Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wegmans Beer Upgrade in Syracuse: Confirmed

For those of you in the Northeast who are so blessed as to have a Wegmans in your neighborhood, there may be some exciting news. You may remember that a scant five days ago I reported that Wegmans was likely to be expanding their beer selection as of Monday, July 21. I finally made it to the Wegmans in Dewitt (Syracuse) New York to find out if this was a hoax or whether it was something that beer aficianados can believe in.

Hopefully, the pictures below speak for themselves.

Wegmans clearly has gotten the memo that craft beer is a popular -- and profitable -- enterprise, as they have transformed their already solid beer selection into a full-fledged craft beer department. Not only have they greatly expanded the variety of breweries and styles that they had previously offered, but they have doubled, if not tripled the floor space to which their beer is devoted.

Previously, Wegmans had a cooler area where you could find some popular macroswill choices such as Busch, Bud, Natty Ice, Miller Lite, etc. They had a walk-in cooler where local beers could thankfully be found (lots of Middle Ages in Syracuse, lots of Dundees and Customer Brewcrafters in Rochester). They would also go above and beyond by carrying not only regional brands (Souther Tier, Ithaca, Ellicottville, Saranac, etc), but also some find craft offerings from around the country (Stone, Dogfish Head, Rogue).

Today when I walked in, I found a grocery store section transformed into an excellent source for craft beers. They had some selections I had never seen previously (Flying Dog, River Horse, Stoudt's, Clipper City/Heavy Seas). They expanded the number of large bottles as well, carrying some more 22oz bottles of Rogue, Lindeman's and Stone.

Wegmans has also smartly decided to keep a large selection of craft beers in the cooler, and offering their counterparts on non-refrigerated shelves as well, so you can either buy for immediate consumption (like in the parking lot while loading groceries) or for storage.

Another encouraging developement is that Wegmans seems to be committed to furthering craft beer as a valid part of American culture. For a few months, they have had a whiteboard with beer/food pairings that I found quite positive. Today, they not only have beer books (some informative, some novelty), but also sets of Guinness pint glasses and sets of "international" glasses (an nonic pint, a pilsner glass, etc).

Furthermore, Wegmans has added small cards next to select beers, explaining more about them. For example, the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA gives a brief lists of food it is best paired with, as well as a "Mild" to "Extreme" spectrum, so novice beer drinkers can better select what they want. It explains the beer thusly:

A session India Pale Ale brewed with Warrior, Amarillo and "Mystery Hop X." Goes With: Spicy food, pesto, grilled salmon, pizza, vintage cheddar.
(Hopefully, even Busch-swilling frat boys will see the word "extreme" and pick up several cases.) Granted, the only three options on this continuum are "mild," "extreme" and in the middle, but it's a start. It even says what type of glass from which each selection should be consumed.

While none of these developments are going to blow the mind of the average beergeek, it almost brings a tear to the eye to see really good craft beers thrust onto the stage of a mainstream grocery store.

No, this isn't going to supplant specialty beer stores altogether (and why should it) and Wegmans is probably never going to carry true-school beergeek classics like Anderson Valley, Avery or Three Floyds, they do have Weyerbacher, Green Flash, North Coast and other semi-obscure offerings for this area, as well as expanding their Smuttynose, Victory and Otter Creek, to name a few.

The bottom line: While this still isn't Beers of the World in Rochester, Finger Lakes Beverage in Ithaca or Oliver's in Albany, it's a quantum leap in the Syracuse area, and hopefully one that will challenge the other beer stores in the area to step up their game. One thing, however, is for sure: the days of having to "settle" on the beer that's sold in Wegmans are over.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A-B's Turn Back Toward European Shores

Tip of the hat to my brother-in-law Scott for directing me toward an article at called "The Rise and Fall of an American Beer," by Edward McClelland. It tells the story of how Budweiser overcame its mediocre product with its marketing acumen -- and ended up crushing smaller breweries along the way.

Imagine the Budweiser Clydesdale team on a cross-country rampage, with a decrepit, tipsy August A. Busch Jr. strapped to the lead horse, wearing a bright red St. Louis Cardinals cowboy hat. Starting on the West Coast, platter-hoofed horses trample a can of Blitz-Weinhard, spewing suds all over the streets of Portland, Ore. Moving south to San Francisco, they stamp on bottles of Lucky Lager. In their hometown of St. Louis, they crash through the wall of a Griesedieck Bros. brewery, rolling hundreds of barrels into the Mississippi. They're seen next in Cincinnati, kicking a Hudepohl taster to death. The Clydesdales' tour of destruction ends in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Busch orders them to urinate in a vat of Piels, cackling that no one will be able to tell the difference.

It debunks the myth that somehow Budweiser's legacy as "America's Beer" was a matter of divine right, but rather came out of a great deal of wheeling and dealing to get the Budweiser name out in the open.

From its very inception, Budweiser was a triumph of marketing over quality. Adolphus Busch, the dynasty's founder, called his beer "dot schlop" and drank wine instead. During taste tests, St. Louis drinkers spat it back over the bar. But if the Busches didn't believe in their product, they believed in their business plan. Adolphus bought licenses for tavern keepers and paid their rent. In exchange, they served Budweiser. On one of his frequent visits to Europe, he learned about pasteurization. That, and a fleet of refrigerated railcars, kept the beer fresh on cross-country shipments, allowing Bud to break out of St. Louis.

It also demystifies the dearly-defunct breweries of yore, pointing out that though it's sad they had to be run out of business by the A-B giant, they were producing pretty much the same beer as Bud was.

If anything, it is a clarion call to keep our loyalties -- and monies -- in this country by drinking domestic craft brews.

If ever there was a time to be patriotic, John and Jane Q. Nascarfan, this is it. Show your love of country with a Sierra Nevada, a Brooklyn, a Dixie, or any other beer that supports our economy and way of life. Craft beer drinkers have been supporting the American economy by keeping our money going to our fellow citizens; I ask Bud-drinker, will you?

Brooklyn Brewery Expansion?

The New York Times has an interesting article on the difficulties Brooklyn Brewery has had in its planned expansion in Brooklyn. The brewery has played no small part in the revitalization of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn since locating there twelve years ago. The improved economic conditions of the surrounding neighborhood and in Brooklyn in general have been a mixed blessing, however, as brewery co-owner Steve Hindy has repeatedly been rebuffed in efforts to expand:

He and his partners are willing to spend $15 million for a bigger brewery that would employ at least twice as many workers as he has now and would have a beer garden where customers could sample his growing roster of specialty brews. But after four years of searching and two failed bids to be included in redevelopment projects in Red Hook and Carroll Gardens, they have not found a suitable building in the borough at a feasible price.

“We are the Brooklyn Brewery, and we want to be in Brooklyn,” said Mr. Hindy, who often bicycles to work from his home in Park Slope. “If we can’t find a place, then who can? We’re about as perfect an example of light manufacturing as you can get.”

The other side of the coin, at least in our eyes, is that the bulk of Brooklyn's beer is currently contract brewed at F.X. Matt in lovely, scenic Utica, New York. According to our fuzzy math, Brooklyn brewery currently sells somewhere north of 90,000 barrels of beer per year, 12,000 of which are produced in Brooklyn. Given the proper facility expansion, the locally brewed portion of that could increase to 40,000 barrels. Plus, they want to add a beer garden. We say get this done already! Matt Brewing can concentrate more resources on getting the excellent Lake Placid beers to the masses and Brooklynites get more local beer and a great place to enjoy it. Everybody wins. Let's do this thing!

Click here for some great pics of F.X. Matt.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wegmans Beer Upgrade in Syracuse?

I have this on "good authority."

I was at a well-known beverage store in Syracuse today, and I heard the following proclamation by one of the people working there. And I paraphrase:

"We're gonna have some competition starting Monday. Wegmans is going to be revamping their beer selection."
[For those of you who don't know, Wegmans is THE best grocery store in these United States. There might be some better in other countries, but Wegmans is the best in America, and they already have a pretty solid -- if not spectacular -- beer selection.]

Now, I have seen no information either supporting or debunking this nugget of information, however we can only hope that Wegmans can raise the bar and force the other specialty beer stores in the Syracuse area to step it up a bit.

For a city of our size, we don't have anything approximating, say, a Finger Lakes Beverage (Ithaca), Glenville Beverage, Oliver's (both Albany/Capital District) or Marcy Beverage (Utica). And while I'm skeptical to think that Wegmans will start clearing the shelves of Busch, Keystone and Natural Ice for Dogfish Head Immort Ale or Three Floyds Alpha King, it is heartening to know that the savvy business people of the Wegmans chains could possibly be taking the lead on the Syracuse beer market.

There are couple of decent beer stores in the 'Cuse, notably Galeville Beverage in Liverpool, Brilbeck's convenience store on Tipperary Hill, and The Party Source on Erie Boulevard. Galeville and Brilbeck's are both surprisingly good places to get beer, given that they are housed in small convenience store-sized locations.

The Party Source, while probably the best place to get beer, is still underwhelming, with a major waste of space (more than half the floor space is empty) and beer that has a problem of being sold after the "best by" date, but at regular (ie. not-discounted) prices. Party Source still has the best selection, but that is by virtue of its size, and they don't rotate in new beers nearly often enough. Also, while you can get mixed six packs, they don't have some kind of "blue dot special" where selected beers can be mixed for something like $8.99, which every other store -- even the P&C supermarket chain -- is doing now. All beers in a mixed six pack are sold a la carte.

Hopefully Wegmans will recognize the value of craft beers and lead the local march to force craft beers to infiltrate Central New York. More information as it comes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Regarding the InBev/A-B Merger

Despite our lack of any warm and fuzzy feelings for all things BMC, we knew we were vaguely unhappy about Anheuser-Busch being snapped up by Belgium based brewing conglomerate InBev, but we weren't quite sure how to express it. This is exactly how.

Hat Tip to Big Lew

Saturday, July 12, 2008

6Pac June 2006 - Drinking Outside the Bocks

The weather in Syracuse, NY, in June of 2006 was worthy of actually being a month that took place in "Summer." I scooped up a sixer at Glenville (N.Y.) Beverage in the Capital District whilst on a sojourn to visit our editor emeritus and Albany bureau chief.

Since the weather prospects at the time were iffy, I decided to split my selections into three dark and three lighter. Among the "yellow sticker" beers (the ones that were eligible to be included in a $8.99 six-pack), it was hard to find six I hadn't tried before, but I was able to find a couple, even if some of them didn't exactly blow my skirt up at first glance.

Ultimately, here is where I landed:

  1. Hook & Ladder Lighter
  2. Mendocino Bock Beer
  3. Erie Brewing Mad Anthony IPA
  4. Abita Bock
  5. Hook & Ladder Golden Ale

I know you're just dying to know, so I'll just dive right in.

  • #1: Hook & Ladder Lighter. I have been seeing these Hook & Ladder six-packs all over the place lately, and I didn't quite know what the story was with them, so I haven't really been that eager to try them.

    Upon reading up on Hook & Ladder, they are based in Silver Springs, Maryland, and they donate a small amount of money to burn centers in communities where their beer is sold. So at the very least, if I didn't like the beer, I was giving money to a good cause.

    I was surprised by how much I actually liked this beer. It's a pale ale with a lagery look and feel. The reviews on for this beer were savage so maybe it's that my expectations were so low, but it was surprisingly decent.

    The color is bright, brilliant gold. The heavy carbonation bubbles up like ginger ale. The finger of foamy head looks like Italian Ice. Looks like a light lager, but I won't let that scare me off.

    The aroma is real barley, with a very nice biscuity sweetness in the malt. The hop is ever-so-slight, and reminiscient of a pilsner. Again, even though this is a pale ale, you coulda fooled me. The smell is surprisingly solid.

    The taste is where I really was caught off-guard. The malt in this beer is so biscuity sweet, with none of the adjuncty corn & rice flavors I expected. Amazing how real barley makes all the difference. This is a very good summer beer. It's a little sweet and only a tad bitter.

    The feel of the beer is smooth to the touch. It's got a tiny nibble of a bite on the way down. Not chunky, not watery: just right. It's refreshing, and is a "respectable" summer brew. It's not off-the-charts incredible, but it's highly drinkable beverage, and one that didn't make me feel guilty for foregoing other, craftier alternatives.

  • #2: Mendocino Bock Beer. One of my great joys is to visit the Saratoga Brewery, purveyor of the finest Mendocino products. This bock is one that I hadn't tried before, but given their track record, I'd bet dollars to donuts that I was going to like it.

    The color is a honey-colored orange, shiny like polished glass. The lace is spotty and the head is minimal and slushy. To take a whiff is to inhale a pale malt aroma with a mild but spicy hop. The malt is a roasted concoction in the nose, with a naughty splash of liqueur-like alcohol stinging the nostrils slightly. The aroma overall is very hard to detect, but what is able to be picked up by the olfactory glands is pleasant enough.

    The intial taste I sensed was a hint of roasted toffee in the malt, with a very conspicuous layer of alcohol therein. As it warms up, it becomes more burnt and more bitter. That's pretty much the story of the taste of this beer, other than the pale malt blooming toward the end as the clock runs out. Decent.

    The beer feels smooth and buttery; savory, for lack of a better word. There is a small sting on the way down. It's a mild and roasted bock. Not too bitter, but strong otherwise. A solid choice.

  • #3. Erie Brewing Company, Mad Anthony APA. Although the idea of an "American Pale Ale" is becoming more and more popular, I rarely see beers that advertise themselves as such. Being a native Western New Yorker (yes, Rochester does count as WNY, Javen), I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the beers made west of the 315 area code.

    Erie Brewing has been one that I haven't really been blown away by, mostly because their Railbender is decent enough, but I never seem to be able to get it fresh. Also, it always seems that the labels on their bottles are always peeling off, as if they are applied by a kindergarten glass with Elmer's glue sticks.

    I was really nicely surprised by this beer -- even moreso than the Hook & Ladder Lighter. The look is a bright, sunny yellow; it becomes light orange when held up to a lamp. The head is thick, but not long-lasting. There is some minor icy lace. Clear for the most part, but containing a light haze.

    The smell is mild, somewhat hard to detect like the aforementioned Mendocino Bock. The only thing I can really sense is pale malt. Again, the aroma doesn't detract from the beer, but it's hard to find a hint of what to expect.

    The taste provided a nice apology for the coyness of the aroma. The flavor is a terrific citrus that goes beautifully with the spicy pale malt flavor. The spice in the hop is almost reminiscient of a Belgian White/witbier. What sets this apart from most mediocre pale ales is that fantastic citrusy hop, which injects it with a refreshing, summery dynamic.

    The beer feels a little on the fizzy side, but you can feel the carbonation making the flavors of the beer burst out and come alive. There is a nice thickness that came as a surprise. Overall I was really impressed by the citrusy, fruit-tinged flavor that was balanced by the pale malts. It's refreshing and easy to drink.

  • #4: Abita Bock. Apparently honey-tinged orange is a popular color this year, because this bock exhibits that very look. In the thinner spots of the glass, it is closer to a dark yellow. The head is short-lived, but otherwise this beer is awfully attractive.

    The aroma gives off some very nice flowery pale-ish malts. There are hops, of the German (Hallertauer-esque) variety. A couple citrusy notes here and there but it's not altogether clear whether it's the hops or actual citrus.

    The flavor has more of that pale malt flavor, as well as the sweet, puckery citrus that we all so dearly enjoy. They two flavors go together very very well. There is a dry, semi-sweet start and a tart finish.

    All told this is a pretty good summery bock, with lots of tree-fruits and with a nice thickness that doesn't require choking down.

  • #5: Sam Adams Double Bock. Not to be confused with the Sam Adams Triple Bock, this lighter, distant cousin didn't particularly tickle my fancy any more than the Triple Bock did.

    The color is a nice-enough ruby red with very little head. The look is hazy, but also shiny and glassy. It has the foreshadowing look of a winter ale. The aroma has the vague prsence of a mild barley, with some pale-ish malts. Moreso, however, there is the aroma of a sweetish berry or cherry; the smell is underwhelming, but the saccharine nature of the aroma comes through.

    The taste has the initial taste of sweet cherry at the initial sip, before turning to a darker and more burnt berry. It is dark overall, but has a Nutrasweet finish. Just as I don't love winter ales, this one isn't my cup of tea (figuratively speaking, of course). There is a slight Belgian ale spicy finish, but overall it's a double Winter lager.

    The bite on the way down is mercifully controlled. It is somewhat spicy and bubbly like Coca-Cola, but that doesn't quite salvage it for me. All told, the flavors skew far too much toward a puckery, cloying Winter ale sweetness. If you like that sorta things, be my guest.

  • #6: Hook & Ladder Golden Ale. This is the final beer of the sixer, and it's a bookend of sorts, in that it's another of the Hook & Ladder series. This one is a golden ale, so naturally it has a dark yellow color. The head is thin and watery, but there is a hint of icy lace on the glass like frost on a window.

    The aroma is consistent with a golden ale or lager. It has the properties of a pub ale, but to a weaker, more watered-down degree. It's nothing unpleasant, just a tad wimpy. The taste is of a light English ale, a la Bass. The malt is actually of a decent sweet style; it's bready and with just a dollop of molasses. It does leave a bit of a malted aftertaste.

    The beer feels watery and leaves a minor, bitter film that is more like a lager than a golden ale. This beer is okay, but not awesome. Didn't hit me the right way like the Lighter at #1. It's drinkable, but should be priced among the BudMillerCoors instead of the crafties.

I have quite a diverse selection for July, so hopefully I can find the strength to trudge through all of them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

F*ck It, Let's Do It Live! Part Deux.

[Note: My baby sister decided on a late-night whim to do a liveblog of the beer we were drinking. I'm not sure she fully grasps the concept of the liveblog but we all have to start somewhere. You might find a deviation from the normally erudite and buttoned-up style to which we generally adhere. Still, every voice counts.]

So when my dick brother (bitch sister?) told me we'd be drinking something stronger, imagine my surprise (i always spelled that without the first R) when he whipped, pulled, brought out a LABATT BLUE LIGHT. Ugh. Like I said, I've been to college - not interested.

However, I'm a sporting gent(lewoman) and am up for the challenge of categorizing this delicious (?) brew. And seeing as how my bro drinks this to sober up before driving home, we have to give it up to our neighbors to the North. I was told not to bother sniffing out of our Sam Adams quote/unquote Special Glass. I did anyway. Bill thinks that....speechless so far....WAIT. "It's not the moose piss that I generally think it is. When I think of Blue Light I think of something awful. Something evil. But now that I know they make it in Buffalo (as their american headquarters) I find it drinkable. I wouldn't call it a pilsner, I wouldn't call it that. But as far as Northeastern Macrobrews go, it's only 107 calories, which is paramount because those numbers are essential in terms of what I put in my body. It's not horrible. Sub-par, ahhh, yes. But not horrible."

All of a sudden, he's worried about what I think of the beer. Let me taste. Ahhhhhhhh, gross. Okay. Let me shoot it to you straight. In terms of sub-par, shitty beers, this isn't bad. Better than Coors. And Bud. And Bud Light. However, it is no American craft beer (am I right?) so it's hard to think of it in terms of a smaller scale of beers that are much (MUCH) better.

Intrigued? Let me continue. I've pissed lighter, fizzier, more head-laden liquids than this. The smell is unremarkable and the taste is like what 5th year college students drank - classier than me, but not so much so that they won't try to bang an undergrad. (The Dixie Jazz is looking gooooood right now.)

So, the verdict? Eick. I wouldn't bathe a crack baby in it, BUT I would drink it to sober up at the end of the night, because let's face it, water is boring and drinking is cool. So, when I rap atcha again (November?) you'll want to know what's hot, what's cool, what's dope, what's fresh, with all the college kids. I'm not in college anymore, but I still love a good, delicious beer. Later my lovelies.

F*ck It, Let's Do It Live!

[Note: My baby sister decided on a late-night whim to do a liveblog of the beer we were drinking. I'm not sure she fully grasps the concept of the liveblog but we all have to start somewhere. You might find a deviation from the normally erudite and buttoned-up style to which we generally adhere. Still, every voice counts.]

Hello beer snobs and sassy pants. This is Kate Shannon, sister to the beer blogger and extradinary a-hole, Bill. We knocked back a few of our favorites, and after a few embarassing stories (look out Seventeen Magazine) we decided to enjoy a few brews and liveblog it. I am drinking Great Divide Raspberry Wheat Ale, and hoss over there is drinking Dixie Jazz Amber Light (don't worry about it). Out of our Sam Adams quote/unquote Special Glass, we are both...WAIT - he hasn't sipped it yet...I am enjoying my beer. (he is surveying the situation, much like you would while mail-manning (gooogle that shit).)

I heard a wow. "Look at the carbonation of that shit." I did. Not that impressed.

Back to me. The Great Divide Raspberry Ale smells....not great. However, the taste is delish (probably a new word for Bojanglers). Bill says the raspberry is overpowering, like a framboise, while the wheat takes a back seat (use it, abuse it). I think it smells like something I've smelt before (not helpful...I'm new at this, deal.) I just sniffed, but was told I did it wrong. Anyway, my serious (Two Coreys is still on? Silly 80s actors, talent is for Rob Lowe.) opinion is that this beer is alright. As far as fruit beers go (I'm an at fruity delights) it's a little heavy. More syrupy than I'm used to. I do like how it's a little on the sweeter side, but not overpowering. It's dark complexion is not what I'm used to, but definitely holds its ground. There is something inviting about it - not light like Michelob's new brews, but not so dark that I don't believe it's fruit. I'd give this beer a solid thumbs up and definitely suggest the mature fruit beer palate try it out - not hoppy and scary, but dark and smooth.

Aaaaaaaaaaaand back to Bill. "Wonderful, lovely, golden hue. A thick swatch of lace, gracing the inside of the glass. A majestic jetsam of carbonation, blah blah blah, Billy likey. Don't worry about it. Even though it's Light, he seems to appreciate it. "It's not bad. It's okay." It's definitely a lager, with a watery aftertaste. It's not all that amber by our accounts. As yellow as it gets, I heard Bill say. I think it's down right watery, but the bottle will get you. The cool piano and inviting letters will make you pick it up. Bill said watery is appropriate for the style, but I think there are no excuses. For $1.60/bottle, at a 4.3%, this is quite frankly, bullshit. I drank 3.5% in college and it was not pretty. But before I get a lambasting (word?) from the brewer, I'm sure they have plenty of other fine ales that are worth their weight in gold - Bill just called it a "decent light lager."

I was just challenged to drink something a little more heavy. Will our liveblogging continue? Wait and see fair readers. I'm tired of blogging and am ready to drink more. Hope to see you soon lovelies.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Dundee Beer Revamped

Apparently dropping the "JW" from the name, Dundee Beer -- brewed at High Falls Brewery in Rochester, NY --has revamped their brand and changed their labels.

So sayeth Patrick Magallanes, VP of marketing for High Falls:

"If you look at our existing packaging, we sit next to Michelob and Rolling Rock in the premium beer section. Our beers are undervalued in the marketplace and we've created that undervalue. We should be next to Saranac and Sam Adams. Packaging is what sells."

While we are not sure that packaging alone is "what sells," we are glad to see Dundee stepping it up in the regional craft beer market. And I must say, their labels are gorgeous. Let's look at a couple, blatantly stolen from Dundee's much-improved website.

This label for the Pale Bock has a touch of tradition, and a touch of modernistic artistry. One internet site states that "bock" is German for "billygoat," which may or may not be true. (Any German-speakers out there? We're too lazy to Google it.)

The light orange color and attractive new typeface are the backdrop of a goat of some kind performing a fanciful, whimsical dance of some sort. The goat appears to be a dapper old-timey gentleman, wearing the garb of another era. The label makes us feel happy and thirsty.

Another nice touch is at the bottom of the label where it reads "Big and Malty." It's nice of a beer company to give a brief description of what the beer is like to give neophytes a glimpse into what they can expect. (For example, IPA reads "Bold and Bitter.")

If the Pale Bock harkens back to the Caprinae traditions and superstitions of German brewing, the Porter recalls the timeless image of a doorman -- in his traditional garb -- ostensibly counting down the minutes until he can get off of work and fill up his stein.

Modern beer mythology has always considered the porter to be the blue-collar working man's beer. It was said that porters were the beers that were too burnt for the bourgeouisie to drink, so they were given to the working class porters and servants who would drink anything they could get their hands on. This explanation is likely not grounded in any fact, however it's nice to see Dundee nodding toward tradition with this light-hearted and evocative label with this "Roasted and Robust" beer.

It should be noted, also, that the script of the new Dundee bottles evoke broadway posters of the 1920s through the 1940s: lots of serifs and flourishes. It gives us a nice, nostalgic feeling to look at.

While each of the six new labels (and the seasonals, such as the upcoming Oktoberfest) deserve equal scrutiny for their artistry and sense of history, the last one we will give a once-over is Dundee's Pale Ale.

This label is clever on a couple of levels. First, it depicts a frog on a lilypad, dressed as an English gentleman, with a double-breasted brown suit, cane and bowler hat. As Pale Ales owe much of their worldly success to their growth in England (the term was coined there in the early 1800s), so too does this label owe to the good-natured collective bloke across the pond.

And since so many of us are so enamored with beer and beer terminology that we can't see the forest for the trees anymore, the tagline on this beer is "Enjoyably hoppy." It took us a moment to realize that the term "hop" is also a verb, and doesn't need to necessarily be preceded by "dry-" to be used as such.

We checked Wegmans in Syracuse, NY today, but alas, the "JW" Dundee's beers there had the previous -- although not altogether unattractive -- packaging. Beerjanglin' and all it's beerjanglers hope that this marks a new foray for Dundee to the upper echelon of regional craft brewing.

[Update: Someone on noted that the man on the Porter is a train conductor. Based on the size of the picture, I wasn't able to see the sign that says "Arrivals." I'm a bit of an idiot.]

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Session: Independence Day Two-Fer

[Note: We have been remiss in contributing to The Session for a while, so I decided to throw one out there regarding two decidedly un-summer beers I had on the 4th of July.]

I spent the 4th of July with a fellow beergeek by the name of Bruce. In the course of the weekend, he introduced me to two beers to which I had not previously been exposed. (Naturally, we were not confined to only two beers for the day, but two really stood out.) One of these beers was a tremendously nice surprise, the other was a crushing disappointment.

Early on in the day, Bruce forced me to down a beer that he had been trying to convince me to have for months: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine. It's not exactly barleywine season, but it really didn't matter with this beer.

First, let's see what the folks at Sierra Nevada themselves have to say about this beer (courtesy of

Gold Medal Winner, Great American Beer Festival (Ales: Brown, Bitter and Pale 1987, Barleywine 1988,1992,1995). Sierra Nevada Bigfoot is an award winning example of the English Barley Wine style. It boasts a dense, fruity bouquet; an extremely rich, intense, bittersweet palate; and a deep, reddish-brown color. This ale is superbly balanced between an almost overpowering maltiness and a wonderfully bittersweet hoppiness.
Bigfoot is a strong beer, to be sure. It's got all the usual trappings of a barleywine: it's thick (the color of mahogany, in case you were wondering), it's got a major alcohol aroma and flavor, a hard liquor-like burn on the way down and a juice-like thickness. But to me, what sets Bigfoot apart are (and if you know me I'll bet you could have guessed this) the hops.

Where most barleywines are content throwing a bunch of burnt malts and alcohol percentages at you, Sierra -- as they always do -- makes an overture toward those of us who need balance in our beers. The hops make this beer, and they make it one of my new favorite barleywines (Brooklyn Monster Ale, you've got company).

There is a major citrus and grapefruit quality to this beer that I found not only surprising but necessary. The beer has a very high alcohol content (just a smidge below 10%) and strong liqueur and malt flavors. But the hops, while adding a bitter respite, also add a needed sweetness that takes the edge off. It makes a man thankful that the United States expanded to the west coast to get dibs on those wonderful hops. I don't think I could have more than one in a row of this one, but the one to be had is outstanding.

After spending the rest of the day sampling various other offerings (including some nice choices like Wychwood Hobgoblin, Victory Whirlwind and Erie Brewing's Mad Anthony, among others), the time was nigh to get ready to go to sleep. For most sane people, beers at the end of the night are mild and easy to drink, so as to send one off to bed with a pleasant memory.

Of course, my friend Bruce is not at all sane, so he decided -- after midnight, mind you -- to break out the Samuel Adams Triple Bock. I had seen this beer, with its strange rubber-looking cork and 8-ounce bottle but never thought much of it. I have been drinking a few bocks lately but had never really been too familiar with this particular beer.

Again, let's have the fine folks at Sam Adams tell you what they think:
Triple Bock is complex, elegant, and has the depth and complexity of a fine cognac, vintage port or an old sherry. Non-carbonated, ruby-black, and very special, Triple Bock should be sipped from a small snifter in a two-ounce serving. This is a beer to savor, and sip slowly. Triple Bock has a brandy-like warmth and a complex melange of fruity, woody, and toffee-like flavors. Let the aroma fill your mouth and nose with rich malt and fruit overtones. Savor and appreciate its enormous character. Serve Triple Bock as you would a fine sherry, at room temperature, in a small snifter. One bottle generously serves two or three. Recork and store standing up. Once poured into a small glass, the layers of aroma and flavor will continue to evolve as the deep ruby brew warms in the hand.
Before I tell you what I think, let me tell you a few things I read about Sam Adams Triple Bock after the fact:
  • It is considered by some to be one of the first "extreme" beers.
  • It's one of the 25 strongest beers by ABV in the world, at 17.5%.
  • It was brewed in only three batches, in 1994, 1995 and 1997.
  • It's one of the most controversial beers on

Okay, so what could be a better idea than cracking open this baby at quarter-to-one to ease into sleepytime land? Nothing, that's what. The beers were poured into two 4-ounce tester glasses, which was perfect for two servings. I noticed a couple of things.

First off, there was no head; apparently this beer is not carbonated at all. The look of it is black as midnight. It was very clear that this beer is deep, murky and thick. It is completely pitch black, as if someone poured roofing tar into a sippy-cup.

The smell is what shocked me. There is a scene in the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, where Brian Fontana wears a cologne called Sex Panther. Ron Burgundy eventually tells him, "I'm gonna level with you, that smells like pure gasoline." Had this beer come out after 2004, it may well have been renamed Sex Panther. Never have I taken a whiff of a beer that actually dared me to take a sip of it. I don't drink liquor because I don't like the harshness of the flavor. (Any beverage where you have to wince after you have you have a 2-ounce shot of it is not for me.) But this smelled like brandy or bourbon or whiskey. A lot of reviews say it smells like a port, so I'll take their word for that.

But there is one common trait that this beer has in both smell and taste, and it's been noticed by beer drinkers throughout the nation: Soy sauce.

The taste of alcoholic soy sauce permeates every sip, as does some hints of dark raisin and burnt fruit. It's not a pleasurable combination to my taste buds. I know that I'm probably supposed to like this, and admitting that it's not for me, is going to make me look like a bit of a pansy, but my taste buds don't like what they don't like. I hated it. If I had to describe it in one sentence, I would say the following: It's like drinking soy sauce mixed with blood.

One note: about a year ago I reviewed the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, and while I didn't really care for it, I was able to sort of appreciate where it was coming from, and why it existed. My taste buds didn't enjoy the complexities of that brew, but it did understand them. I cannot say the same for Sam Adams Triple Bock; it does not seem to me to have many complexities, but rather a "everything but the kitchen sink" ethos. I just can't pretend this beer is good to me.

The epilogue is that Bruce and I had considered going halfsies (or thirdsies or fourthsies or however many people we could get on board) on a $170 kettle of Sam Adams Utopia, the most alcoholic beer in the world. But after having this concoction, I can't see shelling out that much money for a beer, even if just to say I've had it. Nothing against Sam Adams -- and I'm sure Jim Koch could care less what I think, since he has said that he's sold every kettle of Utopia that he's produced -- but that Utopia plan has since been scrapped. (I am a frequent drinker of Sam Adams products, by the way, so this in no way a criticism of the brewery as a whole.)

Not that I need to mention this, but these are strictly my own opinions. Feel free to agree or disagree and leave a comment if you'd like. Am I brave for having the courage to admit I didn't like something that beer geeks everywhere should enjoy? Or was that bad smell I detected simply my own head being wedged where the sun don't shine?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Book Review - Beer, Edited by Michael Jackson

A trip to Border's or Barnes & Noble looking for books about beer generally end up being frustrating and fruitless. It isn't that there aren't a lot of books about beer -- although the wine-book to beer-book comparison has got to be ten to one. It's that so many beer books are between five and ten years old.

We are in the midst of a full-blown beer revolution, especially in the United States. So many of the books I have read are interesting and full of good information, but they are woefully dated.

When you have an insatiable desire to read about beer, this simply won't do. Beer culture is evolving right before our very eyes, and though books can be great for long-term history, the internet is by-and-large far superior in terms of getting current information. (That the internet is better for getting current information is certainly not breaking news, but the level at which the industry and the culture is evolving and emerging can make even the most well-intentioned book feel ancient.)

Because of this, I was pleasantly surprised to find a book simply called Beer, edited by the late great Michael Jackson, printed by DK Publishing (ISBN 9780756631550).

Now, this book may very well be quited dated in the next 2-3 years, but for right now, it's a very nice companion to a full fridge, giving lists of not only some of today's best breweries by country and region (try to find Stone or Dogfish Head in a book from five years ago), but giving them historical context.

While I love books with lists of great beer, they can often be frustrating since these lists are often arbitrary, and usually unavailable due to the regional nature of beer. Many of them came out when the craft brew culture was still in its embryonic stage. (Some might argue it is in the fetal stage right now, but I'd say the culture has really exploded in the last half dozen years especially.)

This book first gives an overview of beer, some of its different styles, and notable breweries. The information given regarding beer's history is not earth-shattering fro the most part, although I found myself learning a little bit of new information on every page.

But perhaps the best gift is that, being published in 2007, it is one of Michael Jackson's last offerings. As usual, his knowledgeable -- but never pedantic -- style is wonderfully readable and entertaining. As great as the internet can be for disseminating information, it will unfortunately not be able to give us anything new from MJ.

It's a great gift for a budding beer enthusiast, and a worthy reading companion for any beer drinker. When it makes you thirsty just by reading it, that can't be a bad thing.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Quick Note as F.X. Matt Bottles Again

Just a month after a raging inferno nearly destroyed a production building and caused roughly $10 million in damage, the venerable F.X. Matt Brewery has resumed bottling their tasty wares and shipping said wares to a retailer near you, just in time for Independence day. If that run-on sentence hasn't already made you thirst for a Saranac, perhaps the thought of working one's way through the 12 Beers of Summer this weekend, or a simply sipping a couple of Pomegranate Wheats whilst taking in the local fire works show might do the trick.