Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

There's a simple rule I like to try to follow when traveling: Drink Local. Whether you're out of town on business or on a family vacation, nothing beats being able to grab some fresh pints or bottles of whatever the local breweries have to offer, especially if said offerings are not available in your area.

I've had some great beers from breweries in Mississippi, Alabama, Nevada and beyond that I wouldn't find just about anywhere else and certainly not back at home in New Jersey. My opinion has always been that if I'm in say, Georgia, it's silly for me to spend my cash on stuff I can pick up any day of the week like Sam Adams or Anchor products when instead I can grab some beer from SweetWater Brewing Company out of Atlanta, which is not available in New that's exactly what I did.

First up was some 420 Extra Pale Ale, which SweetWater describes as a West Coast Style Pale Ale, so I guess means it'll be a bit hoppier..although wouldn't that just make it an IPA? Let's find out:

It pours from the tap with a fairly watery, copper color with barely any head retention and no residue left on the glass. Typically average overall and not a great first impression for this one.

The aroma is a bit better with sweet caramel notes blending with floral hops. This carries over into the flavor and some biscuit-y bread notes start to shine through a bit here as well. I'd say we're still stuck on simple here, which wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't combined with average. Sierra Nevada does simple with their regular year round lineup but does so with bigger, bolder flavor, so the simple part of the equation works. The 420 Extra Pale Ale, on the other hand, just sort of sits there.

I thought this one was just too bland and easily gets lost in the sea of pale ales that are available in the market today. I'd probably pass on it in the future unless it was sitting amongst a Bud, Heineken and Corona lineup as my only craft option. I wouldn't mind having one's just doesn't do anything for me.

So, you're probably thinking to yourself that I tell you to drink local and then with the first local beer I mention basically say it wasn't anything what gives? Well, you're certainly not going to fall in love with every beer you try, and for every one you do try that may be mediocre, the next might blow you out of the water, which was pretty much the case for me with the SweetWater IPA.

I can't say enough about this IPA. It's incredibly easy to drink, has a full flavor and aroma that throws sweet caramel, pine, pepper, grapefruit, rugged earthiness and more at you, all while remaining balanced but with a definite nod to the hops as should be the case with any IPA.

Even the appearance was spot on, withe a creamy head atop the copper liquid body and lots of soapy residue left on the glass after each sip.

Again, I enjoyed every sip of every pint of this IPA that I had and it quickly shot to the top of my list of favorite IPA's, along with the likes of Bell's Two Hearted Ale and Smuttynose IPA. It reminded me a bit of a hoppier, IPA-d out version of the Troegs HopBack Amber. This one is just uber-enjoyable. I wish SweetWater distributed in New Jersey, because their IPA would be a staple in my fridge. If you're in Georgia, make it a point to find and enjoy as many pints of this stuff as you can...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Abita Asks Beer Lovers to "Save Our Shore"

In the first high profile move that I've seen within the craft beer industry to support the Gulf Coast communities affected by the BP oil spill, Louisiana's Abita Brewing Company will soon be announcing it's plans to roll out Save Our Shore, a Charitable Pilsner where "75 cents of every bottle sold goes to the rescue and restoration of the environment, industry and individuals fighting to survive the disastrous Gulf oil spill."

As for the beer itself, the label text continues that "this unfiltered Weizen Pils is made with Pilsner and Wheat malts. It is hopped and dry hopped with Sterling and German Perle hops. It has a brilliant gold color, a sweet malt flavor, and a pleasant bitterness and aroma." Check out the full label artwork below.

The ABV weighs in at 7.0% and bottles should begin hitting the shelves sometime in July.

Abita gets a big thumbs up for it's efforts here, and it's not the first time they've done something like this. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005, Abita brewed and released Restoration Pale Ale to help the recovery efforts of New Orleans and the surrounding area.

I would challenge all production breweries to incorporate a special release beer into their lineups that has a portion of it's proceeds donated back to charity. It doesn't and shouldn't have to be for major events like the oil spill either: giving back to medical, educational and athletic programs on the local or regional levels is just as important and necessary. I know that most craft breweries aren't exactly cash cows when it comes to overall profit and cash flow, but donating back with just one beer for just one cause would be a great thing to see.

As it stands now, this spill obviously hits close to home for the Abita family and I'd urge everyone to pick up a few bottles when they spot them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another New Magic Hat Seasonal? Hex Ourtoberfest Arrives This Fall

This one's been out there for a while via the TTB COLAs Online site, but I did a Google search and scoured some of the more popular blogs that uncover this sort of thing and found nothing on it: Magic Hat, the craft brewing industry's unofficial king of lineup changes, is getting ready to introduce Hex as a new fall seasonal for 2010.

Not much information can be found on this beer as of yet, but if and when I receive an update from Magic Hat or elsewhere this post will be updated accordingly. Right now, it looks like it's coming in at 5.4% ABV and will be available in 12 ounce and 22 ounce bottles. I do know that it was poured this past weekend at BeerAdvocate's American Craft Beer Beer Fest in Boston and that has it listed as an American Pale Ale, but with no reviews on the latter thus far it seems as if that style tag is a best guess at this point. All that the label notes is "Ourtoberfest," which doesn't help much in terms of style but does seem to suggest that there will be a typical Magic Hat twist with this one.

Hopefully this doesn't mean that Roxy Rolles, the current Fall Seasonal, has fallen into Magic Hat's ever growing pool of axed beers, as it is one of my favorite offerings from them and seems to be a fan favorite as well, but with these guys you never know.

Stay tuned for more info when it become available...

2010-07-13 UPDATE: confirms via a MH distribution rep that Roxy Rolles has indeed been replaced by Hex Ourtoberfest. I guess MH never got around to replying to my email inquiry. You can also see the beer's specs there as well, via the official MH website.

2010-07-13 UPDATE #2: I just checked my email to see when I sent the inquiry to MH so that I could post here and rip them for not responding, but noticed the email was sitting in my Draft box rather than Sent they never responded because I never sent it. Oops. My fault. NOT MH's, and they did not ignore me in any way.

Ain't No Sunshine

Florida is known for a lot of things: beaches, alligators, the Golden Girls...but beer is not one of them. Sure, there have been some acclaimed breweries to open in the Sunshine State over the past couple of years (Saint Somewhere in Tarpon Springs and Cigar City in Tampa come to mind. Hmm, maybe you just need to be in the Tampa Bay area to brew good beer here), but by and large Florida has always been sort of a beer wasteland, and it kind of makes sense. The state's primary industry is tourism and most folks heading down for a nice, tropical vacation don't have an Imperial Stout or a hoppy IPA on the brain.

The other craft beer issue in Florida is simply finding the stuff, be it anything brewed within the state or beyond. Walk into your typical liquor store or supermarket (at least in the Orlando area), and you'll be greeted by a boatload of Bud, Miller, Coors and Corona. You might find a smattering of Samuel Adams products or maybe some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but more often than not that's just about it. So for my recent trip down there I knew the pickings would be slim, yet was semi-lucky enough to stumble upon a store that stocked some craft stuff, including locally brewed beers from the Florida Beer Company out of Melbourne, FL. Although I seemed to recall some lukewarm things at best about the brewery, I happily grabbed one six-pack each of the Key West Southernmost Wheat and the Hurricane Reef Pale Ale. Unfortunately, my cloudy memory turned out to be mostly right.

The Southernmost Wheat was up first and it actually starts out nice enough in both the aroma and flavor, with wheat notes blended with hints of lemon, lime, yeast and some sugary candy from the Belgian yeast. The problem begins at the end of each sip, which comes across as a bit too lime-y with even a bit of saltiness in the mix at times. Not awful, but certainly off-putting and it definitely took away from the overall flavor of the beer.

The next issue was the mouth feel. This one was light bodied, as it should be, but waaaay over-carbonated to the point that it was noticeable time and time again and made it seem at times as if you were sipping a Sprite and not a beer.

In the end I didn't hate this one as the flavor was pretty good for the most part, but the little things here and there as noted above made the Southernmost Wheat less than memorable and more of an average beer than I was hoping it'd be.

So, maybe the Hurricane Reef Pale Ale will be a little better, right? Wrong.

The only place where the Pale really excelled was the appearance, which came across as a nice looking, lighter bodied English Style Pale Ale with a decent copper color and a nice frothy head.

Flavor and aroma were downhill from there, coming across as average at best and at times worse than that: malty and biscuity with hints of grass, but there was an odd butter/rubber/perfume blend that jumped in here (and I've seen it in a few other beers too) that just seemed out of place. The base of the beer was pretty good but the mashup of other, odd/off flavors that were thrown into the mix really took this one down a few notches and made it a pedestrian beer overall that I just wasn't crazy about.

Sadly, I'd almost certainly pass on both of these beers on my next beer excursion in Florida, and they've left a bad (or at least bland) taste in my mouth for the Florida Beer Company as a whole. I love to drink local as often as I can when I travel, but will be looking elsewhere in the future.

Is Fat Tire the Next Sam Adams?

You would certainly think that Fat Tire, the wildly popular Amber Ale from Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Company, is on it's way to becoming the next Samuel Adams Boston Lager based on both how often and where I saw it available during a recent drive down to Florida.

Until recently, Fat Tire had been a mystery to much of the East Coast, almost like a craft brewed counterpart to Coors, which was similarly mysterious to and sought after by East Coasters 25-30 years or so ago. And while the Coors brand has been well entrenched nationwide in the world of macro beers for quite some time now, Fat Tire has been the little-craft-brewery-that-could, slowly crawling across the Mississippi River and finally finding it's way into some East Coast states within the past year or so.

North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia are amongst the latest states to fall under the Fat Tire distribution footprint, and while I did spot the beer here and there during a similar trip around this time last year, it's presence has grown amazingly since then: from bars and restaurants to packaged goods stores and even gas stations, Fat Tire is everywhere. On tap, in six packs, twelve packs and 22 ounce single bottles as well, the marketing blitz that this beer has made at the retail level is insane.

This is a great step for the overall availability and acceptance of craft beer and I hope that New Belgium continues to push Fat Tire further into more states with a strategic growth plan. That said, there's still a long road ahead.

Fat Tire is currently not available anywhere in the Northeast/New England regions, and both will be tough nuts to crack. Craft drinkers from these areas are not only typically fiercely loyal to the breweries from their respective regions, but are generally also more loyal than the rest of the country to the Samuel Adams brand as a whole, especially New England where there roots of the Boston Beer Company of course remain. And while it's neither a full on craft operation nor craft beer, Yuengling's Traditional Lager has a dominant hold on much of the "tweener" market in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Regardless, I think such a push can be successful, and they've got one huge advantage that the Sam Adams brand has intentionally ignored thus far: Fat Tire in cans.

Canned craft beer is making a huge push (nearly 100 American Craft breweries can their products now), and canned beer can be taken any number of places where glass bottles are neither allowed nor practical: music festivals, camping, fishing and the beach are just a handful of said places. Plus, by keeping out both light and oxygen, cans help to keep beer fresh for a longer period of time.

So, while New Belgium has got a long way to go before Fat Tire catches up with Sam Adams (and hell, maybe that's not even their intent, but it certainly seems like that's the long term goal), it's doing a bang up job now in the states that it does have distribution in, or at least the ones that I've been to. If you live in a state where Fat Tire is not yet available, keep your eyes peeled and shoot the brewery an email if you want to see it sooner rather than later. If you live in one of the newly added or long standing distribution states, keep on drinking that Fat Tire and help to make a better case for it's continued, successful growth.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Whether he is taking inspiration from a 2,700 year old Turkish recipe, brewing a beer using one ingredient from every continent on Earth or simply slipping a Golden Shower past the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales is always pushing the envelope in the world of craft beer. At Dogfish, what often starts out as a quirky, brainstorming project is still almost always done for the greater good and advancement of craft beer. Sure it's fun to take what many would call over-the-top risks, but doing so without purpose is just plain silly, and thankfully the Dogfish crew is constantly looking to provide the consumer something new and worthwhile to experience rather than just looking to generate some press with some zany, new concoction.

For Palo Santo Marron, an unfiltered Brown Ale aged on Palo Santo wood from Paraguay, Dogfish decided that they wanted a wood-aged and flavored beer yet did not want to take the typical bourbon barrel approach and in turn end up with the typical bourbon flavor that most of the breweries that experiment with barrel aging end up with, so what did they do? They built a 10,000 gallon wooden brewing vessel on-site at their Milton, Delaware facility specifically for the production of this 12.0% ABV beer. Said behemoth is claimed to be the largest wooden vessel of it's kind to built in America since pre-Prohibition.

So, what started out as a smaller scale, experimental project eventually turned into a large scale, year round beer worthy of it's own expensive-ass holding tank, and the results are absolutely fantastic.

The deep brown color of the liquid here is basically black and looks much like a porter or stout would. That, combined with a nice creamy tan head atop the body, makes for a very inviting beer.

A smorgasbord of awesome aromas then hit you head on: this one is boozy with bits of caramel, wood, semi-sweet chocolate, licorice and brown sugar...all of which are tied together by a bread vibe that creeps in throughout. The aromatics all carry though to the flavor where a nice bitterness comes out to play and blends with more burnt wood and roasted malt characteristics that didn't show up in the aroma very often, if at all. It's even a bit smoky here and there, with brown sugar and somewhat of a raisin bite seemingly carrying you through each sip. The finish is dry and quite harsh but fits perfectly here with the medium bodied, slick and somewhat hefty beer that most definitely has some hotness to it from the higher alcohol content. Great job.

Palo Santo Marron has quickly become arguably my favorite Dogfish Head beer. I've always been a big fan of their 90 Minute IPA, but I think this one may have surpassed it on originality and overall flavor and balance. It's absolutely a sipper, but a damn fine one at that and one that you'll certainly want more of once your glass is empty. Make it a point to try the Palo Santo Marron. Soon. Seriously. Get up, go to the store and get some. Now.

Hopback, beer, Dogfish Head, Delaware, Palo Santo Marron, Brown Ale, Sam Calagione, Paraguay

Thursday, May 6, 2010

She Grew Up in an Indiana Town...

I've always found it interesting that Chicago's most sought-after brewery is located in Indiana (and when I say sought-after, I'm not kidding: Three Floyds Brewing Company is amongst the most popular and most traded breweries in the America, and they also host Dark Lord Day, a once a year event that draws in thousands of beer lovers from all across the country, if not the world).

Founded in Hammond, Indiana in 1996, Three Floyds moved slightly south a few years later to it's current Munster, Indiana location and has been selling the crap out of it's beers from there ever since. Their beer used to be available in and around Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City some time ago, but with minimal brewing capacity, the brewery had to scale back it's distribution footprint and now focuses largely on the Chicagoland area while being available in Indiana and select parts of Wisconsin and Kentucky as well. Needless to say, limited availability plus insane popularity makes obtaining their beers outside of their home territory a difficult task, but I was able to get my hands on several bottles of their regular lineup not too long ago.

Gumballhead started things off and quite frankly it's a dangerously drinkable session ale. There's a very nice blend of citrus and pepper along with a juicy candy-like vibe mixing with a bit of bread in both the flavor and aroma. Juiciness shines through a bit more in the flavor. Wheat comes into play here and there but does not pop as much as you'd expect for an American Wheat Ale. It's not as simple as I remember it being in the past (not that it was ever simple), but I seem to recall it having much more of a wheat profile. This is an endlessly refreshing beer.

Pride and Joy takes the juiciness of Gumballhead, cranks it up a touch and adds a good dose of pine to the sweet candy and bread notes that are in the mix here as well. Pine and fruit sweetness is always a kick-ass combination for me, and there's no exception here. The flavor is juicy throughout and hops pack a punch but don't overpower. There's also a slightly burnt woodiness at the finish. This one is well balanced overall and again, highly drinkable. It's not a traditional Mild Ale by any means but it's a nice Americanized version of one and I'd take it any day of the week.

Three Floyds flagship beer, Alpha King, is a bigger take on the American Pale Ale style but is careful not to slip into "Imperial" territory. The aroma brings notes of caramel, pine, citrus, grass and pepper. Lots of hops, but again stays away from Imperial or even standard IPA territory. The flavor takes the reins from the aroma and hits you with pine and caramel up front, citrus in the middle and then more of a bitter, rugged finish that still holds a hint of sweetness.

Robert the Bruce stands out the most amongst the year round portfolio as it's the only real "dark" beer of the bunch and certainly the only one that leads the way with a malt-heavy flavor. Earth, darker berries and nuttiness is the theme of the aroma here, along with hints of juicy hops in the back. This carries into the flavor which has that rugged earthiness but maintains a healthy sweetness as well. It's a bit juicy and a bit smoky with some roasted malt at the finish. The medium body on this one is a bit slick and tough and just perfect for a Scottish Ale. Solid.

Finally we have what turned out to be a big disappointment for me: Dreadnaught. This beer is one of the highest profile beers that Three Floyds offers and consistently lands on lists of Top Beers in America and Top Beers in the World. It's a well respected, insanely popular and much loved beer...but I just don't get it. Don't get me wrong, it's okay, but it's no where near best-of-the-best level in my opinion. I've had scores of Imperial IPA's that were better.

It pours a clear light copper color with a surprisingly small sized head that is quick to dissolve. Interesting. Maybe the aroma will be better? Not really. It's got a pepper/sweet candy/citrus/wood thing going on with a hint of booziness, but everything is very faint and very tame. The flavor steps it up a bit by actually taking a slightly different direction: there are hints of smoke and tobacco here, along with more of an earthiness. Hoppy. Bitter. Dirty. Sweetness is definitely lacking. Citrus and pepper may come out in the middle on occasion. Pretty good flavor, but the overall experience is a bit lacking.

Again, I can't believe the hype around this one. I don't want to bash it as a bad beer because it's far from that, but it's just not memorable. Certainly not worth $10.00 or so per bottle. Sorry Dreadnaught.

The big winners here were the two beers I was expecting to enjoy the least: Robert the Bruce and Pride and Joy. Both are quite enjoyable all around. Alpha King and Gumballhead are very good as well, but I just preferred the others a bit more.

Give Three Floyds offerings a go if and when you can and while your at it, send me a few more bottles of Dreadnaught. I'm willing to give it another chance. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think so...

beer, Hopback, Three Floyds, Indiana, Chicago, Gumballhead, Pride and Joy, Alpha King, Robert the Bruce, Dreadnaught, Dark Lord Day

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Harpoon Continues Brewing Through Water Main Break

Harpoon Brewery maintained production at it's South Boston facility over the weekend despite a water main break on Saturday just west of the city that left more than two million people in the Boston metro area under orders to boil their tap water before consuming it.

Although the boil water order only ended as of today, Harpoon was able to keep production moving because they already boil their water via the brewing process each day for 70 minutes, which is 69 minutes longer than the one minute the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority recommended that citizens boil their own tap water.

Check out the NECN video for more:

Old Dirt Hill

First off, an apology to any Dave Matthews Band fans out there for using one of their worst songs off of their worst album for the title of this post. I know it sucks (although it has gotten better as it has evolved over the years) but it fit. DMB is from Charlottesville, Starr Hill was founded in Charlottesville (but has since moved to Crozet). Utterly cheesy I know, but you get the picture.

Anyway, I had been hearing good things about the Starr Hill Brewery for some time now, but despite the fact that the Virginia state border is only a three hour or so drive from my house (i.e. it's pretty damn close to New Jersey in the grand scheme of things), none of it's breweries distribute here. Needless to say, I was stoked when I came into possession of a six pack of their Northern Lights IPA, which was supposedly one of the highlights of their arsenal of beer. I'm happy to say it's pretty damn good stuff indeed.

For whatever reason, I tend to gloss over the appearance of most beers, but just can't do that here with Northern Lights. It looks friggin' fantastic, pouring an awesome hazy orange/copper color with a huge, pillowy head that has great retention to it. Once it settles in a nice, web-like residue pattern is left on the glass. This is just great looking stuff.

The flavor and aroma dial it back a notch from awesomeness of the appearance but are both still quite solid. Hops take the citrus route with more subtle grass and pepper notes coming into play as well, and a nice earthy maltiness balances things out yet still lets the hops lead the way. There's a bitter, biting pop from the hops throughout along with a toasted bread vibe at the end of each sip.

While this one is available year round and I could certainly drink it year round, there's just something about it that screams "Summer IPA" to me. I guess maybe it's that lighter, non-extreme feel that it's got to it, but this one would be perfect to knock back on the porch at the end of a hot summer day.

A relatively tame, more traditional IPA? Sure, but it's a solid one, and it's got me itching to try some more Starr Hill stuff, so a job well done.

beer, Hopback, Starr Hill, Charlottesville, Virginia, Northern Lights, IPA, India Pale Ale

Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's Hard to Be a Saint in the Citi

As a life-long Yankees fan, I've grown accustomed to the higher standards of baseball in the Bronx. At the same time, I've grown equally accustomed to watching their cross-town rival Mets screw the pooch 99.9% of the time. So, when both opened grandiose new stadiums last year it should have been a foregone conclusion as to which would be the nicer finished product, right? Wrong. Yankee Stadium is elegant indeed, but Ebbets...strike that, Citi Field takes the cake for the best stadium in Gotham.

And the best part (for me) about Citi Field? The beer selection. While you are for the most part stuck in a sea of Heineken and Nine Dollar Schlitz at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field has Big Apple Brews, a large-ish beer stand in the Taste of the City section of the ballpark that offers about 30 different beers from around the world. Want more? Three of the eateries (from Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group) in Taste of the City offer up specially brewed beer from the Brooklyn Brewery that are available only at said establishments.

First up is the Shackmeister Ale, a pale ale brewed for the Shake Shack, an uber-popular burger joint who's original location opened back in 2004 in Manhattan's Washington Square Park. Shackmeister comes in on the lighter side of things overall, from color to aroma to flavor, but that's not a bad thing here as you should be looking for an easier drinking beer to complement your burger and fries, not overpower them, and that's exactly what this beer accomplishes. There's an overall sweetness to it from some caramel malt blending with some floral, grassy, even candy-like flavors at times. Very easy to drink and again, a nice beer to pair with your burger which, if you didn't know already, you may have to wait 45 minutes or more in line to get one. Yep. Shake Shack is that popular and it's burgers are that good.

Next in line is what was for me both the highlight beer and far and away the best food I had at the ballpark. Hell, it's the best food I've had at any ballpark. I'm talking about El Verano Taqueria and their Sabroso Ale. Once you enter the gates at Citi Field make a mad dash to this stand and order the taco combo, which consists of a pork, chicken and steak taco and each one is fantastic. As for the Sabroso, I've seen it listed as a Pale Ale by a few different places but it struck me as more of an ESB. It's got a caramel, earthy malt vibe to it with floral and grassy hops balancing things out, along with a hint of citrus. I'd even say there's a slight bit of nuttiness at the bittersweet finish to this one, which comes in with a slightly creamy mouth feel overall. Great balance all around. I thought it went fantastically well with the spicy (but not overpowering) tacos.

Finally, we have Blue Smoke Original Ale brewed for the BBQ-themed Blue Smoke. I've heard great things about the original restaurant but wasn't terribly impressed with the pulled pork offered at the game. It was a bit dry and fairly bland overall. As for the Ale, I'd have to say that it's the least impressive of the three Brooklyn ales we're discussing today. That's not to say it's bad (it's not), but one of them has to come in last and well, the Blue Smoke Ale is it. The aroma and even the flavor are somewhat faint, with caramel and grass leading the way and providing a very mild but balanced base. There's a slight juiciness and a bit of a hop kick here as well, but again everything comes across as tame. It's almost like a lighter, less flavorful version of the Sabroso. I'd call this one slightly above average.

In the end, all three of these beers are fairly similar to one another but each one strays slightly from that similar base they all seem to have and that makes for definitively distinct beers. For me, the clear winner is the Sabroso, which by the way is the only one here that is truly unique to Citi Field. While you won't be able to run down to your corner store or bar to grab the Shackmeister or Blue Smoke, they are available at their restaurants' other locations in the city. As this is the only El Verano Taqueria in operation at the moment, it's your only option for the Sabroso Ale.

Kick-ass, wildly creative beers? Nope all around. Solid, flavorful beers that pair well with the styles of food with which they are sold? Absolutely.