Monday, December 29, 2008

Poll Results: Sam Winter Mix

So apparently my second poll was heavily flawed. I listed 5 of the what I thought were 8 beers that Sam Adams packaged in their Winter Classics Mix Pack. But according to my friend Dan (who is a Sam Adams expert...) the Black Lager is no longer included in the pack, while the Cream Stout is. How embarrassing. Nevertheless, here are the results:

Which is your favorite Sam Adams seasonal in their Winter Classics Mix Pack?

Winter Lager - 30% (4)
Black Lager - 23% (3)
Holiday Porter - 23% (3)
I refuse to buy the mix pack since the Cranberry Lambic just sits in my fridge for months on end... - 23% (3)
Old Fezziwig Ale - 15% (2)
Cranberry Lambic - 0% (0)

Okay, so time to redeem myself with what will be my greatest poll ever! As some of you may know, I will be getting married this spring to my fiance Kelly. Now I won't be making a lot of decisions about this wedding, but one thing I am going to make damn sure of is that there is a good craft beer available at the reception!

There are three things I am looking for in my wedding beer. 1) That it be local (from New England). 2) That it be sessionable. 3) That it be flavorful. With that in mind, Which beer should I serve at my wedding? The five finalists are below. While this poll is by no means binding, I am very curious as to the results. Voting will be open for two months so choose wisely... and thanks for the guidance!

A. Cape Ann Fisherman's Brew
B. Geary's Pale Ale
C. Ipswich Original Ale
D. Shipyard Export Ale
E. Smuttynose Shoal's Pale Ale

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in New York

Blue Point Winter Ale
Bottle -- Long Island
an amber, which seems unusual for a winter. little gets past the sweet malts in the aroma. mouthfeel is light and flavor is watery. blah.
Score: 3

Chelsea Checker Cab Blonde Ale
Sample -- House of Brews, NYC
a kolsch. light, golden color. smell and taste toasted grain, and maybe some lemon hops. crisp. both sessionable and flavorful. if you are thirsty, check this one out.
Score: 8

Chelsea Hand Pumped Cask Ale
Sample -- House of Brews, NYC
cask ales are always exciting to find... especially when served at room temp like this one. i couldn't find this beer on beeradvocate, but i believe that it is chelsea's standard ale, an english mild. nutty, chocolate malt aroma, while malt taste is more of delicate coffee. complex and a little sour. sticky/cloying mouthfeel. very interesting, but i wasn't digging the flavor.
Score: 6

Sixpoint Brownstone Ale
Sample -- House of Brews, NYC
my first beer from sixpoint, a new york brewer i have been seeking out. sadly, all they had was a brown, not my favorite style. great looking pour with big sudsy head. mild, yet appealing smell. roasted chocolate malt, with some balancing hops as well. honestly, this didn't excite me, but seemed well brewed.
Score: 7

My favorite:
Captain Lawrence Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA
Sample -- House of Brews, NYC
had not heard of these guys until now. aroma smells entirely like a ripe peach. flavor is of very smooth, fruity hops. bitterness comes at end of taste, but is not puckering in the least (as many double ipa's are...) great balance, heavy mouthfeel. simply wow.
Score: 10

Friday, December 26, 2008

Beer 101: Serving Temperatures

Serving temperatures, even more than proper glassware, is a pet peeve of mine, and of many others who take beer seriously. More often than not, bars will serve beer between 30ºF and 40ºF, a temperature I wouldn't even recommend for the macros. This is a shame since drinking beer at the proper temperature allows its true smells and tastes to emerge, while freezing temperatures will dumb down any beer with even the slightest complexity.

So what do you do when your waitress brings you a bottle of Stone's Imperial Stout several degrees below freezing (British Beer Company in Walpole)? Well, for starters don't freak out... that won't get you anywhere. Suck it up and warm the beer in the glass with your hands. Take it as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the beer.

But fortunately, it doesn't always have to be like this. At finer beer bars, as well as in your own home, you can have beer at the proper temperature. For me, I keep all of my beers at room temperature in a back room at my house. When I decide what I am drinking that night I will pop it into the fridge for a bit, or more often, in the freezer for a few minutes. With a little practice you will come to know exactly when to pull it out... just don't forget it!

The basic rule of thumb is simple: the higher the alcohol content, the warmer the beer should be served. Even more simply put, strong beers should be served in the 50'sºF and lighter beers in the 40'sºF.

So here are my recommended serving temperatures for 20 main beer styles. You can serve it a few degrees colder since the beer will warm upon pouring (and no, that is not an endorsement of chilling your glasses!) and as you drink it, but not much more than that. And if you have a beer at the higher end of the alcoholic range for the style -- especially for some belgians and lagers -- you can bump it up a few more. Happy drinking!

Amber / Red Ale -- 45ºF-50ºF, Cool
Barleywine -- 55ºF-60ºF, Almost room temp
Belgians -- 45ºF-50ºF*, Cool
Bitter / ESB -- 50ºF-55ºF, Warm
Blonde Ale -- 40ºF-45ºF, Cold
Bock -- 45ºF-50ºF, Cool
Brown Ale -- 45ºF-50ºF, Cool
Fruit Beer -- 40ºF-45ºF, Cold
Hefeweizen -- 45ºF-50ºF, Cool
Imperial IPA -- 55ºF-60ºF, Almost room temp
Imperial Stout -- 55ºF-60ºF, Almost room temp
India Pale Ale -- 50ºF-55ºF, Warm
Lager -- 40ºF-45ºF*, Cold
Oktoberfest -- 45ºF-50ºF, Cool
Pale Ale -- 40ºF-45ºF, Cold
Pilsner -- 40ºF-45ºF, Cold
Porter -- 45ºF-50ºF, Cool
Scotch Ale (Wee Heavy) -- 45ºF-50ºF, Cool
Stout -- 50ºF-55ºF, Warm
Strong Ale -- 55ºF-60ºF, Almost room temp

Good Winter Beers

December is my busy season. I work for a charity that delivers Christmas gifts to families in Massachusetts, so I work some crazy hours right through Christmas Eve. And while I don't get out to new bars as much as I would like in December, I do still work steadily through some good winter beers.

Now when I say good winter beers, I don't necessarily mean winter seasonals. Many brewers take the Christmas season as an opportunity to produce a muddled, overly-spiced brew (think Harpoon's ridiculous Winter Warmer...) Instead, what I look for in a winter beer is a beer with some color and warming alcohol. So on this list you will find a lot of stouts, and some dark Belgian and German beers.

Cisco Captain Swain's Extra Stout
750 ml -- Luke's
very nice pour with neat tan head. sharp bitter hop aroma. big malt flavor as well, with accompanying sweetness. very dry. a very solid extra stout, albeit a little pricey at $7 a bottle...
Score: 7

Lagunitas Censored
Bottle -- Luke's, Rockland
aka The Kronic, a "rich copper ale." i believe this is meant to be a winter seasonal since there is missletoe on the label... smell is of sweet caramel malts and some fresh hops. taste doesn't jump out at you, like say, lagunitas' sirius cream ale. take a pass.
Score: 5

North Coast Old No. 38 Stout
Bottle -- Luke's
all chocolate nose, some hops and hint of alcohol. coffee taste and strongly bitter. slightly acidic. everything these guys touch turns to gold.
Score: 8

Ommegang Rare Vos
750 ml -- Luke's
a belgian dark ale. deep amber color (or amethyst according to Kelly) with big snowy head. big fruity aroma, yeast and spices -- definitely the strongest component. flavor is an almost bland grain, white grapes, and bitter grassy hops. extremely dry. expectations were too high, i suppose.
Score: 7

Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout
Bottle -- Luke's
sweet roast and smell of carbonation come through first. bitter hops define this flavor in my opinion, with some coffee and molasses in back of taste. this really reminds me of a thin porter... not what you look for in an oatmeal stout. i really want to like these organic beers too...
Score: 4

My pick:
Thomas Hooker Liberator Doppelbock
(Swing-top) bottle -- Luke's
murky in appearance, no head but oily legs. malts in aroma are much more complex and appealing than most heavy-malt beers. alcohol comes through in both aroma and taste. full flavor includes both of these as well as dark, tangy fruit. creamy mouthfeel. i originally bought this beer to marinade meat in, but that would definitely be a crime. a simply fantastic beer.
Score: 10

Friday, December 19, 2008

Strongest, Darkest Belgian Ale

I bring to you today two of the highest rated American takes on the style of Belgian Strong Dark Ales. But which is the strongest, darkest Belgian Ale?

Avery Collaboration Not Litigation
750 ml -- Cork's, Mansfield
this is another beer i bought out of curiousity. great story behind this beer: avery and russian river both brewed a beer called salvation and rather than sue each other they decided to blend their two beers together and market it under this clever name. pours appealing amber color into snifter. aroma of raisins, sweet malts, yeast, spice, and some alcohol. raisins and yeast come through clearly in the taste, along with a sweetness that tastes a lot like brown sugar. still, taste is slightly subdued. acidic mouthfeel and weak carbonation. drinks easy. good, not great.
Score: 7

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Stout
750 ml -- Cork's, Mansfield
great name... i don't have much of a sweet tooth but it still sounded pretty good to me! dark body and big tan head, but what an aroma! cocoa, candy, and dark fruit (with some alcohol emerging as it warms). flavor is more cocoa than chocolate, roasty bordering on burnt, with an unsweetened bitterness. smooth, creaminess you would
expect. i supremely enjoyed this.
worth the money, for sure.
Score: 9

Strongest, Darkest Belgian Ale: Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Stout

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jury Room

You may have noticed, but I have been adding a few more features to my blog to appeal to a slightly wider audience. I think one niche, in particular, that this blog can fill is by providing more information about the beer scene in New England generally, and around Boston, specifically. I spend a decent amount of time investigating good brewers, beer bars, and bottle stores in the Boston area, so I will try carve out more space on the blog for what should be helpful referrals. Let's start with a bar I tried for the first time this past weekend.

Jury Room
39 Cottage Ave, Quincy, MA
a new bar in downtown quincy that i found on beer advocate. has a law theme going on. but, the bar was closed for a private party... on a saturday night, mind you. we were hidden away in a dining room off to the side -- i was not pleased. they had some interesting seasonals, but only bottles; i'm not sure how many of their taps rotate. selection included: Allagash White, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Left Hand Sawtooth, Speakeasy IPA, Victory Hop Whallop, Wachusett Winter, and a couple from Saranac. service was good, but i did have to ask for a glass to pour my beer into... unimpressive. $6 a pint. i may give this one another try... after calling ahead to make sure there are no private parties. there was one big victory from the night though...
Atmosphere: 3/5, Selection: 7/10, Quality: 4/10, Service: 3/5, Overall: 10/20, Total: 27/50
Total rating: B-

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale
Bottle -- Jury Room, Quincy
fresh hops on nose. sweet, nutty caramel malt flavor is balanced out with piney hops -- tasty. very flavorful and easy drinking. probably my favorite rogue beer yet!
Score: 9

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just a wolf in sheep's clothing?

This is installment two in my series searching for redeeming qualities in those macrobrews attempting to cut into the craft beer market.

Shock Top Belgian White
Bottle -- Pop's Liquors, Easton
purchased at my fiance's request for something "fruity and drinkable." she always enjoys the different blueberry beers, but as always, i thought i would try to streach her beer horizon's... kind of. as mentioned before, shocktop belgian white is a slickly marketed orange-flavored witbier put out by budweiser. cloudy and pale orange in color. mild fruity aroma, but it is in the taste that the orange really comes out. yeast does stick out as in most
witbier's, but otherwise just a watery brew. blah.
Score: 3

Verdict: Just a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My First Homebrews

This was a difficult post for me to write... best evidenced by the fact that it took me four months to finalize it. I know some of you were curious to see how my first batches turned out so I promise not to wait so long to rate the next one (its an IPA aged in wood chips!) Anyways, homebrewing is quite easy and a whole lot of fun! Highly recommended. That said, I still have a lot to learn. I think it will be interesting to document my progress as a brewer (assuming there is progress...) on this blog. If you think homebrewing is something you might like to try, you can read my post about brewing for the first time here. Okay, here were my three first homebrews!

The-Waiting-Is-The-Hardest-Part Pale Ale
Bottle -- Brockton, MA
my first homebrew! mistakes were made (both the thermometer and hydrometer were broken...) but the final product was a drinkable beer! which of course, is where the name for the beer came from; brewing was easy, waiting was the hardest part! i think the label was an instant classic: my assistant brewer dan trying to drink the wort as i restrained him... inevitably this will be the creative high-water mark of my brewing career. anyways, pour is a translucent golden/copper... perfect one-finger off-white head... healthy carbonation, and retains head to very bottom... aroma dominated by sweet malts, but quite a few earthy hops emerge too... flavor of sweet, caramel malts... grassy hops in background of taste... not quite as bitter as i like in my pale ales, but still a good flavor... smooth, slightly grainy mouthfeel... packs a surprising punch -- this has to be pushing 5.5% ABV... very sessionable though... of the beers i have brewed this is definitely the favorite among my friends. a total, and unabashed success!
Appearance: 4/5, Aroma: 6/10, Flavor: 7/10, Palate: 3/5, Overall: 12/20, Total: 3.2
Score: 7

Promised Land Porter
Bottle -- Brockton, MA
my second beer was brewed with friends before we went to see bruce springsteen, and so the name of this beer came from my favorite song of the show. you can see the label is supposed to be the promsied land: a field full of hops. and while this porter didn't turn out quite as hoppy as i like my porters (think smuttynose's robust porter...) i truly enjoyed it. pours into a mug as a dark mahogany-brown and cola-like in appearance. healthy, frothy head with very good retention. heavy roastiness dominates aroma with a few earthy hops in background. roasted malts carry through to flavor. bitterness is certainly present, along with a little sourness. i drink this beer nearly at room temp so flavor softens a bit as you drink. goes down very smooth. i like this beer, but porters -- as one of my very favorite styles -- i hold to a higher standard. i will be taking another shot at the style very soon.
Appearance: 4/5, Aroma: 6/10, Flavor: 6/10, Palate: 3/5, Overall: 11/20, Total: 3.0
Score: 6

You're So Vain... You Probably Think This Stout is About You!
Bottle -- Brockton, MA
this beer was brewed for my dad on his 60th birthday... which made its failure that much more tragic. as my friend dan was all too eager to tell me: i got cocky. i decided to try a mostly grain recipe without fully appreciating how much more difficult it was. the margin of error here was off the charts: i tried to get all of the sugars out of the grain but i know i didn't, the yeast was left unrefrigerated, and i bottled the beer without adding priming sugar... having to open each one and add the sugar. oi. while none of these bottles exploded, they were unquestionably over-carbonated, erupting out of the bottle with huge churning heads. aroma is incredibly sour, with off putting earthiness. add to that a muddled burtness and you have a taste that leads you to the inevitable drain pour. a total loss.
Appearance: 2/5, Aroma: 1/10, Flavor: 2/10, Palate: 2/5, Overall: 3/20, Total: 1.0
Score: 1

Friday, December 5, 2008

Shipyard Pugsley's Signature Series

Well, I've got a special post for all of you today. Shipyard Brewing has put out a new line of beers called Pugsley's Signature Series, after their master brewer, Alan Pugsley of England. Now Shipyard is a longtime favorite (being the first craft beer I ever tried) but by starting this series out with a barley wine and an imperial porter -- two of my very favorite styles -- Shipyard appears to be charting a new and exciting course for their brewery! And thanks to my father's friend Tami at Shipyard, I was able to try each of these newly released beers down here in Massachusetts. Thank you, Shipyard!

Shipyard Barley Wine Style Ale
750 ml -- Shipyard Brewery, Portland, ME
first off: awesome label. details different types of malts and hops, the temperature the beer should be served at, and the point of origination (something all brewers should do...) shockingly dark for a barley wine; mahogany in color really, with lacing that spiderwebs the whole way down. alcohol in aroma crowds out some of the floral hops and dark fruit. taste is bitter with flavors of coffee, molasses, and alcohol to follow. distinctive english ringwood yeast peaks through as well. smooth mouthfeel that coats throat. this is a strong, bold beer, both in terms of the alcohol (8.5% abv) and flavors. aging would probably mellow this beer out a little... something i may have to try.
Appearance: 4/5, Aroma: 7/10, Flavor: 8/10, Palate: 4/5, Overall: 12/20, Total: 3.5
Score: 7

Shipyard Imperial Porter
750 ml -- Shipyard Brewery, Portland, ME
style also referred to as a baltic porter after the strong porters that were brewed for shipping across the north sea. deep ruby brown pour into my snifter glass. solid carbonation that leaves neat ring of lacing. just like the barley wine, aroma is mainly of alcohol... molasses and cocoa too. big coffee taste, smokiness, and bittersweet chocolate. creamy mouthfeel, slightly buttery, dries palate. full-bodied. very enjoyable and a great example of baltic porters. pick these up if you can find them!
App: 4/5, Aro: 7/10, Flv: 8/10, Pal: 3/5, Ovr: 14/20, Tot: 3.7
Score: 8

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Beer 101: Proper Glassware

Proper glassware. To most people, what glass you drink a beer in probably seems silly. But really, proper glassware is one of my favorite things about drinking beer. After all, isn't drinking craft beer all about the experience? And I find using different types of glasses -- I use mugs, pilsner glasses, oversized wine glasses, pint glasses, snifters, and weizen glasses -- to be a lot of fun.

Not to mention the fact that proper glassware makes good beer better, shining its true color, releasing different aromas and tastes. Actually, four of the five categories that you rate beer on (appearance, smell, taste, and overall impression) are directly affected by pouring a beer into the proper glassware. Now I won't go so far as to promise that laser etchings will provide a constant release of aroma (but Jim Koch will!), but appropriate glassware definitely adds to the experience.

Beer Advocate does a better job that I ever could with their article about proper glassware, outlining the ten main styles of glassware and the benefits of using each. What I'd like to do here is provide a general cheat cheat of the 20 major styles of beer and which types of glassware are most appropriate. I would recommend at least going over to Crate & Barrel to pick up the proper glassware for your favorite style -- you won't regret it!

Amber / Red Ale -- Pint, Mug
Barleywine -- Snifter, Pint
Belgians -- Snifter, Goblet
Bitter / ESB -- Mug, Pint
Blonde Ale -- Pint, Mug
Bock -- Pilsner, Flute
Brown Ale -- Mug, Pint
Fruit Beer -- Pint, Mug
Hefeweizen -- Weizen
Imperial IPA -- Snifter, Tulip
Imperial Stout -- Pint, Oversized Wine Glass
India Pale Ale -- Pint, Mug
Lager -- Pilsner, Pint
Oktoberfest -- Mug, Pint
Pale Ale -- Pint, Mug
Pilsner -- Pilsner, Stange
Porter -- Pint, Mug
Scotch Ale (Wee Heavy) -- Pint, Tulip
Stout -- Pint, Mug
Strong Ale -- Snifter, Chalice

Monday, December 1, 2008

Two Pleasant Surprises

Here are two instant favorites... neither of which I had particularly high expectations for.

Albany Pump Station Evans Extra Stout
Growler -- C.H. Evans Brewing Co, Albany, NY
thanks are in order to leanne and ryan for surprising me with a growler of this extra stout from the evans brewing company brewpub at the albany pump station. it came in the coolest growler i have ever seen... the handle looked like a gargoyle or something and will definitely be used again repeatedly for my homebrews. dark pour with subdued head, and aroma of coffee and unmistakable vanilla. assertive java taste, bittering hops, and dark fruit. i equated the dark fruit to cough syrup, which angered several of my friends, but was not meant as an insult. quite dry, but otherwise a very unique extra stout. what a great find! i will certainly be refilling my growler on my next pass through albany!
Score: 9

Concord Junction Porter
Bottle -- Luke's, Rockland
i had tried two concord beers before this with mixed results. the brewery has closed down however, so i thought i would try this porter before it was too late. i am glad i did! overly-carbonated, with an uncontainable billowy head. rich coffee aroma. taste is quite sweet with hops relegated to rounding out taste; both fit absolutely perfectly in this beer. coffee and chocolate in taste are very smooth. full flavor unfolds at very end of taste, along with a nice roastiness. i don't know what the abv is, but more alcohol emerges as it warms to room temp... surprisingly creamy mouthfeel for a porter. wow, what a gem this beer is! i may have to buy out the remaining stock from concord brewery next time i am at luke's in rockland...
Score: 10