spirits growing while “premium” beer – Bud, MGD, Busch, Miller High Life – is sucking wind. Never mind that light beer is still growing; it’s kind of being kept alive with massive infusions of advertising and promotions. Seen a lot of wine ads on the Super Bowl lately, have you? Of course not. They don’t need them. They’re actually selling on flavor.

Which is why this latest blast of “innovation” from A-B shows that they don’t get the whole idea at all, that their marketing department is utterly clueless on how to do anything other than try to solve problems with an enema bag full of advertising cash, that they are morally bankrupt when it comes to their conception of the soul of beer.

I’m not talking about Budweiser, Michelob or even Bud Light. They are what they are – they’re definitely beer with a capital Suds. But Tilt? B-to-the-E (pictured here)? 9th Street?

Light beer with fruit flavors is an idea that’s come and righteously gone, and buzzjolt energy beer is an idea that should have been stillborn. If you want to make a beer that’s different, you don’t have to be degrading. This is like saying you want to change football to make it more appealing, which you do by running NASCAR races around the field while the players – half of them tiny women – ice-dance the ball to the end zone. It’s an abomination, a stench in the nostrils of the Beer Gods.

Beer doesn’t need to be “improved” or changed. There are already great beers out there. There are some people at A-B who understand that: Wild Hop and Michelob Marzen prove that. Hell, even the pumpkin beer does, much as that baffles me. Fire the whole marketing department and get some real beer drinkers in there to sell beer, not sour-assed belly wash.

Stop throwing stuff at the wall. There’s a seafood lasagna in the oven that smells great, a big antipasto on the table already and the pizza guy just rang the doorbell. All different, all ready to go.

Quit screwing around with that crap you’re making and let’s eat.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Summer Seems to be Slipping Swiftly By...

It has been a month since our last post, faithless readers, perhaps some of you noticed. Too long, we know. Nothing of substance yet, but we have been busy, perhaps we'll allow just a peek into upcoming posts:

Belgium Comes to Cooperstown!

The New (and Improved) Malt River!

Van Dyck Brew and BBQ!

There is a Pretty Solid Brewery in Saratoga!

Southern Beer Scene, What Southern Beer Scene?

Saranac Hefeweizen is Good.

And Many More...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mahar's: It's a Beer Bar

After an absence that was altogether too long, we finally ventured, at the behest of a friend, to the most highly acclaimed of local watering holes. Not a place for everyone, Mahar's. Certainly, the selection of beers is without compare in the region, yet there is no television to entertain, nor even music on many evenings. Little food to be had, aside from blocks of cheese and microwaveable meat pies. Service ranges from subpar to average. We're still not sure exactly how we feel about Mahar's. While we certainly like many things about the place, we have serious doubts that it is among the top dozen places to get a beer in this great country. They typically have several casks among the twenty to thirty draught choices, and nearly ten times as many bottles at any given time. We get the feeling that the place fancies itself to be some sort of Americanized English Free House; half the draughts seem to be English/cask, and cask Coniston Bluebird Bitter is considered
the "house" ale. They claim to have been among the first in the country
to offer it on draught. We would prefer to see more local and regional choices, given all the fantastic beers currently being produced in the Empire State, but the current situation seems to work pretty well for them.
One of the cool things that Mahar's has going for it is their beer club:








We're still working on the t-shirt...sad, we know.

This is a place that does not post any beer menu or prices. Upon entering, one first heads for the keyboard and printer in back. Updated beer lists can be printed by beer style or country (bartenders prefer country, as it is easier for them
to locate and highlight the beer on your individual list for updating in
the system later). The one obvious drawback of this system is that beers
are completely eliminated from your personal list after you have sampled them. This
is not necessarily a major problem, as Mahar's constantly rotates their
beer stock, especially the draught. But allow us to imagine, for instance, that it
is a hot day in June. You are rather desirous of a refreshing summer beer.
Mahar's happens to have Hoeegarden White and Paulaner Hefe Weissen among the choices on tap, but you've already had them on your tour, so you might not necessarily know
that from simply perusing your list. The way the bar is set up, it can be difficult to see the extent of the taps, and, again, there is no visible posting of available beers. Sure, one could ask the bartender, but they tend to the rather surly and mostly avoid being helpful in these sorts of situations. No, you'll have to
either depend on guile and good fortune, or print the full beer list in addition to your personal copy. Even then it might be difficult to convince yourself to order a
beer that you've already had and, therefore, won't be credited for on your
beer tour. Hey, we never said Mahar's makes things easy. So what is it that draws the meandering wayfarer to it's nondescipt door? We imagine it is the beer, mostly. Really good beer, served the way it should be served. It's easy to overlook small shortcomings when there is great beer to be had in abundance. Don't just take our word for it, the following is stolen directly from a poster at We feel that it gives a very accurate and succint picture of what you will find should you choose to visit Mahar's:

The highlight of Mahar's is its cask-conditioned real ale, many imported from England and lately a number of casks from Middle Ages in Syracuse.

On tap, Mahar's has a variety of American craft beers, rare beers from Europe and elsewhere, and some of the better European standards -- including a well-served pint of Guinness, NOT extra cold, and with plenty of texture.

If this isn't enough, there's also an *extensive* bottle list from around the world, with a good number of American craft beers as well. The markup on bottles tends to be about 100% from retail prices, so make a visit to Oliver's [Oliver's is a beer store a few blocks away from Mahar's. They boast of carrying 800+ beers - ed.] first! You'll still find lots at Mahar's unavailable elsewhere.

The entire food menu consists of a small fridge underneath the bar, at the back end. Their meat pies -- usually steak and mushroom, but I've had steak and kidney too -- are awesome. An excellent place to pair a cheese with a beer too. Don't go expecting a full dinner, but I've intentionally gone to Mahar's for dinner and love what they have.

The hours are limited, but very easy to remember: 4pm to midnight, Monday through Saturday.

Mahar's is not for everybody. Seating is limited, music is either off or quiet, there's no pool or darts, etc. They can also be leery of groups of young people (Mahar's is between the city's so-called "student ghetto" neighborhood and UAlbany's main campus), but not excessively so: I first started going when I was an upperclassman myself.

Well done, assumed friend. Better than we were able to say it ourself. Why did we even take the time? We will endeavour to keep our faithful readers updated as we continue to make periodic visits to Mahar's and other fine establishments throught this region (and the world).

Note: On this particular visit, we must note that the standout beer was a Rogue Integrity IPA on draught. We have never seen this beer anywhere else. Sexy beer. It blew our mind. This is one reason Mahar's is always worth a visit.