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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Battle of the British (Style) Beers

The Event: The 5th meeting of the Beer Club on January 15th, 2010.
The Place: Gerry and Donna Hudson's
The Mission: To taste and rate a selection of English style beers.
The Judges: Host Gerry Hudson, Ron Harrington, Dan Riley, Herb Clark, Mike Watkins, Hal Moore, and Rick Sherman.

The Contenders:

1. Arcadia English IPA - From Battle Creek, Michigan, weighing in at 5.9% ABV with a 1060 OG and 41 IBU
Arcadia has a nice looking web site and lists 15 brews.

2. Boxing Day Bitter from Middle Ages an English Bitter Ale - From Syracuse, NY, and weighing in at 6% ABV and available only on tap or in growlers. More Middle Ages brews here.

3. Fuller's London Pride, an English Pale Ale -From London, England, weighing in at 4.7 ABV. Fuller's web site is here.

4. Hobgoblin Beer, an English Brown Ale - from Oxfordshire, UK weighing 5.20% ABV.
The Wychwood Brewery web site is pretty cool.

5. Newcastle Brown Ale, an English Brown Ale from Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, UK (part of Heineken International) weighing 4.7 ABV.
Newcastle's site is still under construction, but you can go here and sign up with them for info and updates.

6. St. Peter's IPA, an English India Pale Ale, from St. Peter South Elmham, Bungay, Suffolk, UK - weighing 4.7 ABV.
If you want to check out their site, go here.

7. Tanner's Jack, an English Ale from Morland's Breweries in Abingdon, UK, weighing in at 4.2% ABV.

Greene King is associated with Morland's and Greene King has a web site.

This and That

There was a dramatic shift from the previous tastings, primarily in that there was not a blind taste test at this meeting. Gerry developed a rubric that was used to rate some of the characteristics of the beers. These included aroma, appearance, taste, and finish. Aroma had sub-catagories of malty and/or hoppy, appearance had sub-categories of color, clarity and head; taste ranged through malty, hoppy, nutty, fruity, wheat, tart, sweet, roasted, crusty, bitter, and sour; finish ranged through strong, firm,memorable, weak and invisible. Finally, taking these characteristics into account, we rated the beers on a 1-7 scale as in past meetings.
This style of tastings offered up some very interesting results. There was very little agreement among our members about appearance, especially color. Aroma didn't get much agreement either, except for the Tanner's Jack English Ale. Everyone mentioned a skunky, bad nose. Could this have been a result of a clear glass bottle? And pretty consistent comments that once you got it to your palate, it was really not a terrible brew. The categories of taste and finish got the most agreement, but within a range. Not surprisingly, English style beers tended less toward the hoppy and more towards some of the sweet, malty, fruity, and bitter tastes. The finish category was sprinkled with a couple "weaks," but primarily with "strong," "firm," and "memorable." No beer received and "invisible" ranking as we have a hard and fast rule: "NO LIGHTS (or Lites) ALLOWED!" As in previous meetings, it was a unanimous feeling that there were no poor choices, but there were definite favorites.
The Results
The Winner, with 13 quality points (3 first place votes, three second place votes and 1 fourth place votes) was:
Middle Ages Boxing Day Bitter!
Champion of the English Style Ales Division.
2. St. Peter's IPA came in second with 17 quality points (1 first, 2 seconds and 4 thirds).
3. Arcadia IPA finished third with 2 first place votes.
The next three were very close:
4. Fuller's
5. Hobgoblin
6. Newcastle
Finally, due to the unpleasant nose (I noticed the same problem is mentioned in Beer Advocate rating of Tanner's Jack).
7. Tanner's Jack - again, with this beer, once you got past the somewhat skunky smell, it tasted pretty good.

A Hoppy Ending

The meeting ended with a treat provided by Herb, who brought two samples of Wailing Wench from Middle Ages Brewery out of Syracuse, NY. One sampling was bottled Wench and one was draft from a growler. Though both were delicious and a fine choice on any day - the differences were day and night when tasted side by side. As we tried each, we talked our way through the experience. From the bottled sample, comments included, "better nose; hoppy; really good; bite; strong finish." From the draft, comments included, "smooth; sweeter; more complex taste; more going on; fresher; fun in your mouth."
No matter what, it was great to enjoy two of Middle Ages best brews in one night!
The evening concluded with pub food which was amazing.
The next meeting will be February 28th at Hal's. The beer choice will be Porters.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dundee Gets It!

Just before our next Beer Club, I wanted to give a shout out to a beer that took me by surprise. It's Dundee's India Pale Ale! If you recall, at our last Beer Club meeting, Dundee's Festival Ale fared quite well. This is not to knock Dundee, it's just that their Honey Brown, while a decent enough beer, always seemed to me to be a bit safe. It came out in the early part of the craft beer renaissance, and like many of the larger breweries, it was an attempt to test the craft beer waters without losing it's swimsuit. Michelob had Michelob Dark, Lowenbrau had their dark beer etc. The trouble was, the most distinctive thing about these beers was the color. Close your eyes and it was tough to tell them from their lighter brother. While Honey Brown was certainly bolder and makes for a very nice session beer, it wasn't going to knock your socks off.

Lately, however, High Falls Brewery (which produces Dundee) seems to be jumping in with both feet. They have rebranded J.W. Dundee as Dundee, and, judging by the Festival Ale and now their IPA, are letting their hair down a bit and not fearing the hops.

Their IPA has a wonderful copper color with a good, creamy amber head. Very good nose as the hops jump right out at you. The bottle says "Bold and Bitter" and I'll be darned if it isn't. It starts with a nice malty/hoppy balance and finishes with a very satisfying bitter bite. And here's some really good news: only $6.99 for a sixer. Not bad by craft beer standards. Dundee has six year-round brews: Pale Bock Lager, Porter, Wheat Beer, Honey Brown, Pale Ale and IPA.

Here's a link to High Falls Brewery's web site. Lots of interesting stuff there and I borrowed (stole) heavily for the section below. Hope they don't mind. Check out their site for a more in-depth look at the High Falls Story.

A little history:
The current High Falls Brewery originated as the Rau and Reisky Brewery in 1857 in Rochester, NY. It was located next to the highest of three water falls. These were great places for breweries back then because, without refrigeration, caves were cut into the solid rock walls which provided excellent insulation.

In 1878 the name was changed to the Genesee Brewing Company by new owner Mathius Kondolf.

The brewery continued until 1919 when Prohibition forced its closing. In 1932 Louis Wehle purchased it and part of the Barthelomay Brewery to create the new Genesee Brewing Company.

In 1952, Miss Genny is unveiled - the company's most successful advertising campaign.

1994 - J.W. Dundee's Honey Brown Lager is introduced.

2000 - Genesee is reorganized as High Falls Brewery

2008 - J.W. Dundee becomes Dundee and more craft type beers are brewed - six year round and 4 seasonal.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Holiday Ales

The fourth meeting of the Beer Club took place on Friday, December 18, 2009 at the Rileys. The theme, appropriately enough was "Holiday Ales." As more and more craft brewers are getting into the game, seasonal brews are becoming much more commonplace. Before the craft beer explosion, the closest thing to a seasonal was the annual release of Bock beers in the spring by some brewers. Now we have Octoberfests and Harvest Ales in the fall, Holiday brews as the holiday season approaches, Spiced Winter Ales, Maibocks as well as Bock beers in the spring, and Summer Ales. All of which are brewed in limited quantities.

The full compliment of members were present and for the first time, our very own Mike Watkins threw his hat into the ring with his own home holiday brew - Hoppy Holidays. The competing beers were as follows:

Great Lakes Christmas Ale
J.W. Dundee's Festival Ale
Otter Creek's Winter Ale
Middle Ages Winter Warmer
Saranac's Seasonal Beer
Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale
Watkin's Hoppy Holiday Ale
Using our usual scoring system the results were as follows:
1. Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale - 15 points with 4 1st place votes - Comments: "Pale, cloudy, hoppiest so far; hops throughout the gauntlet cloudy amber color, very hoppy, excellent beer, nice finish; nice color;  hoppy."

2. Watkins' Hoppy Holidays - One first place and three 2nd place votes - Comments: "Yummy, delicious, deep red color; nice finish, cloudy; nice hop start, clean finish; cloudy red color, full bodied, very tasty, interesting; not too spicy; mysteriously murky with an end well! Best brew of the night!"

3. Great Lakes Christmas Ale - 24 points - four 3rd place nods. Comments: "Spicy flavor, copper color; clean start, finished with a nice hop taste; copper color, very distinctive taste; spicy finish, crisp wintery spice taste; lighter, good on pancakes, replaces maple syrup (almost)."

4. J. W. Dundee Festival Ale - Comments: "Very tasty - tastes like more - a good session beer; not too hoppy, slight malt; malty, smooth, slight bitter aftertaste; light; I was dying of thirst here (only first place vote - and it was from Mike Watkins who brewed Hoppy Holidays. Just to show how we protect the identity of the beers as they are being tasted.); amber, rich, goes down smooth."

5/6 - Tied at 34 points - listed alphabetically: Otter Creek Winter Ale: Comments: "Aroma of raspberries,  nice winter drink, nice bitter, not sweet, not hoppy; subtle raspberry, not overpowering, too sweet."

5/6 - Saranac's Seasonal - Comments: "Again very nice, pale lighter color, more malt than hops; light hooppy start; red in color, nice balance tilting toward malty/sweet; smooth; easy taste."

7. Middle Ages Winter Wizard - 40 points (three 7th, two 6th) - Comments: "fruity, caramel color' banana; somewhat banana undertaste; smooth, some hops; fruity; reddish, somewhat bitter/with banana; Hello!"

Congrats to Mike for taking a very respectable second place to Sierra Nevada which is one of the gold standards for good hoppy interesting beers. Nearly everyone placed his beer first or second. It's a terrific beer and remember, these were blind taste tests.

I hate to see Middle Ages fare so poorly, it's a great local brewery, but they tend to hew much more closely to the English style beers rather than the hoppier brews we tend to be drawn to.

Along with the beers, we had some terrific food - with a Mexican theme. Perfect for nice bold beers.

Next we move this movable feast to Gerry's and we will be tasting some British beers.