Last year I wrote a couple posts regarding St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not a fan of this day for a few reasons that I won’t bother going into because it really doesn’t matter. This year, I’m writing to ask you to drink better beer, not only today, but everyday. Continue reading Drink Better Beer (today and everyday)
I shouldn’t have to even write any of this, but I think it needs to be said. I’ve been drinking beer for quite some time now. I wasn’t one of those people who started off with the flavorless yellow beer known to most people as American Macro (though Beer Advocate politically correctly changed it to “adjunct”) Lager. I actually started off drinking Sam Adams and Pete’s Wicked back when Pete’s was independent and an excellent brewery (I do miss them, they made a killer brown ale). I would occasionally drink the cheap stuff when I was at parties and that’s all there was. Then I switched to a phase of my life where I would refuse beer if it wasn’t craft. I’m now at the point where I just want beer and will drink it. Continue reading Don’t Compromise on the Beer
… and you know what that means, right?
If you guess a bunch of idiots will get drunk over some fake holiday, you’re correct. Everyone is not Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. If you wanna get drunk, go for it, but at least do it on actual Irish beer or beer brewed in the proper style. Here’s a little guide to help you decide what to drink and what not to drink.
First, here’s a little info on the two major Irish beer styles.
Irish Dry Stout – You see the word “stout” and automatically think Guinness. Yes, Guinness is a stout, but it’s a certain type of stout (there are multiple). Irish Dry Stout was basically brought over to Ireland from England. It’s not an originally Irish beer style but it has become synonymous with Irish beer. Irish Dry Stouts tend to be a bit drier in flavor. They’re usually lower in alcohol (between 4 and 5% ABV). You’ll notice some slight roasted flavors, a little cocoa, and some coffee. No, coffee and/or cocoa are not added to the beer. These are flavors given off by the dark roasted malts used to brew the beer. When the uninitiated think “stout”, they think “bitter”. These are not bitter beers in the grand scheme of things, though they might be bitter compared to Bud Light.
Irish Red Ale – This style is lesser known. You’ve heard of Killian’s Irish Red. That’s not an Irish Red Ale. Heck, it’s not even an ale. But a real Irish Red Ale is a lighter beer. It actually is a bit red in color, though it’s really more of a deep, dark amber that gives it that red-looking color. The beer tends to be a bit sweeter, though, again, if you’re used to Bud Light, it’s going to be bitter. It’s definitely sweeter than the stout and not quite as dry. The flavor should have a slight hint of hops to it, and be mostly malt. It may have a slight toasted quality to it. This is my pick for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, if I celebrated.
Now here’s a little guide to the beers you’ll come across (obviously written more from a New Englander’s perspective) and what you should and should not drink to properly celebrate this “special” day.
Killian’s Irish Red – Don’t drink it. Why? Because it’s not Irish. Oh, but Killian is an Irish name, right? Sure, that may be true, but it’s brewed by Coors and was never an Irish beer. But it’s still an Irish style of beer, right? Wrong. It’s a lager… a pretty crappy one at that. It pretends to be an Irish Red Ale, an actual style of beer that happens to be pretty tasty when made properly. This is not an Irish Red Ale. If you’re going to drink crappy lagers, at least drink a crappy Irish lager, like Harp.
Harpoon Celtic Ale – Drink it. Why? Because it’s tasty. This one actually is an Irish Red Ale. It’s also brewed in Boston, a city known for being very Irish. Support your local-ish brewery and drink a real Irish Red (even if it’s not from Ireland).
Guinness Draught – I’m gonna catch some flack for this one, but don’t drink it. Why? Because it’s not that good, and you wanna be original, right? If you’re gonna drink a Guinness, make it an Extra Stout. You know the beer. It’s the one that comes in the normal bottle without the widget that releases nitrogen. It’s the better of the Guinness stouts that are available in the US, and it’s actually quite good. But if you really want that smooth creamy feeling of the nitrogen, keep reading.
Beamish Irish Stout – Drink it. Beamish is a lesser known cousin to Guinness. It’s still an Irish Dry Stout, but it has a whole lot more flavor to it. The only problem with Beamish is that it’s harder to find either on tap or even in the big nitro-cans. But if you find it, drink it. It’s tasty with some nice chocolate and roasted coffee flavors (they’re not strong and over-powering, but just right). The beer is smooth and creamy and the best of what I call the “Big 3 Irish Stouts”. In Providence, I’ve seen it on tap at Local 121, but I haven’t been there in a while.
Murphy’s Irish Stout – Drink it. Murphy’s is probably the second most well known of the “Big 3” and, in my opinion, the second tastiest. It’s easier to find than Beamish, though still not quite as easy to find as Guinness. If you’re in Providence, Murphy’s Deli downtown usually has this on tap.
Murphy’s Irish Red – Drink it. Coming from an Irish brewery and being an Irish Red Ale, it’s one of the most authentic Irish beers you’ll come across. Enjoy this one.
Smithwick’s – Drink it. Again, this is an Irish Red Ale, though a very dark version of one. Also, this beer is not pronounced like it looks. Say “Smidick’s” and you’ll be pretty close to the proper pronunciation. This one is brewed by the same people who make Guinness and Harp Lager (that’s right, Guinness is no longer an independent company). If your choice is this or Guinness, make it Smithwick’s.
Harp Lager – Toss up. I’m not a fan of Harp. It’s an Irish beer, but it’s not an Irish style. It’s a lighter lager and lacks much flavor. If you need to drink a lager because you can’t stand the bold flavors of an ale (and trust me, the beers I’m listing aren’t overly bold in flavor, but more nuanced), drink it. If you want to drink real Irish beer, go with an Irish Red Ale.
Samuel Adams Irish Red – Drink it. This is a quality Irish Red Ale from one of the best known breweries in the country. It’s brewed to style, it’s inexpensive, and it’s also somewhat local.
O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale – Drink it. This is another example of an Irish Red Ale that’s actually from Ireland.
O’Hara’s Irish Stout – Drink it. This is an Irish Dry Stout from Ireland. It’s tasty, though not as good as Beamish or Murphy’s.
I’m sure I’m missing a whole ton of other beers from around the world, but this is my blog and my guide, and I admitted it’s very New England-centric. Whatever you do, have a safe St. Patrick’s Day, and try to break from the norm. Try something different. It might just surprise you.
You may have noticed that there are some pumpkin beers and oktoberfests already out on the shelves of your favorite liquor store or place to buy beer. Southern Tier released their Pumking in July. I don’t know about you, but even though I’m not one to care about what kind of beer I drink in certain seasons, pumpkin beers aren’t something I want in the summer. The spices and flavors just don’t go well with 90 degree weather. I imagine I’m not the only one that feels this way. Victory just announced via Twitter that they’re Festbier will be released in a week or so. Naturally, I asked them why they’re releasing it so early. Their response was that it’s refreshing and easy drinking and this will allow it to reach more markets in time for the season. That’s a valid response. In fact, it’s pretty hard to argue with that. Victory and Southern Tier aren’t the only culprits with the seasonal creep. Boston Beer Co., brewers of the Samuel Adams line of beers, is one of the worst (though they’re hardly as bad as Southern Tier this year, maybe they’ve learned their lesson). I’ve seen their Summer Ale released in March/April. I don’t know who they’re going after, but March in New England still brings quite a bit of snow. April isn’t necessarily a whole lot warmer
What about freshness? If they’re brewing these seasonal beers early to get them to market early, what happens with the freshness of these beers? People don’t want to drink pumpkin beers and oktoberfests in the summer. At the same time, people don’t want to drink beer that’s been sitting around for 2 months either. I know the real reason these breweries are releasing their seasonals early is to make as much money off them as possible. After all, what doesn’t sell hurts their bottom line. I can’t argue with that either. I mean, breweries need to make money to stay in business. I have no problem with that. My problem is using old beer (now 2 months is hardly old, but there’s nothing like fresh beer) to do this. It creates an artificial demand for the limited seasonals. People see them on the shelves and need to buy them. The problem is, it’s August. It’s 90 degrees outside. Humidity is high. People want to go to the beach. They’re not going to be drinking a 9% ABV pumpkin beer. Most people want something lighter, something more refreshing. Granted, Victory’s Festbier fits that bill. Oktoberfests traditionally aren’t strong and don’t have big bold flavors. It’s the little nuances that give a good oktoberfest its flavor. They can be consider refreshing, and it’s a little understandable why Victory is doing this (though it’s mainly for their bottom line).
I get disappointed when some of the better summer beers are sold out long before summer’s end. I also get disappointed when October hits and all the good oktoberfests are gone (granted, Oktoberfest in Germany starts in late September). I like these types of beers to last through Thanksgiving. They make for great beers to pair with a New England Thanksgiving dinner. Summer doesn’t end until late September and Winter doesn’t start until late December. I can understand using the “Polish seasons” (as a teacher in high school used to call them) with fall starting September 1, winter starting December 1, spring starting March 1, and summer starting June 1. That’s fine with me. But hold onto those seasonals until the seasons (Polish or actual) truly start.
So what can we do to put an end to the seasonal creep? For starters, don’t fall for the hype of the seasonals hitting the shelves. Wait until you really want to be drinking that type of beer to buy them. This will cause your local liquor stores (or places that sell beer) to keep them off the shelves, or better yet, not order them from the distributor, until the season actually hits. When the distributors start seeing a buildup of the seasonals because no one wants them out of season, they’ll stop buying them from the breweries until the time is right. And you know what happens next… the breweries will stop brewing the seasonals so early.
Another thing you can do is to write to your favorite breweries. Explain to them that you want their summer beers to last through the end of summer. Tell them you want to see them on the shelves in late August so you can stock up on them for your Labor Day BBQ. Brewers tend to listen to their customers. It’s a tough business and if they lose sales, they’ll have to change their ways to keep going. I’m not telling you to threaten them with a boycott. That’s going too far. We still want them to exist. After all, we love their beer. We just want them to release their seasonal beer in a sane manner and keep it in season.
I understand that oktoberfests are a tough one. They have the shortest season. People tend not to want to buy oktoberfests after Halloween. Pumpkin beers have a little longer season, assuming breweries don’t name them after holidays (I know Gritty’s Halloween Ale is an ESB, not a pumpkin beer, but it’s tied to a single holiday) or use holiday-specific artwork (I’m looking at you Shipyard Pumpkinhead). If they changed the way they market these beers or even the branding of them, the beers will sell through November. Pumpkin pie is a staple dessert for Thanksgiving. It’s funny because pumpkin beers tend to taste like pumpkin pie.
So to all your brewers out there… Please stop releasing your seasonals earlier and earlier. I don’t want to start seeing summer beer released in February or pumpkin beers released in May.
I’ve had some aged beers recently and thought I might write a little about them. I will add that my beer closet is the perfect temperature. I put a thermometer in there and the temperature is always between 46 and 53. I couldn’t ask for a better place to keep beer. I just hope it doesn’t get much higher than 60 in the summer, though I don’t expect it to except on really hot days.
Tonight, I had Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout from Bluegrass Brewing. I happened upon these at Coastal Wine& Spirits in Branford, CT. I picked up a 4 pack because it sounded good, and was a 2006 bottling. With almost 3 years on the bottle, I have to say it was pretty good. It wasn’t mind-blowingly awesome, but it was good. I’m not a big fan of hot bourbon flavor in my beer, this had just enough. I think it was the stout part of it that didn’t do much for me. Regardless, it was worth buying the 4 pack. I gave 1 away as a gift and I’ve got 2 more. They’re tasty, but nothing special.
I have also recently had a Great Divide Hibernation Ale from last winter. It aged nicely, but seemed a bit lacking. I don’t know if they just need more age, but it had a bit more flavor fresh. I’ve got a couple more in the cellar. I’ll have to try another and decide if I really like it or not.
I also got to try the most recent Sam Adams Utopias, from 2007 I believe. This is one amazing beer. It’s different and nothing like a beer, but it’s still a beer. Lots of fruit flavors, like cherry, some maple, a little burn from the alcohol (no surprise, at 25%). Each sip had something different going on. Next time they release this, I’m picking up a bottle.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about beer. I’ll get myself back into it with a former standby (and probably soon to become my current standby). As some of you may know (since I posted about it), I just bought a house and moved. I picked up a 6 pack of Sam Adams Boston Ale to help me get through the move. I used to drink this beer a lot. It’s one of my favorites of the Sam Adams lineup. I had forgotten how much I liked this beer.
It pours a nice amber copper color with a nice 1-2 finger foamy white head. It smells of a nice balance of citrus hops and sweet malts. The beer has ample carbonation present. It’s a very smooth beer for an ale. In fact, it has many characteristics of the Boston Lager, though it tends to be less crisp than the lager. It’s got a nice flavor, again that balance of the hops and malts. It has more of an American or English taste from the hops (as opposed to German, like the lager), but the malt perfectly balances the bitterness, giving it a nice flavor with a little caramel and even a very slight nuttiness. This is one of the easiest drinking full flavored, full bodied ales I have had. It still remains among my favorites from the Sam Adams lineup and even among my favorite session beers.
If you have yet to try it, you need to. It’s good. Sure, it’s Sam Adams, an “everyday” brand of beer, but it’s good. If I could only have one beer in my fridge, this would be a contender.
For the past few years, Boston Beer Co., brewers of Samuel Adams beer, have been holding a Beer Lover’s Choice promotion. They brew 2 beers they’ve never brewed before and hold tasting events at bars, restaurants, and liquor stores throughout the country. At the event, the customers get to try the 2 beers and then vote on which one they liked best. This is how they chose to brew their Irish Red Ale, Brown Ale, and Honey Porter. The current 2 couldn’t be more different. There’s a Blackberry Witbier and a Coffee Stout, covering both ends of the spectrum. I went to the event at Nikki’s on Thursday and got to try them both for myself. The Coffee Stout is hands down the better of the 2 beers. However, after hanging out for a while, it became obvious to me that people who don’t like beer make up the majority of people voting. What is that supposed to mean, you ask? Well, that means that the Blackberry Witbier will be the next Sam Adams beer to hit the shelves. Unfortunately, a light fruity beer that doesn’t realy taste like beer is what most people want.
Now, I like a light, easy drinking fruity beer every now and then, but there are just too many on the shelves. There aren’t enough coffee stouts. In fact, there is only one stout in the Sam Adams lineup, their Cream Stout, which is pretty good. They could use another dark beer. This one was a great introductory coffee stout. It had a medium body, which was a little on the thin side, with a nice coffee/espresso/chocolate flavor to it that was really nice. Unfortunately, beer geeks like myself are in the minority. I can just sit back and hope for the best now. Maybe they’ll brew both. Unfortunately for Long Trail, if the Blackberry Witbier wins (which it will, I have no doubts about that), there will be some serious competition from another New England brewery for the blackberry wheat beer position. Long Trail’s Blackberry Wheat isn’t as good as this one (I’m not a huge fan of wheat beers or fruit beers, though I do enjoy both from time to time).
There’s also another part to this story. Sam Adams comes under fire from many beer geeks for not being a “craft” brewery. Sure, they might be too big to be considered craft, and many of their beers are designed to be more for the beer newbie. However, they do a lot for the industry and most of their beers are still extremely solid examples of their styles (with a couple that aren’t quite that good). Brewing the Blackberry Witbier will just be another notch against them for most beer geeks. If they brewed the Coffee Stout, I’m sure we’d see more geeks praising them. Anyway, it’s neither here nor there. I still have a lot of respect for Sam Adams beers and Jim Koch. I love the idea of this competition and I do enjoy a lot of their beers quite a bit.
I’ve seen a lot of comments on the Beer Advocate forums lately that totally bash Sam Adams beer for being bland and not really promoting better beer. I’ve seen things like “They just give someone a slightly better bland beer to move to from their very bland BMC”. For those not in the know, BMC stands for Budweiser, Miller, Coors… the 3 major macro-brewers in the USA, known for churning out watered down beer mixed with lots of adjuncts, like corn and rice, to lighten the flavor of the beer and reduce the cost of production to help maximize profits. Sorry for the slight tangent, this is about Sam Adams, not BMC. So some of these BA’s (Beer Advocates) think that Sam Adams does nothing for improving the quality of beer and helping the movement for better beer because they put out a large amount of beer and it’s pretty accessible beer.
Let’s start at the beginning. Back when Sam Adams first started, they were mainly a Boston area and New England brewery, but they were one of the first to really get in on the craft beer world. I lived with a step-father who liked beer in the early ’90s when craft beer first really caught on. He would drink lots of Rolling Rock (which was good, but went downhill) and used to like Pete’s Wicked (before they were bought up) because his name was Peter. I was introduced to Sam Adams through commercials and some friends in college who liked good beer. Eventually, these were the first 2 beers I really drank a lot and found myself not able to drink the cheaper macros. By this time, Sam Adams was available in most of the country, while most craft brews were available only locally or within the region (Harpoon, for example). Sam Adams continued to grow (and they have no choice but to do this as they are a publicly traded company). However, they never lost sight of why they started. Sure, Boston Lager isn’t a hop bomb with 100+ IBUs, but it’s a far cry from Budweiser. Sure, their other beers aren’t exceptional, but again, they’re accessible without being cheap and without the adjuncts (though I don’t know what went wrong with the Cranberry Lambic, that’s just nasty). What Sam Adams represents is accessible beer. They aren’t trying to be something they’re not. What Jim Koch represents is the ultimate champion for better beer. He truly believes in the craft beer revolution and it shows with their special beers and even in their commercials. While the big breweries are putting out commercials like “Miles away from ordinary” (Corona, anything but extraordinary) with images of beautiful beaches or beautiful women and silly man rules or even gimmicks like the label turning blue when it’s cold enough (because that kind of beer needs to be extra cold to taste good), Sam Adams puts out commercials with information on beer, on why they use the bottles they do, on hops and malt, and on how they actually buy back old beer so that the customer always gets the freshest beer possible. Sam Adams holds an annual homebrew competition, Long Shot. They challenged people to think differently when they thought “beer” with their Triple Bock and Utopias. Their latest, the Hallertau Imperial Pilsner, is not your standard beer either. While it’s not crazy like Utopias, it’s got a higher alcohol content and a bigger, more complex flavor than most of their other beers.
Don’t consider Sam Adams, Boston Beer Co., or Jim Koch to be anything but true advocates for great beer. They work hard getting people to try something different. Sure, they gave in and released a light beer. It’s nothing like Miller Lite or Bud Light (though I do admit it’s not as good as regular Boston Lager). Even with their light beer, though, they’re still pulling people away from tasteless beers and into a whole new world of better beer. After all, that’s what this whole craft beer revolution is about, isn’t it? The more people we convert to better beer, the more craft brewers will make (both beer and money). I raise my cup (of Hallertau Imperial Pilsner to be exact) to you Jim Koch and the Boston Beer Co. Thank you for bringing me to the world of craft beer and for your continued efforts advocating for better beer everywhere.
All I have to say about this beer is “WOW!”. Holy hops, Batman! While many beer snobs (as I prefer because they’re wrong on this one) think of bland and mediocre when they think of Sam Adams and Jim Koch, I tend not to think that way. I think the start of the craft beer revolution in the USA. I think of a true advocate for better beer. I think of someone who likes to change the way people think about beer. Well, this one certain does just that. The Hallertau Imperial Pilsner (which is a very American style) is nothing like a regular pilsner (or pilsener). In fact, it’s very much like an IPA or a Double IPA.
The beer pours an orange amber color and is a bit cloudy with a good sized head that lingers for quite some time. In fact, it looks a whole lot like a good IPA. Don’t be confused though, it was made with bottom fermenting lager yeast. The smell is mostly citrusy, piney hops. That didn’t come as much of a surprise as it tastes mostly of hops, though the flavor stayed mostly piney with some spiciness to it. There was a slight malt sweetness to it, but the hops took over for most of the flavor. It wasn’t the most drinkable beer, mainly because of the huge hops bitterness, but also because of the heaviness. It felt like a heavy beer. At 8.8% ABV, I expected to taste a bit of the alcohol, but I didn’t notice it until I was finished. All in all, this was a great beer.
I drank it with dinner. I had a curry chicken meal that had a bit of a kick to it. This beer paired nicely as neither the beer nor the food flavors took over. If you’re used to “bland” Sam Adams beer, this is definitely worth a try. I was surprised that it was still considered a lager. I think I’ll write about my thoughts on Sam Adams next…
I like beer, as can be seen by some of my previous posts and by the tagline of this blog. I am lucky to have Nikki’s Liquors nearby to fill my craft beer needs. I recently picked up 2 mix-a-6’s from Nikki’s with a bunch of beers I haven’t tried (and a couple favorites). I’m going to write about 2 of them. If you can find these beers at a package store nearby, you should try them. One is widely available, the other, I’m not so sure.
Anchor Porter, pretty widely available, is perhaps the best porter I have tried. It’s nicely carbonated, thick black, and all roasted malt with a slight bitterness to it. It’s about as perfectly porter as you can get before it becomes a stout. The only other porter I’ve had that was this good was Smuttynose’s Robust Porter. It’s very similar in flavor and thickness, with less carbonation. Both are amazing porters, both are a must try.
Oskar Blues Old Chub is an awesome Scottish style ale. It has a very carmel-y malty roasted chocolate flavor to it. It almost tastes like it was aged in oak barrels as it has that nice oak/whiskey flavor to it. I’ve had only a couple Scottish ales previously (from Sam Adams and Trinity Brewhouse). I’ve liked all that I’ve tried and this one was definitely the best of the 3. If you can find it, buy some. Don’t be put off by the can that it comes in. Cans do not equate to macro piss beer. In this case, it equates to a nice tastey powerful brew. At 8% abv, this isn’t for the lightweights (though one wouldn’t hurt…).
As I go through the rest of the beers in the mix, I’ll write more about them. Just for reference, the first 2 before these 2 were New England Brewing’s Sea Hag IPA, which also came in a can and, while good, was just your average IPA, and Victory’s HopDevil Ale, which is one of my favorite IPA’s (second only to Great Divide’s Titan IPA with Haverhill Brewery’s Leatherlips IPA coming in at a very very close third). Needless to say, my favorite style is the almighty IPA. Yes, I am a hophead.