Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quick Takes: Kona Brewing Co's Longboard Lager

A couple of weekends ago (the same weekend as my jaunt to the Dogfish Head Alehouse), I found myself looking for beer in an essentially barren liquor store in a shady part of Seaside Heights, New Jersey. I was there because we were moving my brother out of an apartment in said shady part of Seaside Heights, and wanted to find something good to accompany an evening of watching DVDs of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" and "The Kingdom."

Sadly, I was faced with a shelf filled with what Glenn Gould might call "variations on a theme" - and that theme was macrobrewed American lagers and their watered-down "light" counterparts. I grabbed a sixer of Heineken Light for my brother (the same one who would order a Miller Light at Dogfish Head later that weekend, the cur) and was resigned to some Sam Adams when I spotted an unfamiliar looking sixer. The red packaging bore a new name for my eyes: Kona Brewing Company. The beer was called "Longboard Lager."

This was perfect for the day - I needed something that was drinkable from a bottle (any pint glasses in the apartment were either packed or dirty to the point of wretchedness). I happily grabbed it and was soon cracking open my first bottle. The result? Not bad. Longboard Lager was an American lager, much like the other alternatives, but this was a tad hoppier than your garden-variety macroswill; not hoppy to the point of being an IPA. Resultingly, the taste was a bit bitter - not a "bad" bitterness at all, but more of an emphatic crispness. The color? A pale yellow.

In short, this was a perfect wild-card beer. I was satisfied with Kona's product and would be intrigued to try other types of their beer. In the meanwhile, Longboard Lager would be a welcome change of pace in a cooler full of macrobrews, and I think it would be an excellent counterpoint to a steamy, beach-bound summer day. On this February night, though, it was a great drink for an evening with my kid brother and some "It's Always Sunny" DVD hijinks.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I know what you may be thinking, "why is there a pizza place in this blog? This isn't Pizzajanglin' for crying out loud!" While this is true, Penguin Pizza is by far much, much more than just a solid pizza joint. Allow me to proceed. You see Penguin Pizza has around 200 some odd beers to available for consumption at any given time. That's right, 200, no typo here. Ya with me now? I thought you might be. So come on in!

"Penguin", as it is affectionately known, is a cozy little place located in the Brigham Circle area of Beantown. (right off the Green Line Brigham Circle stop. Go figure). When you walk in, you don't really know what to expect. It's dark, and quaint, with only about 6 or 7 bigger tables, 3 little two-seaters, and of course some spots at the bar. Lady Moe and I have been there on several occassions and have never had trouble finding a seat. You seat yourself, and they present you with your menus. One for food and one for beer. Now whilst the pizza here is quite good, again, this is not Pizzajanglin', so we will skip over the reasonably priced and delicious pizza pies available to order and move right along to why you're here, the beer.

As mentioned, there's in the neighborhood of 200 beers on this menu. Now sure amidst this 200 are your macros, like Bud, Miller and Coors, as well as some other alcoholic waters from far off places you may never have heard of, but there are still plenty beyond the likes of them boys, including some local favorites, not as readily accessible to the world outside New England. I mean with that many beers available, if you can't find one you like, chances are, you don't like beer. Now they only have about 15-20 on tap, as the rest are served in bottles, or cans (Yes folks they have PBR in the can as well as the world reknown Schlitz Tall Boy), so if you're a draught boy, you may be less impressed. But the good news here is they deliver you the bottle and the glass, clearly knowing that plenty of their clientele are beer geeks and will need to see the beer, not just drink it. Plus they may even give you the proper glass (I'm not really sure, cause I am not all that up to speed on the proper drinkware for every type of brew). I know for a fact that some have been in the proper glass, but others, perhaps, not so much. They may just grab the next clean beer holder and be done with it, or maybe it even depends on who's tending the bar, I dunno? So if any of our Beantown readers want to enlighten me, it would be greatly appreciated. But it seems, for the most part the bar maidens may have some idea of what beer goes in what type of glass, but they can sometimes have a lot on their plates.

The service here is a bit of tricky wicket. You see for all but one occassion, the bartender and the waitress have been one and the same. On the one occassion, there were two ladies behind the bar and I believe one stayed behind the bar for the most part. It hasn't seemed to be too much of a problem, but it can, at times create delays in getting your brews and food. You see some of the B-tenders seem to be better than others at this brand of multi-tasking, so it does not have a hugely negative effect on the experience. The first time I visited, there was a decent size crowd an it took awhile for us to get service, but it was a Saturday night, and that's almost expected here in the big city. So for the most part I would say the staff do a reasonable job at keeping you drinking, especially if you're in......

The Mug Club. How does one get into the Mug Club? Glas you asked. It consists of a list of a little over a hundred brews they offer at "Penguin" and all you have to do is finish off the list in a year's time and you get a free mug. That's it? A mug? Ah but wait, there is more! Along with the mug, there is also a sense of pride and accomplishment. Pride? Accomplishment? C'mon! Ah but wait, there's still more! You see the mug is a larger than average size mug, 32 ounces perhaps. Larger than average? 32 ounces? Ah but wait there is still more! Once you have earned your large mug, you then pay the regular pint price, but get the alcoholic beverage in the larger-than-a-pint mug! That's right, you pay the normal price but get like twice the beer! Now if that's not worth gulping down 100+ beers in a year's time, I don't know what is? And now is the perfect time to start, what wih that Leap Day right around the corner and all. The list has a good variety of styles and breweries. In fact I don't think there's any brewery represented more than 3 times. Which means, with some quick math, there are at least 50 different breweries to sample from. Of course, with any such list, you will have to take the good with the bad. For every Stone IPA you get to enjoy, there's also a Peroni in your future. For every Brooklyn or Lagunitas, an Anheuser-Busch product. It happens.

All in all not a bad little place to enjoy a slice and a brew, and has quickly become a fav of this particularly beerjangler. So if you're in the area, stop in, you probably won't be disappointed. Thirteen down, 97 to go!

Bottoms Up!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Visit To The Dogfish Head Alehouse Of Gaithersburg, Maryland

Last weekend, I assisted my younger brother and his fiancee in the process of moving their belongings into their brand new, Silver Spring, Maryland townhouse. In doing so, I spent time driving through 5 states, and engaged in something I generally find abhorrent and morally repugnant - manual labor. However, there was a prize waiting at the end of the trip for me; as a thank-you for my work, I would be taken to the Dogfish Head Alehouse in nearby Gaithersburg.

I've been a fan of Dogfish Head beers for some time - their 60 Minute IPA and 90 Minute IPA may be my favorites of that particular variety, and I've also enjoyed their seasonal beers (the Festina Peche and Punkin Ales especially) as well as other varietals, including their Raison D'Etre. So, I will freely admit that I was excited to visit this because of the beer alone; the fact that I was hungry and thirsty at the time was, as the coach from "Teen Wolf" is wont to say, "cream cheese."

Even though the Alehouse is located in what looks to be a strip mall, the place looked really nice. The inside was rustic in design, with a good amount of nautical-themed decorations (including a large plaster whale that hung over the stairwell, reminiscent of a combination of a smaller-scale version of New York's Museum of Natural History and a large seaside getaway).

We ran into a couple of difficulties, though. We got a late start to Gaithersburg from Silver Spring, which meant that by the time we got to the Alehouse, it was in full swing and we were told that it would be about an hour to wait before we could sit down and eat. This almost led to a quick ending to this visit; however, it was soon decided that we would wait it out. The second difficulty was in finding out that the Alehouse did not offer growlers to go; this was an utter disappointment, as I'd hoped that I could cap off the evening with a growler of something exotic back at the homestead in Silver Spring. I'm not sure whether this particular snafu can be ascribed to the draconian state of Maryland and their odd liquor and beer laws, or whether Dogfish Head had not secured the proper permits. In any case, it was a bit of a disappointment. The third and final disappointment was my younger brother, a light-beer-quaffing heathen who ordered a Miller Lite - the horror! However, we're used to my brother being a disappointment (although, to be honest, my dad will tell me that I'm the real disappointment to him and my mother).

The food here was decent. The bulk of the menu could be described as a combination between Chesapeake and Louisiana cuisine - lots of crab-based dishes, and a good amount of Cajun-style dishes. Their cream-of-clam soup was excellent, and reasonably priced. I also enjoyed a crab-meat and sausage pizza that was quite good. My dining companions had jambalaya ("too spicy" was the report) and a chicken and ribs platter ("not bad").

The beer, though, was phenomenal. I sampled two drafts. First, I enjoyed a 10-ounce sipping glass of Midas Touch. Nominally a barley wine because of its high alcohol content (9%), this was an extremely light, refreshing drink. The consistency of this beverage was thick - this was a drink made for small sips, not gulping. This is an extremely sweet beer, with hints of grapes and honey on every sip. One hardly tastes the alcohol in this potent drink (until it warms up). This was reminiscent of a wine more than a beer (especially given the presence of the grapes in this brew), and when I thought of this drink in those terms I liked it even more. It's a daring brew, really and truly, and quite enjoyable. The second draft was a restaurant-only brew called "Alehouse 75," which our waitress described as being an equal blend of Dogfish Head's famed 60-Minute and 90-Minute IPAs (for you non math wizards out there, 75 is the average of 60 and 90). This meant that the Alehouse 75 was a cross in style between a traditional IPA and a double IPA. People, let me tell you - this was as close to a perfect IPA as I've come. I like the hoppiness of an IPA very much, but realistically, there's a saturation point where this becomes overwhelming . This beer straddled that line perfectly - a crisp hop bite, but not so overwhelming that it felt like a challenge to drink. If they'd served this in growlers, I would have wanted to take some home. (Alas, that was not an option.)

I think that my only letdowns in coming to the Alehouse were in terms of my expectations - I was hoping for more of an on-site brewery, and that wasn't the case. This was a bar that served pre-kegged Dogfish Head beers - which isn't a bad thing, not at all - and had a decent selection of food. If you're looking for a restaurant with really good food and decent food, this is your place. However, it was not a Dogfish Head brewpub, and that's basically what I was hoping for when we decided to go and visit. I would return if I was in town, but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to go here - the experience could almost be replicated with a reputable beer seller, a fresh supply of bottled Dogfish Head, and a half-decent recipe at home. Which, ultimately, made the Dogfish Head Alehouse a bit of a disappointment for me.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

Yes, that's right Beerjanglers, Valentine's Day has fallen on February 14th this year! A holiday instituted by the union of card, candy and flower companies (the jewelry companies just kinda latched on) to exploit your love for that special someone. And sometimes there's even two special someones out there. I like to call that the jackpot. So what does this have to do with beer you ask? I mean after all this is neither Lovejanglin', although that'd not be such a bad name for a blog, nor Madeupholidayjanglin'. So what gives? Well for some, there isn't a special someone to be had on this holiest of days. Now we're not saying that there's anything wrong with that. We're not saying get depressed about it and go straight for the nearest bottle, but we thought we'd throw out what might be a perfect brew for you, and possibly even that special someone(s) as well. So we give to you, Willie Moe's 2008 Valentine Beer: Middle Ages Blackheart Stout. And look we also were able to combine the heart of Valentine's Day with black history month. Bullseye!

The Blackheart stout hath both a black heart and a stoutness to it. And done. Oh, did you want a more in-depth analysis? Okay, fine. If I could, for a moment, go all hyperbolic like a real journalist on y'all, this is maybe the blackest beer ever made. I mean the blackness is very stout indeed. Don't look for any light to pass through, or refract for that matter, cause it ain't happenin', my friends. Of course the head is not black, I don't even know how they would do that? The head is in fact more of a light brown, chocolate milk color if you would. Trust me if you want a dark beer, this is for you. Alright, let's send in the nose....

Your nose will not be overpowered, overwhelmed or even overtaken by the aromas in this stout. Now don't get me wrong here you're also not gonna be underpowered, underwhelmed or undertaken by it's scent. No, no, it's actually a fairly rich roasted, toasted, burnt, braised, well perhaps not braised, that wouldn't make sense, malt air emanating from it. Also there's a hint of coffee in there as well, naturally. Alright, made sense of the scents? Good, let's get drinking.

Upon first taste you get lambasted (I think that's a word, and possibly even used correctly) with a strong coffee, roasted malt flavor. You know, like a nice maltaccino. The roasted stoutness leads the way here in the old flavor category. The second heat of flavor brings about a dark chocolate with a mild yeast. It's a regular cornucopia of flavors in there! And once this bad boy warms up the flavors are brought even more to the forefront, and they're deliciously strong! But what is really going in the mouth?

This concoction is and thick and smooth, much like yours truly. It will leave a thick coating, but it contains a very good balance. It seems to thicken as it warms. I put some in the microwave and now it's as thick as mo-lasses. Just kidding. It's not that thick. You can feel the alcohol and it's worth a go, but I don't know if I could take down more than two in a sitting. Overall this one is aces! Almost as good a feeling as when cupid slings his arrow into a sublime buttock. I'm just not looking forward to March when we have to go back to calling it African-Americanheart Stout. It just doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well, ya know?

Happy V-Day and Bottoms Up!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Camp Urquell Accords

As usual, I had to broker a peace agreement between Mark Tichenor of Beercraft blog and our own Willie Moe over Pilsner Urquell. I was glad to do it by extending an olive branch to Mark at the CNY Brew Fest this past weekend. Imagine that Willie is Anwar Sadat, Mark is Menachem Begin and I am Jimmy Carter.

The beer blogging world can spin again. Let peace -- and beer! -- flow throughout the nation.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Or should we call it the Beer Mug? I mean 97% of the time, I drink from a glass or mug, but rarely a bowl. Well, we'll stick with Beer Bowl for now, or maybe Hop Bowl? Well, the name notwithstanding, it's time to really break down the Super Bowl, the way it was meant to be broken down, by beer! Now, I had this idea a whiles back and one thing led to another and, well, this one kinda got away from me. Much like January, am I right?! Who can beleive it's actually February already? Without looking at a calendar smart aleck! I digress. Luckily someone else was already on it, and here it is from the Beer Nut, to us, to you:

THE BEER NUT: Does New England or New York have the better brewski?
By NORMAN MILLER GateHouse News Media

Another chapter will be added in the Boston-New York rivalry when the New England Patriots and the New York Giants go at it in the Super Bowl.Here is a look at the top 22 beers from New England and New York, 11 from each region. Why 22? Well, there are 11 players each on offense and defense. You decide which is the best.

New England (in no particular order):
1. Thomas Hooker Liberator Doppelbock - This beer from Bloomfield, Conn., is top of the line. If it’s not the best doppelbock in the world, it is the best produced in the United States.

2. Allagash Odyssey - If you like Belgian beers, this Belgian strong ale from Portland, Maine, is tough to beat. A strong effort from the North.

3. Berkshire Brewing Company’s Coffeehouse Porter - If you like porters and coffee, this is the beer for you. South Deerfield’s finest (and only) brewery produces this coffeehouse in a bottle.

4. Samuel Adams Boston Lager - An American classic. The Boston Beer Company first made this craft brew more than 20 years ago, and it still holds up in the crowded craft beer market.

5. Harpoon IPA - Another entry from Boston. Although other India pale ales may be more bitter, higher in alcohol and get more respect, this is a standby in almost any bar in Boston.

6. Cambridge Brewing Company’s Arquebus - You won’t be able to find a better barley wine in a brewpub. At 10.75 percent alcohol by volume, this is one incredible beer.

7. The Tap/Haverhill Brewery’s Leatherlips - Once you take a sip of this IPA, you will never believe it is only 5 percent ABV. If there is an IPA that you can knock back a sixer, this is it. And the woman on the label can be a New England cheerleader.

8. Portsmouth Brewing Company’s Kate The Great - This Russian Imperial Stout from the New Hampshire brewpub is hands down one of the best beers in the world. It’s thick, creamy and downright dreamy.

9. Pennichuck Brewing Company’s Pompier - A recent favorite. This English-style barley wine aged in wood barrels is a great sipping beer. And portions of any Pompier bought from this Milford, N.H., brewery benefits fire departments.

10. Rock Art’s Mountain Holidays in Vermont Rich Creamy Bock Lager - The name of this Vermont brewery’s beer is a mouthful, but ignore that and just bask in the creamy goodness of this German-style bock.

11. Samuel Adams Utopias - The world’s strongest beer at 27 percent ABV. Two ounces is enough to enjoy this sipping alcohol.

New York
1. Blue Point’s Hoptical Illusion - A top of the line, although under-appreciated, IPA from this small Patchogue, N.Y., brewery. Not as hoppy as the name would suggest, but very drinkable.

2. Brewery Ommegang’s Three Philosophers - One of my all-time favorite beers. It’s an American take on a Belgian quadruple from this Belgian-influenced Cooperstown brewery.

3. Brooklyn Brewery’s Lager - This is just a downright drinkable beer. I hope this is on tap at every bar I go into. The brewery bills this as a pre-Prohibition style lager. If lagers tasted like this before Prohibition, what happened to all of the recipes of the big brewers?

4. Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout - Yes, I know, two from Brooklyn, but you can’t mention the best beers from New York without mentioning this wonderful Russian imperial stout.

5. Saranac’s Black Forest - Black lagers are an under-appreciated style. This is a solid example of the German style. Extremely drinkable and creamy.

6. Six Point Craft Ales’ Bengali Tiger - Another top-notch IPA. A strong hop flavor and bitterness makes your taste buds stand at attention.

7. Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Unearthly - There was not a brewery in the United States that had a better year than this Lakewood brewer. The Unearthly, an incredible Imperial IPA, is a standout. It’s so balanced, you can’t help but love it.

8. Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Oat - This imperial stout weighs in at a hefty 12.5 percent ABV, but you’ll hardly notice it. This thing is full of flavors - some hop bitterness, sweetness from malts, a little coffee, a little chocolate - all good.

9. South Hampton Publick House’s Biere de Garde - Nearly perfect to what a biere de garde is supposed to be. A Belgian-style, smells spicy. The spiciness is balanced nicely by the malt sweetness.

10. Middle Ages Brewing Company’s Wailing Wench - Extremely malty, almost too sweet except for the hops kicking in to make this a worthy beer to drink. The lass on this label could be a New York cheerleader.

11. Schmaltz Brewing’s Bittersweet Lenny’s RIPA - If you like your beers bitter (and I do), this is the beer for you. Brewed in honor of comedian Lenny Bruce, this is an aggressive beer. It feels thick in the mouth. Just be forewarned, make this your last beer of the night because you won’t be able to taste anything afterward.

Norman Miller is a GateHouse News Service writer. Contact him at or 508-626-3823. Don’t forget to check out the Beer Nut blog at 2008 The Patriot Ledger

Now just so you know, the writer was asked to write up the list of brews with brief descriptions, so that is why there are not more in-depth looks at these beers. What are your thoughts on the list, hmmm?

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Session: Barleywines

Barleywines never seemed like beer to me, and maybe that's why I've been so slow to latch onto them. My first real experience with barleywines was a kegger I went to several years ago where the only beer available was Middle Ages Druid Fluid. While Druid Fluid is a fine ale, it is a thick and heavy brew, fit to drink out of a goblet when one doesn't have to drive anywhere. My intoxication level was off the charts, and my mouth was dry and ashy. The night was fun, but the after-effects may have turned me off to barleywines altogether.

It's a new era, however, and in the interest of expanding my admittedly biased palate, I have been trying to develop a taste for barleywines so I can see what I'm missing. Since both readers of this little blog know that I am a certified hop-head, it often takes me forcing down beverages of unfamiliar genre in order to begin the act of enjoying them. Last winter I did exactly that with porters, stouts and brown ales. This year I have decided to jump on the barleywine, Scottish/Scotch-ale and Belgian Ale bandwagons.

Some have questioned the notion of coercing the taste buds into accepting a new vocabulary. A few people have said to me, "Why would you make yourself drink something that you don't like?" My answer is that there was a time I didn't have a taste for craft beer, yet I kept trudging through, trying beer after beer, eventually developing a set of styles that I liked. I hope that others will consider this a humble step on the tall spiral staircase that is a beer geek's journey.

In most cases with me and beer, there is a tipping point. I think mine came several months ago when stopping for a nightcap at the newly reopened Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse's Armory Square. Fellow 'Jangler Willie Moe and I had been tipped off months before that the EBC would be selling a five-years-aged barleywine that had been produced before the original Empire closed its doors in 2003. This brew was phenomenal. Served in a stemmed tulip glass, it was sweet but bitter, with dry hops and a wonderfully pungent sourness. It was perfect, and flipped on the light switch in my head: this is what a barleywine is. It was bittersweet; sweet knowing I had discovered a terrific style, bitter knowing that these things were usually way more expensive than regular beers and I was a cheap bastard.

First, let me talk briefly about the barleywines I'm not quite in love with. This is certainly not to diminish the product of any of the fine breweries I frequent, but rather to illustrate where barleywines do it for me and where they don't. The one barleywine I had a real hard time drinking was the Mendocino Talon, sold in the wonderful Saratoga Brewery tasting room. I chalk my dislike for this beer to my own shortcomings, as it seems like it would be a wonderful beer for a connosieur of barleywines, with its heavy, chunky barley flavor and sour wine components. But for a novice like myself, it was just not something I was ready for. Please note, this is a routinely fine brewery, and Mendocino/Saratoga's Imperial IPA is a five-star brew.

Another stab at the style came from Stone, with their Old Guardian. Much like the Talon, the O.G. has a heavy grainy barley presence, with some sweet cherry and grape accents. And although all barleywines are high in alcohol, this one doesn't hide it. It's fizzy and thick and chewy. All told, it wasn't an easy drinker for the likes of me. Again, I am more apt to blame my own nouveau riche palate rather than the folks at Stone, who know more about what they are brewing than I do about what I am drinking.

There are a couple of barleywines that I have enjoyed thoroughly, and though my opinion probably means very little to the learned barleywine enthusiast. I enjoyed the Clipper City Brewing Below Decks Barleywine from their Heavy Seas collection of stronger beers. This beer has a whiff of mild whiskey, and though it was slightly too skewed toward the cherry-sweet side in my opinion (as opposed to being offset by the malt balance), it was a very drinkable beer with a good, solid texture.

Possibly my favorite commercial barleywine is the Brooklyn Monster Ale, 2006-07 edition. The smell and taste are equally flirtatious, taking the best of cherry and grape notes and combining them with a calming, grounded yeast presence that adds both sweetness and texture. It has a real heavy bite, but in a good way.

Side note: The fact that the Monster Ale had been aged seemed to make quite a difference, in that it tamed the stronger, more abrasive flavors (like the sometimes cloying cherry) and brought out the best in the well-aged flavors (like the yeast). I'm not sure if all barleywines need to be aged to be enjoyed this much, but considering the two best barleywines I had had to date were well-aged, this might be the case.

I think that the best barleywine I have had thus far was one I had only a few weeks ago, at the charming Pittsfield Brew Works, where the Bees Knees Barleywine was on the ridiculously price-controlled beer menu. This beer was smooth and not at all grainy. The harshness of the malt was beautifully balanced by real honey (hence the name). It was probably the best dessert beer I've ever had, which is ironic because it's not meant to be one. Javen and I also sampled the Berkshire Brewing Company's Barleywine Ale and agreed that it was a fine specimen, although my specific memories of it escape me since it was well into the wee hours of the night and an "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" marathon. These things are bound to happen.

I know that I'm in the yellow-belt class of barleywine appreciation, but I'm looking forward to reading more of these session posts and getting some ideas, because although I still wouldn't put barleywines up there with IPAs and Pub Ales just yet in my own personal rotation, I know that a good version can be transcendent.