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 RateBeer.com 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: Beernews.org 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 box...so 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.