Welcome to "I've Made A Huge Mistake," a (hopefully recurring) segment here on Beerjanglin' where we present a beer of somewhat questionable lineage to Nick Dunford, my younger, non-discriminatory brother, and record his thoughts for posterity.
Today's "I've Made A Huge Mistake" - Miller Chill.
This was Nick's fourth beer of the day. Prior to this, he'd slugged down a couple of Budweisers.
Nick, what does it smell like?
"It smells like old socks and lime. It just don't smell good."
Take a sip, tell me what it tastes like.
(Nick took a small sip. He then crinkled his face with one eye closed, possibly for dramatic effect. He then studied bottle and let out a genuine cough.) "Ah, I got nothin'"
(After awhile) "It tastes like Miller Lite with limes. If there's a more pointless combination, I can't think of one."
Try taking a big gulp. Let's make that your next challenge.
"What's the challenge - is it trying to keep it down?"
(He obliges) "Ugh. I think my throat's burning."
(After considering the bottle again)"It's one of the worst ideas in the history of the beer industry. Right up there with Michelob Ultra."
How many of these do you think you'd have to drink to get drunk?
(studies bottle) - "38."
"Well, it's light beer."
(Much later, in describing the beer on the phone to our Editor in Chief)
"It tastes like Mexican tears."
Nick will continue to drink the terrible beers and hold court on them so that you won't have to.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Welcome to "I've Made A Huge Mistake," a (hopefully recurring) segment here on Beerjanglin' where we present a beer of somewhat questionable lineage to Nick Dunford, my younger, non-discriminatory brother, and record his thoughts for posterity.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
It is with a heavy heart that we here at Beerjanglin' acknowledge the passing of Michael Jackson.
One of the first writers to write seriously about beer, Mr. Jackson worked pretty hard to spread the gospel of beer - publishing his first book on the topic 30 years ago, when most people's knowledge and understanding of beer was limited to macro-brewed lagers. The world is a different place these days - a quick visit to any reputable tavern will prove that. You can thank Mr. Jackson for that.
Mr. Jackson's last column is currently up at All About Beer. It's a must read, and discusses his battle with Parkinson's Disease with an unparalleled frankness and humor.
Rest in peace, sir.
[A Note from Bill: Michael Jackson wasn't just a beer critic, he was a writer first who happened to write about beer. He was self-effacing, passionate, and most of all, entertaining.
Please read an article from BeerHunter.com about Beer vs. Wine to get a great example of Jackson's unmatched style. Those of us who write about beer for fun can't possibly compare, but we owe him anyway.]
Monday, August 27, 2007
Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we've had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It's time for saying goodbye
Don't want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes its better to go
Somehow I know, we'll meet again
Not sure quite where and I don't know just when
To make a long and ( heartbreakingly beautiful) story short, it was love at first sip. This was a fantastic beer. Hoppy as hell -- it was loaded Cascade, Amarillo and Simcoe hops, whatever that meant -- but with a strong base of malt to balance the taste and hide most of the 9% abv. Anyway, the stuff was delish, and we picked up a couple of cases from the brewery for only $25 apiece about a year ago. We'd enjoy a bottle or two now and again with friends, and the supply slowly dwindled...
The 2006-07 Winter release was an Oatmeal Stout. It was solidly enjoyable, a really good beer to be fair, but we lamented the demise of our beloved Impy IPA as our stash shrunk into the low single digits. Tonight marked the cracking of the last bottle. To put it bluntly, it wasn't great. The hops had softened plenty in other bottles over the past months, but this one tasted a little like cardboard, as if it had begun to oxidize [Note to self: vegetable crisper is not ideal for cellaring beer]. It should have been a pretty depressing occasion, but there was no rending of clothing or gnashing of teeth. Why?
We learned on a recent trip to the tasting room that Mendocino/Olde Saratoga is graduating from mere winter and summer seasonals to producing a limited release beer for every season. The fall release is a smooth and malty Oktoberfest. Oh, it's nice enough, and plenty of reason to visit the tasting room in its' own right, but the big news is the (very likely - at least according to the regular bartender) return of the Imperial IPA as Mendocino 2007-08 Winter Ale! We've got quite a bit going on just about now, but this still ranks as some of the most exciting news since who flung the chunk.
Why don't you people seem excited? Just trust us on this one. It may not get all the buzz, but this is a seriously good Imperial India Pale Ale. It's undoubtedly best brewery fresh, but Mendocino seasonals will be produced in both the Saratoga Springs, NY and Ukiah, CA breweries, and should be available across most of the country. Give it a try. You'll be glad you did.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
We must have beer festivals on the brain lately, or perhaps said fests are just in a New York state of mind. Over the past month or so...
The Empire State Brewing and Music Festival hit Syracuse on July 20...
Belgium came to Cooperstown on July 21...
Rochester's 11th annual Flour City Brewers Festival took place on July 29...
We recently mentioned Saratoga's (admittedly small time) 10th Annual Battle of the Brews, held on August 24...
As well as the inaugural (and very promising) Ithaca Brewfest, scheduled for September 8...
August 26 marked the 6th annual Buffalo Brewfest...
Pretty impressive run, no? It's been hectic enough that we probably missed an event or two in there, but you get the point; it has been quite a summer. Anyway, now comes word, courtesy of Rick Lyke, that the New York State Brewer's Association will have a booth at the State Fair in Syracuse. The stated goal is to "showcase the 59 breweries in the state and educate the public on the economic importance of brewing."
A different brewery will be featured daily, with 2 oz. samples from that brewery given to adults of legal age from 4 - 6 pm. Granted, it's a small step, but the New York State Fair does draw over a million visitors annually. In our experience, many of these folks are not opposed to free samples of just about anything.
It won't change the world (or even the state) over the course of a week and a half, but let's remember that craft beer is a segment of the market that currently owns about 5% of overall beer sales by dollar amount. Every little bit of exposure to the habitual Bud or Miller drinker counts for something. Seriously, this may prove to be a very good thing. Just one more reason to lament having been passed over a State Fair assignment at work again this year.
Friday, August 24, 2007
As long as we're on the subject of beer festivals, the inaugural Ithaca Brew Fest certainly deserves a mention. Scheduled for Saturday, September 8 from 4 - 8 pm at Ithaca's Stewart Park, this event promises "3 Live Bands & 30 Craft Breweries", which makes for a very promising base on which to build a brew fest. The event is co-sponsored in part by the Ithaca Beer Company, and looks to be a well planned event with a very nice roster of participating breweries.
For those not in the know, Ithaca is a pretty funky college town of some 30,000 or so residents located roughly an hour's drive southwest of Syracuse or northwest of Binghamton. As home to both Ithaca College and the Ivy League's Cornell University, it is the stereotypical example of the small, rural city whose culture is shaped almost entirely by the universities' presence. In other words, a beer festival sounds like a great idea for this town. Need more? Let us not forget that Ithaca is Gorges!
Avery Brewing - Boulder, CO
Brooklyn Brewery – Brooklyn, NY
Butternuts Beer And Ale - Garrattsville, NY
Chelsea Brewing Company New York, NY
Cooperstown Brewing – Milford, NY
Ellicottville Brewing Co. – Ellicottville, NY
Empire Brewing – Syracuse, NY
Flying Bison Brewing Company - Buffalo, NY
Harpoon Brewery – Boston, MA
High Falls Brewing – Rochester, NY
Ithaca Beer Company – Ithaca, NY
Keegan Ales – Hudson Valley, NY
Lagunitas Brewing Company – Petaluma, CA
Lake Placid Brewery - Lake Placid, NY
Magic Hat Brewing Company - South Burlington, VT
Market Street Brewing – Corning, NY
Middle Ages Brewing – Syracuse
Ommegang - Cooperstown, NY
Red Hook – Portsmouth, NH
Rohrbach Brewing Company - Rochester, NY
Roosterfish Brewing Co. - Watkins Glen, NY
Sackets Harbor Brewing Co. - Sackets Harbor, NY
Saranac/Matt Brewing Co. – Utica, NY
Smuttynose Brewing Company – Portsmouth, NH
Southern Tier Brewing – Lakewood, NY
Spanish Peaks Brewing Company - Polson, MT & Denver, CO
Excellent representation from New York State breweries, especially from Central and Western New York, as well as a smattering of others from the Northeast and a few nice West Coast entries. Tickets are $25 for advance purchase, $30 day of the event.
For a nice package deal including lodging, check this out:
Ramada Inn Ithaca Executive Conference Center
$139.00 + tax which will include a room, 2 tickets to the Brew Fest, a 6-pack of Ithaca Beer and Sunday Brunch for two.
Nothin' wrong with that.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
10th Annual Battle of the Brews
Saratoga Race Course
Friday, August 24, 2007
Noon - 4:30 pm
There is a tasting fee of $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Buy a commemorative glass for $5 in advance, $7 day of. Not sure exactly how the whole thing works, but any combination of brewfest and Saratoga Race Course can't be too bad. Proceeds benefit the Saratoga chapter of the Amerian Red Cross. Here's a link to a "postcard" of the event.
Late notice on this one, and there's not too much information out there. We can tell you that eleven breweries participated last year. You can probably expect a good number of entries from the following regional breweries:
Adirondack Pub & Brewery
Albany Pump Station
Worth a look, especially if you're planning on attending the Travers on Saturday.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
We mentioned awhile back the upward trend of craft beer sales, particularly in supermarkets, which are stocking 20% more craft beer than a year ago, and increased craft sales by 18% in 2006. Judging by this article in the August issue of Progressive Grocer (What's that, you let your subscription lapse?), it looks like the grocery retailing industry is taking notice:
Craft beers have grown so much in popularity that just about any grocer could be missing a major opportunity by not exploiting the segment. They're the little powerhouses that can help the overall huge but nevertheless struggling beer business better compete with wine and spirits. For supermarket beer merchandisers, the question ought not to be whether to get involved, but to what degree.How's that for a promising opening paragraph in a grocery industry trade mag? The piece also touches briefly on the history of beer in America, from the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, to Fritz Maytag's revival of Anchor Brewing and the current craft beer explosion. What may be most interesting, however, is this bit:
Over the 52 weeks ending June 9, 2007, 646 craft beer brands have sold at least 1,000 cases each in America's supermarkets. That's an 11 percent increase compared with 2005. By way of comparison, only 245 import brands have crossed the 1,000-case threshold in supermarkets over the same period. Import brand count has also increased over the past two years, up nearly 12 percent vs. 2005. As a result of all this brew brand proliferation, the shelves are growing crowded. Today the average American supermarket stocks over 23 different craft beer items. When balanced against the average number of items stocked for the entire beer/malt-based beverage category count of 195 items, craft beers appear to be a fairly small presence, yet they've increased their count by more than 33 percent over the past two years, exceeding the growth rate of import beers.It's important to remember that those include national figures, both the craft beer hotbeds and macro-wastelands. Still, pretty encouraging numbers overall. We've noticed that the local grocery shelves have included more and more choices in recent months. Most are those tied to the big boys -- Miller's Lienenkugel, A-B's Redhook -- but regionals like Otter Creek and Long Trail and local stuff like Saratoga's Mendocino or Glens Falls' Davidson Brother's have become increasingly common.
Rochester based Wegmans grocery has a very impressive selection of beer, especially in some of their bigger stores. We used to buy single bottle's of Sam Smith's at Wegmans as far back as five years ago, and offerings now include plenty of 22 oz. bombers (including most of the line from Middle Ages) in Syracuse area stores we've visited. Wegmans is even leading the charge among supermarkets selling beer in Pennsylvania.
Obviously, there is still a long way to go. Wegmans is a pretty unique chain, and they are currently expanding to the southeast rather than in our direction. It looks like it will be some time before we're able to find more than a handful of legitimate beer choices with our weekly grocery shopping, but this grocery industry awareness of craft beer can only be a good sign.
Monday, August 20, 2007
An obsession with hops is something that seems to go hand in hand with the discovery of craft beer for many people. That tangy, bitter bite provided by the hops in a well done American style Pale Ale or IPA can be a real eye-opener for someone used to the typical watered down pilsners foisted on most of the population.
The US produces roughly a quarter of the world's hops, and nearly 75% of those come from the Yakima Valley in Washington state. Last fall, spontaneous combustion caused a massive warehouse fire that destroyed as much as 4% of the 2006 US hop crop. That incident, combined with last year's unusually poor growing season in Europe, has contributed to prices for some varieties of hops that are as much as 20% higher than a year ago. This has caused some brewers to tweak the hop varieties used in some recipes and delay the release of some beers. It has probably played a part in increased prices for some craft beers already, and some fear that the long term trend toward higher priced hops may even affect the big boys at Bud, Miller and Coors in future years - though obviously not nearly to the same degree.
The verdict is still out on the 2007 hop harvest in both the US and Europe, but here's hoping for a bumper crop. This Washington Post article by Greg Kitsock gives a nice account of what's hoppening (sorry, we're couldn't resist the urge any longer), as well as some interesting tidbits on the types of hops used in several beers and the qualities those hops impart. It even includes a throwaway global warming scare!
Sunday, August 19, 2007
The Midtown Tap and Tea Room
289 New Scotland Avenue, Albany NY
[Closed on Sunday]
Tap Selection: The tap selection, while not particularly outstanding, offers a variety of interesting beers. The weakest pint on the list is Coors Light; others offered include Tetley's, Blue Moon, Pironi, Sierra Nevada, Pilsener Urquell and Hoegaarden. There's nothing on tap that we can't get elsewhere in Albany; however, the selection generally avoids macro-brewed lagers in favor of more upper-crust brews. They offer no microbrews and, since their opening just over two and a half months ago, have not rotated their taps.
Food: This restaurant, as it is somewhat new, will probably become better-known for its food than its beer selection. The offerings range from gourmet sandwiches and salads to an evening tapas menu. We genuinely enjoyed their warm goat-cheese salad, which was served with a rich raspberry vinaigrette dressing. The chorizo platter was also really, really good. We've heard good things about the pan-seared sea bass, too. (We're not kidding. That sounds delicious.)
Ambience: Classy. This bar caters to an adult clientele, and it shows - it is impeccably decorated, with well-buffed hardwood floors, Persian-style rugs, and a grand piano in the center of the floor. A small balcony with limited seating overlooks Ontario Avenue. There are two bars; in all of the times that we've been, we've only seen the back bar truly busy. The front bar looks really nice, and is remiscent of a finer hotel bar.
Vicinity: While we don't know what this "Midtown" neighborhood is, the Tap and Tea Room is located on New Scotland Avenue, just to the south of the major student neighborhood, and is comfortably situated between the two major Albany hospitals (Albany Med and St. Peter's) and a brief walk from the Albany campus of Russell Sage College and Union University's Albany Law School; the neighborhood is a nice mix of graduate students and young professionals. The Tap and Tea Room shares a block with the more-popular sports bar Graney's and the Fountain Restaurant. It's a low-key but happening neighborhood.
Specials: There are no real specials here, per se. All draft beers are available in 12 oz, 16 oz, and 20 oz sizes. For a 20 oz, you'll pay between $3.75 (Coors Light) and $4.50 (Hoegaarden).
Extras: The tapas menu is really what stands out here, more than anything else.
Verdict: Nice for a date, and a good change-of-pace from your normal beer selection. That said, you can do better in terms of getting a better selection of beers in this town.
A couple ago a friend of mine was about to drink a beer directly out of the bottle. The beer in question was not Labatt or Coors, but rather a meticulously-selected craft brew. I told this friend he should really pour the beer into a glass to drink it, because when you drink out of the bottle, you miss the aroma, and therefore miss out on all the scents that add to the flavor of the beer.
"[Cough]bullshit[Cough]," replied my ungrateful chum.
And while there are still skeptics, it's apparent to me that aroma is really half the enjoyment of beer, or at least a very high percentage. The way the nose prepares the taste buds for the beer is essential to fully realizing a beer's potential. Ironically, this is why it's probably better to drink macrobrews like Miller or Bud right out of the bottle, because it masks the weak ingredients they use and therefore actually spares the drinker all those aromas that make those beers so mediocre.
But if you thought that simply drinking out of a glass was all that there was to enjoying a beer fully, the folks at Sam Adams did some research to find the perfect beer glass. Sam Adams founder Jim Koch talked to European glassmakers and found out that almost no breweries were interested in function, he decided to come up with a way to design his own. (See a great article about it on RealBeer.com.)
The glass is shown here, and though it doesn't have a name yet, you can see in the picture that it is a hybrid of all the best of different glasses -- pint glasses, brandy snifters, tulip glasses, pilsner glasses, etc. (Click on the image to enlarge it in a new window.)
They say that this glass isn't going to transform any beer into a great beer, but rather make the beer taste more like the beer itself, or at least taste more like its style. As Koch says in the article noted above, "[Pabst Blue Ribbon] is not going to taste like Sam Adams in this glass. It was designed to make Sam Adams taste more like Sam Adams."
The glass performs several specific functions. For example, the thinner lower half of the glass is intended to expose less of the beer's liquid to the temperature of the drinker's hand, thereby keeping the beer at optimum temperature for longer.
The rounded top half of the glass, like a brandy snifter, is intended to capture and retain the strong aromas, mostly in strong ales or stronger beers. The tulip-like lip not only allows a healthy head to form -- and aid in the distribution of aromas -- but also puts the beer on the front of the tongue first to allow the drinker to experience the sweetness of the malt first, before it evolves into the bitterness of the hops. Most glasses don't allow for this progression naturally.
Whether this glass truly does enhance the flavor of beer (and perhaps lead to the evolution of the beer glass as we know it) remains to be seen. Still, it does look cool, and I would love to get my hands on a few of them.
Still, while I am impressed by the diligence and ingenuity with which the Sam Adams people created this glass, I am even more impressed with Koch's statement regarding the need for such advances in beer glasses: "We want to educate people that beer deserves the same respect wine does." Amen to that.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Aside from its proximity, the factor that drew us most to the Pittsfield Brew Works was the discovery that the co-owners, Christine Bump and Bill Heaton, had met while working together at Victory Brewing in Downington, Pennsylvania. We made quite a pleasant visit to Victory last summer, and it had long been a favourite prior to that. They are probably best known for their flagship, Hop Devil IPA, but also make several other excellent beers that are widely available regionally: Prima Pils, Storm King Imperial Stout, Golden Monkey, et al.
The mere knowledge that there was a Victory connection this close to home that we had somehow neglected to visit for so long was enough to drive one to madness. Rather than giving in to the madness, we chose to investigate.
Pittsfield is a small city in Western Massachusettes, located about 35 miles east of Albany. Close enough that the latest issue of Metroland, the marvelously worthless, free weekly paper of the Capital Region, was stacked on a table just inside the door as we entered the Brew Works.
Despite the short distance, getting there was a bit of an adventure, as we had to negotiate throngs of yuppster hippies in Audis and Subaru Outbacks who clogged Route 7 (we can only assume they were headed for Tanglewood), but don't let that be a detractor. Once in downtown Pittsfield, we wandered just a bit, but managed to find our way to 34 Depot Street without much trouble (hint: it's near the train station). We parked in the spacious gravel parking lot under the row of windows along the side (back?) of the brewpub and headed for the main entrance under the distinctive 'black sheep' sign that serves as the brewpub's logo.
Once inside, we saw the aforementioned stacks of Metroland, surrounded by walls coloured yellow to match the background of the funky sheep logo. The dining room has a half dozen tables and roughly as many booths, with windows overlooking the brewing tanks. Pass through an arched doorway, and you're in the glassed-in bar area. Most of this room overlooks the parking lot and train station, but provides a decent view of what exists of downtown Pittsfield on the near end. The other end of the stretched, rectangular room features a large, three-sided booth with windows on two sides. During our visit, this booth was filled, curiously enough, mostly with gentlemen sporting matching Cats t-shirts.
The bar itself is dark wood, with room for perhaps 15 thirsty patrons along its length. Most of the beers on draught are listed on a large chalkboard above the expanse of the bar's back wall, with plenty of taps and some glassware occupying the foreground. There are televisions on either end of the bar tuned to one sporting event or another, but we were there mostly for the beer.
There were ten of their own on draught for our visit, along with a tasty-sounding Coffee Porter guest tap from nearby Berkshire Brewing Company. The sampler, which comes highly recommended, includes ample samples of all of the available house beers. On this occasion, these
included the following:
ESB (on cask)
Geri Dog Stout
Cursedly, we did not take any notes, but rest assured that there was not a dud in the group. Predictably enough, the Gold and Pilsner were probably our least favourite, but still plenty drinkable. The stout was creamy smooth, and the IPA did nothing to betray its' Hop Devil heritage. It's always nice to see a brewpub with a cask offering. The cask ESB was good, but not quite as fine as we'd been led to believe. Perhaps most interesting, all of the P ales ( there is normally a fourth, Columbus, available as well) are made using the same recipe. The only difference is the type of hops used.
Distinguishing such nuances as one hop variety from another is an admitted shortcoming on our part. That said, this practice is simply fantastic. Each pale was sufficiently different from the rest that we did not realize the hops were the only difference until reading about it later. Perhaps the names should have been a dead giveaway. We may be alone in thinking this, but the varietal pales on their own merit another visit for further research.
Did we mention that the ten beer sampler only cost $6? As if that weren't enough, a follow-up pint of the pleasantly flowery Amarillo Pale only set us back $3.35. Why, again, had we never been to this place previously?
No brewpub would be complete without food, and the Brew Works did not disappoint in this department either. The menu is relatively inexpensive (we saw nothing over $15) and has plenty of appealing options. We stuck to the appetizers on this trip, and were not sorry. The Buffalo Chicken Tenders (6.95) were crispy and nicely spiced. A 1/2 order of Brew Pub Nachos (4.95) included tasty ground beef and pico de gallo, and were big enough that we worried that they'd given us a full order. Homemade Onion Rings (3.95) were beer battered and perfectly fried.
Pittsfield Brew Works proved to be quite a find; a really pleasant setting with solid pub food and great beers. All at very popular prices. It's worth a slight detour should you find yourself in the general area of Route 7 (or even I-90) in far Western Mass. We plan on going back on a fairly regular basis. Soon, Lord willin' and the creek don't rise.
Pittsfield Brew Works
34 Depot Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Thursday, August 16, 2007
If you are a regular beer drinker in Syracuse, NY, the exclusive photos below should shock you.
Don't recognize them? You once knew them as the Middle Ages tasting room.
If you've ever been to Middle Ages, you know they had one of the more unusual sampling rooms of any brewery in the Northeast. Rather than the usual pub style, it closer resembled an office with a bar built around the desks and chairs. Imagine the office where you work. Now imagine that someone built a large bar right around the periphery of it. Yes, that's what it had been like since what seemed like the beginning of time (or at least the last XII years or so).
The top photo is from the vantage point of the restroom (the guys who work there were kind enough to let me utilize the facilities), and the bottom photo is from the entrance way. (In case you don't remember, an archived picture of what the tasting room once looked like can be found here courtesy of Lew Bryson's invaluable blog. Lew's full article from Winter 2004 can be read here.)
Currently, the brewers have opened up the large red external "garage door" familiar to regulars and have been serving directly out of the warehouse. The only downside is that they are temporarily limiting tastings to two samples instead of the usual seven for space considerations. But the beer is still the same and you can still pick up a six pack, 22 oz or growler at the same ultra-reasonable prices.
So it appears that Middle Ages is ready to step up their tasting room. We never had any problem with the set up as it was, but we are looking forward to a new ambiance that will remind us more of IPAs and less of TPS reports. We are very excited for the new change and hope it doesn't alter the charm of the tasting experience. It will likely open up more room for standing and allowing others to sidle up to the bar, but that remains to be seen.
Earlier today, following a hard day at the office, Mr. Bojangles and I decided to visit Albany's finest beer bar, Mahar's, for a couple of hard-earned beers. One of the nicer things about Mahar's is its rotating Rogue tap - lately, they've been offering a random selection from Oregon's finest brewery as part of their beer tour, and we've partaken in recent months of draft Chipotle Ale and 10,000.
Today, our beer tour lists read "Rogue Soba Buckwheat." Knowing nothing more than that, we both partook of a pint.
The verdict (on what we would later determine was Rogue's Morimoto Soba Ale)? In a word - meh.
The website describes the ale thusly: "Morimoto Soba Ale is brewed with Roasted Buckwheat, Pale malt, Munich Malt, 13-17 Carastan Malt, and Crystal Hops. The flavor is unique, toasty-nutty sensation with medium body and good hop bitterness."
The beer was, in many ways, remiscent of a Belgian Witbier, but with one notable difference - instead of a strong wheat taste and a strong citrus hint, it tasted a bit watered-down; while we like soba/buckwheat a great deal (a favorite Japanese dish of ours is a soba noodle salad with Thai peanut dressing and scallions), it didn't serve this beer tremendously well -it didn't have the lasting flavor of a Witbier, coming off as insubstantial in comparison.
In short, it wasn't a terrible beer. That said, we probably won't partake again.
Being only an hour's drive or so from Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (and quite a lovely little town in its own right) is a not unattractive aspect of life in the Capital Region of New York State. Proximity to the fantastic Belgian-style ales put out by Brewery Ommegang is no small part of that. Truth be told, we probably don't take advantage of either the town or the brewery nearly enough. We'd been hearing rumblings for awhile about the release of their latest creation, Ommegeddon, so you can imagine our excitement when a 750 ml bottle labeled "Batch #1, June 2007" was generously delivered into our hands.
Here's what the brewery says about it on their web site:
We are happy to introduce our newest addition, Ommegeddon.We weren't really sure what to expect from this beer, especially given the line "Funkhouse Ale with Brettanomyces" on the bottle. Not knowing much about the wild yeast strain Brettanomyces (hereafter affectionately known as Brett), we did a bit of reading on the subject. A small bit, but still, give a little credit, eh? I don't claim to be anything but a novice in the ways of Belgian brewing, but, hey, I'm willing to work at it! Basically, Brett, along with Pediococcus and Lactobacillus is one of the "big three" beer (or wine - if you're into that sort of thing) spoiling micro-organisms. Most of the time, when of these bad boys is present in your adult beverage, it means something went horribly wrong with the brewing process.
It’s our new 8% abv Belgian-style ale with a wild twist- a dose of Brettanomyces yeast and a blast of dry hopping. Ommegedon is a strong blonde ale with a sharp citrus flavor that, like the other Ommegang ales has a dry finish. It’s dryness and funkiness begat the name of Ommegeddon-for the time when the forces of light and dark battle for world dominion. It’s time for you to pick your side.
Under a skilled hand, however, these bacteria can mean wonderful things. Brett, in particular, is at least partially responsible for the flavours of such luminaries as Orval, Rodenbach, and Liefmans. It is known for the "sweaty" or "horse blanket" qualities it can impart. In a good way.
To learn more, check out this article by Tomme Arthur, head of brewing at San Diego's highly regarded Port Brewing, and lead visionary of their Belgian offshoot, Lost Abbey. Alternatively, just try a few Brett-influenced beers. We plan to do both, perhaps repeatedly. Previous experience with Ommegang's five mainstay ales has taught us that they certainly know how to brew in the Belgian style. Well enough that they are now Belgian-owned and a portion of their line has been brewed in Belgium over the past couple years just to keep up with production. The Ommegeddon proved to be surprisingly easy to drink, and not nearly as "funky" as I'd hoped. Or was it feared? It certainly has that familiar smooth and slightly sweet Belgian quality to it.
We found it surprisingly similar to some of Ommegang's other offerings; almost a blend of Rare Vos and Hennepin, with just a dash of something unknown and earthy. It is faintly sweet and spicy, but with an oddly pleasant dampness. A little hoppy. Dry, bitter finish. There is a lot going on, but it definitely drinks lighter than the original Abbey Ale. This easy quaffability belies the 8% ABV. A 750 ml bottle of this stuff could easily disappear in a hurry.
A Second Opion - from (our very own) Bill:
Well from what I remember it seemed like a Saison or farmhouse ale.The label does recommend that you should "Cellar 6 Months for maximum enjoyment of Brettanomyces funkiness." This one is crafted in such a manner that the mild funkiness in the beer now might turn into something George Clinton would envy in a year's time. Having grown up on a farm, we fear not a whit the "horse blanket" flavour, so aging this sounds like a good plan. It is hard to justify (at least to the wife) the $12-15 price tag too often, especially with most of Ommegang's other offerings available for less than half that, but this is certainly something we'd love to try again in six months or a year when those wild yeasts have had a chance to go about their work.
It had that kind of strong Belgian taste which I can usually take or leave,
but in this case I did like it. It had a certain sweetness to it, too, like
a light cherry (this is all based on memory, of course). The thing that I
liked most about it was how smooth it was; it didn't have that champagne
fizz that most of those Saisons have. That made it a far more pleasant
drink for me. I wasn't blown away by it, and for $13 way overpriced. But it
was exemplary for the style (which is a style to which I am not
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
If we were to tell you that coming soon to Wolf Road in Albany (well, technically, it's in Colonie) was a bar and restaurant specializing in Chicago style deep dish pizza that also features over 100 beers, you'd be at least a tad intrigued, right? Okay, so Old Chicago is a national chain, but it does have those two previously mentioned factors decidedly in its favour. We've never been to one of their locations, but have visited a Rock Bottom Brewery or two - they are run by the same company - and found them to be pretty solid establishments.
A cursory glance at the beer list is not all that impressive, considering the number available. We hear that just how good the beer selection is depends on the individual location, so here's hoping for the best. Want another check in the positive column? They also offer a beer tour:
Sure, as beer tours go, this ain't exactly Mahar's, but it's worth checking out. Worry not, Dear Reader. We will, as always, do the leg work for you. Is elbow work more appropriate? Keg work? Anyway, a little bird told us that Old Chicago is slated to open on September 23 and that they will have up to 119 beers to choose from. Developing...
Old Chicago World Beer Tour™
Travel the world, one beer at a time. For more than 20 years beer lovers across America have sampled the world’s finest brews with our famous World Beer Tour.
The tour includes 110 exciting brews -- some old favorites, others happy discoveries. Each one bringing another taste thrill -- and big prize potential.
It’s free to join with no obligation to complete the tour (but really, why wouldn’t you?). An electronic World Beer Tour card tracks every beer on your journey, from any Old Chicago location. It’s your ticket to quick validations and fabulous prizes.
Once you’ve tried all 110 beers (not in one day), your tour’s complete. On that proud day you get your name forever emblazoned on The Famous Hall of Foam and instant bragging rights for dear mom.
What better way to make your way around the globe than with a beer in your hand?
Monday, August 13, 2007
We are big fans of most of the offerings of Brooklyn Brewery in general -- and brewmaster Garrett Oliver in particular. It turns out that several months ago, Oliver hopped a plane to Germany to collaborate with the Schneider brewing company, both breweries decided to combine the best of German wheat flavor and American hops. (You can read the very interesting overview of how this happened at Cure For What Ales You. They do a better job explaining than we could.) The two breweries turned out the Brooklyner & Schneider Hopfen Weisse.
Recently, we had apparently had the proverbial horseshoe firmly lodged where the sun-don't-shine, because we were able to sample a 22oz offering from one of only two cases being offered in Upstate New York. (At least that's what the guy at the Party Source told us.) We were slightly skeptical only because there haven't been, in our experience, a lot of successful hop/wheat combinations. (And if you can think of any besides this one, please do drop a note.)
The look of the beer is striking color. It's a gorgeous cloudy golden yellow. There is a major top layer of gloriously foamy head. The radiance of the beer is really striking. It's bright and shining in color, and yet so cloudy. (My crappy camera-phone picture below doesn't begin to do it justice.)
The scent is heavy with both that slightly pungent wheat smell we all love so much, and also a strong orange peel. There is that slight hint of banana that you will get with a typical hefe weizen, but it's much more slight than usual The aroma is sweet, for sure, but it's also grounded by that thick yeast smell. It's quite nice, especially for a Hef. It doesn't have that saccharine sweetness that characterizes so many well-intentioned Hefes. We also do detect just a smidgen of hops, but we think this might be wishful thinking. That is until we take a sip.
Congratulations, universe, you win. The combination of German engineering and American know-how have created one hell of a hoppy hefe weizen. The initial sip has the familiar tastes of orange/wheat/banana that you will get from a Hef. This is not to say that these flavors are just ordinary, because they are near-perfect. Nice sweetness in the fruit and in the wheat, balanced by some dry yeast. If they would have left it at that, we would have been duly impressed with this as a hefe weizen.
Oh but those cheeky Teutons weren't done. At the swallow, there is a surprising waterfall of bitter, grapefruity hops. We must admit that this was both shocking and exhilarating. While the yeast and fruits are shaking your hand, the hops are waiting for you to look down so they can slap you in the back of the head. Really tremendous. And instead of that sometimes cloying fruity sweetness that some Hefs leave in the aftertaste, this beer -- like napalm perhaps -- leaves nothing but hops in its wake. Not since Wernher von Braun and NASA have Germans and Americans been able to create such a beautiful invention.
The beer is thick like a hefe weizen, with that milky thickness, but also leaves a nice bitter hop film. Smooth for style. It's more than the average Hef. The key is not that the hops are so strong, but that they create such a nice secondary balance to the sweetness of the malt.
One note: it may be recommended to try this entire beer in one sitting. Although the beer doesn't appear to lose any of its carbonation after opening (and then re-sealing with an air-tight stopper), it does lose a lot of its clarity. It is much cloudier, and more of a mustard color. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but it isn't as bright, and looks more thick.
If you have the good fortune to pick up a bomber of it, go for it.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Legends Sports Bar
288 Lark Street, Albany NY
Tap Selection: Nothing tremendously impressive, although they did have 2 different Red Hook selections on (I saw the Red Hook Summer and ESB, and the website claims to have a Red Hook IPA available as well). Other beers available: Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Blue Moon, Harp, Bass, Guinness, Paulaner, Smithwick's, and Newcastle. All beers were fresh (clean lines).
Food: Full menu until 11 (midnight on high-activity evenings). Members of our party had the nachos and hot wings; these were pretty good. The nachos came with a bruschetta-esque salsa that was delicious. They serve ballpark-style hot dogs as well - while we didn't partake of them, they looked phenomenal, and we'll be back for a go at them at another date. Legends is run cooperatively with DeJohn's, which is a full-service restaurant next door with a solid reputation, and we were given free reign over the DeJohn's menu as well if we so chose (we didn't, but that's kind of awesome).
Ambience: It's basically a sports bar in a brownstone building - it's got two floors, each with its own bar. Lots of flat-screen televisions, including one over the urinal in the men's room. Legends is relatively new, and looks impeccably clean. The upstairs room had table seating; the downstairs bar was more wide-open. It was nice to have the choice. Lots of framed sports jersey decorations; while we're not crazy about a place that has Red Sox, Mets, and Yankees jerseys all hanging (pick a team!), they do get bonus points for having the framed #18 Yankees jersey be an autographed Don Larsen jersey instead of, say, Johnny Damon.
Vicinity: Legends is located smack-dab in the middle of the Lark Street neighborhood; this is Albany's hippest area, and the entire neighborhood caters to a youthful, liberal demographic. There are six or so other decent bars within walking distance, as well as a good variety of eateries. The Lark Street neighborhood has a little something for everybody.
Specials: $2 drafts of everything from 11 am to 7 pm daily. Is nice! We were there on a Wednesday, which featured $9 domestic pitchers after 8:30 (a deal that included Sierra Nevada and Red Hook) and $12 import pitchers. Check the website for other special information.
Extras: Trivia nights are Wednesdays! The trivia contest was well-run and pretty laid back and fun - it's highly recommended (even though our team missed winning by a mere one point).
The Verdict: Not bad for a sports bar. You could definitely do worse. We will be back.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
The Southern Tier of New York State refers to the geographic area that runs most of the length of the state, from the edge of the Catskill Mountains west along the border of northern Pennsylvania almost to the shores of Lake Erie. It is some of the most beautiful country you could hope to find; full of rolling hills, valleys, rivers, and precious little in the way of population centers.
New York Governor Eliot Spitzer raised the ire of some when he said much of Upstate "looks like Appalachia" during his election campaign last year. He was referring, of course, to the faltering economy in many Upstate locales resembling that of the stereotypically impoverished and rural "hillbilly" region. Deliverance imagery aside, he wasn't exactly wrong. Spitzer was referring to the depressed economic conditions, but most of the Southern Tier region technically is Appalachia.
Okay, enough of the geographic and socioeconomic drivel, we're here for the beer. The point we are so circuitously [not to mention clumsily - Ed.] trying to make is that, as wonderful as the Southern Tier is, there ain't a whole lot happening there, especially when it comes to the microbrewery scene. With the exception of Ellicottville Brewing and, of course, the aptly named Southern Tier Brewing, both of which are in the far southwestern corner of the state (and happen to have a shared heritage, but that's another story for another time), there really is not another brewery in the region. Until now, that is!
Horseheads Brewing opened its doors (well, technically, got its liquor license) on July 3rd. Owner and longtime homebrewer Ed Samchisen handles the beer making, while his wife, Brenda, runs the gift shop and designs all the beer labels. The brewery is new enough that there is not yet a web site, but they do offer beer in growlers and hand-filled bottles. If all goes according to plan, they will soon have kegs for sale and begin supplying their beer to local bars and restaurants. According to this site, there may be as many as six different brews, each of which is linked in some way to local history through its name.
Brickyard Red Ale
Iroquois Wheat Beer
Pale Expedition Ale
Peach Wheet Beer
Horseheads is located just North of Elmira off Interstate 86 and takes its uniquely wonderful name from the number of bleached horse skulls left behind in the aftermath of the Sullivan Expedition (yes, as in Sullivan Stout - told you the names had history behind them). It's a bit out of the way, but is located off a major highway, and certainly sounds like it merits some field research. If only we knew someone who had recently moved to the Southern Tier and enjoyed inexpensive and thoroughly enjoyable day trips to breweries. Developing...
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
This is a little different from our normal beat, but it involves beer, so...
Scientists at the University of Manitoba are studying the physics of beer bubbles. They're looking at the use of multiply scattered acoustic waves and how they change physical systems - simply stated, they're hoping to increase the technology by which images are created. Where radars create simple images based on single waves, they're hoping that beer will provide them a solution to create more complex images. Multiply scattered acoustic waves can also track changes over time; if this research pans out, scientists might be able to create technology that can monitor the structural soundness of buildings and bridges - something that's definitely needed, especially in the wake of a disaster like this.
Lead researcher John Page notes: “I know that a lot of effort has gone into figuring out how to get just the right concentration and size of bubbles, and how to produce the perfect head on a glass of beer. There are people who work in that industry who know much, much more about that than I do."
We're not scientists, but we gleaned two essential truths from this reading.
- 1. Beer can save lives.
- 2. Finally, that bottle of Budweiser Select can be put to good use.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Every once in a while a beer comes along that becomes less a bottle of suds than it is an experience, something transcendent. The very thought of it actually makes one slightly nervous. This can only be explained in that there are some beers that attain a sort of legendary status.
Such is the legend of the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. We are big fans of Dogfish Head around these parts. The 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPAs are all gold standards for the style. But the 120 is an entirely different type of flying, altogether.
First of all, there's the alcoholic content. It is 21.00% alcohol. That is not a misprint. Twenty-one percent alcohol by volume. It's 42 proof. It is listed as the fifth strongest beer in the world by BeerAdvocate.com. (The 60 and 90 Minute IPAs are 6% and 9% abv, respectively.) This means that drinking one of these beers is the equivalent of drinking between 3 to 5 "regular" beers, depending on alcohol content.
Then there is the price. One 12 ounce bottle of this stuff was $8.99. For one bottle. Now, this is just a little easier to justify given that I have plunked down $10 at bars before for beers that don't have the kind of bang for the buck that the 120 Minute has. And if you follow the "3 to 5" beer equation (and you're just looking to get lit up on the cheap), this is actually a pretty good bargain. It's better than sniffing magic markers. I've spent $8.99 on a lot of crappy CDs and bad restaurant hamburgers, so a ten-spot isn't really going to be a deal-breaker.
I consulted my personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on this one, and he told me to go for it. So I found my cleanest glass and pulled the bottle out of the fridge. After having finished it, there is really nothing else like it (although Dogfish Head's Burton Baton is the closest thing). I went down this frightening and lonesome road so you don't have to. Here is what I found.
The color is gorgeous. It's big, and it's thick. It pours a huge, deep and dark orange color. It looks like apple cider, but somehow even thicker. There is a nice flat, half-finger of light brown head. The lacing is very minimal, which surprised me given the cloudy appearance of this sucker. There are lots of tiny carbonation bubbles skyrocketing from bottom to top, probably trying to find the escape velocity to get out of the muck. This mother is thick.
The smell is a very strong combination of flowery hops and a dark oak scent. The smell is very rich and very strong. The hops are strong, and yet they are completely overpowered by the combination of the oak, the dark berry/grape smell, and the massive grain alcohol smell. Anyone who says they can't smell the alcohol should probably see a doctor, because they've probably had a stroke. Still, the smells of oak, pine and some nuttiness still managed to escape. The smell isn't so much balanced as it just throws a lot of different scents in there, hoping one will stick.
The flavor is really the thing here, and it's what I have been a bit scared of. I am a huge fan of IPAs in general, and not afraid of hops, but after trying the Burton Baton from DFH previously, I would never underestimate the lengths to which they will go to make something extreme. This is definitely no exception.
The first taste I noticed was a major blast of alcohol on the tongue. More than just a hint of it, or an accent. This was almost like gasoline hitting my taste buds. It is the single most definitive characteristic of the taste of this beer. Yes, there are some woody hops, yes there is an oak accent. But every sip is like an assault on the tongue. It's less like a refined IPA than it is simply akin to licking a piece of fine wooden furniture (a dresser comes to mind).
I do give this beer points for sheer strength and power. And balls. But to me -- and maybe it's because my palate isn't as attuned as many of you fancy people -- this beer is less an example of a carefully rendered craft brewing and balance, and more an example of throwing a bunch of elements that people like in their beers (hops, alcohol, oak) and simply cranking up the volume. It conjures up the image of a mad brewer telling his reluctant assistants to throw each ingredient in the vat, and then yelling "More. More! MOOOORRRRE! BWOO-HA-HA!" (I am confident this image is not an accurate depiction of the beer's actual brewing process.)
The feel of the beer is about as thick and chunky as a beer can get. It's chewy. And in addition to its thickness, the feel of the beer is sandpapery, not even remotely smooth. Every sip is like choking down a thick, viscous shot of whiskey. And it burns the same way as whiskey, on the tongue, in the esophagus, and in the stomach.
As much as I will give credit to the pure chutzpah with which DFH made this beer, I will give even more credit to the alcohol content. I was plenty drunk after being only about 3/4 done with the glass. Luckily I was already in for the night. Do NOT drink this beer and drive anywhere for a few hours. Seriously.
My overall impression is this: I wouldn't recommend this beer to anyone, because I think it's a delicacy. Maybe if I drank one a day for six months I could begin to develop a palate for it, but why would I do that when I can enjoy the 60 and 90 minute varieties that DFH already offers? I would defy anyone to drink two in a row for pure enjoyment, and not as part of some dare or for charity.
I actually swished the last sip around in my mouth for a few extra seconds, knowing that I had finally come face to face with this mighty beast, and that it would likely never pass my lips again. I am glad, however, that I tried it that one time.
When we read that the Albany Pump Station was offering a Smoked Hefeweizen, we had to visit. According to their web site:
This version of our Bavarian-style wheat beer is made with beechwood smoked malt, imparting a more than subtle flavor. The yeast-derived banana and clove characteristics are there, too. Our Brewmaster's favorite; in fact, I'm drinking it now! 5.6% ABV.As it turns out, the Smoked Hefe is something they have offered twice previously in the past three months, and we'd actually sampled it before. The Pump Station's standard Hefeweizen is one of the best we have ever had the pleasure of tasting; it's crisp and refreshing without getting too yeast-y or over the top. There is a beautiful banana and clove spiciness going on as well. While we admittedly have not visited often enough lately (maybe once every three of four weeks on average), it seemed that either the Hefeweizen was not offered - they often have Evans' Wit, an excellent Belgian style beer in it's own right - or that the customary spice of the Hefe was just a little different.
In our ignorance, we had sampled the Bavarian Style (Smoked) Hefeweizen and simply assumed that their was a slight variance or tweak in the batch, similar to what seemingly has happened - for the better - with the Pale Ale recently. The Bavarian Style Hefeweizen sign on the tap list apparently is the same whether it's the smoked or standard version.
In our defense, the underlying smoke flavor is much more understated than the web site's description would lead us to believe. The smoke characteristic is fleeting at best; just a hint on the nose and at the finish. It is light, bubbly and solidly spiced, but, to our taste, not as clean and pleasant as their normal Hefeweizen. All in all, an enjoyable, easy drinker, but not one we'd choose over either the Hefe or the Evans' Wit. Still, any excuse to visit the Pump Station is a welcome one, at least in our book.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
The beautifully summery weather this weekend brought to mind our trip earlier this year to Cape Cod, and in particular, to the Cape Cod Beer brewery. Other than some fine establishments in the city of Boston, and beers from Harpoon and Sam Adams, this was really one of our first experiences with the beers of Massachusetts. As we have been sadly lax in our picture taking for the site (especially since our only decent camera was stolen by a wanton criminal), we decided to post a few that were taken by an affiliated photog during our tour of the brewery in Hyannis. Rest assured, we are working on the camera situation and positive changes in that respect can be expected in the near future.
The outside of the brewery - it really is just a small warehouse in a light industrial park in Hyannis. This facility actually represents an expansion from their original downtown location.
Inspecting the tanks. I swear his head was in there just a moment before this was taken. One of the auxiliary holding tanks was actually acquired from the nearby Cape Cod Potato Chips factory.
One of New England's leading beer connoisseurs demonstrates a variety of different malts.
The local homebrewers club was brewing up a batch of undisclosed beer during our visit. We gave it the ol' sniff test. It passed. With flying colors.
Filled kegs biding their time in the cooler until their appointed time comes. So far, Cape Cod Brewing self distributes only to locations on the Cape. Too bad, we could go for a nice glass of their Hefe or IPA right about now.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Word has it that the next entry in Saranac's High Peaks series will be a Russian Imperial Stout. "Our new High Peak Series line of beers," says the description on their web site, "are bigger, more complex and flavorful; beers that are meant to be sipped and savored." Their first foray into the world of "big beers" was the solid, tasty and well balanced Imperial IPA, released in 2006.
We have long held that Saranac (which brews a big chunk of Brooklyn Brewery's well-respected products under contract) is capable of much more than their standard line of brews. The Imperial IPA was a great first step, and the RIS will prove an excellent choice for the second. It is slated to be released in mid-September. And to think that I considered stopping by Utica for a brewery tour on Friday before passing it up to take the scenic route from Syracuse to the Capital Region!
That would have to be Pacifico of course!*
Now let me tell you about Pacifico. And I mean to be specifico. This cerveza is by no means magnifico. When it comes to notoriety stateside, Corona is far more prolifico. But we all know that the Mexican beer game is mostly politic-o. Because you see the group responsible for Corona is also responsible for Pacifico. Yes, they both fall under Grupo Modelo in Me-hico. Now there are a lots of Corona fanaticos, but some seem to prefer their Pacificos. Now I've had both, and neither strikes me as really terrifico.
Pacifico is a pilsener, with a clear yellow pour, that is not in anyway distincto. Smells and tastes like one of those malted corn drinkos. It's almost like they found the basic corn pilsener recipe and photocopied it at a Kinkos. Now while it's not a beer that makes you thinko, it is okay to drinko. If you're offered one, don't pour it down the sink-ho'. But when answering the question, "is it better than Corona?" well, I guess I'm still on the brinko. But on on the ratings scale of swill, to liquid awesome, it rates an okay to drinko.
*Both Pacifico and Corona could be considered to be Mexican for alcoholic water. In the beer thesaurus they are, in fact loose synonyms.
Friday, August 03, 2007
[Note for both of our regular readers: We are proud to put enter the foray of "The Session," which is a day every month -- the first Friday, to be exact -- where bloggers from all around weigh in on a certain topic. To find out more about "The Session," please visit Appellation Beer for the origins. The topic this month is fruit beer. This month's session will be hosted by Beer, Beats & Bites, a terrific Canadian beer blog run by Greg Clow. Please visit BB&B. And to see what a completed "Session" looks like, please see session #5 from July, regarding the best Atmosphere in which to have a beer. For now, grab a pint and enjoy.]
[UPDATE: The Round-up for "The Session" can be found here.]
I was asked by my editor to contribute to The Session on behalf of Beerjanglin'. He told me that this month's theme would be Fruit Beers. Naturally, I headed to the nearest Wilson Farms convenience store to pick up a 30-pack of Busch, swung by the farmer's market for a dozen or so oranges, and began the arduous task of juicing the oranges and mixing them with the Busch in gallons of empty milk containers. Results were mixed, to say the least, but I emerged through the other side with a new appreciation for oranges, and for the resilience of the human gastrointestinal system. Before my opus detailing my experiences could see the light of day, my editor informed me that there were, in fact, beers brewed with the fruit already in them. Naturally, I thought he must be playing a prank on me. He was not.
Not quite understanding the protocol of The Session yet, I simply decided to select three fruit beers and see if I can tap into what makes them either potable, or unimpressive. Fruit beers are somewhat out of my wheelhouse ("My name is Bill S., and I am a hop-head..."), but I must admit a somewhat guilty-pleasure appreciation for fruit beers. Besides, no matter how hard I tried, there was no way to classify a hop as a fruit on a technicality. On a hot August day, sometimes a blueberry- or raspberry-flavored brew is just what the doctor ordered, and not only because of the fact that the American Medical Association recognizes that it fights scurvy.
Rather than try to traverse the gamut of all the Fruit Beers in the galaxy, I decided to stick with three breweries that I know and trust. My selections were Ellicottville (NY) Blueberry Wheat, Blue Point (NY) Blueberry Ale, and Dogfish Head (DE) Midas Touch Golden Elixir. I know I sorta chickened out by doing two Blueberry beers, but we shall see where this is headed.
The criteria I will primarily be using for Fruit Beer purposes will be Consistency (aka Mouthfeel), Flavor and Refreshingness (aka Drinkability). These beers are generally engineered for the summer, except the Midas Touch which I just realized is 9% alcohol by volume. Oops! Well, here we go. Excelsior!:
First up is the Blue Point Blueberry Ale, a seemingly popular blueberry beer around these parts. The first thing that struck me about this one is its thickness. The beer looks very thin and almost watery. It's a clear reddish-orange color (where's the blue???), and though it poured a pretty thick ice cream float head, I didn't expect there to be much body to it. But when I took a sip, there was a surprisingly creamy feel to this one. Yet, the taste of the beer is light enough to appease the lightest of lightweights, as well as satisfy the true beer drinker.
It does taste like a beer, not a fruit drink. It's a golden ale with a top coating of light, but not overwhelming blueberry flavor. In fact, it's a remarkably balanced beer, utilizing the sweetness of the blueberry to offset the dryness of the biscuity malt and the hints of wheat that show up all over this baby.
As far as summer drinking goes, it might be just a tad too much for the Smirnoff-swilling ingenues you might be inviting to your deck party because of its thickness, but it can still be enjoyed for its rich and balanced flavor. And the fellow beergeeks at the party who are sick of Corona and Miller High Life every Saturday afternoon will thank you for this one.
Next up to bat, is the Ellicottville Blueberry Wheat. I was immediately struck by the contrast between this beer and the Blueberry Ale shown above. First of all, the color is a straw-yellow, but not thin-looking; it's got a nice wheaty haze that makes the beer opaque. The smell was similar, with traces of wheat and blueberry, and a curious hint of pepper, of all things.
The differences become more apparent in the taste and feel. Whereas the beer above had a balance between the dry and the sweet, this one is all sweetness. The wheat itself is of a more confectionary variety, which goes along nicely with the blueberry, but doesn't offer much in the way of a counterpoint. It actually becomes a bit tart and sour, moreso as it warms up a bit.
Also, this is certainly not thick; it's more "wet" and watery. Which isn't to say it's a bad beer, but it's more along the lines of a summery, populist selection than the Blue Point ale. This one might be a bit more palatable for those not accustomed to the drier beers or beers with more malt presence. This is also a fine selection, and some might say it's actually summery...er than the Blue Point, but it appears that the Blue Point appeals more to the geek, and the Ellicottville is brewed for the cool kids. Also, the Ellicottville is unfiltered, just so you know.
And finally, one I've actually been wanting to try for a long time. Dogfish Head has made some great brews (the 60/90 Minute IPAs are the gold standard) and some interesting misses (Burton Baton). I ignored the sticker shock of the Midas Touch Golden Elixir and went for it. Here goes.
The color of the Midas Touch is, predictably, pure gold (and yes, it was like that before I touched it, in case you were wondering). It looks actually like apple juice. It's got a nice color, but looks like it has very little body.
Now, the smell of this Elixir is a whole 'nother story. It's one of the most complex-smelling beers I have ever experienced. If I were a bloodhound, maybe I could deconstruct all the aromas I'm picking up, but as it is, I am detecting mostly a deep red-wine grape aroma, along with some of the usual characteristics of a regular ale. There is a very sweet, sugary honey accent on top as well, and some other berries which I can't quite identify. It's like a symphony of different smells, a menagerie of different fragrances. A tiny bit of perfumey Belgian saison flavor comes about as well.
The taste is almost anticlimactic. There are all sorts of berries and grapes and round, nickel-sized fruits. All traces of malt and hops, while present, fade in the background of the strong panoply of fruits and berries. As it warms up, the rounded flavors become a bit sharper, with some of that heavy alcoholic kick (9%, remember). Also, the sweetness turns to more of a puckery sour toward the bottom of the glass. It evolved right before my eyes -- although I would also claim that it was intelligently designed.
The feel is not what I would call "summery." It's thick and bubbly, like a belgian farmhouse or saison ale. It's thick and strong, and pungent. It leaves a tart film on the tongue in the aftermath. It's a fascinating brew, really. Complex and one-of-a-kind. This doesn't mean I could have more than one every couple years, but it's worth having that one.
Thanks for wasting a few minutes reading our little blog. If you feel like it, take a gander back over the past few months and see if there is anything you like. Or hate. Feel free to stop back and see us again, or leave a message.