Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Last call!

My decision to scale back the release of Complete Updated Rankings to every six months has not been a popular one. The thing is, they are a lot of work. Although I do have to admit, they are pretty out of date right now. Regardless, it is almost time for new rankings. Here is what I've been drinking lately. Last call!

Blue Hills Black Hops Beer, Score: 5
i love that they are tackling the Cascadian Dark Ale style. unfortunately there is an odd sourness that really doesn't belong.

Blue Hills Red Baron Ale, Score: 6

Brasserie Dupont Foret, Score: 7
a good saision, but i've had better for cheaper...

Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale, Score: 7

Full Sail Wreck the Halls, Score: 8
sold as a west coast ipa meets a winter warmer. certainly the hops play a bigger role than any malts or spices -- a good thing mind you. i liked it.

Great Divide Hibernation Ale, Score: 6

Lakefront Pumpkin Lager Beer, Score: 4

Rising Tide Ishmael, Score: 6
a new maine brewer! got to say though, i thought it was a little overpriced ($6 for a bomber) being a new beer and all. i didn't like the initial aroma, which one beeradvocate user accurately identified as closest to tobacco. i warmed too this beer as i drank though and am looking forward to their next offering.

Rogue Chatoe First Growth Wet Hop Ale, Score: 7

Sierra Nevada Estate, Score: 9

Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA, Score: 5
the "e" in emperial should give it away, but this is a Double IPA in the English style. points for uniqueness, but the hops tasted almost stale to me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Drinking on the Phoenix

While the blog may have been quiet for the past couple of months, the articles for The Providence Phoenix have kept coming. Here are some of the new beers that I've reviewed for these articles:

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, Score: 5

Berkshire Oktoberfest Lager, Score: 7
an oktoberfest that pushes the limits in terms of alcohol and style, but i like it.

Berkshire "Shabadoo" Black and Tan Ale, Score: 6
my favorite bottled Black & Tan.

Berkshire Sour / Imperial Stout Blend, Score: 10
one of the most creative, most exciting beers i have had in some time.

Clipper City Heavy Seas Märzen, Score: 5

Coney Island Freaktoberfest, Score: 5
a brash beer with a clever name... we wouldn't expect anything else from the makers of He'Brew Jewbelation!

Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest, Score: 7
probably my favorite german oktoberfest.

Left Hand Oktoberfest, Score: 5

Mississippi Mud, Score: 4
not the finest beer ever made, but its a lot of fun to drink out of this pseudo-moonshine jug.

Paulaner Oktoberfest- Märzen, Score: 6

Portsmouth Octoberfest, Score: 7

Saranac Black and Tan, Score: 4
watery, dull.

Southern Tier Unearthly, Score: 9

Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur- Märzen, Score: 4

Thomas Hooker Octoberfest Lager, Score: 6
another unusual oktoberfest with 6.1% abv, medium bodied, and decent hopping.

Weihenstephaner Festbier, Score: 7
very bitter for an oktoberfest... and not in a bad way.

Yuengling Black and Tan, Score: 5

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ProPho: Beer: It's what's for breakfast

Good morning!
By JOSH SMITH December 1, 2010

Breakfast beers aren't for everyone. People will think you have a problem. But we aren't talking about a hair-of-the-dog here — we're drinking beer because it goes great with breakfast!

Beer belongs at the breakfast table for several reasons. For starters, whenever talking about food and beer pairings, you should start by seeking out complementary flavors. Indeed, many of beer's flavors are also present at breakfast; the most prominent being coffee, grains, and fruit.

Furthermore, the malted barley in beer makes for a hearty, carbo-loaded beverage to get your day off on the right foot. Of course, you don't want too much alcohol to start the day, so reasonable Alcohol By Volume (ABV) levels or small quantities are a must when trying to find the perfect breakfast beer.

As with anything, breakfast beer is ultimately a matter of individual taste. That said, certainly some styles of beer work better in this situation than others. I've always thought the dark, heavy, coffee-flavored breakfast stouts and porters fit best. These darker styles substitute perfectly for coffee alongside eggs, breakfast meats, pancakes, French toast, oatmeal, or, my personal favorite, biscuits and gravy.

That said, lambics, fruit beers, and wheat beers can also work. If opting for a lighter breakfast of fruit, yogurt, bagels, or pastries, you're better off going with a lighter beer as well. Each of these styles offers some sweetness and liveliness that are sure to brighten your day.

I am not advocating for my readers to start boozing it up before work each day. But on a weekend (especially as temperatures drop), one of these 10 breakfast beers can really add something to your morning.

10) BALLAST POINT'S VICTORY AT SEA COFFEE VANILLA IMPERIAL PORTER is one of the beers on the list that I've already tried out as a breakfast beer. Moving a friend one cool, fall morning, the vanilla flavor in this imperial porter really stood out . . . and paired nicely with a stack of pancakes.

9) NEWPORT STORM'S RHODE ISLAND BLUEBERRY is a solid fruit beer, and a nod to the fact that the style — while not my favorite — can go well with certain breakfasts.

8) GREAT DIVIDE ESPRESSO OAK AGED YETI IMPERIAL STOUT is the most ambitious beer on this list. With 9.5% ABV and intimidatingly dark pour that most closely resembles motor oil, this is a beer best shared.

7) GOOSE ISLAND 312 URBAN WHEAT worked nicely one morning at a bar outside of Fenway Park while waiting for the game. This wheat beer has a floral hoppiness, light lemony taste, and is exceptionally easy to drink.

6) DOGFISH HEAD FESTINA PÊCHE isn't my favorite Berliner Weiss, but is the only widely available version of a style that demands a seat at the breakfast table. Both sour and sweet, Berliner Weiss is a fun style that would nicely wash down most any breakfast.

5) REDHOOK DOUBLE BLACK STOUT (WITH COFFEE) is easily the best beer I've had from this regional brewer. Coffee flavor is joined by a sweet nuttiness and hint of vanilla.

4) LINDEMANS KRIEK LAMBIC adds black cherries to create a pleasantly sour brew. Most of you are probably most familiar with Lindemans for their FRAMBOISE, but this is a far more refined, drinkable beer.

3) MIKKELLER BEER GEEK BREAKFAST is an awesomely named Imperial Stout from Denmark. Dark roasted flavor is offset by a lively bitterness. It's worth noting that there's also a smoked version of this beer called BEER GEEK BACON! Pretty awesome idea.

2) BRASSERIE DIEU DU CIEL PECHE MORTEL deserves consideration as the ultimate breakfast beer. Plenty of coffee here, from a rich java smell to a sharp, burnt coffee flavor. Complex and balanced, this is a joy to drink any hour of the day.

1) FOUNDERS BREAKFAST STOUT ultimately is too good to pass up for the top spot. Coffee is present from start to finish, plus other breakfast-friendly ingredients like molasses and flaked oats. It's the velvety creaminess that makes this such a great fit with breakfast. So summon up some self-confidence and pour yourself a beer with breakfast!

Friday, December 3, 2010

ProPho: Time for thanks

Giving beer a place at the table
By JOSH SMITH November 17, 2010

The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock nearly 400 years ago, shortly after running out of beer. Certainly beer was consumed the following year at the first Thanksgiving. So surely beer belongs at your own table this Thanksgiving!

But which one . . . or ones? Anyone who has walked into a package store lately understands this won't be an easy decision — the past few years the market has been absolutely flooded with quality craft beer from all over the world! (It's one of those good kind of problems.) The feast that is Thanksgiving isn't an especially easy meal to choose pairings for either. With so many different flavors present, you could go in a lot of different directions. Fortunately, beer is incredibly versatile and really quite easy to pair with food.

The general rule of thumb is that lighter foods require lighter beers, and heavier foods need something a little darker. (That said, sometimes it may be more appropriate to contrast flavors, highlighting the opposing characteristics in each.) Hoppy beers are more appropriate with bold or spicy dishes, so don't really work with the sweet and earthy nature of most Thanksgiving staples.

Now if your family is anything like my own, there is going to be so much fantastic food that you won't want to fill up on beer. For that reason, I recommend shying away from malty amber's and those few remaining Oktoberfest's. Also, I'm looking for beers that are fairly accessible since family gatherings are the perfect opportunity to win over new craft beer converts! While SIERRA NEVADA'S BIGFOOT BARLEYWINE STYLE ALE might go well with dessert, its intense nature is sure to scare away whoever you are sharing the bottle with. Beer is a great thing to socialize with and bond over, so be sure to bring enough to share.

So let's get to it. Personally, I'm planning on bringing three different beers with me to Thanksgiving, one for each segment of the meal. For starters, you'll want a light but flavorful beer to go with appetizers. A Belgian Pale Ale like DUVEL fits this description perfectly. Easily one of my five all-time favorite beers, Duvel is crisp, fruity, yeasty, and has a depth few can rival. This is certain to be a crowd pleaser. If Duvel's hefty price tag makes you hesitate, a hoppy pilsner like VICTORY'S PRIMA PILS makes a very suitable (and very sessionable) replacement.

Far more difficult is selecting a beer that goes with turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes (both regular and sweet), cranberry sauce, and all those other family favorite dishes. Conventional wisdom says to play it safe and complement the subtle nature of these dishes with a beer of the malty persuasion. I would recommend, rather fittingly, MAYFLOWER'S THANKSGIVING ALE. Now when I first saw this beer on the shelves it seemed a little gimmicky, but it does earn its title! With caramel and nutty malts and a hint of vanilla there is a delicateness and depth to this beer that complements the meal very nicely.

Ultimately though, Belgian beers work best given their high alcohol levels and renowned complexity. Alcohol does a good job cutting through fatty meats and starchy vegetables, and the beers ranging flavors are able to find a companion somewhere in the Thanksgiving smorgasbord. Take OMMEGANG'S ABBEY ALE. This superb Dubbel boasts a sweet, malty backbone, a robust 8.5% ABV, and flavors ranging from toffee to dried fruit to cinnamon. Slightly more approachable for the novice beer drinker might be a fruity and refreshing Farmhouse Ale, like SAISON DUPONT. And Duvel would be perfectly suitable here as well. When it comes to Belgian beer, you can't go wrong!

Dessert again presents a number of options: Stout, Porter, Fruit Beer, Lambic, Barleywine, or Winter Warmer come to mind. Dark beers go over well in my family, so I am probably going to bring the tasty YOUNG'S DOUBLE CHOCOLATE STOUT or STONE's bold IMPERIAL RUSSIAN STOUT. On the other hand, it's hard to beat pairing your pumpkin pie with SOUTHERN TIER's perfectly spiced PUMKING. There are some hard decisions to be made this Thanksgiving, but as long as you choose beer it should be an enjoyable holiday.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ProPho: Excellent exbeeriments: The wonderful world of beer blends

Black and Tan and you
By JOSH SMITH November 3, 2010

It is possible go into virtually any bar and order a Black and Tan. And if recent growth continues, soon it may not be the only blended beer available.

In the ever-expanding universe of craft beer, the practice of blending two or more beers together is currently experiencing a renaissance. Of course, bartenders and brewers have been blending beer for centuries. In Belgium, Gueuze style beers have always been created by combining and refermenting old and young Lambics. The first Black and Tans popped up as early as the 18th century, with pub goers ordering a mix of dark and light beers.

Contrary to popular belief, Black and Tans did not originate in Ireland, but in England. (In fact, the term Black and Tan has a very negative connotation in Ireland since that was the same name of a British force that once terrorized the country.) Typically, 50 percent of stout or porter is mixed with 50 percent of bitter, pale ale, or pale lager, producing a flavorful, yet easy-drinking session beer. By far the most common version involves GUINNESS DRAUGHT and BASS PALE ALE.

While most countries simply mix the beers together, in the United States Black and Tans are carefully separated. You start by vigorously pouring half of the Bass into a pint glass (producing a sizeable head will help to separate the beers.) Next, hold a spoon over the glass and flip it upside-down, pouring half of the Guinness slowly over the bottom-side of the spoon. If you are careful not to disturb the "tan" on the bottom, the "black" should layer distinctly on top, giving you a beautiful Black and Tan!

Obviously, some science is at work here. Although it may not look like it, Bass and most other Pale Ales actually have a higher specific gravity (or in non-home-brewing-terms, weight) than Guinness. Guinness' low gravity makes countless other layered blends possible, including "Half and Half" (Guinness and Harp), "Black Castle" (Guinness and Newcastle), "Black Smith" (Guinness and Smithwick's), and "Black and Blue" (Guinness and Blue Moon).

If a bartender can dream up these beers, so can you! I have conducted several exbeeriments (thank you, thank you) with varying success with several of my favorite Stouts and IPAs. Instead of Blue Moon, I've also tried a "Black and Blue" that substituted SEA DOG BLUE PAW WHEAT ALE. That didn't work for me. What did work was a "Black and Red:" Guinness and LINDEMAN'S FRAMBOISE, a raspberry lambic; 20 percent Framboise is more than enough to give this old favorite a sweet new twist.

Not surprisingly, several brewers have attempted to capitalize on the popularity of Black and Tans with bottled versions. YUENGLING BLACK AND TAN is the most visible example, a mixture of their porter and traditional lager. Like many of the bottled Black and Tans, the darker beer dominates and this ends up feeling like a watery porter. MISSISSIPPI MUD is also porter and pilsner, but the most interesting part of this beer is the gimmicky moonshine jug that it comes in. In fact, the only decent bottled Black and Tan that I've had was BERKSHIRE'S "SHABADOO" BLACK AND TAN ALE. Roasted malts, an edge of bitter hops, 6.3% ABV, creamy mouthfeel, drinkability — this beer has it all!

Another favorite bottled beer blend is OLDE BURNSIDE'S DIRTY PENNY, 60 percent Scottish Ale and 40 percent Stout. The result is a unique, sweet brew that is shockingly sessionable. OMMEGANG'S THREE PHILOSOPHERS mixes their quadruple with Lindeman's Kriek to create an unusually strong, dark beer with an exceptionally sour finish. Add in the launch of new blended beers from several elite California brewers — Russian River, Lagunitas, and Firestone Walker included — and a trend is clearly at hand.

Some more traditional beer geeks may cringe at this seeming disregard for the integrity of a brewer's creation. But remember, craft beer is supposed to be fun and innovative! As craft beer grows more sophisticated, enthusiasts must constantly be on guard against the snobbery that plagues some wine drinking circles. So grab a couple your favorite beers and give blending a whirl tonight. You never know what your exbeeriment might produce!