Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gritty McDuffs vs. Long Trail

Occassionally I will put a few beers head-to-head and determine a winner. I am going to start with the Scottish Ales offered up by two longstanding New England Brewers: Gritty McDuffs of Maine and Long Trail of Vermont. Go!

Gritty McDuffs Scottish Ale
Bottle -- MAINE

clear reddish-brown with head that lasts all the way to the end. aroma of bread, caramel, and earthy hops. very sweet with good bitter hop presence. crisp, smooth, very carbonated, medium-bodied. a strong beer and good example of the style.

Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 8/10 Flavor: 7/10 Palate: 4/5 Overall: 12/20 Total Rating: 3.5 Score: 7

Long Trail Hibernator
Bottle -- Cardoza's, Fall River

hazy amber with sustained head. malts, fruity hops, little spice, but pretty muted aroma overall. nutty, grainy, some hops, but mostly watery. medium-bodied, sticky, with lingering aftertaste. simple, bland, uninspiring.

Appearance: 3/5 Aroma: 5/10 Flavor: 5/10 Palate: 3/5 Overall: 10/20 Total Rating: 2.6 Score: 5

Winner: Gritty McDuffs Scottish Ale
hands down. a very nice scottish ale. MAINE wins!!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Upstate New York, Part II

I also brought home a case of Southern Tier from New York last weekend. Here are my thoughts on the four beers in their sample pack.

Southern Tier IPA
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Saratoga Springs, NY

a translucent amber with minimal head but nice lacing. just a few pungent hops on the nose, and fairly mild upon tasting. crisp and smooth with surprisingly dry, bitter finish. a well-crafted and drinkable ipa.

Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 7/10 Flavor: 8/10 Palate: 4/5
Overall: 13/20 Total Rating: 3.6 Score: 8

Southern Tier Phin & Matts Extraordinary Ale
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Saratoga Springs, NY

pours a very pale gold with lots of carbonation. minor smell of floral hops and lemon pine-sol. taste of bitter lemon... almost grapefruit. big taste up front with subdued finish, which is different. very light and slick in texture. unusual, but not quite extraordinary.

Appearance: 3/5 Aroma: 5/10 Flavor: 6/10 Palate: 3/5 Overall: 12/20 Total Rating: 2.9 Score: 6

Southern Tier Raspberry Wheat Beer
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Saratoga Springs, NY

light and fizzy appearance with smell of raspberry/grape. artificial flavor of tart raspberries is completely overpowering. hardly tastes like a beer at all. not terribly crafted but simply not for me.

Appearance: 2/5 Aroma: 3/10 Flavor: 2/10 Palate: 2/5
Overall: 8/20 Total Rating: 1.7 Score: 3

Southern Tier Porter
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Saratoga Springs, NY

dark brown with thin head. smell of coffee, chocolate, and also molasses. dry and malty with kind of roasty and bittersweet taste at the end. medium-bodied, fizzy and lingering acidity. a good, drinkable beer but an unexceptional porter.

Appearance: 3/5 Aroma: 8/10 Flavor: 7/10 Palate: 3/5
Overall: 14/20 Total Rating: 3.5 Score: 8

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Upstate New York

I went to upstate New York this past weekend to visit some friends... and had a few local brews while I was there: a sampler case from Cooperstown Brewing and a couple of beers brewed by Lake Placid.

Cooperstown Benchwarmer
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Milton, NY

pours a dark brown with terrific lace retention. this porter is all about the roast, with coffee aroma and taste complemented with notes of chocolate and vanilla. medium-to-light-bodied with smooth, creamy mouthfeel. recommended.

Appearance: 5/5 Aroma: 7/10 Flavor: 8/10 Palate: 4/5
Overall: 14/20 Total Rating: 3.8 Score: 8

Cooperstown Pride of Milford Special Ale
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Milton, NY

clear amber/copper color with minimal aroma of malts. taste of fruity, toffee malts. somewhat sticky and full-bodied. the alcohol comes through here -- great example of an english strong ale.

Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 6/10 Flavor: 7/10 Palate: 3/5
Overall: 14/20 Total Rating: 3.4 Score: 7

Cooperstown Strike Out Stout
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Milton, NY

one finger of big bubbles on pour. expected aroma and taste of roasted coffee, although its a little thin and watery. it was only when i made this a float with some chocolate ice cream did it really gain some character...

Appearance: 3/5 Aroma: 6/10 Flavor: 4/10 Palate: 2/5
Overall: 11/20 Total Rating: 2.6 Score: 5

Cooperstown Back Yard IPA
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Milton, NY

golden with good head retention and fruity hops on nose. assertive hops on taste buds, but a little weak overall. light, carbonated, and chalky mouthfeel. a run of the mill ipa.

Appearance: 3/5 Aroma: 5/10 Flavor: 4/10 Palate: 2/5
Overall: 9/20 Total Rating: 2.3 Score: 5

Cooperstown Nine Man Ale
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Milton, NY

nice color but hardly any aroma. light but surprisingly flavorful. not bad.

Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 2/10 Flavor: 5/10 Palate: 3/5
Overall: 8/20 Total Rating: 2.2 Score: 4

Cooperstown Old Slugger
Bottle -- Minogue's Beverage Center, Milton, NY

hazy orange with sudsy white head. subtle hops and kind of sweet. closer to a pilsner than a pale its so weak. ho hum.

Appearance: 3/5 Aroma: 3/10 Flavor: 3/10 Palate: 3/5
Overall: 6/20 Total Rating: 1.8 Score: 3

Lake Placid Ubu
Bottle -- O'Toole's Restaurant and Pub, Glens Falls, NY
an english strong ale that hides its 7% abv well. malty and kind of one
dimensional with hardly any detectable hops. solid and very drinkable, but not spectacular.
Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 6/10 Flavor: 7/10 Palate: 4/5
Overall: 9/20 Total Rating: 3.0 Score: 6

Pick of the litter:
Lake Placid IPA (Frostbite Ale)
Bottle -- O'Toole's Restaurant and Pub, Glens Falls, NY

fresh pine and citrus hops on nose and taste. touch of sweet caramel malts that complement pleasant bitterness. rich mouthfeel that is both crisp and smooth. a winner.

Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 7/10 Flavor: 9/10 Palate: 4/5
Overall: 16/20 Total Rating: 4.0 Score: 9

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to Rate Beer

I said early on that I would be going with a 1-10 point ranking, rather than the more official 5-category, 20-point system. The main reason for this was really simplicity, both for those reading and for me. However, there is a lot to be said about the official rating system since it forces you to consider all the critical aspects of a craft beer.

Here is how it works. Pour the beer into a proper glass. Now start by observing the beer: its color, carbonation, head and lace. But the most important part of rating a beer's appearance is its allure -- does how it looks make you want to drink the beer? Rank the appearance from 1-5. Secondly, smell the beer, paying special attention to your first impression. Note both good and bad aromas, searching especially for signs of the hops and malts. Trying to put your finger on a beer's aroma requires creativity and practice. Rank the aroma from 1-10.

Now you are ready to drink the beer. Pay attention to the sweetness, bitterness, and sourness in the beginning, middle, and end of the beer. Rank the flavor from 1-10. When the beer is in your mouth, try to judge how it feels. Is it thin or thick? Smooth or sticky? This is a tricky one, but rank the palate from 1-5. And finally, rank your overall impression of the beer, accounting for what you think is most important. In particular, I look to see if a beer is well-crafted and true to its style, and if it is a decent value. Rank your overall impressions from 1-20. Your total ranking should fall somewhere between .5 and 5.0. For more on how to rate a beer, check out this article:

So I don't plan to employ this ranking system all the time, but let me use it now for the beers that I have drank this week an example of how to properly rate a beer.

Cisco Whales Tale Pale Ale, MA
Date: 2/9/08
Mode: 750 ml bottle
Source: Cardoza's, Fall River

Notes: way too carbonated -- big frothy head ready to overflow almost immediately! cloudy orange-amber appearance with fruitty, grassy hops on nose. all i tasted at first was vinegary pickles. sweet malts became more prominent on the second glass. chalky, fizzy mouthfeel... not especially pleasant. disappointing, and i am not going to recommend this one.

Appearance: 2/5 Aroma: 5/10 Flavor: 2/10 Palate: 2/5
Overall: 8/20 Total Rating: 1.8
Score: 3

Z Street Mocha Java Stout
Date: 2/12/08
Mode: Bottle
Source: Gasbarro's Wine and Spirits, Swansea

Notes: a beautiful jet black pour with big tan head... that is until i noticed the suspended floaties inside, which slowly settled to the bottom. i was expecting to be knocked over by the coffee in the aroma but instead got grapes and cocoa. robust taste of roasted (bordering on charred) coffee and bittersweet chocolate. i like it. pretty full-bodied with long and dry, yet sticky, finish. this one is as advertised: lots of chocolate and coffee.

Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 7/10 Flavor: 8/10 Palate: 4/5
Overall: 14/20 Total Rating: 3.7
Score: 8

Southern Tier Raspberry Porter Date: 2/11/08
Mode: Bottle
Source: Cardoza's, Fall River

Notes: dark, reddish-brown with nice lace and retention. fruitty aroma with unmistakable notes of chocolate. tangy, tart, and sweet. supposedly this is made with real raspberries but the taste is syrupy and artificial. light bodied with lively mouthfeel. too thin for a porter in my mind...

Appearance: 3/5 Aroma: 6/10 Flavor: 4/10 Palate: 3/5
Overall: 11/20 Total Rating: 2.6
Score: 5

Pick of the litter:
Stone Pale Ale
Date: 2/10/08
Mode: Bottle
Source: Cardoza's, North Dartmouth

Notes: red/amber color with controlled, whispy head on pour. aroma overwhelmingly of caramel malts, with surprisingly few hops coming through for an american pale ale... i like the balance though. sweet caramel again coming through on the taste, but this time with bitter pine and citrus hops on finish. smooth, light to medium body, making this an excellent session beer. most drinkable of stone's extreme (but well-crafted) beers.

Appearance: 4/5 Aroma: 10/10 Flavor: 8/10 Palate: 4/5
Overall: 15/20 Total Rating: 4.1
Score: 9

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Foreign Beers

As I have mentioned, my focus to this point has been on trying American microbrews, and especially local domestic brewers. So most of the foreign beers that I have tried are either widely available macrobrews, or beers that I have encountered while traveling. And as I also mentioned in my first post, my appreciation for microbrewed beer increased dramatically after a year of watery, flavorless African beer. So you are going to see a lot of lowly rated beers on this list... not to mention a few beers that are unavailable in the States. This probably won't be my most helpful post, but eventually (it could be a while...) I will return to this topic by starting to work through some of the better European brewers.

Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout
a perfect beer

Rodenbach Classic, Belgium
really interesting... quite sour but complemented by fruity overtones

Belhaven Scottish Ale, Scotland
good pour, more alcohol presence than you would expect for 3.9%

Guinness Draught, Ireland
most beautiful pour i have ever seen, but there are a lot better dry stouts out there

Newcastle, England
my pick of the mass-produced beers

Bass Pale Ale, England
a weak, if widely available, pale ale

Castle Milk Stout, South Africa
sweet, bitter, roasty taste -- this was by far the best beer i had in africa

Negra Modelo, Mexico
my favorite of the macro-mexican beers

Dos Equis XX Amber, Mexico
very watery, but definitely complements spicy mexican food

Sagres, Portugal
washes portuguese food down well, but too much sweet corn in the taste

Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout, England
disappointing -- kinda thin with overbearing alcohol presence

Carlsberg Brown, Malawi
wow, what a relief to find that carlsberg brews in malawi -- tastes heavenly

Samuel Smiths Old Brewery Pale Ale
didn't like it... too much yeast in aroma and taste

Singha, Thailand
i actually like this one -- it cuts the spiciness of thai food perfectly

Asahi Super Dry, Japan
dry maltiness is what you are getting here

Carling Black Label, South Africa
a surprisingly good lager

Corona Extra, Mexico
flavorless and overpriced... but sometimes the best option available

Guinness Extra Stout
very dry, kind of sour

Hansa Pilsener, South Africa
more flavor and complexity than its rivals

Heineken, Netherlands
okay when it isn't skunky... which is often

Modelo Especial, Mexico
quite bad -- skunky wheat flavor

Sapporo Premium Draft, Japan
clean taste, like most japanese beers

St. Pauli Girl Lager, Germany
a skunky macro

St. Pauli Girl Special Dark
not good

Windhoek Lager, Namibia
i would get this beer whenever available -- smooth, nice flavor, and organic

Bell Lager, Uganda
bland but better than rival nile

Fosters Lager, Australia
tinny out of the can

Safari Lager, Tanzania cheap but better taste and more alcohol than rival "premium" lagers

Taj Mahal, India
grassy nose but poor finish

Tiger Beer, Singapore
very popular in asia... but i'm not sure why

Tsingtao, China
generally has a skunky smell... i don't think this one travels well

Tusker Lager, Kenya
not a badly crafted beer, but i was still surprised to see this one in the States

Castle Lager, South Africa
watery, with faint corn taste

Kilimanjaro Premium Lager, Tanzania
watery and flavorless

Kuche Kuche, Malawi
commercial description says all you need to know: mova watu watu.

Mosi Lager, Zambia
again, water and sweet corn flavor

Ndovu, Tanzania
ndovu is swahili for elephant... that is the only interesting thing i can say for this beer

Nile Special Lager, Uganda
bland and not as good as bell

Primus, Rwanda
not unpleasant but nothing going for it either

Serengeti Premium Lager, Tanzania
cool label but another watery and flavorless lager

Uganda Breweries Pilsner Lager, Uganda
watery and flavorless

Chibuku Shake Shake, Zambia
this is hands down the strangest beer i have ever had, so i have to say a few words about it. they brew it, ship it in a cardboard carton, and drink it in the same day. but you have to shake it first to unsettle it. even then it is so thick is coats your mouth and you kind of have to chew it. worst "beer" i have ever had, but if you can force it down you will gain a lot of respect from the locals.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Best From the Rest of the Country

Here we go:

Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, CA
easy to drink -- prominent malts with light sweetness

Pearl Street Canal Street Stout, NY
i got a growler of this before the patriots game in buffalo... highly recommended

Stoudts American Pale Ale, PN
mild, citrusy hops make this a great session beer

Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen, OR
the best american hefeweizen. period.

Anchor Porter, CA
smooth, strong, and full-bodied... this is the best offering i have found from this historic brewer

Boulder Beer Mojo IPA, CO
the extreme ipa's aren't my favorite, but these are some tasty hops

Montana Brewing Whitetail Wheat, MT
kind of grainy, but goes down smooth... and well with the house nachos

New Belgium Fat Tire, CO
good starter beer as it is widely available -- a crash course in malts

Ommegang, NY
a complex, strong, rich beer

Yuengling Traditional Lager, PN
a great beer -- very good flavor for a regional brewer

Abita Christmas Ale, LA
sweet and earthy -- more drinkable than the average spiced christmas brew

Pearl Street Lake Effect Pale Ale
i liked this one, a nice use of hops

Redhook ESB, WA

Anchor Liberty Ale
don't know why this one is so highly regarded

Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale, CO
better than expected

Blue Point Summer Ale, NY
very light... you can drink a lot of this stuff

George Killians Irish Red, CO
palatable... for a mass-brewer

Jacks Pumpkin Spice Ale, MO
not nearly as bad as i would have thought... heavily spiced

Anchor Old Foghorn Ale
strong aroma and alcohol presence -- i've had better barley wines

Blue Moon Belgian White Ale
not my sort of beer, but the spices are interesting

Petes Wicked Strawberry Blonde, NY
don't really do fruit flavored beers, but this was alright

Redhook Sunrye
my first red hook and first rye, but quite disappointing

Spanish Peaks Black Dog Ale, CO
nice color, layers of malts... but disappointing

Anchor Steam Beer
maybe i missed something but this was a disppointment -- watery, bland

Berkshire Springs Stock Ale, WI
weak flavor of malts -- i have had better

Pabst Blue Ribbon, WI
probably the greatest beer in the world

Pearl Street Trainwreck
thin and stale -- this was a trainwreck

Redhook Blonde Ale

Saranac Pumpkin Ale, NY

Leinenkugels Sunset Wheat, WI
waaay too sweet -- it does in fact taste like fruit loops

Redhook Long Hammer IPA
very weak for an ipa

Tommyknocker Alpine Glacier Lager, CO
they call this a lager? it is a wheat beer... and a poor one

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Best Brewers

The website is a very valuable resource for anyone who appreciates microbrewed beer. They provide a number of different rankings, including the best brewers in the world. Allow me to share my limited experiences with these brewers here.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA, DL
my favorite ipa

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, CA
wow! jet black, incredibly flavorful, and undetectable alcohol at 9%

Smuttynose Big A IPA, NH
fantastic -- huge citrus aroma and aftertaste help balance hops

Victory Storm King Imperial Stout, PN
beautiful color, great aroma, and great use of hops for a stout

Arrogant Bastard Ale, CA
lives up to the hype

Avery Out of Bounds Stout, CO
full, roasted flavor -- well crafted

Avery The Reverend
very unique -- thick, rich, and sweet

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
another great ipa from dogfish

Left Hand Milk Stout, CA
i love milk stouts

Rogue Dead Guy Ale, OR
not my favorite portland brewer, but this is a good one

Sierra Nevada Porter, CA
earthy, malty, delicious

Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale

Stone India Pale Ale, CA
very well crafted: didn't go overboard on the hops

Victory HopDevil
perfect balance of hops, bitterness

Dogfish Head Midas Touch Golden Elixir
very original -- surprised i liked it as much as i did

Dogfish Head Raison D Etre
another great flavorful beer -- quite sweet, complex flavor

North Coast Blue Star
i find wheat beers to be a difficult style but i thought this one was good

Rogue Chocolate Stout
pretty good but not my kind of beer -- you definitely taste the chocolate and roastiness

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
layered, complicated, well-crafted beer

Sierra Nevada India Pale Ale
a well balanced ipa

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
delicious and widely available -- a greater starter beer

Sierra Nevada Stout
roasted flavor you would expect, nice bitterness that you might not

Stone Ruination IPA
the hops are everywhere!

Victory Prima Pils
taste of hops make this a really interesting pilsner

Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot, PN
a very sweet barley wine... you can taste the 11% abv

Brooklyn Lager, NY
excellent -- crisp, bitter finish

Dogfish Head ApriHop
good ipa, but a little too sweet and you don't notice the apricots

Dogfish Head Pangea
nice concept but a disappointment... too much ginger and carbonation

Flying Dog Road Dog Scottish Porter, CO
little thin but right ammount of bitterness

Rogue Mocha Porter
unusual degree of roastiness and hops for a porter...

Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale
a smooth beer with aromatic hops

Sierra Nevada Summerfest

Weyerbacher Hops Infusion
aggressive hoppiness... could have passed for a west coast ipa

Avery 14er ESB
flavorless, slightly bitter finish

Rogue American Amber
a very hoppy amber -- strongly bitter after-taste

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog
nutty brown flavor, a little too watery

Smuttynose Portsmouth Lager
low alcohol content and kind of boring

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
strong pumpkin spice smell... a bit much

Smuttynose Summer Weizen Ale
little watery

Victory Festbier
very standard october beer and a little too watery

Avery Karma Ale
an uninspired belgian ale

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale
tangy, bitter... could be better


Victory Moonglow Weizenbock
i had heard good things about this one but i did not like the yeast strain

Victory Whirlwind Witbier
not my favorite style but i suppose this is a decent witbier

Smuttynose IPA
there was crud floating in this one and i had to dump it... i'll try it again

Monday, February 4, 2008

Brews From the Rest of New England

Well, obviously this list is heavy on beers from the great state of Maine. I find Maine beers to be very drinkable, if somewhat unadventurous (outside of Allagash Brewing.) Vermont and New Hampshire both have a few worldclass breweries, while Rhode Island does not. And I haven't even had a beer from Connecticut yet...

Casco Bay Riptide Red Ale, ME
a great red

Gearys Autumn Ale, ME
i thought this was a great seasonal -- nutty and drinkable

Gearys Hampshire Special Ale
great, flavorful beer, with a perfect balance of malts and hops

Gritty McDuffs Halloween Ale, ME
an excellent esb -- strong, heavy

Gritty McDuffs India Pale Ale
a more complex ipa -- malty, fruity overtones

Sebago Lake Trout Stout, ME
creamy, roasted flavor... slight thinness is only blemish in possibly my favorite maine beer

Shipyard Export Ale, ME
shipyard's flagship is its best

Trinity Russian Imperial Stout, RI
very good -- not as heavy as most russian imperials

Andrews St. Nick Porter, ME
dry and roasty aroma and taste

Casco Bay Summer Ale
like gritty's vacationland: more hoppy than most summers

Gearys Summer Ale
well balanced -- mild, bitter hops

Gritty McDuffs Christmas Ale
i brought a mini-keg of this to christmas, a great decision -- nice rich taste

Gritty McDuffs Original Pub Style
very drinkable session beer

Gritty McDuffs Vacationland Summer Ale
bitter hops give this beer another dimension over your typical summer

Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale
my favorite pumpkin beer -- good spice, a little watery

Trinity Rhode Island IPA
surprisingly strong ipa... has an edge to it

Trinity Special Kolsch
first kolsch i have had but i'd say this was a good one

Tuckerman Pale Ale, NH
crisp, dry hops soften as the beer warms, yielding a nice apa

Gearys Pale Ale
smooth, simple beer... a good one for beginners

Gritty McDuffs Best Bitter
good, but a little light bodied

Long Trail Ale, VT
smooth, drinkable beer... flavor won't knock your socks off though

Magic Hat #9, VT
very interesting flagship -- fruity aroma, sweet taste

Sebago Fryes Leap IPA
nice, crisp ipa

Shipyard Prelude Ale
very interesting: sweetness hits you first, followed by alcoholic warmth

Trinity Larkens Irish Stout
strong roasted flavor

Gearys Winter Ale
an odd winter -- kind of hoppy

Long Trail Hit the Trail Ale
decent beer -- nice color but a little bland

Magic Hat Hocus Pocus
a sweet wheat

Magic Hat Jinx
unusual -- mild smokiness, sour

Orlio Organic Common Ale, VT
a very light body

Sheepscot Valley Bold Coast Pemaquid Ale, ME
full-bodied for a scottish ale, but taste is muted and kind of dull

Shipyard Summer Ale
drinkable, but not very interesting

Trinity Belgian Gold
solid, but missing something

Atlantic Coal Porter
little flat and burnt taste

Gritty McDuffs Black Fly Stout
flat, might have been the dregs at the brewpub...

Gritty McDuffs Lions Pride Brown Ale (Best Brown Ale)
very bland

Gritty McDuffs Raspberry Wheat
tangy, almost clear

Long Trail India Pale Ale
weak, kind of fruity -- i would pass

Otter Creek Pale Ale, VT
watery, uninspired -- but one of the best otter creek i have had...

Trinity Hefe Weizen

Newport Storm Hurricane Amber Ale, RI
the fact that this is their flagship beer does not speak well for RI...

Otter Creek Copper Ale
dry, kind of odd after-taste -- not my favorite

Otter Creek White Sail
weak, watery

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale, ME
disappointingly weak -- i was excited about this one too

Sebago Hefeweizen
awful -- i'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was a bad batch