Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Beer in Mind: UBER SUN

In a new segment for Beerjanglin' I am gonna bring our readers, of which there are dozens, DOZENS, a look at some new or newer brews. Mostly ones I'd like to wet my palate with. Today we're taking a look at the Southern Tier Imperial Summer Wheat, The Uber Sun.

"It is through the movement of the universe that life presents itself in transformation. It is in this spirit that we make UberSun, a tribute to the dynamic energy of summer."

Basically this is an Imperial Hop Sun, and I think we all know there ain't a thing wrong with that! Made with a combo of 2-row pale malt, wheat malt, and some fine centennial hops...

"The alignment of wheat and barley through this hop-infused brew embodies the solar system itself.....This may be a difficult task, but one our brewers revel in! They brew a galaxy of taste into every batch. Uber Sun is the ultimate experience that will challenge you with every sip."

The Hop Sun, while not our favorite Southern Tier offering, is surely a solid brew, and with 8% ABV, the Uber Sun looks to be another winner, in our books. The early reviews of this are very good, scoring an average 4.23 (out of 5) on Beer Advocate. We, for one, cannot wait to get our hands on what promises to be a little slice of "Hop Heaven!"

"Uber Sun is clean and full of flavor, but don't pull an Icarus-this is one big beer! Pour a glass or drink straight from the bottle, it's meant to be consumed wisely with friends between summer solstice and autumnal equinox."- Southern Tier

Bottoms Up!
-Willie 3:16

Craft Beer Continues Upward and Outward Trend

"As sales of craft beers -- mostly local and regional smaller-batch brews -- continue to soar amid an otherwise sluggish U.S. beer market, arrivals of well-known but previously unavailable beers are becoming significant events. And craft brewers and retailers are going to greater lengths to stoke them."
In this article from Advertising Age, we learn that craft beer sales continue their impressive growth, up 18% in dollar sales in supermarkets in 2006, compared to 2.4% for beer overall. Likely as a result of this figure, supermarkets are stocking 20% more craft-beer products than a year ago. This strikes us an important sign, as the vast majority of beer drinkers are purchasing theirs at supermarkets along with the weekly groceries, not in specialty stores. Small steps to be sure, but important ones. Additionally, the launch of Colorado's New Belgium Fat Tire Amber in Minneapolis is compared to the hysteria surrounding the introduction of Apple's iPhone, Shiner Bock has a successful launch in Chicago thanks in part to viral marketing to displaced Texans, and craft beer's surging popularity is likened to that of Coor's in the 70's! It seems like more than a few things are happening in the Midwest. Sure, we've now given you the Cliffs Notes version, but the story is still a solid read (and not too long, ADD boy). Check it out.

Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale?

Quick note:

I was reading BeerAdvocate this evening (okay fine, well into the night) hoping to get some information about Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, which may have been the greatest pint of beer I have ever had. I tend to mention the Sierra Harvest with the frequency that Walter Sobchak might mention Vietnam.

Anyway, I came across some news that Sierra is going to be releasing a new brew this month called Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale. It will be a one-time release.

Other than the hop type (I believe the Harvest used Simcoe hops, whereas the Anniversary uses Cascade hops) and perhaps some of that caramel business, this seems to be extremely similar to the Harvest Ale. They have completely different ABV %s (Harvest=6.20%, Anniversary=5.90%) so I'm under no illusion that they are the same beer, but has anyone heard about this?

Here is how BeerAdvocate describes it:

Brewed to celebrate 27 years of the pioneering of the craft beer movement, this beer is an American Style IPA with a distinct Sierra Nevada twist; a generous amount of Cascade hops to produce a big fragrant pine and citrus hop aroma, which is balanced by the sweetness of two row pale and caramel malt, and finished with additional Cascade dry-hopping for good measure. Anniversary Ale is a medium-bodied, well-hopped ale that finishes with a slight malt sweetness. Released August 2007.

If you have any information on this brew (since Sierra's website is surprisingly closed-lipped), please leave a comment. Or you can email us at beerjanglin@gmail.com. More importantly, does anyone know whether the Harvest Ale will be released? And when? And where? And how far would I be willing to drive to have some? (Answer: Schenectady, at least.) Developing...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Beer o' The Moment: Stone Ruination IPA

Stone is one of the best breweries going, in this fair nation. Now unfortunately I have not had the means to get to Stone, which, alas, lies on the complete other side of the country, in the sunny California. Now if you live out west, especially in the southern California area, you should really take a trip to the Stone Brewery. Now if you are like myself, and getting there is not quite as feasible, you can, and should, check out their website. Stone has many happenings going on from Beer and Book Night to Mike's Beer Cheese Night (Harpoon's not the only one mixing cheese and beer) to movie night (Blazing Saddles is the next late night movie). Needless to say, it doesn't take long to see that the folks at Stone know what they're doing.

In fact they even manage to brew a few good beers here and there, one of them being the BOTM: Ruination. I happened upon the Ruination, at one of my favorite haunts, Clark's Ale House. The Ruination is a hophead's dream come true. Here's how the fellas at Stone describe this bad boy:

So named for it's "ruinous" effect on your palate! This massive hop monster has a wonderfully delicious and intensely bitter flavor on a refreshing malt base. One taste and you can easily see why we call this brew, "a liquid poem to the glory of the hop!" Those who seek, crave and rejoice in beers with big, bold, bitter character will find true nirvana in Stone Ruination IPA.


Couldn't put it better myself. The Ruination pours a beautiful amber with very little head. Although filled with hoppy goodness, the piney, hoppy smell is not more subtle than you may think, as it emanates from your glass. But once you dive it's like a taste bonanza! Whatever the heck that means? You can taste the hop and piney goodness, but there is a good flavor balance going on. The bitterness is poweful, but it doesn't "ruin" this baby from going down smooth. Maybe even smoother than other beers of the same nature. This is probably, without a doubt, the best IPA I've ever had. The guys at Stone sure do know their way around a fermenter. On my scale of swill to liquid awesome this rates a............LIQUID AWESOME!


Bottoms Up!
-Willie 3:16

Harpoon IPA Cheddar Cheese

Pairing craft beer with food has become almost de rigueur. Some of the foremost advocates of beer are predicting that it will be undergo a revolution similar to the one that transformed wine a few decades ago. No less an authority than Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver says "beer is a far better accompaniment to cheese," and compares matching beer with cheese to a "hug" while calling wine and cheese pairings a mere "handshake." If you're scoring at home, craft beer (1.) is in the midst of a revolution, (2.) pairs nicely with food, and (3.) may go better with cheese than wine does. But how about a cheese made with beer?


Two fine Vermont companies, Harpoon Brewery (they purchased the former Catamount Brewery in Windsor in 2000, in addition to their original Boston location) and Cabot Creamery, headquartered in Montpelier, have combined forces to help us answer this important question. We've long thought of Cabot in connection with beer (even before it became cool) because there is a Cabot production facility located right next to the Otter Creek brewery in Middlebury, VT. Cabot must feel pretty strongly about combining beer and cheese as well, as their web site has a page dedicated to comparing the similarities of their cheeses share with craft beers and some basic pairing suggestions. They even offer a Beer and Cheddar brochure! We especially enjoyed this bit:

Much like aging a premium cheese, or producing a fine wine, brewing a quality beer with a distinct personality is a craft unto itself. Today, there is no excuse for enduring bland, processed cheese or drinking mass-produced, watered-down beer. From rich dark stouts to refreshing pale ales, from spicy to fruity, smoky to herbal, somewhere out there is a brew for every taste and every occasion. To enhance the experience, Cabot offers a wide selection of tasty, all-natural cheeses to complement the new breed of American ales and lagers.

Amen!

The IPA cheddar acquitted itself nicely as part of a grilled ham and cheese panini (Black Forest ham, cheese, red onion, and our own blend of Whalen's spicy horseradish sauce combined with yellow mustard, on local Mastoriani Bros. multi-grain bread, which gets perfectly crispy on a panini press). Accompanied by a pint from a fresh growler of spicy Mendocino White Hawk IPA from Olde Saratoga brewery, it made for a better-than-decent quick meal.

A plate of sliced IPA cheddar and pretzel crisps paired quite nicely with a Cascazilla "Monstrously Hoppy" Red from Ithaca Beer Co. It's hard to screw up beer and cheese, and maybe it's just a mental thing, but this cheese does seem to go almost perfectly with a well-hopped beer. Harpoon IPA is not something that we typically keep on hand, but at some point we're going to have to try that pairing as well.

Harpoon IPA Cheddar is a bit spicier than the norm, presumably due to the flavouring process. The cheese is cut into blocks and then soaked in Harpoon IPA for 24 hours. It is then drained, packaged, and stored at 45º F for four weeks. In addition to the spiciness, it is quite creamy, and not overly sharp. We don't necessarily detect it, but Lady Bojangles swears it tastes a lot like beer. Overall, it's an excellent cheese, and fairly unique. It also makes one wonder - is this soaking beer in cheese thing something that we could try at home? It does sound fairly foolproof.

Cabot calls this effort their most innovative to date. You can read the press release here.

Midwestern Summer Beer Update

It's been a tough summer for any NYS beer lover transplanted to the Midwest. Fortunately for me, while I do enjoy a good beer, I've still got a lot of that junior high kid in me whose first full beer was the Piels he stole from his father's personal stash nearly 20-years ago. So it is that, now as I sit here gulping down Old Style's and cursing my shitty window unit A/C, I am once again reminded that as it was in the beginning, as it is now and as it always shall be, in some ways it's still all about the alcohol.

However, no amount of alcohol can really dull the trauma of the first summer Chicago has spent with no Bell's Oberon to refresh us and the even more perplexing vanishment of the Summit Hefeweizen from the Heartland, the best place to sit outdoors and drink an imperial pint on a Sunday Morning anywhere on the planet. Plus as our gas prices remain the highest in the country, it's made the regular beer excursions of past summers a lot harder to make this summers.

So take away Bell's and the Summit at the Heartland and field trips to New Glarus, Delafield or the Bent River, and what are you left with? Surprisingly, there is still a lot going on. The microbrew revolution has finally moved beyond the Hopleaf and has begun catching on all over the city.

And while it's still comical to walk into a bar and look up at the beer list on the chalkboards behind most bars and see things like "Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, California, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Chicago, Fat Tire, Colorado, Goose Island 312, Chicago, Miller Lite, Milwaukee..." It's still nice to notice the Rogue invasion in places like the Edgwater Tavern, the Allagash White at Kuma's Corner and the explosion of bars like Small Bar, a neighborhood place that specializes in good brews and Pub food. If only they could get their prices down under 7.50 a pint for a Spaten Hefe-Weizen.

Yes, the microbrew revolution is finally catching on here, and while it's nice to be a part of it, without Bell's, it's sort of like being introduced to the Grunge revolution in the Summer of 1994 when Candlebox ruled the airwaves and Kurt Cobain had left just recently enough for the whole world to still feel the void, A void I find myself filling more and more these days with the Goose Island 312 or the Summer Brew, the Candlebox brews of the microbrew scene.

So that's pretty much the way the beer scene has played out this summer in Chicago. Not a whole lot of excitement in terms of good beers, but still there is something to be said for the saturation of the market. As for me, I'm pretty much stuck up here in the Northeast Corner of the City where I am content to stick to sucking down my $3.50 Franziskaner Hefe-Weizzen imperial pints at Champions and the Bubble while I fantasize about the El Rojo Diablo at the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, PA, the Bohemian Red at the Kraftbrau Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI, and of course a wonderful midsummer nights dream dancing with Oberon in the Beer garden @ bells. All of which are adventures that will be detailed on entries to come.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Quick Take: Magic Hat Kerouac

The folks at Magic Hat continue to frustrate us.

By all accounts, they are a class operation that really does a great job of not only marketing their product -- their Vermont-based beers are all over Central New York -- but also remaining interactive with their "fans," getting them to vote on beers, come up with names, and decide which batches should stay and which should go. They seem to be true advocates of the craft of brewing.



Additionally, they are constantly refining their product, turning over their product very efficiently for each season, and putting out new, sometimes experiemental beers. Some of them are fantastic (Roxy Rolles), and some of them didn't quite hit us the right way (Jinx).

But our main problem is that they don't always seem to make the most sound decisions when it comes to their beers. They market the hell out of their #9 (and rightfully so, given that it's probably the East Coast's number one "gateway beer" for non-beer drinkers), but it's impossible to find Roxy Rolles at this time of year.

Also, according to Wikipedia, they have discontinued brewing their decent Blind Faith IPA and pleasant Fat Angel pale ale. [Note: I won't mind this so much if they start pushing their Hi.P.A. a little harder and come out with a comparable pale ale.]

On a quick jaunt to Clark's Ale House recently, we noticed that Magic Hat was offering a brew of whose existence we had not been aware: Kerouac. (The beer is not mentioned on Magic Hat's website.) Since all the Magic Hat brews have a kind of hippie vibe, the name didn't really intrigue us as much as some of the other "tribute" beers we had tried in the past -- notably He'Brew's tribute to Lenny Bruce and Lagunitas's homage to Frank Zappa. (Besides, we read On the Road and it bored the shit out of us.)

We asked the barkeep what kind of brew this was, to which he replied "beet ale." Given the name of the beer, we had assumed that the bartender had meant "beat ale," as in the Beat Generation of Kerouac, Ginsburg, Burroughs, etc. Who would make a beer out of beets? But it soon became apparent that this brew was certainly not normal.

It pours a very bright red that looks more like some kind of juice that would come from an empty jar of cherries. It does not look like beer. It was at this point that we figured out that it truly was a "beet ale". The smell is almost non-existant; it is a very slight cherry (or we suppose beet) smell, but very slight. The rest of the smell is a bitter malt. The taste doesn't offer very much in the way of blowing our proverbial skirt up. There is that same bitter Bavarian malt taste that the smell foretold, but really not much else. It's almost like a winter ale, but without any of that tart sweetness whatsoever. And although the feel of the ale is a relatively welcome creamy viscosity, the drinking experience overall is simply dull. Ironically, because the beer is so bland and inoffensive, it's actually a pretty easy drinkin' brew. Still, Kerouac Beet Ale seems a long way to go for a pun.

We will always be rooting for Magic Hat, because we think it's got the right spirit for the beer-drinking public. Furthermore, we would rather have a brewery that takes risks and comes up with new and exciting batches, as opposed to those breweries that play it safe and dull. But this beet ale didn't quite get the job done.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Beer O' the Moment: Dogfish Head Festina Pèche

Dogfish Head is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to their beers, hence the motto, "Off-centered ales for off-centered people." There is Midas Touch Golden Elixer, originally called "the oldest known fermented beverage in the world," and formulated based on residue found in drinking vessels from the tomb of the real life King Midas, which supposedly dates to 700 B.C. Midas Touch was displaced in seniority with the introduction of Chateau Jiahu, a fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit reconstructed from remnants in 9,000 year old pottery found in a Northern China province. 120 Minute IPA is a mind-blowing 20% ABV and 120 IBUs, and sells for roughly $10 per (450 calorie!) 12 oz. bottle.

Anyway, you get the picture; Dogfish Head is not afraid to push the envelope, or even to tear it wide open. It doesn't always work, but it ain't boring, either. We weren't all that enamored with their sour peach lambic offering, Festina Lente, at last July's Belgium comes to Cooperstown festival at Brewery Ommegang, but that doesn't a second peach-based beer, Festina Pèche, isn't worth a try.

Described on the label as a "Malt beverage brewed with peach concentrate," Festina Pèche is Dogfish Head's admittedly unique version of a Berliner Weisse, fermented with real peach juice. At 4.5% ABV, this is a bit stronger than is typical of this style, a real shock coming from these guys. It pours a pale straw yellow with a foamy white head that quickly disappears, leaving only a ring of lace around the edge of the Belgian-style chalice. The tart peach aroma is present, but not at all overpowering, as there are also hints of apple and wheat present. The taste is very sharp and sour, but with some dry sweetness coming through from the peach and malt. There is almost no hop presence detectable. This one is a very interesting drinker, definitely helped out by the strong sun overhead on a hot summer day. Though Berliner Weissebier is a low ABV style basically designed as an all day summer drinker, this version seems a bit too much to have more than a couple at a time. It did prove very quenching, and very different than most typical summer offerings, though. Did we mention that it is somewhat sour?

Dogfish Head compares Festina Pèche with Pinot Grigio, and recommends pairing it with chicken or fish, which sounds about right to us, as it definitely has a wine thing going on. Pick up a four pack during one of those unbearable dog days of August and see what you think. We promise you'll have a unique experience, at the very least.

What the brewer says:

A refreshing, neo-Berliner Weisse fermented with honest to goodness peaches to (get this!) 4.5% abv! Because extreme beers don't have to be extremely boozy! Available in 4-pack and draft during the sweaty months. Sadly, there are only two breweries left in Berlin still brewing the BerlinerWeisse style which is characterized by its intense tartness. There were once over 70 breweries in Berlin alone making this beer! In addition to fermentation with an ale yeast, Berliner Weisse is traditionally fermented with lactic cultures to produce its acidic or green apple-like character. It is delicately hopped with a pale straw color and served as an aperitif or summertime quencher. To soften the intense sourness, Berliner Weisse is traditionally served with a dash of essence of woodruff or raspberry syrup.

In our Festinal Peche since the natural peach sugars are eaten by the yeast, the fruit complexity is woven into both the aroma and the taste of the beer so there is no need to doctor it with woodruff or raspberry syrup - open and enjoy!


Thursday, July 26, 2007

The C.H. Evans Brewing Company At The Albany Pump Station


Ive been in Albany for just over four years, and there's always been one place that I've found to be reliable for quality in food and drink: the C.H. Evans Brewing Company At The Albany Pump Station. Located in (naturally) an old Hudson River pump station in the near vicinity of Quackenbush Square in downtown Albany, the Pump Station (for short) has been my go-to in my adopted hometown for quite some time. It's been the place my parents come when they're in town, where I've met up with out-of-town friends, where I've had first dates, and where I've gone to unwind after a difficult day at the office. It's a very versatile bar and restaurant.

The menu at Pump Station is pretty solid. Recommended appetizers include a sizeable nacho platter, buffalo chicken tenders, tempura-battered calamari, or, in a wild-card, Thai peanut wings. If you're going to stay for a meal, you can choose from a variety of sandwiches (I'm partial to the Pump Station Burger, which is infused with their Kick-Ass Brown Ale – more on that later – and the Turkey Burger, which is satisfyingly spiced with sage and served with a cranberry mayonnaise), or you can order an entrée. We have yet to be let down by the food at the Pump Station after several years of semi-regular patronage.

Ultimately, the main attraction at Pump Station is the beer. The Evans family brewed beer in the Albany area for generations, peaking in popularity during the Wilson administration. Neil Evans, the proprietor of the Pump Station, has assumed the family name, and given what we’ve seen through the years, has re-established the Evans name in beermaking.

Some of the beers that are currently on tap and my thoughts on them:

  • The aforementioned Kick-Ass Brown: A two time winner at the Great American Beer Festival (2000, 2002) for best American Brown Ale, this has been a consistent winner at the Pump Station. I can't think of a time when this hasn't been available. It's got a wonderful, deep-caramel color, and it features a nice blend of hoppiness and malt taste. It's the kind of beer that is deeply satisfying regardless of season.

  • The Pump Station Pale Ale has not been as constant; in recent months, they've changed the formula (I think). It's more aggressively hoppy than it was in the past, and it's got a great lingering pine taste. I used to overlook this beer, but no more. It's moved to the front of the pack.

  • The Quackenbush Blonde and the Scottish Light are two sides of the same coin; neither has any particularly distinguishing characteristics. They're drinking beers for the lumpenproletariat, which is not necessarily a bad thing – after all, the proprietors probably make more money from soccer moms on“wild nights out”than they do from a dude like me.

    -

  • Currently, they're featuring the Evans Wit (a really nice unfiltered Belgian wheat beer with tastes of orange and coriander) and, curiously, a Smoked Hefeweizen (I've yet to try this, but color me intrigued). They're not currently featuring their normal Hefeweizen, but trust me, it's delightful – a touch lighter than the Evans Wit, if you would.

  • Currently, the featured stout is the Evans Extra Stout, with tastes reminiscent of Cuban coffee and chocolate. This might be one of my favorite beverages in the area on a mid-winter's night, unless they're brewing their Imperial Stout – which they serve in a brandy-snifter and will warm even the most unreachable heart.


The ambience at the Pump Station is pretty great. The brewery equipment is omnipresent without being intrusive; given the overall-industrial feel of the place, it fits in quite nicely. It's simultaneously spacious and intimate; if you're going to go to Pump Station on a date-night, we highly recommend a spot in the back of the restaurant by the fireplace. It'll help. Trust me.

If you're in Albany, you gotta get to the Pump Station. Brown's Brewing Company, in Troy, might have the nice deck, and the Van Dyck, in Schenectady, might evoke the wistful sighs of 'what could have been,’but the Pump Station is the real deal, and delivers on all levels, every time. If only there were more places like it in the Capital Region.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beer O' the Moment : QPC Edition - #4

Amazingly, Saratoga racing season starts tomorrow, and that means it's time to wrap up our Quixotic quest for the perfect canned beer to occupy our cooler on our day(s) with the ponies. Our fourth challenger is something of a wild card, Ballantine XXX Ale. Legend has it that Ballantine was quite the tasty pale ale in its day, though those days are now long since past. In its current incarnation, Ballantine is owned by Pabst (though the label reads Falstaff), which itself is really nothing more than a corporate entity with a veritable who's who of formerly big name beers in its stable, most of which are now contract brewed for them by Miller. Pabst's impressive line of beers (not linkable, but seriously, check out these names) and lack of actual breweries is probably worthy of a post in itself, but we'll concentrate on the beer in hand for now.

Ballantine was founded in Newark, New Jersey in 1840 by Scottish immigrant Peter Ballantine, who had previously worked at a brewery in Albany prior to relocating to be closer to the New York City beer market. By 1877, it was the fourth largest brewery in the United States, and the largest that produced exclusively ales. The company struggled a bit and was sold out of the Ballantine family following Prohibition, but by 1950 had become popular enough to rank number three among U.S. breweries. The decline was fairly swift after that, as the brand was acquired first by Falstaff, which in turn was acquired by Heilman, which was soon acquired by Pabst. Pabst closed their last actual brewery in 2001, but the beers remain.

The very now "America's Largest Selling Ale". From the can, it pours a pale golden straw colour, with a finger-thick head that quickly dissipates to faint ring canned version that we purchased comes in an eye catching bright green aluminum ensemble decorated with an ovular logo bearing the famous Ballantine XXX Ale name, along with the interlocking three ring symbol (purity, body, flavor) and this dubious phrase: around the edge of the glass. The scent is a not unpleasant cross between faint hops and faint skunk, with a bit of sweetness underneath. That sweetness carries through to the flavour. It tastes not unlike a Genny Cream to be honest, which is certainly not a bad thing. This one is available at popular prices, proved to be surprisingly drinkable, even somewhat enjoyable, and it would certainly not be out of the question to quaff a couple while watching incredibly expensive horses race around in circles only to finish in the wrong order.

Contender: Ballantine XXX Ale
Style: American Pale Ale
(sorta)
ABV:
5.5%
Price: $3.99 for six 12 oz. cans

Verdict: Room for a couple in our cooler

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not to be Taken for Pomegranate!

Over this past weekend I, being the lover of a good wheat beer that I am, partook of a Saranac's newest seasonal offering their Pomegranate Wheat. Now, not being as in to the darker beers as the rest of the Beerjanglin' lot, summer is the perfect time for me. You see summer is the perfect time for wheats, and lighter fare, while your stouts, and dark whatnots take a bit of a back seat. Which means I am in hog heaven, folks! Drink it in! But back to the beer at hand, the Pomegranate Wheat. Now, I'd be lying if I said that my choice was not partially, or completely influenced by the bear with sungalsses juggling, what I would assume to be pomegranates, on the label. For you up and coming breweries out there, that's how you move product, juggling bears! I'd also like to see more monkeys on labels, but that's just my humble opinion. But there's a lot more to beer than the label. In my book, presentation counts for at least 41% of my overall rating, the other 74%, well that is what's behind the label! Now from the label it's on to the aroma, and this had a subtle, intriguing, and yet inviting aroma. I've never smelled a pomegranate before, but I envisioned myself sitting in a pomegranate orchard, soaking up the sun, without a care in the world, as I took in it's sweet smells. After letting it's delicious scent waft into my nostrils for a bit, I decided to go in! It was light, as are most wheats, with the pomegranate providing just enough red tint. Sitting there, with the sun refracting through it, it was just begging to be consumed, so who was I to argue? Down it went, smooth and refreshing! There was not a lot of lingering aftertaste, which I like and not an overpowering fruit flavor about it. The fruitiness is noticeable, but not so much as to make the guys out there feel unmanly. Now is this the best wheat beer I've ever had? No. But it is definitely the best pomegranate wheat I've ever had. I say that to say this. Saranac rarely let's me down and this time was no different, as this a welcome addition to there Beer of Summer lineup, great for picnics or BBQs, and a great way to break in some newcomers to the world of good beer. On my scale of "swill" to "liquid awesome", I give it a "more than pleasurable"!

Bottoms Up!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Landmark at the Grog Shoppe

The Landmark Beer Company is a small brewery based in Syracuse. Currently, all of there beer is brewed at Wagner Valley where we, coincidentally, happen to be heading later today. The Grog Shoppe, aside from being wonderfully named, is a bar and restaurant located on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady. They've always had a decent beer selection and some pretty fine burgers, but seemed to have lost some business and cut back on their late night hours over the past couple years as more popular watering holes have opened in the area. This morning, however, we discovered that the Grog Shoppe is featuring Landmark's Vanilla Bean Brown and doing quite well with it. How perfectly lovely! Perhaps we'll even get a chance to try the new Landmark IPA there. This will be explored further at our earliest opportunity.

Beer O' The Moment - Fisherman's IPA

Fellow hop-heads, take note.

After brief flirtations with English Ales and Ambers, we're back to our one true love: India Pale Ales. You know, the beers that those of us with masochistic tendencies like to drink to punish our tongues. The kind of beers that make the hottest hot sauces at BBQ rib-joints so much worse. The kind that require full glasses of water in between to mellow out the harshness of the bitter, bitter hops.

And we found a surprisingly good one.

The Cape Ann Brewing Company is a seemingly small brewery located in Gloucester, Massachussetts. They make 4 year-round brews (Kolsch, Amber Lager, IPA and Winter Lager) and two seasonals (Pumpkin Ale and Doppelbock), all under the name "Fisherman's". Their Fisherman's IPA was a nice little session India Pale we tried since we liked the label so much.


Cape Ann Brewing's website describes the Fisherman's IPA thusly:

64 IBU's , 5.5% ABV. Same exceptional quality 2 row barley as the [Fisherman's] Brew [amber lager], flavored with 6 exotic hops for a distinct hop character! Well balanced and very flavorful.
We couldn't put it better ourselves. But we'll try anyway.

First off, the look of this beer is damn near perfect. It pours a big, thick and chunky dark orange. It's cloudy like a glass of cider. It has a big, proud head that just hits the rim of the glass without spilling. (How does it always know?) It's beautiful to look at. Even the lacing is good. It's the ideal IPA, visually. It's so good I almost didn't want to drink it, but you can't drink your IPA and keep it too.

The aroma is a fantastic-smelling cavalcade of piney and bitter hops, with that fresh-smelling "wet-hop" aroma. (You hop-heads know what I'm talking about.) The pale malt aroma is a nice counter-accent. There is also a surprisingly pleasant oak flavor added for no apparent reason. Looks good, smells good. How about the most important thing?

The flavor is seriously bitter, woody hops. The pale malt base is the perfect balance. The hops are seriously, SERIOUSLY bitter, but yet they have a nice sweet finish that grants mercy upon our ravaged tongue. The hops are wet and oily, just the way we like 'em. And that bitterness dulls as it warms, so all the flavor is there, but less of the palate-abuse toward the end. It does leave a bitter film on the tongue.

It's full-bodied and thick, but also goes down smooth; a difficult balancing act. Now, we're not going to lie to you and say you'll be able to tangle with this bitter old sea merchant all night long, but it's perfect when you just want a blast of hops, but also want it balanced -- as opposed to some overloaded, Pine-Sol smelling, classically over-hopped Imperial IPA.

This Fisherman is a bitterness you should catch.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Visit to Empire Brewing Company

If memory of five years' past serves, the subterranean environs on Walton Street occupied by the Empire Brewing Company are slightly more inviting on a typically snowy Syracuse evening in January than on a picturesque, blue skied July afternoon. Nevertheless, our schedule (and consummate journalistic dedication) dictated that this was the time for our long-awaited return. It took a few minutes to adjust from the bright sunlight of the street above to the considerably dimmer surroundings at the bottom of the stairs leading to the bar's entrance. At first, the overwhelming sensation was merely that of loud noise. Surprisingly for a Monday at just after noon, there was a live blues band playing, and they were plenty loud. As we became more comfortable in the surroundings, it became apparent that the band was merely a duo, and a pretty solid one at that. It also became clear that there was plenty to take in beyond the music. The wall that runs behind the bar is brick, with several glassed archways revealing the stainless steel and copper beer tanks in the busy brewing area. The rectangular, three sided bar is made of darkly polished wood with stools for fifteen or so lucky souls. We were seated in the dining room adjacent to the bar area, which contains a couple of booths and maybe a dozen tables. Handsome portraits of full pint glasses in varied settings decorate the walls and serve to whet the appetite, and a row of windows on the far end of the room give a worm's eye view of the sidewalk above. The Empire seemed to be doing a pretty healthy lunch time trade, mostly business types, and a couple of families with young children, though few seemed to be sampling the house specialties, given the hour. We laboured under no such teetotaling limitations, however, and ordered the sampler straight away. A minor complaint is that no proper beer list was provided, with a chalkboard affixed prominently on the wall of the dining room serving as our only clue as to what beers were available on draught, and no descriptions of those beers. There was no indication that any of the promised guest taps were available, although that was hardly of interest on this visit. The sampler consists of seven 4 oz. glasses, five regulars and two rotating seasonals (we could tell because the paper tray liner was pre-printed with this info) and is quite reasonably priced at $6. Full pints sell for $4.

Sampler:

  1. Skinny Atlas Light - Light (shocker!) and easy to drink, but with a surprisingly pleasant sweetness and bite. Better than expected
  2. Amber Ale - Supposedly their flagship, this was easily our least favourite. Not bad, but not very interesting either. None of the hoppiness that they claim. All the beers we tried seemed a bit thin, with this being the biggest offender. Just okay.
  3. Pale Ale - Not a sharp hop flavour at all, but it improved as it warmed. A very enjoyable drinker.
  4. Black Magic Stout - Creamy and smooth, but without much of the chocolate or coffee flavours that should have been more apparent. Again, a bit thinner than we'd like.
  5. Downtown Brown - A little malty, a little sweet, plenty good. A very solid regular offering.
  6. Hefe-Weizen (seasonal) - Beautiful, cloudy yellow colour, with a nice banana-y thing going on. Maybe the best of the lot, though the weather on this day certainly did not hurt.
  7. Golden Ale (seasonal) - Likable enough, with a pleasant sweetness to it. Probably not the follow-the-sample-with-a-pint type, though.
Overall, the beers were very drinkable and well-made, but there was nothing of the "blow my skirt up" variety. Some of this might be attributable to the legend built up in our mind, some to waiting for more than a month past opening to be legally able to serve their beers. It was disappointing that the sampler did not include two of the more interesting sounding beers available, the Mightly Fine Barley Wine and Blueberry Wheat. A sampler should live up to its name and offer a tasting of every house beer available, pre-printed tray liners be damned. We are usually reluctant to judge a place based on one visit, and this place is even more of an exception than the norm. The beers were good and were guessing they'll only get better.

A definite bright spot is the eclectic menu and its popular prices. We were thrilled with our choice of the Andouille Po' Boy ($8), a deliciously spicy, grilled sausage topped with fried onion straws, hot mustard and smoked gouda. We also heard plenty of positives about the Angus Cheddar Burger ($7.50), Thai seasoned Turkey Burger ($8)and the seasoned fries. The menu also includes such intriguing selections as Fish Tacos ($7.50), Indonesian Beef Lettuce Wraps ($8), Catfish Burrito ($14), and, of course, the Empire's formerly famous Gumbo ($4). The food alone is reason enough for a return visit, even without the distinct possibility of great beer. With the ownership, brewing experience and history involved here, average beer is not a long term probability. We're planning another visit to the Empire soon, and judging by our working lunch companions' jealous looks at our sampler, we won't be the only ones.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What's Italian for Alcoholic Water?


Why that would be Peroni of course! Peroni is the lager brewed by, big surprise, Birra Peroni Brewing Company in Rome (although it was founded in Vigevano). Peroni is not distinctive in flavor, color or aroma. Now I went to the Peroni website, but found it was all in Italian! Go figure, right? Luckily I took two semesters of Italian in college, so I'm pretty sure I got the gist of it, and will translate for you, the loyal reader:

"Founded in the mid-19th century, Peroni is an age old Italian beer, filled with tradition, heritage, and water. Strained through dress socks and aged to perfection in a workboot, Peroni gives that essence of the old country. When the time is right, we keep on adding water till you can barely taste the alcohol. This also helps give Peroni it's brilliantly clear look. It has long been rumored that Peroni is actually the liquid inside levelling tools. This is not true. If it were people would continually be breaking levels to get at this sweet nectar, and we could not have that."

Now, of course it's been several years since I've cracked open an Italian book, so this is a loose translation, at best. The Peroni lager is about as good as Tsingtao, or Budweiser, which is to say it's not. Very good that is. Now, it has come to my attention that my review of Tsingtao, may have been a bit harsh, so I hope to give Peroni a little bit fairer review. This beer is only good for a hangover. It's basically what a Bud drinker would drink to make them look classy and international, which of course, they are not. It's thin in color, texture, aroma and, most of all, taste. Now the Peroni Brewing Company is best known for it's pilsner offering, Nastro Azzuro, so maybe the lager is not the best way to judge the brewery, but for now it's all we've got. And based on the Peroni lager, I implore Italians to stick to making pastas and sauces, which is a nice way of saying, "Stick to your day job, Italy!" Final rating: Drinkable if forced or if participating in an Italian beer pong tournament




Bottoms up!


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Belgian Brew Fest Revisited

We were rummaging through some of our old beer literature (before we had refined our rating system) and came upon a small notebook we kept one year ago to the day at the Ommegang Brewery's Belgian Brewfest.

As is our custom, we tried to keep an ongoing log of our beer-tasting experiences. Predictably, the handwriting gets worse and worse as the event goes on. But here, for lack of a better post, and to mark the one-year anniversary of our trek to Cooperstown, I present our brief -- some might say glib -- ratings of each beer.

NOTE: Two different scales were used for rating purposes. Bill used a letter-grade system, Javen used a four-star (****) system. Hopefully this will not be too confusing. Due to our ever-worsening mental state on that date, we can't always read our own writing from the event; please excuse spelling errors and/or mislabeled beer. We had a very good time at the brewfest, but our penmanship suffered, partially due to our slight inebriation, and slightly due to the fact that I was writing n a 4.5 x 3.5 inch notepad which had been dampened by the torrential monsoon that came down about halfway through the festival.

The Beers:

Brooklyn Blanc
Bill: B+, Javen: *** (out of ****)

Victory Whirlwind
Bill: A-, Javen: ** 1/2

Flying Bison Barnstormer
Bill: B, Javen: ** 1/2

A'Chouffe Houblon
Bill: C+, Javen ***

Middle Ages 11th Anniversary (Double Wheat)
Bill: B+, Javen: *** 1/2

Stone (not sure which, just says "2006", maybe the Vertical Epic 06/06/06, possibly Old Guardian)
Bill: B+, Javen: ** 1/2

Avery Reverend
Bill: B, Javen: ** 1/2

Avery Salvation
Bill: B+, Javen: ***

Dogfish Head
Bill (Raison D'Etre): B-, Javen (Festina Lente): *

Otter Creek Holy Otter
Bill: B, Javen: ***

Otter Creek Otterbahn
Bill: B-, Javen: ** 1/2

The Shed - Hoppy Illumination
Bill: B, Javen: ***

Appalachin Hefeweizen
Bill: B+, Javen: ***

Appalachin Grand Cru
Bill: B, Javen: ***

Butternut Dark (or maybe Bark) Sleep
Bill: B, Javen: ** 1/2

Butternut Weinniessie
Bill: B, Javen: ** 1/2

Weyerbacher Prophecy
Bill: B, Javen: ***

Weyerbacher Merry Monks
Bill: B-, Javen: ***

Troegs Holiday
Bill: B-, Javen: ***

Troegs Naked Elf
Bill: B, Javen: ***

Iron Hill Belgian Wit
Bill: B, Javen: ** 1/2

Unibroue Fin du Monde
Bill: B, Javen: ***

Blanche de Chamble'
Bill: B+, Javen: ** 1/2

We won't be attending this year, however, we assume the festival will somehow soldier on without us.

Racing, Utica Style!


If there are two things in this world that could rightfully be considered to be mutually exclusive (if not diametrically opposed), it would be the consumption of decent beer and morning road races. Yet, once a year, in the beautiful city of Utica, New York, the two converge in a beautiful miasma of athleticism and beer known as the Boilermaker.

The Boilermaker is one of Utica's biggest events; additionally, it's one of the largest 15k (that is approximately 9.3 miles, for our American readers) road-races in the country, and habitually brings in some of the best distance runners in the country. Prior to the kickoff of the 15k race, there's a smaller, fitness-oriented 5k race (3.1 miles). I had signed up for the race earlier in the spring with the thought of using it as an impetus for fitness, as I've been wont to do over the past few years. Unfortunately, a knee injury (sustained on the stairs of Beerjanglin's Schenectady headquarters) precluded this from happening; I did, however, head out to Utica last weekend to take in the sights and sounds of the Boilermaker (as well as to provide some vocal support for Mr. and Mrs. Sailorman, longtime friends who were running).

I arrived in downtown Utica at about 8 am. Sadly, by the time I ascertained parking for my trusty Mercury Mystique, I'd missed the conclusion of the 5k race. I met up with Mr. and Mrs. Sailorman in the courtyard of the FX Matt Brewery. The FX Matt Brewery? That's right. The race concludes under the auspices of the FX Matt Brewery, and the post-race party occurs in the brewery's spacious courtyard.

I can't say I had too many expectations for the brewery (I'd never been, believe it or not), but I had hoped that I could get in to a tasting room, perhaps get a growler fill of one of Saranac's tastier summer beers, or some Brooklyn - for which FX Matt does a good amount of contract brewing - or even a a smooth, refreshing draft of super-fresh Utica Club pilsener. However, the number of people in the courtyard precluded this from happening (I would conservatively estimate, by 10 am, the presence of about 5,000 people). On the upside, the brewery (unsurprisingly, one of the major sponsors of the Boilermaker) provided an unlimited number of complimentary drafts - from a number of beer trucks - of their Pomegranite Wheat beer. Which was tremendously refreshing; if you're going to be drinking a brew in the mid-morning, a dash of antioxidant-rich fruit in an ice-cold unfiltered wheat beer is not a bad thing. (We justified it to ourselves as being akin to a bowl - or three - of Special K with fruit. We're good at making justifications, by the way. It's what we do.) While not the best beer we've ever had, nor even close, it was the right beer for the right time.

Ultimately, the jury's still out on FX Matt for me - I need to get a full tour of the premises to really form an educated opinion on the brewery. That being said, it's pretty promising - the prominent "Utica Club Pilsener" sign on the roof of the brewery hints at a rich history, and the mere willingness to deliver free Pomegranite Wheats to the public allows us to have the optimism that they're moving into the future with a positive, graceful stride.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

ECP Approved



Hello readers, and welcome to the first of a semi-regular column entitled "ECP Approved". Consider this column a guide to help you in your beer and beer related decisions. As we know, some time thinking is just so damn difficult. So don't worry, ECP wil take care of it for you. Just look for the ECP seal of approval.

My first ECP seal of approval is what I call a black and blue. It is simply a mix of Labatt Blue and Guinness. But the taste is anything but simple. These are regarded by some as the best beers in the world. Others do not hold them in such high esteem. Regardless, I think we are all in agreeance that the merging of these two flavors creates a taste unlike any other. The stout, the lager, the black, the blue. They are true Friends. How could you not go wrong?

So the next time you are forced to watch 10 hours on NFL draft coverage, sit in an Electric City bar without Genny, or just want to do some home experimentation, reach for a nice "Black and Blue" and enjoy the ride. You be glad you did. Besides, It's ECP approved!

Return of the Empire (Finally)

The Empire Brewery in downtown Syracuse re-opened its doors in June after a more than three year hiatus. The Armory Square brewpub has been serving food for more than a month while it waited for the State Liquor Authority to approve its liquor license. That approval finally came through (on Friday the thirteenth, no less) and Empire's taps are now flowing with beer once again. They serve eight of their own brews as well as a rotating selection of New York State beers. Expect a full report soon. We are so on this!

Friday, July 13, 2007

What's Chinese for Alcoholic Water?

Why that would be Tsingtao of course! I not so recently was able to partake of this beverage from the Orient and let me tell you, it's but a few small points above swill! I mean, to say this had a horrendous taste would be wrong. It has no taste whatsoever! It's like liquid celery or something. The Tsingtao Brewery was established in China, by German settlers. Now, I'd be willing to wager that these krauts were blitzkrieged out of Germany with barely a guttentag to send them on their way, for tainting the storied German beer tradition. Of course there German beer curse lives on today in the form of Heineken, but that's neither here nor there. Now as I ventured deeper into the majestic Tsingtao brewing tradition I did find an answer as to why this beer was about as flavor packed as, well, something that has very little, to no, flavor whatsoever. You see, over a quarter of Tsingtao Brewery is owned by the one and only Anheuser-Busch. Yes folks, that's right! The same Anheuser-Busch responsible for Busch, Busch Light, Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Dry, lupus, and Bud Ice. Okay, okay, so there's no "factual" or "scientific" evidence linking them to lupus, but it's only a matter of time, really. Anyways, they have given the folks over at Tsingtao the recipe for mediocrity, and that's the truth. So on my scale of "swill to liquid awesome", Tsingtao rates a "drinkable if forced or if stranded in the Republic of China". Bottoms up!

Desperately Seeking Sleeman

We recently made a trip from the Camelot-on-Earth that is Syracuse, New York to our place of origin, Rochester, a scant 80 minutes West down the thruway. Though we were born in the Flower City, we moved away before legal drinking age. So when it came time to selecting a mixed selection of beverages with which to while away the sleepy hours, we were out of our comfort zone.

We could have made the trip to the outstanding Beers of the World, which is approximately 20-25 minutes away, and kind of out of the way. Beers of the World is one of our favorite purveyors of libations, and as such the temptation to traverse all the way to Henrietta was palpable.

We remembered, however, that we were not to get paid until tomorrow. We had approximately $15 in our pocket, and probably no more left in the bank until 6AM the next day. To find a decent 12-pack of beer for $15 would be difficult at best. So we punted, and made the 5 minute drive to Wegman's Perinton, a grocery store which was once known in my family as the "luxury Wegman's" before it was surpassed by newer locations that look more like castles than places where you could buy all the components of a good garbage plate.

Wegman's beer selection, by any standard, is outstanding for a common grocery store. They have lots of sixers and twelvers on display, and a decent-sized walk-in cooler. Furthermore, they seem to know how to separate the crap (Coors / Bud / Miller / Busch / Pabst / Piels) from the micros and craft brews.

Given our monetary situation, we wanted to get something affordable. But weary of the typical (and frankly tiresome) Sam Adams or Saranac twelve-packs, we wanted to try something we hadn't had before. The only twelver that filled the Bill was Sleeman.



When my Capital District counterpart (also the architect of this blog you see before you) and Yours Truly -- his humble Central New York field agent -- went to Montréal last summer, we went on a somewhat fruitless sojourn to find great Canadian beers. We found a few diamonds in the rough at some micros, and enjoyed some of the very solid Leffe at the pubs, but other than Molson Dry, the only non-traditional beer it seemed we could find for purchase to bring back to the hotel was Sleeman.

Sleeman's HQ is in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, home of actress Neve Campbell. One of our fondest memories of last year was looking over the Montréal skyline at midnight out of the hotel window, drinking Sleeman with our Electric City bureau chief. But we didn't remember the beer being that memorable. Neveretheless, despite our lukewarm reaction, and the unusual bottling (only the necks of the bottles have labels), we decided to give the ol' girl another go-round.

The Sleeman 12-pack contained three bottles each of four styles: The IPA 46* Ale, the Porter 68*, the Cream Ale 64*, and the Original Dark 50* Amber Ale. The reviews are in:

IPA 46* ALE: Though the flavor is pleasant enough, this dark golden brew is more like a watery English Ale. It's very bright, but the dry malt dominates the brew, making it more of an English IPA (an traditional ale with extra hops) than an American IPA (usually an orgy of hops). There was a hint of chlorine. It is, however, pretty thirst-quenching for a hot day, given its lack of viscosity on the tongue area.

PORTER 68*: This looks like a thinner porter, with a deep mahogany red color, but not a lot of thickness. Looks glassy. The smell is a nice, deep dark berry smell, with a hint of coffee. The coffee smell here is much more mild than with normal porters. The flavor, however, flips it, with the bitter coffee becoming dominant with the cherry/berry as an accent. It does sweeten as it warms up. Its a little creamy, but actually very smooth for a porter. Not very thick, but pleasant.

CREAM ALE 64*: We could tell by looking at this one that it probably wasn't going to be as good as the others. Looks a bit light and weak. The smell is reminiscent of Miller, Bud ... dare I say, GENNY? If you really inhale deeply, you might find some slight flowery accents. The flavor is more like a lager, with lots of corn adjunct taste; some sweetness breaks through, but not much. We found this one to be just a step above Coors, only for that little hint of sweetness. These are the three you bring to a party for your friends who only drink Michelob Ultra.

ORIGINAL DARK 50* AMBER ALE: With a deep but clear red appearance and a fluffy head, this is certainly the prettiest beer of the bunch. The smell is a little weak, with the bitter malt smell we anticipated, and a roasted character. The flavor carries the bitterness of the smell, but it's a dull bitterness. Its sweetness (again, berries we imagine) comes out as it warms up, as does a really nice, unexpected smoky quality. It's creamy, but not that thick. It's probably the only beer in the bunch that isn't watery for its style. It's a very solid roasted, smoky, cherry-sweet amber.

We wish they had made the 12-pack four each of the Amber, the Porter and the IPA, but we're not the head of marketing. Besides, the masses need to have a beer too. Nothing blew my skirt up, but three out of the four were good bargains.

Bears Mentioning...

We managed to sample a handful of nice, local beers last weekend. A return visit to the Adirondack Pub & Brewery in Lake George proved that our pleasant experience the first time was no fluke. The Hunter Mountain Hefeweizen was spot-on; flavourful and refreshing, without being over spiced. They call the Indian Pale Ale "a traditional IPA with pronounced hop flavour and bitterness." We won't disagree. Both beers were very fresh and enjoyable - this place makes a trip to this tourist trap of a small Adirondack village much more bearable. It was fairly slow when we stopped in around 3 PM, but seemed to be picking up nicely by the time we rolled out of town near dinner time, which was nice to see. Adirondack P&B is holding an Octoberfest celebration on October 13 and 14 with five other area breweries. We're very intrigued.

Davidson Brothers in Glens Falls continues to be a solid brewpub and an overall great place to visit. The inviting feel of the classic, dark wood bar downstairs, and the beautiful, old brick building nestled into Glens Falls' surprisingly happening downtown would probably be enough to bring us back even if the beers weren't this enjoyable. We had the sampler, but opted not to include the two top sellers, Dacker and the IPA because we can find those in six packs anytime. Unfortunately, the Davidson boys make you choose six of the ten or so beers they offer on draught at a given time. We had the Wheat Ale, ESB, Smoked Porter, Oatmeal Stout, Scotch Ale and the current "Brewer's Choice", which happened to be a Rye Cream Ale. Davidson Brother's brews mostly English style ales, using distinctive Ringwood yeast strain (Middle Ages or especially Shipyard for reference). On this visit, the Smoked Porter was probably the standout - smooth, dark and mild, with the smoke not overwhelming the flavour at all. And it smelled wonderful. The Scotch Ale was very malty, sweet and quite strong. It tasted like it earned all of its 8% ABV. The Wheat was very light and refreshing, although the lemon wedge dominated a bit, and the Swimmin' Cow Rye Cream was very interesting in it's own right, although another dash or two of hops -- yes, even in a Cream Ale -- would have kicked it up a notch and helped to balance the rye. All certainly worth a try, though.

Our last stop on the impromptu tour was Olde Saratoga Brewing Company. We have been hitting this place often enough recently that any new tap is bound to attract our attention immediately. One of the great things about visiting this place is finding a random tap of one of their many contract brews. This time, the beer code named Olde Saratoga Big Red was a nice surprise. Word on the street is that this beer has been a medalist at the Great American Beer Fest, and it did make for a pretty pleasant drinking companion. Somewhat sweet, with a little caramel malt thing going on, and a dry, crisp finish. Very nice, especially for the style, which is not a personal favourite. The tap that really caught our eye, however, was the Whiskey Aged Black Eye. Black Eye Ale is a blend of two Mendocino beers: Eye of the Hawk and Black Hawk Stout. It's usually available either as an actual blend of the two from the taps, or in 22 oz. bombers. Eye of the Hawk is an 8% ABV American Strong Ale, so blending these two gives you something a bit different than a Black & Tan from, say, Saranac or Yuengling. It is usually an enjoyable enough drinker; a little thin, perhaps, but sweet, with a hint of alcohol burn and a smooth finish. This particular batch was aged in Jack Daniels barrels for 13 weeks. It didn't seem all that different at first, other than a bit of a mild whiff of whiskey on the nose. As it starts to warm, though, plenty more depth of flavour becomes apparent. We nursed this one for the better part of an hour, and it seemed to only get more enjoyable as the bottom of the glass drew nearer. Certainly a beverage worthy of more in-depth research, preferably closer to the chill of December or January than the heat of July. Fret not, dear reader, we know just the man for the job.

P.S. - Finding fresh, hoppy beers has been a bit of a struggle for some reason this summer. Not a problem at the Albany Pump Station. Their latest batch of Pump Station Pale Ale is like a pint glass full of those old-school pine tree air fresheners. In a good way. A very good way.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Beer O' The Moment - Boont Amber Ale

As many fans of this blog(ger) can attest, we have never been a huge fan of Ambers and Reds. (We went through a Killian's Irish Red Lager phase when we were young and indiscriminate, but we never really went back.) However, we have recently been privy to several outstanding Amber Ales. One of the better Amber ales we have come across is Boont Amber Ale, from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Booneville, California. We have been somewhat enamored with many of the California brews (Stone, Lagunitas, Mendocino, North Coast and even the oft-confused Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada), and for some reason Anderson Valley hasn't quite gotten the distribution -- or at least the presence -- as the other Big Boys have had in the northeast.

We have enjoyed a fine, if fleeting, relationship so far with the Anderson Valley offerings, from the dry, definitive Boont ESB to the wildly popular, extraordinarily hoppy and only slightly overrated Hop Ottin' IPA. Due to our own personal demons (red devils perhaps), we had shied away from ruining our lucky streak by introducing our palate to an unpopular element. Yet what we found was one of the two or three best ambers we've ever had.

First, the look of the thing. Two words: gor-geous. Its a very hazy amber-red color. And though there is not much foamy head or lace as it goes down, the look of it is so rich and deep that none of that matters. The smell is fantastic, with the dry and biscuity malt blending perfectly with some secondary (but potent) flowery and sweet hops.

The flavor has to be recommended if for nothing more than its balance. The two elements hit two different parts of the tongue. The malt is dry and really not very bitter (my usual problem with ambers/reds). The hops (see above) are the perfect balance, giving a little punch to counter the dry malt. As it warms up, an unexpected smoky flavor shows up. Where the hell did that come from?

This is what an Amber should be. Much like their Boont ESB, this seems to define the style. Though it is an American Amber ale, it feels very British, very refined. It's thick, but not chewy.

Here's hoping more of Anderson Valley's beers start making their way to the Northeast and Great Lakes region. If this offering is any indication, the west coast might be on to something.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quick Take: Three Floyds Gumballhead

Clark's Ale House continues to be the class of downtown Syracuse. While the Empire Brewing Company still awaits its liquor license, and the Blue Tusk becomes some sort of discotheque after 8pm, Clark's remains consistent: no loud music, no TVs, Trivia on Wednesdays, good rotation of beers.

One beverage we had not anticipated seeing there several weeks ago was the Three Floyd's Gumballhead American Pale Wheat Ale. We had heard of Three Floyds Brewing Company in Munster, Indiana through the grapevine, and Beeradvocate.com generally rates most of their beers very high for style. A Pale wheat ale? This sounds like it would be some sort of unclassifiable Hefeweizen or Pale Ale with wheat thrown in. What we found was a truly unique drinking experience.

First of all, this is a very very hoppy beverage. It's like a great India Pale Ale, with bitter, flowery hops and that little bite on the way down. But it does not make a fetish out of the hops, or flaunt them, or simply over-hop for hopses sake. It's the perfect dry IPA upon the first sip. But then something happens. Something unusual.

There really is a "gumball" flavor at the swallow. The aftertaste becomes a sweet -- but not too sweet -- candy like flavor. Like a dry candy, say a bubble-gum flavored sweet tart. It's the perfect counterpoint to the bitterness of the first sip. In this way Gumballhead reminded me a bit of Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat, with the latter having a very pronounced orange sherbet taste. But Gumballhead proves to be far superior given the understated nature of the gumball taste, as well as the care that all Three of the Floyds took with the hops.

If you see it on a beer menu in the Northeast, get it.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

New Law Opens Taps for Connecticut Brewpubs

Three New England states lie within close proximity of the Capital Region of New York: Vermont Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Vermont has long been known as something of a beer Mecca, and we've begun to explore the wonders of Western Massachusetts lately (more on that soon, if all goes as planned), but the Nutmeg State has remained a completely untapped (pun somewhat intended) resource for delectable new beers. Aside from our ignorance, one reason for this is that, until recently, brewpubs were not allowed to bottle and sell their wares off premises. The preposterous 77 year old law was stricken from the books as of June 29, allowing all nine (yup, nine) of Connecticut's brewpubs to sell beer to wholesalers for distribution. Despite the grand delusions of the owners of the Granby, CT based Cambridge House featured in this article, it likely won't make any noticeable difference to us anytime soon, but it certainly represents a step in the right direction. The Cambridge House actually looks pretty good, too. Wait, it's only 88 miles from Albany? Developing...

Quick Take: Rogue Brew 10,000

Rogue Brew 10,000 Ale

We were lucky enough to have a pint of this one-off special offering from Rogue on Friday at Mahar's. It was created in celebration of head brewer John Maier's 10,000th batch of beer at Rogue. It was soft and creamy, but with a hop-fueled alcoholic bite. Somewhat reminiscent of a barley wine, but more complex and with a different "burn" on the finish. A smooth and malty DIPA? Rogue says that it doesn't fit any one style, and we certainly won't argue that. Plenty of good stuff going on in there. Really interesting beer, glad to have had the chance to try it.

What the brewery says:

Brew 10,000: One Brewer, Eighteen Years, Ten-Thousand Batches of Beer.

Brew 10,000 is not so much a style of beer, rather it is a new recipe using some of the best ingredients John Maier has ever brewed with... Vienna, French Special Aroma, and Maris Otter Pale Malts; Yakima Summit and German Saphir Hops, Free-range Coastal Waters, and PacMan Yeast.

Brew 10,000 was brewed only once, so its allocated and very, very limited. Its packaged in the swing-top 750-ml ceramic bottle and available only at select retailers...while supplies last...if you need to know where, ask Schuyler@rogue.com for a retailer near you.

Measurements: 21 degrees Plato, IBU 83, Apparent Attenuation 78,
Lovibond 18, ABV 10%.
No Chemicals, Additives, or Preservatives

Friday, July 06, 2007

Beer O' the Moment: QPC Edition - #3

Third in our quixotic Quest for the Perfect Can of beer is Phoenix Pale Ale from Philadelphia area brewer Sly Fox. The family owned Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery opened in the western Philly suburb of Phoenixville in December 1995. The brewery's name comes from the fox hunting tradition in the surrounding Chester County area. Head Brewer Brian O'Reilly came aboard in 2002, and Sly Fox has since experienced consistent growth, buoyed by several awards, included being voted third best brewpub in the country at a Beer Advocate event in 2003. As business continued to increase, a second location opened in 2004 in Royersford, PA, about 15 minutes northwest of the original location in Phoenixville. In addition to housing a brewpub, this new facility also added a bottling line, meaning that their beer could be distributed as far as Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, PA in both 22 oz. and 750 ml bottles. In 2006, they added the first canning line in the Mid-Atlantic region and, by the end of the year, were distributing into New Jersey, NYC and the Hudson Valley.

Phoenix Pale Ale is an American Pale Ale in a silver can, with a snazzy graphic depicting their fox logo rising from the ashes a la the mighty phoenix. When poured from the can into a pint glass, the beer gives off an orange-amber hue, with a healthy half inch of froth and a bit of bitter hop aroma. This one may be exactly the beer we've been looking for to accompany us to the race track. It's got enough balance, depth and complexity to keep us interested, but, at 5.2% ABV, it's not too overwhelming for a long session with the ponies. The clean, slightly bitter hop presence make it taste like an American Pale should: a cross between an ordinary Pale Ale and many IPA's. Sly Fox also puts their Pikeland Pils, Dunkel Lager, and most recently, Royal Weisse in aluminum. We've tried all but the Royal Weisse, and have been impressed. Nicely done, Sly Fox folk. And in a can, no less!

Contender: Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale

ABV:
5.2%
Price: $8.69 for six 12 oz. cans

Verdict: Leader in the Clubhouse