Sunday, December 30, 2007

Quick Takes: Otter Creek Otteroo (Sparkling Australian-Style Ale)

You know what's thoughtful? When somebody very thoughtfully gives you a beer-related gift for the holidays. Those are the kinds of relatives you keep in the will, to say the least!

My younger brother Nick (he who, in the fall, reviewed Miller Chill) presented me with an Otter Creek Otter's Selection Gift Pack this Festivus - this pack included an Otter Creek pint glass and bombers of 3 so-called Otter Creek World Tour beers, through which I have been slowly making my way.

One of the bombers included in this gift pack was the Otter Creek Otteroo, described as an Australian-style sparkling ale (but made in Vermont). The bottle promised extra carbonation and the use of Australian hops and ringwood yeast. Admittedly, I was a bit wary of this beer - for all of my recently-acquired beersnobbery, I wasn't tremendously familiar with Sparkling Ales as a style, and went in expecting something like a fruit-less Lambic.

Really, though, the Otteroo wasn't much like any of my expectations. The extra carbonation was barely noticeable, if at all, only really serving to keep the head on my pour from bomber into glass at a bare minimum. As for the taste, I must say that this was a particularly malty, somewhat bittersweet beer - not at all a bad beer, really, but considering the exotic ingredients, it was nothing particularly spectacular. Given that the hops traveled halfway around the world, I would have liked to have been able to taste them more.

For a special-batch beer, which the Otteroo seems to be, I wasn't particularly overwhelmed. Overall, it was a decent pint-and-some, but if I return to the Outback for this type of beer, it probably won't be with the Otter Creek brewers as my tourguide.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Quick Takes: Sixpoint Belgian-Style IPA

Since the beginning of December, I've been spending the bulk of my time in New York City (a new job has me slowly relocating from the Capital Region to the outerboroughs of NYC ). One of the upsides of this switch has been a chance for me to explore some new breweries and beers.

Yesterday, while accompanied by my friend Juan (who, coincidentally, provides voice-over work for a series of commercials touting Miller Chill beer), I went to Great Jones Cafe, a lovely little hole-in-the-wall place on Great Jones Street in Manhattan with a great jukebox and a pretty solid beer selection. When I saw that they offered the Williamsburg, Brooklyn-located Sixpoint's IPA on tap, I jumped at it.

The pour of this beer was thick, with a hazy orange color to it. It was surprisingly creamy, which is something I've not really associated with IPAs before, but man, were those hops front and center. The strong hoppiness of this beer was supplemented by a citrus-y taste to it.

After the fact, I found out that Sixpoint's IPA is considered a "Belgian Style" IPA. Sixpoint's website is mum on what this means (actually, it's pretty quiet on most things - it's currently undergoing renovations), so I'm going to go out on a limb here and wonder aloud as to whether this means that it uses ingredients more commonly found in Belgian styles of beer in an IPA brewing process. I'm stumped, to be honest (but that's not hard).

Needless to say, I was very taken by this beer, and would gladly kill a man (or woman, or child) for another taste. Phenomenal.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Beer O'The Moment - Stone 11th Anniversary

The wonderful beers of the fine people at San Diego's Stone Brewing are favorites around these parts, as both our loyal readers can tell you. One can find the Ruination double IPA and Arrogant Bastard Ale at bargain basement prices even in grocery stores in Central New York, and if this is the way they are turning people on to craft beer -- 22 ounces and $5 at a time -- then we couldn't be happier.

Stone's iconic gargoyle imagery and the writerly copy on each of their 22 ounce bottles naturally appeals to us aesthetically, but it has always been the deceptively remarkable beers inside that have kept it from becoming just a cleverly marketed beer.

Given our already stratospheric opinion of this brewery, and given the constant evolution of their products and the championing of the merits of craft beer -- the Vertical Epic series comes to mind -- it's hard to say that Stone could really surprise us with any new beers they came out with. But they did exactly that with the 11th Anniversary Ale, a remarkable Strong Ale that pleases four out of the five senses (sorry, hearing). It's one of those beers that catches you by surprise even after you've poured it.

The look of the beer is pitch black. If handed this beer in some sort of a blind test, we would have guessed it was a stout. The foamy head at the top is a large and bubbly light cardboard brown. But it is absolutely opaque, where not even a sliver of light could burrow its way from one side to the other.

The aroma of the beer positively shocked -- nay, flabbergasted us. The smell is not the roasted coffee-and-dark-berries smell we expected. No, the XIth Anniversary smells of a citrusy IPA! What the...? The hops are bitter and woody, like any regular India Pale, pulling a complete switcheroo on our gullible olfactory senses. The hops, it must be pointed out, are magnificently complex: they have equal measures of pungent grapefruit, grassy pine and sweet citrus. All of this is balanced beautifully by a dry, English-ale style malt, a humbling agent that reminds all these brash other flavors where they came from. The smell is actually perfect, which is not a word we use very often. It's less an aroma than it is a bouquet of aromas. The traffic-stopping hops are oily and rich. And to top it off, there is a hint of chocolate aroma at the end. And notice we haven't even tasted it yet.

The flavor is a marriage of the look and the smell: supremely bitter West Coast hops, but with a unique burnt coffee malt. It's like an India Pale Porter. Those oily and bitter hops duke it out with the dry, bitter malt. The hops come out strong in the beginning, but the malt takes the later rounds. The flavor really shifts to the burnt, toasted malt as it warms up, with the hops receding to the background as an accent.

This is a beer that evolves.

The feel is supremely thick and yet also smooth. It's like motor oil with a dry roasted malt finish. And that about sums up the whole beer: it's a bit, thick, oily, dark, hoppy, nutty, roasted brew. Could I drink it all night? Not unless I had the next week off. But it's perfect for a pint.

Stone continues to get it done. If you haven't had the pleasure, take a chance on this damn good balanced brew.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Why that would be Pilsner Urquell of course! Yes that's right the original pilsner, the beer that changed how the world sees beer! This was the first ever pilsner, and every pils, pilsner, or pilsener is in some way formulated from the original recipe passed down through the ages from the gang at good ol' Pils-Urq. Now, while it is tempting to start rattling off an ode to the pilsner style, I will refrain. No, I will not wax poetically about the wonder of Beck's or the magnificence of Heineken. No, no I will not. Why? Because, as tempting as it is to rattle on and on about the glory Saaz noble hops, this post is not about pilsners, and the magic within them. No, no, this is about THE pilsner, Pilsner Urquell.

The Pils-Urq is offered in a shiny green bottle, with a label that screams, "CLASS!" Elegant and inviting, the bottle wisks you away to the old time Czech Republic, and it never felt so right. Nice lookin' label, nice lookin' bottle, so far, so good. Unfortunately that is roughly where the good times end. Because now it's time to open her up and go in for the real thing.

It pours a brilliantly clear straw color, that brings you back to a simpler time, when men were men, and women couldn't vote. Yes and don't you worry your pretty little heads, you can see right through it! And if you put it over a piece of paper with writing, it can actually act as a magnifying glass. Take that Guinness!

Now, as any beer drinker worth his weight in hops would, I go in for the smell. Now when the aroma of this particular brew first hits the nostrils, it becomes readily apparent to the drinker why the initials of this beer are P.U. It's like they threatened Pepe Le Pew before each new batch, to get that crisp skunky smell just right. Cause at Pilsner Urquell they raise and frighten only the finest skunks to in all of Eastern Europe. Well, I won't lie, too often that is, but the smell did not have me that ecstatic about goin' in for the taste. But I did, for you, my loyal reader.

Surprisingly the skunkiness was not as prevalent in the taste as it was the smell, and my mouth couldn't have been happier! Well, I mean it could've been happier, if I was drinking, say, Anchor Liberty Ale or any other beer I enjoy, but you get the pitcher. It had that hint of bitterness you'd expect, with a hint of I believe, hydrogen and oxygen. But the hydrogenity seemed like it may have been about twice as much as the oxygenacity in there. Yes, definitely two hydrogens for every oxygen or so. It almost feels like you're being hydrated? The taste was fairly bland, but the "P to the U" does have some subtle malty undertones, and will prick your tongue as it passes through, but overall it does not have a strong taste about it. It won't stand out in a crowd, if you know what I'm saying.

So, is it drinkable? Sure. Would I go out of my way to track down more for my private stock? Probably not. I mean although it is the original pilsner, I don't think it has any other beers in "Czech", as it were. I would rate this okay to drink if you are surrounded by skunks and need to make them think you are one of their own. Or I guess if you are surrounded by "Czechs" and need to make them think you are one of their own. Either way. Now, it's off to find out what exactly is Yugoslavian for alcoholic water.

Bottoms Up
Willie 3:16