Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Ten Best Beers Bill Ever Had

We are loathe to stoop to sentimentality on such a no-nonsense beer blog. We are journalists, for crying out loud! Editorializing and succumbing to rose-colored hindsight is anathema to the hard-hitting and objective reporting you've come to expect.

That being said, your faithful Janglers have been rather lazy as of late, and in lieu of an actual post with actual information or insight, we have decided to discard our heretofore impenetrable sense of balance and neutrality, and present you with The Ten Best Beers I Ever Had.

Please note, these are not to be confused with "The Ten Best Beers I'VE EVER HAD," or necessarily, anyway. Those beers would all judged on an objective basis, taking into account the various properties of those brews and their merits. The quality of these here brews are of varying degrees, and are not necessarily our Top Ten Beers of All-Time, ratings-wise.

These are ten moments in this critic's life that were special in some regard. It's like when you love a song that might not actually be well-crafted, but hearing it reminds you of a special time or moment in your life. These beers are all snapshots of a life in transition, straddling the line between extended adolescence and overdue maturity.

You may notice that these events were coincidentally shared with great friends, and that that is actually no coincidence at all. We will try not to make it sickening to the reader.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order...

  1. MENDOCINO WINTER ALE 2005-2006 at Old Saratoga Brewery. I went to this brewery for the first time with Javen in the winter of 2005, and it was a moment at which a beer made me re-evaluate an entire style. Prior to this beer, I had been warming up to IPAs and admiring their qualities. But this beer snapped the light on. The citrusy, grapefruity hops. The perfectly balanced pale malt. Not to mention the dark and cozy atmosphere of a keenly-lit bar on a snowy night, college football on TV, and the thrill of discovery with a fellow burgeoning beer geek. Any time I see the label for this beer, it just makes me feel happy.

  2. MIDDLE AGES SWALLOW WIT in my backyard, Summer 2005. It was one of those lazy Saturday afternoons. I had just come back from the Middle Ages Brewery with a growler of Swallow Wit Belgian White beer. Not only was it the perfect thirst quencher on a blazing summer day, but it reminded me of the days where it was okay to relax without feeling like a bum. It reminds me of having a backyard, and feeling somewhat settled. It feels like a decade ago now, but I remember sitting in the sun, taking a large Swallow, and acknowledging --relishing -- that moment of contentment.

  3. POST ROAD PUMPKIN ALE at my new apartment, November 2006. I had never lived on my own. Finally, in autumn of 2006, I decided to give it a try for the first time. I hate moving, and this time didn't endear me to the practice any further. After my furniture had all been moved, and before my cable was even hooked up, I hauled what seemed like the one-thousandth pile of my shit into my new apartment. There were boxes and appliances all over the floor. [Please insert "So What's Changed?" joke here, those of you who have seen where I live.] I was exhausted from moving, and sore, and sweaty. It was one of those moments where you just want to plop down on the couch and sleep for roughly 20 hours. I looked into my refrigerator and was thrilled to see that I had previously had the foresight to bring with me a six-pack of Pumpkin Ale with me and left it in the fridge. I cleaned out a glass, poured a pint of the Post Road, and crashed on my couch. Staring out my new window. It was the moment where I felt like maybe I was ready to grow up a little. Even if just a little...

  4. SLEEMAN'S 46 IPA, Summer 2006. Javen and his wife TT and I went to Montreal. There were a lot of rough patches (bad Montreal service, horrible border delays, TT's various "feelings," a lot of walking, the Sabres losing playoff games), but the weekend goes down in memory as one of my favorites. At the end of our last night there, Javen and I had come back from a few bars on a quiet Sunday night. We ended up sitting at the picture window in the hotel and looking out at the dark but shiny Montreal skyline. The beer we drank wasn't that impressive, honestly, but being on vacation in Canada and feeling very free for some reason was.

  5. BEAR REPUBLIC RED ROCKET ALE at the Old Toad, Rochester, NY, February 2007. My little sister Kate is never content with me getting any attention, so on my 31st birthday she somehow found a way to get her boyfriend Scott to propose to her. The next time I saw the two of them in Rochester, we decided we'd go out for a few drinks to relax and enjoy a nice pub. I still had my tax money, so I decided to treat these two lovebirds to whatever they wanted for the rest of the night. It turned into a very nice, if low-key, celebration. I bought my sister some kind of $13 lambic, and since she loved it, it was worth it. The best beer I ended up getting my hands on was the Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale, which was served to me in a 220z bottle with an English nonic pint glass, for about $3.50. Not only was it the best bargain at the Old Toad, but it was a fantastic beer. I ended up dropping something like $80 that night on nothing but beer for three people, but I felt like the rich uncle who picks up the tab, at least for one night.

  6. DOGFISH HEAD 60 MINUTE IPA at Blarney Stone in Philadelphia, Sept 2006. We had a rip-roaring time in Philadelphia for the first weekend of the football season in 2006, the coup de grace being watching all the opening day games of the day at the Blarney Stone in Philly. We had gone to the Victory Brewing Company the night before, but decided that for the games, we would get the $15 all-you-can-drink Miller Lite special. After the first slate of games, I had consumed all the pitchers I could muster, and I decided not to re-up for the 4:15 games. Instead, I went to the bar and ordered a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. I don't know if it was the euphoria of football, the elation of Tecmo Super Bowl being played on the bar TV, or the severity of the upgrade, but that 60 Minute was pure hop nirvana. The contrast was astounding, and being more discriminating, I ended up being sober enough to drive the four hours back home that night.

  7. BRIEUXHAUS NEBULA BELGIAN L.S. WIT, 2003-04ish. My old brewing partner Bruce and I created several different styles when we homebrewed over the course of 2003-2005, but in my opinion, our best one was our Belgian White. Not only was it crisp and delicious, with the perfect amount of citrus, but it was loaded up with alcohol. (The L.S. stood for "Leg Spreader.") The beer not only made me feel proud that I actually helped create such a superior-tasting beer, but it made me appreciate the craft of brewing that much more. It was a seminal event in my journey into beer.

  8. CAPE ANN BREWING COMPANY FISHERMAN'S IPA, 2007. Have you ever rented a DVD on a whim and been completely blown away by it? This was the beer equivalent of this. I had purchased a random mixed six-pack from the Party Source in Syracuse and brought it home, going through each one and taking notes, as is customary for an OCD nerd such as yours truly. I poured this one thinking it would just be another beer in the long chain of beers I tend to trudge through (ok, fine, "trudge" is probably the wrong word). This beer stood out for me so much, it almost shocked me. It was such a well-crafted beer that I couldn't believe I had never had any of Cape Ann's beers previously. The moment was simple -- me on my couch in front of the TV -- but it reminded me that life is often full of great surprises.

  9. MILLER HIGH LIFE, back of a van, Milwaukee, June 2004. Because of this event, the words "all of it higher" will go down in the lore of my traveling crew of buddies. Picture seven large men in a van far too small, having started in Mansfield, Ohio on a trek to Milwaukee. We had spent a grueling amount of time inching our way through Gary, Indiana, and by Chicago we were all beat. Actually, the word "miserable" would probably best describe our mood. We appeared to have been defeated by the Interstate Highway System. A fateful trip to a gas station in Wisconsin, however, changed everything. We picked up a case of Miller High Life in cans, and played the famous card game "high-low," best represented by the game show "Card Sharks." The game provided the second wind we so desperately needed to get us back on the track, which led to one of the more hedonistic (okay not really) and memorable (yes, definitely) weekends of my young life. The High Life will always hold a special place in my heart for the way it resurrected our dying vessel and propelled us into Midwestern legend.

  10. SIERRA NEVADA HARVEST ALE at Javen's, October 2006. I generally recount this as the best beer I've ever had, but I'm not 100% sure that the beer was that great, or if it was just the perfect moment frozen in time. I came to visit Javen on a whim for my first time at his new apartment, which was strange enough given that his old place was so iconic in my memory. I was going through a very painful personal experience at home, one that had sent my fragile psyche into a tailspin. But what I remember about that weekend is not my agony at home, but of being able to leave the hurt behind for a while and enjoy normalcy for a brief period of time. Javen brought home a growler of the Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, and I thought little of it. But when I took a sip, I fell in love. For the duration of that pint of beer, all my troubles were gone. I've been searching for that moment ever since, and I have a feeling that just like that one, the next one will come upon me unexpectedly as well.

We hope this didn't make us look like too much of a sap, but just like we have movies and songs and days that hold a special place in our hearts, these beers represent snapshots of perfect moments. And though we can never go back to those exact days and events, we can try and transport ourselves again ever so briefly, a pint at a time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hop Fests of Madison County

Not sure how it slipped by our collective attention, but we somehow missed that the 12th Annual Madison County Historical Society Hop Fest was held this past weekend in Oneida. Upstate New York was once the leading hop growing region in the country, accounting for nearly 90% of the nation's total hop production prior to the Civil War. Seriously, 90%! Check out this article for plenty more information. It's from 1996, and focuses mainly on Otsego County - still home to a couple of pretty solid breweries in Cooperstown Brewing and Brewery Ommegang - and on some fascinating history. It is well worth a read.

The Hop Fest is a wonderful idea and it's almost unbelievable that we've never heard of it over the past twelve years. Oneida, after all, is located just 30 miles from Syracuse and a bit over 100 miles from the Capital Region. The three day festival started off with a beer dinner at Bouckville's Landmark Tavern on Friday night. Saturday began with a food pairing session matching a brewery with a local restaurant at the Historical Society's grounds, followed by a three hour beer tasting that included over 20 (mostly regional) breweries. Sunday featured an all day hop tour of Madison County, with stops at several hop kilns as well as periodic pit stops for sustenance at local taverns.

Pretty interesting stuff. This article from the Oneida Dispatch gives a solid rundown of the events. It features a nice bit on Brown's Brewing Company's (Troy, NY) seasonal Harvest IPA, made with New York State hops. It's a once yearly wet hopped IPA made exclusively with hops from Seneca and Rensselaer Counties. We haven't tried this year's batch yet, but last year's was absolutely fantastic - fresh hop nose, great prickly body, bitter but balanced finish - a pretty perfect IPA. It's really a wonderful thing to see a local brew pub doing this. How is it that we only hear about it through an article in another town's paper? We may have missed out on the Hop Fest, but a visit to Brown's is still within reach. Developing...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

BROUHAHA - Sept 1 - Sept 15

And just when you thought we couldn't come up with new features....

Fact is, we do a lot of reading about beer throughout the day and week. We even try to do it from work once in a while (too bad our work computers block most beer-related sites.)

When we find something really interesting or something that we like a lot, we tend to just forward the interesting links to each other. But we thought to ourselves, Hey, what if we could forward all those great links to our readers as well! Both of 'em!

So we present to you, Brouhaha. These are links to articles that we found either entertaining, hilarious, interesting or informative.

Of course we tend to check out our favorite beer sites, or the ones on our blogroll, so our scope may be limited. Therefore, if you find an article that is interesting and think should be included, leave a comment with the link attached and why you think it's interesting. Or you can email Bill directly at buffalobill88 (at) gmail. We promise we will give the article a read. But if you're sending me a link to a post that you yourself wrote, you better bring the goods, baby!

We are going to try to post this the first Wednesdays after the 1st and 15th of each month, respectively, so roughly twice a month. We urge you to visit these sites and support them by leaving comments, or starting dialogue.

"Flat Tire"
Lew Bryson takes on those that say Fat Tire is not a craft brew, and those who dare
to trash the seminal craft brews in the U.S. (Sierra, Anchor, Sam Adams) and shows them why
they are wrong.

LEW BRYSON - Portfolio
"A Post-Jacksonian World"
Lew also gives a fitting tribute to Michael Jackson, his legacy, and his influence
on our love of beer today, as well as the elevation of beer to that of wine and spirits.

Learner's Permit ...
Joe Sixpack gives an amusing -- and unintentionally convincing -- argument for a
"Drinker's Learner's Permit."

"Step aside sommelier..."
Stan explains the difference between a sommelier (aka wine steward) and a
"Cicerone", which is a new official designation specifically for beer

"Budweiser Negotiating to Buy Budweiser"
Bud wants to officially buy the name "Budweiser," which you would think they already had, even though it's named after a 1000 year-old Czech town.

"Reassuringly Expensive"
Pete Brown examines what may be the longest surviving beer in the world, brewed in

"12 Beers that Changed America"
Beer Can Blog sets up a mixed 12 pack of beers that had significant effect on the
brewing industry or American brewing in general.

"12 Craft Beers that Changed America"
Ditto for craft beers

"The Legend of Miller Chill Grows"
Boy, Miller Chill is doing awful well. Is it just a gimmick or is it here to stay?

Beervana introduces us to a site which tells (in .wav files) how to pronounce those
pesky foreign beer names in English, Flemish and French.

Highlights beer posts on YouTube.

"Two Salvations"
What happens when two well-respected craft breweries both make a beer called
"Salvation"? "Collaboration, Not Litigation"

HOP TALK (sorta)
"9 Ways to Maximize your Beer value"
The inimitable Al at Hop Talk came up with this incredibly helpful list of ways to
make sure you are not paying a fortune, but still drinking great beer. (The link is not to Hop Talk, but to the site where the advice was posted.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Beer O'The Moment - Boulder Beer Cold Hop British-Style Ale

There is a scene in Pulp Fiction where The Wolf is talking to Jimmy in Jimmy's bedroom. (Jules and Vincent, of course, had just brought Marvin's dead body into Jimmy's house.) The Wolf decides to offer Jimmy and his wife Bonnie all new furniture. This, naturally, makes Jimmy forget all about the dead body in his house. The Wolf says, "You look like an oak man, Jimmy. You an oak man?" To which Jimmy replies, "Oak's nice."

I couldn't agree more. I think oak is more than just nice. I think it's fantastic. If I could have an entire bedroom full of oak instead of particle board, I would do so. I wish all of the walking trees in Lord of the Rings could be oak trees. I want to travel to Oakland, for crying out loud!

My point is that I think oak is really a wonderful wood. I think all wood is outstanding, for that matter.

But sometimes it just goes too far.

Last weekend I sat down to enjoy 12 ounces of Boulder Beer's Cold-Hop British-Style Ale. The other offering that I have had from Boulder -- Mojo IPA -- is an excellent, perfectly balanced American IPA. Cold Hop, however, needs to tone it down just a bit.

First let me get into the stuff that's good about this beer. First of all, it is gorgeous. It is either a dark golden or a light orange, depending on your lighting and your preferred use of syllables. There is not much head, but there is a beautiful haze in the glass that adds some texture and hints at the thickness to come.

The smell ... oh the smell. There is a massive blast of magnificent, unexpected woody hops coming out of the aroma. Beneath that is the smell of a dry, grainy malt (I'm guessing an English malt, though I certainly am not smart enough to identify it). It's halfway between the aroma of a classic pale ale and an IPA. And I'm fine with that. There is a touch of oak in the scent, and it's pleasant but not overwhelming.

Then comes the sip.

There is one word that can be used to describe this beer: woody. The malt is so dry as to come off as almost stale. [Note: I don't know that this beer isn't stale, but it didn't really have any of the other characteristics of being old. It was released in 12 ounce bottles in August and I drank it in early September.] The piney wood in the hops are fine, really. I am a fan of woody hops, and as long as they are somewhat offset by another element -- like dry malt -- I can get behind it almost any day. But the heavy oak flavor is just too much. It's like wood on top of wood.

I should note here that I have no idea whether this beer is actually oak-aged or infused with any kind of oak product. All I know is what I taste, and for someone who enjoys the woody overload of hops in most beers, I have to say that the flavor here did not appear to come from the hops, but from somewhere else.

I have noticed that much like many overhopped Imperial IPAs, which choose to turn hops into a fetish rather than an art, so too have overly oaky beers become commonplace. This one is a bit too much for the likes of me. Combine this thick flavor with the thick, chunky feel, and this beer was one that I had to choke down.

I'm not calling this one an abject failure by Boulder in any way. This one is worth checking out for those who like a healthy dose of extra oomph to their beer. For those who enjoyed Dogfish Head's 120 IPA, this one will seem like a cold glass of lemonade after mowing the lawn. I, on the other hand, will move along politely.

A Visit To Madison Brewing Company (of Bennington, Vermont)

In his song “New York State Of Mind,” Billy Joel once sang, “some folks like to get away and take a holiday from the neighborhood.” When he sang that, the so-called Piano Man discussed heading into New York. This weekend, though, I knew that I could use a chance to get away from New York; instead of hopping a “Greyhound on the Hudson River line,” though, I snagged a ride with our esteemed executive editor and his wife. Our getaway destination? Vermont – specifically, the town of Bennington and the Madison Brewing Company.

The town of Bennington is about 30 miles to the northeast of the Capital District city of Troy; from most places in the region, it’s approximately a 45 minute drive, give or take. Just over the border from the New York town of Hoosick Falls, Bennington sits in a valley adjacent to the first foothills of the Green Mountains. It’s the very picture of a beautiful New England town; the streets of Bennington are lined with mom-and-pop businesses, coffeehouses, and rustic-looking gas stations.

Madison Brewing Company sits on one of the two main streets – Vermont Route 9 - that runs through Bennington. The exterior fa├žade of brick and painted wood is somewhat reminiscent of an Irish pub. Stepping inside, however, reveals that Madison Brewing Company exists in a large, vaguely industrial converted space, with high ceilings, a balcony on the second floor that seems to present the opportunity of private dining, and a number of large brewing tanks on both floors. (When we were there, the second floor was closed off for dining.)

The first floor of Madison, where we spent our Saturday lunchtime visit, is divided into two sections; the entryway from the street leads into a medium-sized bar area (which, we should note, was very endearingly decorated with vintage pull-top beer cans, most of which were of defunct beers ranging from Knickerbocker to the television tie-in MASH 4077 Lager). A large wall and staircase separate this from the main dining area; this led to a little bit of confusion with the serving staff, who didn’t seem to notice us at first and were somewhat listless in getting us to our table. Once we got there, the dining area was pretty nice – well lit and generally spacious, and decorated with a variety of wall-hangings from local artists. There were a couple of plasma-screen televisions on the main floor - one in the bar area, one in the dining area; both featured sporting events when we were there.

Now, for the important part – the beer. I ordered a sampler, which featured the following: Sucker Pond Blonde, Buck’s Honey Wheat, Willoughby’s Scottish Ale, Crowtown Pale Ale, Old 76 English Strong Ale, and an IPA that was described as “seasonal.” (This sampler comprised all of the Madison’s offerings of the day, save for a Raspberry Wheat, which I didn’t try.) The samples were about 3 oz. each, give or take. Most of the beers were a touch on the watery side; whether I sipped from the Honey Wheat or the IPA, none of the beers had a consistent, appreciable finish.

Of the lot of beers, I would have to say that my personal favorite was the Old 76 Strong Ale, which – while suffering from the watery finish that was characteristic of the entire spate of Madison’s offerings – it was distinctively darker in finish than the other beersm, and had a distinct, rich malty flavor with hints of nuttiness and a slight citrus touch. It was the best of an otherwise mediocre lot; the remainder of the beers’ best features came from small touches. Buck’s Honey Wheat was served with a slice of lime instead of the normal wheat-beer garnish of either orange or lemon; this added a sweeter citrus touch to this otherwise unremarkable brew. None of the other beers were particularly remarkable; this is not to say that they were bad, per se – they were all drinkable, for better or for worse. However, given this bar’s utter dependence on ales (4 of the 6 beers in the sampler were ales), better care could have been made to differentiate between them. I would have liked to have seen something dark; there were no browns, no porters, nor were there any stouts – this was disappointing, especially given the similarities among the offerings that they had on tap.

Fortunately, the food was much better in quality than the beer. Our appetizer of Irish Fries (served with two types of cheese, diced tomatoes, and onions) was delicious, and was only a difficult choice in retrospect, having seen the incredibly appealing size of the Nacho platter another table got. The lunch menu featured a number of interesting sandwiches; our executive editor got a “Bird and Brat” sandwich (featuring both chicken and bratwurst) with potato chips, his faithful companion got an open-faced turkey sandwich, where I went for a turkey-cranberry combination that came with a side salad. All food was pronounced to be quite delicious; when combined with generous portion sizes and pretty decent prices, it was quite a bargain.

All in all, I would say that Madison Brewing Company wasn’t too terrible of an experience; while the beer wasn’t spectacular, the food was quite good. It’s not really a destination visit – our trip was certainly aided, if not enhanced, by side ventures to the Hoosick-based Man of Kent pub and a Vermont beer store – but it’s not a terrible place to have lunch if you’re in the area. You could certainly do worse.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beer Haiku

Please visit our friends at Beer Haiku Daily and enjoy the submission of one of America's Premier Young Haiku...ers.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Beer Wikis

I am a Wikipedia fanatic and I don't care who knows it. Yes, there is sometimes incorrect information inherent to a site that can be edited by literally anyone, especially when you don't even need to sign in to edit a page.

But there is a certain brilliance to collecting knowledge from all over the world and funneling it into one place. The site originally began as a project with well-known scholars adding articles in their fields of expertise -- known as Nupedia -- before the founders decided to let any ol' person add information. This makes perfect sense, since nearly everyone in the world is an expert on something.

The guys over at Hop Talk have been discovered that there are several beer "wikis" out there, any of which could ostensibly act as some sort of repository for beer lovers to add and edit information about beers --especially new ones -- in real time. (By the way, the term "wiki" generally refers to a site which anyone can edit as an open-source document. Am I stealing this idea from Hop Talk? Possibly. You make the call. Please go visit them at any rate.)

A couple problems arise, of course, when it comes to beer. You don't want to make a beer wiki site that only has reviews of beers. They already have great sites like that such as Ratebeer and BeerAdvocate. These two sites are pretty much the standard for English-speaking beer drinkers, so there's really no need for another review site.

Likewise, simply having information about each beer in question (style, alcohol by volume, ingredients) probably isn't flashy or "sexy" enough for most readers to get really excited about. In other words, the entire concept might be flawed to begin with.

Still, if we're gonna start this concept, let's do it the right way. So I looked at all the beer wikis I could get my hands on (including the ones that the Hop Talk guys reviewed) in the quest to find out which one is the one we should embrace. Once we pick one, folks, there's no going back!

  • Brewerpedia appears to intend to be a resource for homebrewers and those who make wine, mead, spirits and soft drinks. There are no actual "articles" that I could find, which means right now the site has little value other than being a start-up, but if enough people could be made aware of it, they might actually be able to get some information up there. The key to wikis is volume and breadth of information, and right now this site has none of either. The site has been up for weeks and has approximately 6 pages total. If some tech-savvy homebrewers could get wind of this site, it could be a remarkable tool, much like yours truly.

  • Beer @ Wikia seems like it would be the best bet for a beer wiki. Wikia is a project set up by Jimbo Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, that hosts wikis of different interests. It hosts sites such as Wookieepedia and the absurdly brilliant Uncyclopedia. Unlike Wikipedia, Wikia sites contain advertisements, which help fund the project. This particulara wiki is actually much more developed than many of the other specialty wikis out there, although the information at this point could be considered bare-bones. Right now it doesn't have all that much, although its philosophy of being the one go-to stop for all beer-related matters is encouraging. It needs a lot more content, but has its heart in the right place.

  • BeerOpedia at this point appears to be almost a file directory of as many beers as can possibly be added. There is not really any content on any of the pages, but rather links to commercial sites. There isn't a lot of insight, and it doesn't appear to be very discriminating (look at the site for the category of American Beer). Acts as a categorization site and not much more. Interestingly, it seems to make a point of adding YouTube clips of beer commercials from around the world. Allllll right then.

  • BeerIpedia looks like a free-for-all of anything remotely to do with beer. It's another upstart, although I wasn't really that encouraged when I saw that the beer trivia article on this site ended with "LOL PWNED." This looks like more of a bulletin board than any kind of real resource. [Update: This site has actually improved dramatically in the last few weeks. It now has a "most wanted articles" page, which is the best way to get new articles put up, in my opinion. Don't count out this little wiki that could just yet. Our writer Willie Moe will be happy to know that this site does have a semi-comprehesive article on Tsingtao Brewery.]

  • BeerWiki at n9jing.com just started and has almost no information on it, but the brother who started it has the smarts to set up a PayPal account so you can buy him a beer. I'll reserve my donation until it's got a little more to work with here. The header says that this site "aim[s] to become the biggest database of beers on the planet." It's going to have to get one single post up. Several clicks on "Random Page" brought up the Main Page every time; not a good sign. Looks like this site hasn't moved for several weeks, and is just a ploy for some guy to get internet friends to buy him a beer via PayPal.
  • Real Good Beer Wiki is another upstart that doesn't seem to really have much actual content yet. It appears that someone decided to just start a wiki and hasn't gotten much feedback yet. Pity. Brewiki suffers from the same ailments.

I'm not 100% sure that the world needs a beer wiki, but if I had to pick one, I'd probably go with the Wikia site (beer.wikia.com). It seems to have the most potential and at least has formed a philosophy. If that site became the wiki of choice, and all net savvy beer enthusiasts added only their local content, it could become a huge reservoir of information, but I'm still not convinced it wouldn't be a BeerAdvocate.com clone.

It may benefit from a variety of perspectives, such as disparate reviews of the same beer, or differing thoughts on styles (such as the difference between stouts and porters). As such, it will need to have a lot more information than Wikipedia provides on the subject of beer (and Wikipedia has a lot); and it should be beer-centric above all else. Informative, but also not afraid to delve into minutiae.

Perhaps the greatest use for a beer wiki would be as a catalogue of vital stats for a beer. For example: calories, what kinds of hops were used (which could likewise be linked to other beers with the same hops), when they were first brewed, whether it's stylistically very similar to another beer. A beer wiki, like all wikis, should be about connections from one to another. Wikis' lifeblood is based on links, which is why linking is so much easier than HTML, and they should highlight those beers that have a common thread. Can this be accomplished? I'm not sure. But I do know that a Wiki is virtually useless unless all the sources of articles agree on one unified forum.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Big thanks to the commenter who gave the tip of the Homebrewing Wiki. This page is up and running and has tons of info for the homebrewer. It's a logical extension of the Homebrew Talk message boards and essentially serves as a one-stop site for all the elements of homebrewing. If you want to know about malt, they've got it. Interested in hops or hop varieties? Look no further. In fact, I learned more about hops from this site than any other I've been on. The Homebrewing Wiki isn't just for homebrewers; it's for anyone who wants to learn more about beer from the ground up.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

National Toast to Michael Jackson

A nationwide toast to the late Michael Jackson (aka "The Beer Hunter") has been set for Sunday, September 30th.

It will not only commemorate the passing of the quintessential beer and alcohol writer of our time, but also will be used to help raise money for Parkinson's disease, the ailment that afflicted Jackson for the last decade. More details can be found at Michael's Beer Hunter Blog on how you can get involved.

"At 9:00 pm EST on Sunday, September 30, beer drinkers across the continent will raise a glass to the memory of the man who did more than anyone to further the cause of good beer, the one and only Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson. And your establishment can play a part!"

If you happen to be out that night, or even home watching the game, take a few moments at 9PM Eastern/6PM Pacific to raise a glass (and make it a glass of something good!) to Michael and donate if you can.

The address to send donations is:
National Parkinson Foundation
Attn: Kay Houghton
1501 N.W. 9th Avenue / Bob Hope Road,
Miami, Florida 33136-1494.

If you write a check just include "Tribute to Michael Jackson" in the memo line. It's a worthy tribute.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hop Talk Guest Blogging

Brief note:

Ron and Al at Hop Talk were kind enough to offer their site out to guest bloggers this week. I submitted a brief piece to them and they were nice enough to post it for me. Not sure what I gave them is all that great, but at least 60% of it is true. Anyway, go ahead and give it a quick look, if for nothing else than to get a glance at Hop Talk.

Hop Talk is one of our favorite beer sites, so please frequent it. Ron and Al do some terrific work, one of my recent favorites being their take on Consumer Reports rating light beers. They are right on point, as usual.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Beer O' the Moment: Lagunitas Kill Ugly Radio

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." - Frank Zappa
The arrival in the Capital Region of the deliciously hoppy West Coast style beers from Stone and Lagunitas a year or so ago was one of the highlights of the beer year in these parts. Sure, Stone is from sunny Southern Cali, and Lagunitas hails from the Bay Area, but we tend to think of them in a somewhat similar vein. In addition to mighty fine beers, both breweries also feature some pretty unique marketing approaches. Other than zealous use of hops as an ingredient, Stone is probably best known for their silk screen painted bottles featuring gargoyle artwork. That and the over the top haughtiness of their flagship Arrogant Bastard Ale packaging (helpful hint: you're not worthy).

Lagunitas is slightly less in your face - both with the hops and the attitude - but they do feature some pretty out there stuff. Witness either Undercover Investigation or Censored Ale if you need proof (helpful hint: one is named after an attempted government drug sting at the brewery, the other formerly had a name eerily similar to a popular Dr. Dre album from the early 90's). Lagunitas founder Tony Magee also happens to be a big fan of Frank Zappa. A big enough fan that the brewery is planning on releasing a commemorative beer for the 40th anniversary of each of the his many albums. Slightly ironic considering that this is in memory of a guy who said, "I don't give a [expletive deleted] if they remember me at all." Still, kinda cool, eh?

Last year's tasty Freak Out Ale (an IPA) was first, commemorating the - you guessed it - Freak Out! album from 1966. Tasty beer, yes, but not really all that memorable. The second in the series, Kill Ugly Radio, actually honors the 1967 Absolutely Free album, but word is that name couldn't make it past the ol' government regulators. The really good news is that, according to our highly scientific calculations, Lagunitas is due to put out at least two Zappa tribute beers in each of the next four years!

Back to our beer o' the moment. Kill Ugly Radio is a fairly light pale gold, especially for a Double IPA (that's Beer Advocate's classification, anyway). It has a wonderfully fresh, hoppy nose and a refreshing, crisp mouthfeel. The taste is slightly grassy citrus hops - a sassy blend of Summit, Horizon and Cascade - and it goes down mighty smooth with a pleasingly bitter finish. Not a lot in the malt department, and the hops aren't overwhelming. Not that that's a bad thing - this recipe definitely works. Really well done. At a reasonable $3.49 for a 22 oz. bottle, and a not too unreasonable 7.8% abv, this beer could be a regular staple of our fall line-up.

Lagunitas, you've done it again! We're looking forward to the remainder of the series. Here's hoping there will be a beer for each of the two dozen or so albums. We're becoming bigger Zappa fans already.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Quick Take: Rogue JLS #23 Black Brutal 2007

Every once in a while, Rogue Brewery will put out one of their John Locker's Stock (or JLS) which is a special batch or limited edition. Kelly Coles Improper in Syracuse was serving #23 in the series, known as Black Brutal, a spin-off of their outstanding Brutal Bitter, which is available in bottles. I'll tell you a little about it.

The Look: It looks like dark brown chocolate milk. Has a light brownish head. It's incredibly thick-looking, like a suped-up brown ale or a slightly lighter porter.

The Aroma: I expected the burnt malt smell, but not the very powerful woody hop scent covering it up. Both smells, which wouldn't seem to really go together that well, compliment each other nicely. It's bitter but also a bit chocolatey sweet.

The Flavor: In addition to the burnt, roasted malt flavor that the smell foretold, there is a major chocolate accent in the taste. There is also a heavy, pungent molasses flavor that I didn't see coming. And some black licorice? It's both sweet and bitter. The hops are there too, but strictly as an accent to all the dark, roasted business going on. The malts are bitter and strong. You can almost taste the barley, as well as the alcohol. Yikes. Very good but not for the weak.

The Feel: It's really thick, one you have to sip, not gulp down. It feels like a brown ale, but tastes more like a strong ale. This doesn't mean it's hard to drink, it's just meant to be savored. No thin porter action going on here.

The Verdict: Think Rogue Dead Guy meets Saranac Caramel Porter. With a top layer of hops to boot. Technically, we are in September, and since football season has started, I'd say it's okay to start delving into porters and darker fare now. This one is a doozy; thick and challenging but also comforting like a warm glass of hot cocoa. Or a tight bear hug from your largest college buddy: sure it hurts a little for a second, but it's so comforting.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Session #7: Brew Zoo

It has come to be that time once again. A new month is upon us and therefore a new "Session" as well. I was honored when the Chief Executive Blogger tapped me, of all people, to pound out the September "Session" for Beerjanglin. The topic at hand is the "Brew Zoo". You may wonder what in the heck that means, perhaps even furrowing your brow a bit upon reading it. Well rather than explain this myself, I will simply have the guys over at "Appelation Beer: Beer From a Good Home" do the honors:

"Have you ever noticed how many animals show up on beer labels? We have lions and tigers and bears, plus various birds, reptiles, fish, assorted domesticated and wild animals, plus a few mythical creatures. For whatever reason brewers have a tradition of branding their beers using everything from pets to predators. The Brew Zoo will celebrate these lagers and ales."

Well, to kind of narrow things down a little bit, I will mainly focusing on beers that are readily available to myself up in the Northeastern United States. But enough Golden Monkey-ing around let's get down to business. I am going to explore several of the more popular beer animals.

[And big thanks to Rick Lyke at Lyke 2 Drink for hosting the festivities this month! You can read the four updated Session collections here, here, here and here, as well as Lyke's own entry here. Please visit all these sites and leave comments.]

Ah yes, the canis lupus familiaris, or dog, could, I said could be, the most popular animal to grace beer labels world wide. Now if you are expecting to find Red Dog in this post (other than here), than you have taken the wrong exit on the information superhighway. Feel free to turn around at your earliest convenience, and proceed back to the Macro Crap exit. Anyway back to the canine, man's best friend. Dogs are ever-present in the world of brewing, and why shouldn't they be? Go on, tell me. Nothing? Alright then. You see, while the dog is said to be man's best friend, beer has certainly given the canines of the world a pretty good run for their money. I mean, I love both, but dogs don't assault your taste buds or refresh you like a good beer will. But in a dog's defense, beer doesn't fetch or sniff your crotch, so, it's sort of a toss-up. It seems only natural that man's two best friends be joined in beautiful harmony. I think we've all needed a little "hair of the dog" at one point or another. One place that has really gone to the dogs is Flying Dog Brewery in Colorado.

At Flying Dog they work doggedly at making their delicious brews year round, all aptly named to reference the canine. From the In-Heat Wheat to the Doggie Style IPA to the Tire Bite, they offer quite an array of refreshing and delicious brews. Most of the dogs on the labels are crudely drawn cartoons, so it is difficult to see exactly what kind of dogs they are. But if I had to guess, I would say, "friendly and playful". Several different dogs actually grace the labels, not just the flying dog itself.

Now most of the regular offerings don't have that much "bite", topping out just under 6% ABV, with several staying more in the 4-5% ABV range. But if you don't want to be left lapping up their regular offerings, you may want to try and find their annual Wild Dog Series release. The current one is the Wild Dog Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter which is 9.0% ABV. Yep, not something to just go wagging your tail at. Interestingly enough, this concoction does not have a dog on the label? Go figure, more alcohol, less dog?

Now, unlike Flying Dog, The Sea Dog Brewing Company in Maine relies on just one dog to appear on it's labels, a dog by the name of Barney.

"Barney was the Sea Dog Brewing Company's apprentice brewmaster and figurehead. Sadly he is no longer with us, but his spirit lives on. A Great Pyrenees, which were originally bred for their dauntless protection of mountain flocks and as official guard dogs for the French court in the 17th century, Barney continued this age old tradition by posting guard over the brew kettle as it boiled. Although, the Great Pyrenees breed usually dislikes the water, Barney loved it and dove right in whenever he got the chance. As a boating "enthusiast" he began sailing at three months and thus acquired his nickname of "Sea Dog". Barney was just as at home on deck as on land."
Oddly enough, much like the pack at Flying Dog, the Sea Dog line is not heavy on the alcohol content, offerering only 4 brews above 5.0% ABV. We're not saying they're dogging it, but I find it interesting that beers with dogs on them do not offer that much bite? Although looking at Barney, you realize that such a nice, sweet dog would not bite you unless provoked. I mean how intimidating is a shaggy dog in a rain slicker, really? Sea Dog seems to offer more in the way of fruity flavor like in their Raspberry, Apricot or Blueberry Wheats. They may not have much bite, but I wouldn't mind taking these dogs for a walk anyday, if ya catch my drift.

Now just because a brewery doesn't have a dog name, doesn't mean they can't put one on the label, does it? No it does not. Take a "Beerjanglin" fan favorite; Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale, for example. This Brown Ale features, in case you couldn't guess, an old brown dog on the label. At 5.7% this brown ale could quickly become your best friend. But what's really interesting here, is that Smuttynose logo actually features a smuttynosed seal-like creature that is, quite possibly, an actual seal. But it only appears on the upper labels of their bottles and never anywhere else. Sounds a bit.....

Ah yes, the wonderful world of sea creatures. I would say sea life is about as well-represented in the beer community as the dog. Don't believe me? Think I'm baiting you? Well, I'm not, my friends, I speaketh the truth. So read on, drink on, whatever floats your boat, and take a look at these offerings that you are sure to fall for hook, line and sinker.

The Smuttynose Brewing Co. is one of the better breweries to use a sea creature on it's bottles and logo. The Old Brown Dog Ale is an award winning brew and pretty much everything they offer is delicious and does that smutty-nosed fella on their bottles proud. Just pick one and drink it, you'll sea what I mean. I'm telling you it does not matter, which one you choose, pick randomly. It'll be good. Of course some are better than others, sure.The Big A IPA, the Smuttynose IPA and Smuttynose Robust Porter are among their top offerings, and you'd be wise to make any one of them your "catch of the day."

But really, why settle for just a dog or just a fish?At Dogfish Head Brewing they've found the common denominator, and trust me it does not get much fishier than the brewing at Dogfish Head. There brews tend to be both "experimental" and "extreme". By "extreme", I mean, they have a tad bit more alcohol in them than your average brew. You know like 18-20% or so, no big deal. Perhaps best known, at least to this drinker, for their I.P.A.s. There's a 60 Minute, 90 Minute and for the ever daring, the 120 Minute I.P.A. Some other more experimantal brews include the Aprihop, Chicory Stout and Fetsina Peche. Some of these "experiments" should, perhaps sleep with the fishes. But say what you will about Dogfish Head, they are not afraid to try new things, they'll do something just for the halibut.

Meanwhile, at Rooster Fish Brewing, located slightly more than a stone's throw away from us here in Syracuse, down in Watkins Glen, NY, is the cock of the walk baby. Okay, sure, I've never had anything from this particular brew station, but it looks like a great place. For the hop heads there's a Hop Warrior Imperial IPA, that has my mouth watering just typing about it. But of course there's more, sillies. It looks like they have about six brews on tap, and I'm sure they are all well above mediocre, and are just begging to be reeled in. And besides you know what they say, "Beer with fish on the labels is brain food", or something like that? Or perhaps that's just a......

If your talkin' birds and brew, then you must be talkin' Mendocino Brewing Company, right? The Mendocino family of brews features a bird, mostly hawks, on every label, and delicious beer in every bottle. Now, trust me when I tell you, these brews are not for the birds. Each beer named for a bird is representative of said birds characteristics:
"We are proud to have a range of impressive imagery on all our labels. The Raptors that represent our ales possess all the qualities that our beers have. For example, the Red Tail Hawk, native to Northern California, combines a subtle strength with an amber allure that is reflected perfectly in the ale that bears its name. Eye of the Hawk, features a magnificent head of a Hawk - its piercing eyes giving it an aura of power and presence. So also, our Select Ale that pays tribute to this Hawk. The Black Hawk that our stout portrays, is a singularly elegant raptor that has a maturity born of confidence - so too our Stout."
That just about says it all, don't it? Myself, I'm partial to the White Hawk IPA and the Eye of the Hawk, but I don't think you'll be disappointed with any of their offerings. These brews are great on tap or out of the bottle back at the nest. Trust me, when it comes to making beer, the gang at Mendocino doesn't lay an egg. So take flight (after you're done reading this post of course) to your local grocer or beer store and see if they stock it!

Another notable bird favorite is Middle Ages' Swallow Wit. Brewed in the style of a Belgian wit bier, it has a fruity taste created by orange peel. One of my personal favs, this is a light and refreshing brew that is very drinkable and a delight to have on a warm summer's day. I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and say you'd have to be some sort of bird-brain to not enjoy this. Seriously, I mean it. It's delicious. Maybe not the best Middle Ages has to offer, but it's definitely worth a few pecks. Now don't worry, this brew doesn't fly south for the winter, you can find it year round. Down at Middle Ages they take there brewing seriously and are not about......

Possibly my favorite member of the animal kingdom, I find the monkey to be rather underrepresented in the world of beer. But hey, maybe I'm not looking hard enough, who knows?

Victory's Golden Monkey
is, well, the "gold standard" in monkey-labeled beers. With a 9.5% ABV, it will only take a few of these to make you go bananas. One of Victory's biggest, um, victories, Golden Monkey continues to be a fan-favorite in the beer community. I know, without question, it's the best monkey beer I've ever had. Sure, it's the only one I've ever had, but don't let that detract away from my statement, because it's still top-notch! Nope, no monkey business here, Golden Monkey is the real deal!

Well that about wraps it up folks. Talk about animal magnetism, right? So, heyI'd love it if you left a comment to let me no what you think (please keep it clean and constructive), good, bad or indifferent. Thanks for stopping by, come back soon, and until then...."Bottoms Up!"

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Goose Island Revisited

Does familiarity breed contempt? That's the question we here in the midwestern bureau of Beer Jangling have been asking ourselves. It seems that for two or three years now we have been turning our noses up at the mere mention of Goose Island Beer, and more and more it seems like it's a contempt bred from over exposure and local opinion more than any hard and fast evidence.

But lately after noticing that 6-packs of the Goose Island Summer Ale seemed to keep appearing on the shelf in our refrigerator, and noticing the stellar scores the Summer Ale, and Goose Island's newest special offering Matilda got in All About Beer magazine, it seems that maybe we have been judging Goose Island a little too harshly.

The question of course is "Why?"

The answer lies not in the quality of the beer itself, but rather in the image we have created for it in our heads. The blurry outline of the image begins when we grew tired of seeing the same Honkers ale tap in every Chicago bar right next to the Miller Lite tap, and the image begins to take notice when we can't help but notice the same basic six-packs of Honkers and Seasonals in the grocery store shelves of Jewel and Dominick's, Chicago's 2 major chains, as well as the dust covered shelves of every mom and pop corner store and liquor store in the City. Many is the night we have stopped at the store on the way to a BYO restaurant excited for the opportunity for a new beer and a new meal and instead found ourselves grudgingly blowing the dust off the 8.99 six pack of 312.

But it's when we visit the brew pub that the image truly takes focus. To be sure, part of it is a "grass is always greener" mentality that we have long suffered from and that certainly has us convinced that no brew pub within a 40-minute train ride can possibly match up to the brewery in Michigan, Indiana or S. Illinois that we have not yet discovered. But that belief in the magic of Brew Pubs in far away places has some merit when compared to experience one has when visiting Goose Island.

One of the great things about visiting Brew Pubs in smaller cities like Kalamazoo or Davenport is the opportunity to walk in on a Saturday afternoon and spend a quiet hour or two enjoying the atmosphere with the few locals who have wandered in to that point; invariably one of them is sitting at the bar nursing a beer and a cigarette and reading the local sports page. Anyone else in the bar is probably a friend of the bartender.

It's that hominess that is missing from the Goose Island experience. Wander in there on a
Saturday afternoon and its you and 200 other patrons. Take a seat at the bar and try getting the bartenders attention for some info on the beer and you'll be lucky if they hand you the
menu. And frankly it's just not as much fun when your sampling the same basic beers you can
buy anytime you go the grocery store.

So yeah, we will continue to sully the shelves of our fridge with the 6-packs of Goose
Island Summer while it is available, but know full well that with each one we pull back out
of the fridge we will be longing for October and the arrival of the two brothers wet-hopped
IPAs and of course our next road trip when even the tamest of light ales proves more exciting and adventurous than any of goose islands offerings.

Quick Hits (Where we channel our inner Peter King):

Last month we wandered down to Flossmoor Station, where once again we were disappointed to learn that the famous IPA was not on tap. That makes us 0-2 in our visits to Flossmoor.
However, hops lovers will be happy to learn that the Panama Red Ale and the Pullman Nut
Brown Ale did not disappoint.

August proved to be a very fruitful month for us in new tasting experiences. We traveled
east for weddings in both Buffalo and Syracuse, and while out on the road we were able to
check the Pearl Street Brewery. Excellent India Brown Ale. Great bartender. Good experience
all around. The Trainwreck German Alt is also worth mentioning.

We also got to spend few minutes sampling the wares at out our "home Brewery" Middle Ages in Syracuse. As always there was nothing on tap that could disappoint. The Wailing Wench was
easily our favorite. But the highlight was the few minutes we spent chatting with the
brewmaster. He was excited to learn we were from Chicago and primarily wanted to talk about
the great beers from Goose Island.

But the highlight of the month was an evening at Clark's Ale House in Armory Square. Good
food, good friends and great beer in an atmosphere conducive to enjoying all three. Anyone
want to make a lot of money? Figure out a way to transport Clark's to Chicago and make it
work. You'll get 20% of my paycheck for life.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Beer o' the Moment: Mendocino Black Eye Ale

We've mentioned the wonders of the Mendocino East/Olde Saratoga Brewing Company on a few occasions. Their Mendocino Black Eye Ale is an interesting take on a traditional bottled Black & Tan. Rather than blending a stout with a lager like the Yeungling or Saranac bottled versions -- or even with a lighter ale, as in the famous Guinness/Bass pairing -- this one blends Mendocino Black Hawk Stout with Eye of the Hawk, an 8% abv American Strong Ale. Hence the name Black Eye. Get it?

Black Hawk is a fairly run-of-the-mill stout, but mixed with the tasty (and strong) Eye of the Hawk, it makes for a pretty interesting brew with a bit more depth than many others of the style. It clocks in at a relatively high 6.5% abv, and there are some definite hot alcohol notes at the start, courtesy of the strong ale, but it is surprisingly thin and a bit watery feeling in the mouth. It is slightly sweet, with an almost dark chocolatey bitterness at the finish. Almost. Not a perfect beer, but plenty interesting.

Due to our close proximity, this is a beer that we have enjoyed almost exclusively on a brewery fresh basis. It is available as a blend when both the Black Hawk and Eye of the Hawk are on draught in the tasting room, and in 22 oz. bombers from their cooler or in stores nation wide. The best experience we've had with this beer was the incredible Jack Daniels barrel aged version that seems to make periodic appearances in the Saratoga Springs tasting room. Given Mendocino's broad availability, Black Eye may be on store shelves in many locales on a slightly more aged basis. It is usually sold at popular prices, and is certainly worth a try should you happen across it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Quick Takes: Brooklyn Blast

Well, Brooklyn Brewery's brewer extraordinaire, Garrett Oliver, has done it again. He's created a new series of beers called "Brewmaster's Special Reserve" - limited edition beers that are brewed in small amounts and are being released to select establishments.

One of these "Brewmaster's Special Reserve" beers that we've seen in the Capital Region is Brooklyn Blast, described on the Brooklyn website as a "San Diego Strong Pale Ale," made with malts from Scotland and Germany and a variety of hops (most notably, from Yakima Valley in Washington state and from the Kent Valley of England).

The Brooklyn Blast is more realistically a double IPA - it's an incredibly hoppy beer that measures in at 8.2% alcohol by volume. And, my god, it is good.

The Blast smells wonderful - a great rush of hops, complimented with a tinge of citrus. It's got solid hop bitterness, but with a faint yet deft touch of fruit and sugar sweetness that separates this from other Imperial/Double IPA-type beers. It's hit or miss - if you're big into the hoppiness of the beer, you might get distracted by the sweetness. I enjoyed this; I'm not as much of a hop purist and liked the complexity added by the additional flavoring.

A tip of the hat to the Brooklyn folks for a job well done.

[The other beers in this initial run of "Brewmaster's Special Reserve" series are the Blanche du Brooklyn (a Belgian-style witbier), Brooklyn Abbey Singel (a Trappist style ale), and Antwerpen Ale (a Belgian style pale ale). In the Capital Region, we have seen most of these beers on tap at Mahar's and the Lionheart Tavern, as well as available in growler fills from Glenville Beverage. As for the Blast - it's currently on in all three places, including - intriguingly - on a nitrous pour at Mahar's. ]