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Monday, December 27, 2010

The BOTB Guys Dive into Saranac

Oh, brew me no brew with artifical bubbles,
Those carbonated beers of today;
But Utica Club will still take the trouble
To age beer the natural way.

Okay, so if you can jump right in and sing along with the above then I'm guessing you're on AARP's mailing list. No doubt you also remember good old Schultz and Dooley, the talking beer steins voice by Jonathan Winters, who pitched Utica Club beer in a long-running series of TV spots. Sort of the Geico Gecko of their time. 

(Check out those cans at the top of the page. When is some brewer going to bring them back? They look like old style oil cans, so you could see a sort of engine-oil themed line. You know, Old Crankcase Stout or Lubicator Premium Pilsner or 40 Weight IPA. Something like that. )

Utica Club was the flagship beer brewed by the West End Brewery - later renamed Matt Brewing Company after founder F.X. Matt. It is the fourth largest family owned brewery in America (behind Yuengling, August Schell Brewing Company, and Straub Brewery - for you beer trivia enthusiasts). Having survived Prohibition by producing soft drinks and malt syrup as well as other food stuff, West End was one of the first breweries to be back on line once sanity was restored. In the '60's and '70's as many of the smaller breweries were being gobbled up or driven out of business by the mega national brands, West End persevered through a combination of regional brand loyalty and by brewing private label beers (remember Billy Beer?) Soon came Matt's Premium and Maximus Super (a malt liquor at around 7% ABV - pretty high for the time).

Today Matt Brewing is best known for their line of Saranac craft beers. We have included a number of Saranc brews in past BOTB meetings (Herb refers to Saranac Pale Ale in a can as the quintessential boat beer; their IPA scored very well with us and their Imperial IPA is to die for) but at our December meeting we decided to focus our taste buds with our usual laser-like precision on seven of Saranac's seasonal selections: Bohemian Pilsener, Lake Effect Lager, Big Moose Ale, Rye IPA, India Copper Ale, Vanilla Stout - this years 12 beers of Winter - plus Season's Best.

 For the sake of full disclosure (and to send out a heart-felt thanks) Saranac, through friend of BOTB Meghan, provided us with the beers. Thanks Meghan, I think I love you. Now, lest you think this in any way biased our impeccable judgment, let me assure you that this was not the case. We made a pact at the start that we would above all be honest in our assessment of the beers. Having said that, I must say that by and large, damn, these were an impressive bunch of brews!
With a mixed case like this though, it made no sense to compare them to each other, so we decided to evaluate each on their own merits. Dan devised a chart for evaluation. We were to look at four areas as objectively as possible then give it an overall subjective evaluation. Each area was on a continuum. For example, aroma had "hoppy" at one end and " malty" at the other. A "3" would be dead center meaning it was pretty balanced with equal
notes of both. Besides Aroma we also looked at the following: Color - Pale, Golden, Amber, Copper, Black; Flavor - Bitter to Sweet; Mouthfeel - Light/Thin to Full/Thick. These were the objective observations. The final, subjective category was "Overall Impression" and this went from "Can't Stand It" to "Can't Get Enough."

A Pilsner (or Pilsener)  Kicks off the Evening

Saranac's Bohemian Pilsener

We started off the night's festivities at Dan's with some of his world famous whiskey infused cherries. They've been marinating since the summer and they were wonderful. Our first beer was Saranac's Bohemian Pilsener. Now, as I have mentioned often in this blog, we are a bunch of unrepentant hop-head. Pilsners are not generally noted for a strong hops presence so there was a bit of, shall we say, apprehesion as we sized up the evening's first offering. In truth I think most of us were prepared for a rather bland brew. What we found  was a surprisingly good beer. Brewed with Pilsener malt and Saaz hops, the general consensus was that it wa a very smooth, drinkable beer. At 4.8% ABV it works nicely as a session beer. The color was pale, which you would expect from a pilsner. In the rest of the categories it scored right in the middle. No one said "Can't stand it." By the same token no one said "Can't get enough." While by no means a hop lover's dream beer, there was a nice hoppiness there.
There was considerable discussion on this one. A sampling of the comments: "Bitter finish, with a surprising hops presence; Could be a lawn mower beer - if well iced; Maybe a session beer, ice cold off the golf course; Nice label." It landed right in the middle for Overall Impressions which, considering the fact that we all   believe fervently in the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of hoppiness, that was pretty good.

A Lager Sneaks into BOTB 

Lake Effect Lager

We at BOTB have at times been accused of being "beer snobs." To which we generally reply, "And this is a problem because...?" I actually had someone suggest that we really should include Budweiser, Miller, Coors etc. in our evaluations. But why? Everybody knows what they taste like (which is essentially the same) so what would be the point? 

Anyway, a Lager is a beer that is brewed and stored at a low temperature and includes Marzens, Pilsners, Bocks, as well as Dunkels (dark lagers). They are generally mild in flavor wihtout the strong hops presence of other beers. In the U.S. the style was essentially co-opted by the Imbev/Millers-Coors conglomerate of beers. So when one hears "lager" one thinks "pale yellow, mild, light." The truth is a lager such as the German Doppelbock can be quite strong (up to 14% ABV). However in the U.S. lager often means light (light in color, light in taste). Though more and more you are starting to see some interesting craft lagers. The unspoken attitude among the BOTB bunch when we saw the word "lager" was "When do we get to the IPA's?"

Lake Effect Lager is nowhere near the 14% mark, but it weighs in at a respectable 5.59%. It's a German style lager brewed with Pilsner and and Kiln Coffee malt. Perle and Hallertau hops are used. It has a pleasant malty/yeasty aroma. It's a deep amber in color. The taste was judged as tending toward the sweet, which doesn't sit well with some of our members. The mouthfeel was just shy of full. Overall impression again fell right int the middle with no one hating it but no one ready to propose to it either. A few of the comments: "Doesn't look like a lager; a caramel-like taste; I'm not a fan - too sweet; Beats the hell out of Bud!"

Overall, it's a smooth, easy drinking beer with more flavor than your typical lager. You gotta' love the name though. It's alliterative plus evocative of the region. Those who live around the Great Lakes are well acquainted with lake effect.

Bullwinkle Would be Proud of This One

Big Moose Ale

Big Moose Ale is an American Pale Ale and at the pour we knew we were in for a treat. Right off the bat you got a whiff of those Centennial and Amarillo hops, and they were there front and center with the first taste as well. Pale and Caramel malts give a warm balance to the beer. We judged the mouthfeel as just short of full. The overall impression was "Can't Get Enough!" This was one we all wished Saranac would sell year round as a stand-alone.
The comments speak for themselves: "Nice head; Clean pleasing aftertaste, stays with you; I'd buy this - I really like it; Better than regulat pale ale - nearly an IPA; Big taste, seems more than 5.3%; I can drink this!!" [Sidebar - "I can drink this" is a kind of catch phrase of Gerry's, in case you haven't noticed. He schooled us in the nuances of enunciation - there is a subtlety here, but that one phrase can denote "Hmm, not bad" or "This is great!"  or a myriad of meanings between the two. It is important to note the end punctuation, underscore, etc. to get a feel for the passion behind the comment.]

We Revisit a Seasonal Fave

Season's Best

Seasonal brews are interesting. It's not  a style unto itself, so there are really no rules. Brewers can have a little fun, get kind of spicy or malty or hoppy or throw in something really different. There are winter seasonals with cinnamon, ginger, cherry or any number of other interesting flavors thrown in. They can be quite strong or more of a session type beer. This time of year they are generally dark in color and hearty with a "warming" feel to them.  We included Saranac's Season's Best last year in our Holiday Beers evaluation and it fared quite well. So we gladly welcomed back this Vienna style lager. It is brewed with Munich and Biscuit Malts and Tettnang hops. A dark amber in color, the aroma was malty with a warm, malty taste tending toward the sweet end of the spectrum. Mouthfeel was full. The overall impression was positive, finishing up one notch below "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "Nice lace; Clean finish' Nicely balanced' Good seasonal beer. I could drink this."

A Wry Approach to an IPA


We always like to see those three little letters: I-P-A. This one, as you no doubt could infer from the name, is made with rye. At 5.95% ABV it's not particularly strong for an IPA, but it has a very distinct hops nose that translates into a sharp, pleasantly bitter taste; the result of generous use of Hallertau and Sazz hops. It's a golden color and has a medium to full body. The overall impression was enthusiastically "Can't Get Enough."

Comments: "Good summer IPA; Nice, nice, nice!; I like the Moose better; If you're a hophead, you'll like this; I could drink this!"

From India With Love

India Copper Ale

We followed up the Rye IPA with another India Ale with a twist. The India Copper Ale is a strong brown ale. The idea here was to take the hoppiness of an IPA and give it a malty underpinning using Marris Otter and Crystal malts. the result is a balanced, full flavored brew. 
The beer poured a dark brown in color. The initial aroma was the Columbus, Cascade and Centennial hops. The hops also give it a nice citrusy bitter bite leavened by the malts. Another big winner with a unanimous "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "I can drink this!!; Extremely hoppy presence; Unique; Nutty undertones; Damn good!"

Can I Get This in a Cone?

Vanilla Stout

We were all over the place on this one. And there's not a thing wrong with that. Here in the U.S. we went for years with essentially one style of beer - the lager. Even the "dark beer" produced by the big three breweries were dark in color only. And if you like that, fine. But it's kind of like American cheese - bland and inoffensive. Some people like American cheese, but how awful if that was the only cheese available. Craft brewers don't aim for the middle, they create beers that are all over the map. It's called choice and isn't that a great thing?
Anyhow, the concept here is interesting: take a stout, a beer generally associated with chocolate notes, and add vanilla - creating that classic combination of chocolate and vanilla. Saranac's Vanilla Stout is a rich, full-bodied sweet beer and we were split pretty evenly in our opinions. I for one liked it. I thought it would make a nice dessert beer. I really enjoyed the richness and that hint of vanilla made it a very different kind of stout. Others adamantly disliked it. This was the only one that veered toward the "I can't stand it" end of the spectrum. Typical of stouts, it is a relatively mild 4.8% ABV. Dark chocolate, caramel and vanilla blend for a sweet, rich beer which may not to be to everyone's liking. 

You can see from the comments how varied the opinions were on this one: "You can smell the vanilla; Nice dessert beer; This would keep me from buying a mixed 12 pack with this in it; If that was all that was in the fridge, I'd drink it; I kind of like; Nicely roasted malt taste; It's absolutely wonderful!; A little too sweet for me; I don't mind it for a change of pace."

I went out and bought the 12 Beers of Winter the next day - in part because of the Vanilla Stout! Had it later, still liked it. 

We Get Creative

On a whim, we created our own hybrid brew. I think it was Mike's idea, but we mixed India Copper Ale and Big Moose Ale half and half. Turned out to be really good. They kind of complemented each other nicely. Call it Copper Moose Ale.

Thanks again to Meghan for supplying the beer. It was a tasty bunch to be sure. We'd like to see Saranac offer some of these in six or twelve packs on their own. We look forward to delving into more Saranac brews in the upcoming months.

Some Other Noteworthy Winter Ales

Not to be slackers, each of the BOTB guys contributed a seasonal ale into the mix. Some quick notes on our findings.

-Alpine Creek Alpine IPA - Hoppy aroma, black in color, bitter flavor, full/thick mouthfeel and an overall impression leaning toward "Can't Get Enough." Comments: "I could drink that!; A mimic of Grindstone's. (See Hoppy Holidays.)"

-Grindstone Creek's Hoppy Holidays - Hoppy aroma, black color, flavor leaning toward bitter, full/thick mouthfeel and an overall impression of "Can't get enough." Comments: "Guinness head; Not too bitter; Nice clean finish; Good beer; I can drink this! You can smell the hops; I'm not a stout fan, but this is great!"

-Harpoon Winter Warmer - Malty aroma, brown in color, sweet flavor, between average and full mouthfeel.  Not one of our favorites from Harpoon. Comments: "Spicy; made for pumpkin pie - not beer; taste of banana, I don't care for it; Moste Harpoons are delicious, this is the worst of the Harpoons."

-Old Man Winter Ale - Southern Tier Brewing - Deep copper color, balanced flavor with some hint of spice, full mouthfeel, just short of "Can't get enough." Comments: "I could drink this!; Southern Tier makes some good beers; Nice and clean; balanced."

-Rock Art's Mountain Holidays - Malty aroma, deep brown color, flavor tends toward sweet, a surprisingly thin mouthfeel. Comments: "Inviting head; beautiful color; Horrid!; Because it doesn't have pumpkin spices I put it a little above average; I don't like allspice flavor; There is a back taste of banana; I had higher expectations of Rock Art."

-Rogue Ale's Santa's Private Reserve - Aroma tends toward hoppy, amber color. Taste is nicely bitter and hoppy. Full mouthfeel. Overall - "Can't get enough!" Comments: "Inviting color - nice lace; I could drink this!; You could chew this; I like the Rogue - a lot!"

-Sierra Nevada Celebration - Hoppy aroma, cloudy amber color, bitter flavor, full/thick mouthfeel and an overall impression of "Can't get enough!" Comments include: "This I could drink!; It grows on you." 

Once we finished the business at hand, we had a delicious meal followed by music by the Beer Club Trio - Christmas themed of course. Touching ballads such as "Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas." And finishing off with our unofficial theme song, "Beer Run."


And special thanks to our wonderful designated drivers who make these meetings possible and the food fantastic. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

2010 U.S Beer Championships

Friend of BOTB, Shannon, pointed me to this website: Interesting site, and while I was there I noticed they had the top 10 finishers in the 2010 United States Beer Championship. So I thought I might share with you some of the results (or you're welcome to click the above link and look for yourself.) I'll limit this space to just the "Ale" category for now. I'll quickly run through the categories and list the top finisher and then any that we may have tried which finished in the top ten. Or for that matter any I found interesting.

Golden Ale and Blonde Ale - Red Brick Blonde - Atlanta Brewing Company, Ga.

English Summer Ale - Sandbagger's Gold - Montana Brewing

English Pale Ale - Kentucky ale - Lexington Brewing

English IPA - Hopsectioner - Terrapin Beer Company, Ga. (Boston Brewing's Latitude 48 came in 2nd)

Imperial IPA - Double Overhead IPA - Maui Brewing (Harpoon's excellent Leviathan took 5th - check out Harpoon Dinner at Kitty Hoynes, Monday Feb. 8, 2010).

Bitter - Alaskan Summer Ale - Alaskan Brewing Company

ESB - Boont ESB - Anderson Valley Brewing, Ca. (Old Thumper from Shipyard Brewing took 2nd)

English Mild Ale - Original Ale - Box Car Brewing - West Chester, Pa. (Magic Hat's Odd Notion - 9th)

Brown Ale - Brunette Nut Brown Ale - Nebraska Brewing. (Moose Drool from Big Sky Montana came in 9th - I just liked the name.)

Porter - Black Butte Porter - Deschutes Brewing - Oregon. (Shipyard Imperial Porter took 2nd)

Stout - Anastasia's Chocolate Stout - South Street Brewery, Va. (Sam Adams Cream Stout - 6th / Rogue's Shakespeare Stout - 10th)

Oatmeal Stout - Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout - Anderson Valley Brewery, Ca.

Old Ale - Hibernation Ale - Great Divide Brewing, Col.

Barley Wine - Old Ruffian Barley Wine - Great Divide Brewing

Scotch Ales - Old Chub - Oskar Blues Brewery, Col. (Duke of Winship, one of our favs from Middle Ages, came in 5th. Long Trail's Hibernator - 10th.)

Strong Scotch Ale - Scottish Ale - Trapuair House Brewing, Scotland.

Irish Red Ale - Red Mountain Ale - Silverton Brewing, Col. (Harpoon's Celtic Ale 6th) (O'hara's Irish Red,  Carlow Brewing, Ireland - 9th).

American Amber - Drop Kick - Dunedin Brewing, Fl. (Troegs Hopback Amber - 10th)

American Pale Ale - Sharptail Pale Ale - Montana Brewing. (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - 5th) (Heavy Seas Pale Ale  9th)

American IPA - High Seas IPA - Michigan Brewing. (Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale - 3rd) (Stone IPA - 5th) (Sierra Nevada Torpedo - 8th.) (Sweetwater IPA - 9th).

American Brown Ale - India Brown Ale - Terrapin Beer Company, Ga. (Brooklyn Brown Ale - 10th)

German Altbier - Copper Ale - Otter Creek Brewing, Vermont. 

German Kolsh - Endless River - Mother Earth Brewing, N. Car. (Harpoon's Summer Beer - 5th)

German Wheat Ale - Dunkle Weiss - Sprecher Brewing, Wis.

German - Ayinger Brau Weisse - Brauerei Aying, Germany.

HefeweizenAyinger Brau Weisse - Brauerei Aying, Germany.

Belgian Saison Ales - Two Moons Saison - Montan Brewing. (Hennepin from Ommegang took 4th).

Belgian Ale - Devil May Care - South Street  Brewery

Belgian Abbey Ale - Dank Tank - Sweetwater Brewing

Belgian Lambic - Lindeman's Framboise - Brouwerji Lindemans, Belgium

Belgian Witbier - Belgium White - Stevens Point Brewing

A few interesting side notes on some of the other styles:

-Great Lakes Oktoberfest, which we recently reviewed, took 7th in the Octoberfest category.

-Saranac's Black Forest (Matt's Brewing, Utica, NY) took 9th in the SWchwarzbier category.

-Saranac's Black Diamond Bock made the top ten in the Bock category.

-Saranac also scored in the Rye/Roggen category with their Roggen Rye. Took 7th.

-Good Ol' Genesee Cream Ale came in 4th for Cream Ales.

-Harpoon's UFO White took a second in the American Wheat Beer Category.

-And Saranac once again scored with their Pumpkin Ale in that category.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Beer Update From Herb - On the Road

Recent visit to Kingston Brewing Co. (Canada) - Dragons Breath Real Ale on cask. Good as always.
Another cask on the second pump. Bigger, old strong ale recipe

Burlington - Farmhouse Tap and Grill - two hand pumps. A good Berkshire Brewing Company pale ale on one. McNeill's ESB from Brattleboro (one of my favorite breweries) on the other.
Several Hill Farmstead (Greensboro Bend, VT) brews. I tried "Edward," a pale ale named for their grandfather. New to me and very good. Two dozen taps, large bottle selection and locally grown food.
Herb - out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Oswego Jazz Project at Syracuse Suds Factory

Had a great time last night at Syracuse Suds Factory. A bunch of the BOTB guys and wives showed up to listen to the Oswego Jazz Project, who were terrific. Also had some good food and beer as well of course.

Syracuse Suds, in case you didn't know, brews its own beer. Last night they had on tap their Pale Ale, Irish Red Ale, Brown Ale, Sweet Stout, and a light beer. Without question their best beer is the Pale Ale which is a pretty robust brew, a coppery color, with a nice balance of malt and hops. I also tried the Irish Red, the Brown Ale and the Stout. None stood up well to the Pale Ale - definitely their best.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Ah, autumn. The end of summer, the beginning of long shadows and frosty mornings. Time to cover the pool, rake the leaves, check the furnace, bring in the wood (or in our case, turn on the pilot light) and get ready to hunker down for the cold and snow that looms like some frozen Sword of Damocles, held at bay not by a horse's hair but by the vagaries of jet streams, fronts, convection currents and El Ninos (or Ninas). Of course the good news is it also means football and Oktoberfest beers. And in keeping with the season, we choose for October's BOTB beers those brews which are as fleeting as the colorful leaves that paint the countryside. Octoberfest, Oktoberfest, harvest ale, autumn ale.. they go by a number of different names and include a great variety of tastes as well.
In general, Oktoberfest beers tend to reflect the changing season by leaving the lighter summer seasonals behind in favor of darker, heartier, more robust ales. And while I love summer, I don't particularly love summer ales which tend to be light, fruity and lacking in much true beer flavor. With Oktobefest style beers malt tends to dominate, but many have a good dose of hops as well.
This time we met at Gerry's and he created a rating sheet that allowed each of us to rate the beers for aroma, appearance (color and head) and taste. He had a 1-5 rating with the caveat that 1 is good 5 is superior. Without further ado, here are the results, presented alphabetically.

1. Grindstone Brewery Nut Blonde Ale - Made with freshly harvested hops, this beer won over the group unanimously. By far the hoppiest of the bunch it still has a real nice nutty underpinning. The color and clarity is excellent and the head is superior, rich and foamy. The primary taste is hops with hints of citrus and nuts. The finish is strong. Comments included: "A beautiful blonde!; Awesome!; Powerful hoppy/nutty; Fresh hopped, and it shows; Wow!"

 2. Harpoon Octoberfest Beer - Nearly superior malt aroma with only moderate hops coming through. Far better than average color, clarity and head. The taste was a complex one with malt dominating with some sweet and fruity overtones. The finish was felt to be strong by most, but was rated by a few as only memorable and even weak. Comments include: "Ed has done a good job! Let's tour the facility; Opens sweet, finishes with a warm bitterness - hint of banana; Tastes like fall to me."

3. Long Trail's Harvest Ale - Moderately malty, not so hoppy. Very good color, moderately clear with an average head (didn't do the full Guinness, but was solid). It has a malty to sweet taste and a firm to memorable finish. A selection of comments were: "The sweetest so far for the category. Similar to Harpoon, but not quite as bold. Nice session beer." "Nice color. Good with a Harvest Moon!"

4. Saranac Octoberfest Lager - In truth we don't include a lot of lagers, mainly because the typical lager tends to be along the lines of Bud, Miller, Coors etc. All pretty much the same. However there are some lagers that dare to be different and actually have some taste. This is one of them. It has a slight malty/hoppy aroma, certainly much more so than your typical lager. It scored above average in color and clarity and average head. The taste was a very pleasant malty taste, with hints of roasted malt and nuts. The finish was firm to memorable. Some comments: "A long way from Utica Club. Schultz and Dooley would be impressed; To me, a classic Octoberfest - nice malty taste - some hop bitterness. Very drinkable."
5. Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale - A very balanced beer here - a nice mix of malt and hops. Superior color and head. The predominate taste was nutty with a firm to strong finish. Some comments: "Great beer! Terrific mix of malt/hops; Very complex - nice warm mouthfeel; Solid finish; Smooth yet mild; Delicious."

6. Weyerbacher Autumnfest Ale - Quite malty, not much hops presence. The taste tends toward malty and nutty with a firm finish. Comments: "Full flavored, slight banana scent which carries over into the initial taste. Good warm malty flavor. Great copper color; Why wait till Autumn to drink this?; Lighter version of banana hop tasted similar to Harpoon's Octoberfest."

7. Williamsburg Alewerks Wheat Ale - Dan had this while in Virginia at a restaurant called The Whaling Company and was so impressed he bought a sixer and decided to use it for his entry in our Oktoberfest tastings. Again we found a wheat beer that has some real flavor. It was a pleasant surprise. While there wasn't a real strong aroma, different judges detected malt and/or hops. There was a surprising bitter bite to it which was unexpected and had a memorable finish. Comments: "Not your typical wheat beer; Wow! Best wheat beer ever!; Nice bitterness to open. Good mix of nutty/hoppy; Will surprise you."

We ultimately ranked the beers, though they were all very good. We picked the top three unanimously as:

1. Grindstone Brewery's Nut Blonde Ale - Just couldn't beat the combination of in-your-face hops and warm nutty finish.
2. Sierra Nevada's Tumbler - The complexity of flavor won over the judges here.
3. Harpoon's Octoberfest - Great balance and drinkability (and not the way a certain light beer commercial uses the word.)

The remaining four all had their advocates. We of course had to finish off the remainders just to make sure we got it right.

I also brought along Southern Tier's Pumpking Ale just to annoy Ron. There were wildly varying opinions about it. Some said it tasted like pumpkin pie and was far too sweet for their tastes. I kind of liked it. I didn't think it was overpowering and it had a kind of nice, warming finish that surprised me. I, however, was in the minority here! Oh well. That's what makes craft beer so much fun.

Honestly, I Don't Have Stock in Wegman's but...

I just have to give them cudos again! I went to their Dewitt store and they have a mix your own six pack of craft beers. There must be over a hundred different craft beers in individual bottles from which you can pick and choose to put together a mixed-pack of beers. It's great. I just looked for six beers I hadn't tried yet. The cool thing is, if you don't care for the beer, you're not stuck with a six pack of it. Here's what I got:

1. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
2. Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian style India Pale Ale
3. Great Lakes Nosferatu
4. Mojo India Pale Ale
5. Troegs Java Head Stout
6. Presque Isle Pilsner from Erie Brewery

I can't wait. It's like Christmas.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Boat Beers

In the eleventh meeting of the Battle of the Beers club we decided to mix it up a bit. When I say we, I mean Herb, who came up with this month's theme: Boat Beers. What, pray tell, is a boat beer you ask. For our purposes, a boat beer is any beer you might drink on board a sailboat. Meaning it should have only a moderate alcohol content so that you could still perform your sailorly duties and enjoy a few. OR - any beer with a nautical theme. (We do like to leave our options open so that we may more freely explore a wide variety of beers.) Historically they are secondary beers - the dregs or "small" beers that were served on shipboard. They are better than drinking water. Our beers were all far superior to this last description, however, as there was not a light beer to be found (they are banned from BOTB on general principal.)

Now, the problem here was we now had a number of different styles which made it rather difficult to equitably compare. So we just decided to enjoy the beers and comment on each without the need to rate one against the other.

First up was Saranac's Pale Ale in a can. Herb calls this his quintessential boat beer mainly because it's a good beer you can get in a can and cans are much more convenient on a boat. Although some craft beers are slowly making their way into cans, there aren't many. So it was good to see Saranac come out with their signature Pale Ale in a can. The BOTB guys are big fans of Saranac and their Pale Ale is a favorite session beer. Nicely hopped with a pleasant malt underpinning, it's one of those beers I like to have on hand. It's what I think of when I think Pale Ale. Hereupon a discussion over whether there is a difference in taste between bottled beer and canned beer broke out. It is an age-old debate and perhaps is the stuff of a future meeting (although there needs to be a larger selection of good beer in cans - I can't see us comparing Bud Light in a can to Bud Light in a bottle. Might as well compare bottled water to tap.)

Next up was Mayflower Brewing's Autumn Wheat  Ale. This is one that was picked because of its nautical theme. This is an interesting beer in part because it is a wheat beer which doesn't look or taste like a typical wheat beer. I have a perhaps unfair prejudice against wheat beers because my gut reaction when I see one is that it is a light, bland brew and I immediately pass it over for something else. It seems that wheat beer is the mega-breweries' default brew of choice when they want to pretend to be making a craft beer. Having said that, Mayflower's Autumn Wheat Ale is a pleasant surprise. First off the color was a surprise: a deep, dark rich charcoal hue. Coupled with a nice, full caramel-colored head it quickly became clear that this was not your typical wheat beer. And indeed it isn't. It has a very distinctive taste which we all struggled to nail down. The best description is that it had a kind of burnt malt flavor ("burnt" is not a negative here - it was quite pleasing) with a hint of coffee. A very drinkable beer.

Third was from another of our favorite breweries, Great Lakes. Commodore Perry IPA fit in with the boat beer motif thematically if not practically (at 7.5% ABV it is not exactly a "small" beer.) The first sensation is the bite of hops on the tongue that just sits there. Great staying power. This one elicited a number of comments. A few: "Ahhhhhhh!" "Too much malt compared to Middle Ages." "Has lingerie lace."An excellent brew, you can't go wrong with Great Lakes."  "I can drink this, I'll tell you what!"

Next we had another Mayflower beer, their IPA. We hit this one right after Great Lakes so the discussion centered around comparing the two. In general the beer was well received on its own merits but fell a little short by comparison. "Not as malty...A little nuttier...flowery scent...A little lighter than the Commodore...A little stronger? ... Not a bad beer, I could drink this!" Beer tasting, when it comes to good craft beers at least can be pretty subjective. As you can see from the above comments, one member felt it was lighter than Commodore Perry while another considered it stronger. Makes for an interesting discussion. We have has some members whose preferences are fairly narrow while others enjoy a wide variety of beers. (We even have one who at times admits to drinking Coors Light while on the golf course. The rest of us try not to hold this against him and I won't divulge his name here as I don't wish to bring shame and humiliation to his family. Suffice it to say we consider these BOTB meetings to be therapy for him; a kind of intervention light if you will - gently leading him away from the evils of the Macro brew demons.) Apologies for the extended parenthetical tangent.

Another Great Lakes brew, Dortmunder Gold Lager, followed. It is unusual for us to include a lager in our tastings. We tend toward Ales. However we took a chance on this since it was brewed by Great Lakes and it turned out to be a pretty decent brew. Though some of the comments may fall into the category of "damning with faint praise," most everyone found this to be a good boat beer. A sampling of the comments: "If I hadn't had two IPA's before, I'd have really loved it; I've never had a lager with so much hops; Again with Great Lakes - It's good. I've never had a Great Lakes I haven't liked, but I haven't tried Holy Moses (their wheat beer); Not bad for a lager - consider Bud, Miller, PBR, and Coors."

Heavy Seas' Loose Cannon Hop3 American Pale Ale was up next. This is a really tasty, hoppy beer. You smelled the hops right off the pour and they were a strong presence throughout. This one was one of the favorites, eliciting the following: "Immediate smell, attacks you straight up the nose; Arrgh matey!; I love this - I could drink this; It's a West Coast style beer; Great, a really good beer; Grapefruit hoppy more than orange."

And an unsolicited endorsement popped up here as someone commented: "Wegman's is the Barns and Noble of beer!" I thought that was an interesting comment. Truth is it's hard to beat Wegman's when is comes to beer selection. I've been to a lot of chain grocery stores in a lot of places and no one comes close. I was recently in the Orlando are and it was slim pickin's for craft beer. I checked out Publix and a few others, many of which had huge beer sections. 90% of the space would go to the Imbev / Miller-Coors family of beers. The remainder would be reserved for a couple of imports and usually Sam Adams Lager and maybe Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Ditto most bars in the area. Did find one near the UCF campus called Moats with a terrific beer menu, but that was by far the exception. I was in Wegman's yesterday and saw some guy loading up on Saranac, Ommegang and Middle Ages beers. He said, "I'm living in New Jersey now and you just can't get these beers there. So whenever I'm in the area I hit Wegmans and stock up."
Anyhow, cudos to Wegmans for maintaining such an impressive array of beers."

-Back to the Beers-

Troeg's Dead Reckoning Porter was next on the horizon. Dead Reckoning is a pitch black Porter and a very bold beer. In many ways it is beers such as this that make the craft beer industry so interesting because the taste is rich, complex, bold and definitely not for everyone. This is not intended to appeal to the middle. There's a sort of "Here's our beer. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't. Don't really care." As opposed to making a beer that might not offend anyone so has to have largest mass appeal thus largest market share blah, blah, blah.. Probably the best way to give you a feel for this beer (other than tasting it for yourself, which I highly recommend) is to check out our panel's comments - remembering, of course, that by now we had tasted six other beers (plus the occasional "better finish off that bottle" extra). Herewith were the comments:
" Kind of a musky, burnt taste; Different, like a dark, almost perfectly roasted malt. Not over-roasted as in Mayflower; Nice finish for a porter; It looks almost black. I can't see light through it; It is sweeter than hell; Has a cocoa or dark chocolate thing going; I like this a lot."

Finally we had Shipyard IPA, our last tasting of the evening. This one is more of an English IPA than American, meaning that the hops presence is a little more subtle. For most of us, it was an okay beer but lacked the strong hoppiness we look for in an IPA. One of our members commented, " This is differently hopped. I think it's Fruggles hops." Indeed it is Fruggles hops. I checked it out on their website. Actually, this would be a good boat beer by both definitions.

Another successful BOTB meeting came to a close with outstanding food and entertainment by the BOTB Trio (and a rather caterwauling chorus of beer tasters joining in.)

 The Whaling Company - Good Beer, Good Food in Williamsburg

Charter Member Dan Riley returned recently from a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. Always on the lookout for a restaurant that serves up good beer with good food (and let's face it, if the beer is good the food can be just so-so) he came upon a place called The Whaling Company. He ordered an AleWerks Wheat Ale at the recommendation of his waiter. AleWerks is a local microbrewery. Despite some trepidation at the "wheat" prefix, Dan ordered it. He was so impressed with it that he purchased a 6-pack for our next BOTB meeting. As you'll see, it is another of those surprising wheat beers that breaks the wheat beer paradigm of a light, orange-slice-on-the-top safe beer.  This beer really has flavor with a solid hops bitterness. A surprisingly tasty beer.
The food at the Whaling Company was also excellent. Sounds like a good place to stop next time we're in the area.

Up next: Seasonal Beers - Oktoberfest, Harvest Ales etc.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BOTB Blast at Uno's

Just returned from our first ever party for BOTB friends and followers. Uno's in Clay hosted and we had a great time. Uno's provided a tasty variety of appetizers as we enjoyed a little socializing and some good beer. Among the appetizers were some of Uno's more delectable selections: chicken wings, bbq chicken wings, various pizza slices, and other mouth-watering delights.

As far as beer goes, Uno's has a fair selection. Other than the usual yellow beers, they have Sam Adams Lager, Harpoon's IPA, Newcastle, Uno's Cherry Wheat (brewed by Sam Adams) all on tap. Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, Middle Ages' Syracuse Pale Ale, and Sam Adams are all available in bottles as well. For the most part we stuck to Harpoon's IPA, a beer that has been showing up more and more in bars in the area. A very good brew, not over the top with hops but a nice hoppy presence nonetheless.
Overall it made for a fine Sunday afternoon (it would have been perfect had the Bills managed to win). Thanks Uno's, one of our favorite after-movie eateries, for a terrific BOTB gathering.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


As I may have mentioned a time or two in the past, we at BOTB have a decided bias toward hoppy beers. The very first style of beer we reviewed, not surprisingly, was IPA (India PaleAle), a style noted for its generous use of that most fragrant and tastiest of flowers - the hop. I
n our most recent meeting we decided to revisit IPA's, only with a twist. We took a look at IPA's brewed east of the Mississippi (or East Coast IPA's). The beauty of this is we have left open the possibility, nay the necessity, of a West Coast IPA competition. Then perhaps a Northern IPA and a Southern IPA - with the winners of each region competing against each other. The possibilities make one delirious with anticipation!

This month we gathered at the Harrington Estate on a pleasant summer evening. All charter members were present. As befits such a night, the main course would be grilled and a repast o
f gastronomic delights awaited us. But first, the business at hand...

As usual, we choose a random selection of brews with the only caveat that it be brewed east of the Big Muddy and it could not be an Imperial IPA (just wouldn't be fair.) We don't prete
nd to have fairly or completely represented East Coast Breweries, but we tried to hit some we haven't included before. The contenders were (listed alphabetically):

Alexander Keith's English IPA - From Alexander Keith Brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Hurricane Kitty IPA - From Keegan brewery in Kingston, NY.

Long Hammer IPA - Redhook Brewery - Although Redhook is located in the state of Washington (decidedly not the east coast) Long Hammer gets in on a technicality as one of its breweries - Portsmouth Brewery - is located in Portsmouth, NH.

Mike's Home Brew IPA - From Grindstone Brewery in Richland, NY.

Sly Fox Route 113 IPA - From Sly Fox Brewing, Phoenixville, PA.

Troeg's Pale Ale - Troeg Brewing Company, Harrisburg, PA.

Wagner Valley IPA - Wagner Winery and Brewery, Lodi, NY.

Victory Hop Devil Ale - Victory Brewing Company, Downington, PA.

How We Rated Them

We went back to our original method where we ranked the beers from 1 to 8. As we tasted we jotted down notes, paring it down to simply Aroma, Mouthfeel, and Taste. The quotes listed below are a conglomeration of these notes written in a sort of collective stream of consciousness style. It's interesting to see that virtually all of the brews have both positive and negative comments. In the end, as in with golf, the low number wins. Of course, as usual faithful reader, we were the true winners.

The Results

Number 8 - Alexander Keith's English IPA
This was an interesting one, because had the words "India Pale Ale" not been on the label, I would not have pegged it as an IPA. It lacked that distinctive hoppy kick that you expect from an IPA. ABV is 5%. Here are the comments:

Aroma - "A bit fruity; blooming flowers, flowery scent, earthy, light."

Mouthfeel - "Light; over-carbonated; dry; soda-like."
Taste - "Thin, light - but drinkable; pale ale - didn't make it to India; undertones of b
anana; not a lot of hop presence; little substance; somewhat bitter aftertaste."

Overall Impressions - "A good session beer; a hummingbird would love it; thin; wouldn't buy; not my favorite; doesn't really hit what I think of as IPA; little substance; not overly impressive; drinkable for guests!"

Number 7 - Mike's Home Brew IPA
Mike has boldly brought his own brew to compete in our Battles several times. It's a gutsy thing to do and we applaud him for it. I have, over the years, had the opportunity to try different home brews from various friends and relatives and more often than not, the experience is less than satisfying. Mike is the exception. Mike uses hops he grows himself (see above photo) and takes the whole brewing process very seriously. The whole BOTB gang eagerly an
ticipates Mike's next batch. This is the first time his has not come in among the top two or three. Still, it was a very good beer, as you'll see. ABV comes in around 6.5% or so.
Aroma - "Very little; big head but not a strong nose; complex; not distinctive."

Mouthfeel - "Velvety; bubbly; light; smooth; soft."

Taste - "Smooth, clean, thin; not enough hops; leans toward the malty side, hops comes forward toward the end; easy to drink; sweetish."

Overall Impressions - "Good head, balanced brew with more of a leaning towards malt - some coffee notes even; tasty, drinkable beer."
Number 6 -Long Hammer IPA from Redhook Brewery.

As I mentioned earlier, Redhook Brewery is located in Seattle, Washington. However they do have a brewery in NH and I would assume that any of their beers which we get around here are produced there. It weighs in at 6.5% ABV.
Aroma - "A bit hoppy, not much; citrus hops with bready undertones; yeasty."
Mouthfeel - "Hoppy taste on side of tongue; slightly over-carbonated; smooth mildly
carbonated; light."

Taste - "A little bitter; good balance; middle-of-the-road hoppiness for an IPA; small back end flavor; sweetly refreshing."

Overall Impressions - "Nothing to write home about; good, pleasing - nice bitter aftertaste; smooth; nice bitter finish; light with a slightly hoppy kick, very drinkable."

Number 5 - Troegs Pale Ale
Okay, technically a Pale Ale (5.4% ABV), but Toegs is generally not stingy with the hops and they didn't really have an IPA per se, so...
Aroma - "Fruit - citrus; spices and citrus; fruity nose."

Mouthfeel - "Initial citrus taste, Blue Moon-like; nothing to dislike here; flavorf
ul." (Okay, most of this fits in with taste more than mouthfeel, but I'm just reporting the facts, ma'am.)
Taste - "Balanced between bitter and citrus; like a Blue Moon but not balanced; good-hoppy; nice bitterness with a grapefruit-citrusy hops kick; flavorful with a clean finish."

Overall Impressions - "Very easy to drink; I like it; would buy; nice balance again - very noticeable hops, nice citrus hops; a keeper; great flavor, satisfying fullness; good for friends."

Number 4 - Hurricane Kitty from Keegan Brewing

Keegan Brewery produces just three beers: Hurricane Kitty is their IPA, they also have Capital Ale and Mother's Milk, a milk stout. Judging by the IPA, I am anxious to try the other tw
o. The ABV on this is 5.5%

Aroma - "Hoppy, smells of hops; spicy; nice nose; hopalicious."

Mouthfeel - "Oh, so good; smooth; warming; Yes! Tongue pleasing."Taste - "Maybe a little spicy; nice residual taste; good balance; hoppy with more of an alcohol presence; nice solid bitterness; big early flavor, clean finish; delightfully heavy."

Overall Impressions - "Hammer time! I like it - would buy; the boldest so far, a real full-bodied beer; strong alcohol comes through - almost overpowering at times but in general very satisfying; nice bitter, nice beer, great drink."

Number 3 - Slyfox 113

Slyfox is one of the growing number of craft brewers who are selling their beers in cans as well as bottles. There are times when a can is just more convenient. Will we see someone go really retro and produce a can that requires a "church key" to open it? (Those of you under the age of 40 or so: that doesn't refer to a key to the church.) At 7% ABV and an IBU of 113, this one is the strongest of the bunch.

Aroma - "Hearty, definitely; earthy, nice earthy bitterness; fresh, firm smell."
Mouthfeel - "Strong, happy; smooth carbonation; warming; ale-like; satisfying fullness."

Taste - "Hearty, heavy, Yes!; Good balance, possibly not IPA; strong - deep full, earthy bitterness; yummy, very flavorful."
Overall Impressions - "Taste hangs on, stays with you; I like it; nice color; another really bold, full bodied brew; malty, complex; flavorful and delightful - could drink this all day."

Number 2 -Wagner Valley IPA
A very surprising second place winner since Wagner is noted more as a winery than brewery. This IPA tips the scales at 6% ABV.

Aroma - "Flowery; malty."
Taste - "Malty with hops; nice malty taste; thin; balanced; malty taste up front with a bitter aftertaste; nice balance; fir (?) flavor." Not really sure what that last one means.

Overall Impressions - Very balanced; capital beer; okay; balanced and drinkable - maltie
r than most IPA's; bold beer; very drinkable - alone or with someone."

Number 1 - Victory Brewing's HopDevil

Not a real surprise here. Victory produces some excellent beers and HopDevil is my personal favorite. HopDevil has garnered more than a few awards (other than our number one ranking, which they are free to use in their promotional material.) In 1998 it was "Malt Advocate"
magazine's Domestic Beer of the Year; in 2002 it was crowned the Champion American Beer in the Great British Beer Festival in London; and in 2008 it took the silver medal in the Australian Beer Awards. Using imported German 2-row malt and whole flower American hops, H
pDevil weighs in at a solid 6.7% ABV.
Here's what we thought of it...

Aroma - "Herbal, citrus; good, not too aromatic; malt."

Mouthfeel - "Smooth, lively; Okay, but not really smooth."

Taste - "Hoppy; strong citrus hops presence; nice bitterness; grapefruit hops flavor."

Overall Impressions - "Tada! Would buy; very good beer; a definite IPA; bold, tasty: not for the faint of heart; big beer; satisfying - need a cigarette."

-An interesting phenomenon was noted. Once the scores were posted and we began the important job of finishing off the
remaining beer, if was clear that there was a distinct difference with some of the beers when poured into a larger beer glass (as opposed to the s
maller sample glass). I for one was surprised at how the larger vessel seemed to affect some of the beers. Some which I had not scored terribly high just seemed much better, much fuller, in the larger glass. I might have expected the aroma to be affected, but not so much the taste. But the truth was there was a distinct difference. Very interesting. (Didn't help Alexander Keith much, though. Really is mislabeled. Should be a golden ale or something.)

-Part of the fun of traveling around the country is seeing the growth of craft beers in areas where you would have been hard pressed to find any just a few years ago. We recently
returned from Phoenix, AZ to visit our son and daughter-in-law. While there we took a
weekend trip to Flagstaff and then the Grand Canyon. We had a great time and I began to notice that we could get a good craft beer in pretty much any bar or restaurant we entered. When we were last there only a couple of years ago, that was not the case. I was able to sample some of the brews from a couple of the Arizona Breweries.
The Grand Canyon Brewing Company is located in Williams, AZ. We found their beers widely available at bars and restaurants as well as in grocery stores throughout our travels. They produce six beers on a regular basis: Sunset Amber Ale, American Pilsner, Horseshoe Bend pale Ale, Raspberry Wheat, White Water Wheat, and Starry Night Stout. I was able to sample the first three.

American Pilsner - I found this to be light golden in color with a full head and good lacing. It was a pretty typical Pilsner in that it was light with a hint of Saaz hops. Somewhat balanced, though it tended toward a lighter malt. A decent beer, though it would not be my first choice.

Sunset Amber Ale - Again a nice head and good lacing. A nice creamy malty taste. Not real strong on the hops. A nice session beer.

Horseshoe Bend Pale Ale - Ditto on the head and lacing. This one had a nice flowery hops aroma that jumped out at you right away. There was a very distinct hoppy bite right off, though the hop presence was not  overpowering by any stretch. Again, a balanced brew. This was the best of the three in my opinion.

Four Peaks is out of Tempe. I had the opportunity to try their Hop Knot, Kilt Lifter Scottish Style Ale, and their Oatmeal Stout. They produce quite an array of beers. Unfortunately, once out of Tempe it was difficult to find them.

Hop Knot IPA - Really good beer. Nice strong hops kick to it. I liked this a lot. 6.5% ABV.

Kilt Lifter Scottish Style Ale - 6% ABV. Another good one. More malt that hops as you would imagine, but it was a tasty brew just the same.

Oatmeal Stout - This was very much like a typical Irish Stout - low carbonation, pitch black in color. Had definite coffee and chocolate notes in there. Very smooth.


Our version of "Where's Waldo?" Dan's "Beer-dar" (Beer Radar) has come through for him again. What city?


Alright, so I'm damning with faint praise here, but seriously - $2.99 a six-pack! The beer is called Mountain Brew Ice Beer. It's brewed by Genesee Brewing Company out of Rochester, NY. I saw this in a local Stewarts convenience store and the price made me do a double-take. I think a case went for $10.99. Anyhow, on a whim I picked up a sixer, fully expecting a fairly tasteless lager. Now granted my expectations were considerably lowered, but I tried to keep an open mind. The first thing that surprised me was the pour. A full, thick head sat atop a brew slightly darker than your typical lager. And there was more flavor as well. Don't expect much in the way of hops, but there's a decent malt presence with a hint of a spice of some sort. Arguably it's the best beer you can get for $2.99 a sixer.

- Saturday September 25th - Boat Beers! Charter member reviews. 

- October 24th - Join us for our bar party. Details: Buy your own drinks and Uno's will supply free appetizers. And our charter members will supply sparkling conversation. RSVP ASAP so we can give Uno's a number. Reply to our gmail account ( by October 15th.
See you there!

- November 17th - At Syracuse Suds Factory - Jazz night featuring Oswego Jazz Project.

The BOTB Guys