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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wow! A busy month and there's a lot to talk about. The latest Beer Club meeting battled it out with Stouts. We traveled to Italy where wine is king and good beer is, well, hard to find. Also we're looking into moving away from our current format to something a little different which I think will be quite interesting. So let's kick it off with our War Between the Stouts.
The winner?

Give Me Some Beers That are Stout-Hearted Beers...

Since we looked at Porters last time, we thought it might be a good idea to take a look at Porter's most famous offspring: Stouts. Guinness coined the term Stout when the called their Porter a Stout Porter. Soon "Porter" was dropped from the name and it became known as simply Guinness Stout. The classic Stout is a deep black in color with a very full, creamy head. Guinness has a rich, nutty, malty taste with pleasant bitter undertones. Though not heavily hopped, Guinness has a stronger hop presence than it's Irish cousins: Murphys, Beamish et. al. Most Stouts have notes of coffee and chocolate in varying degrees. Guinness is very balanced. It is not highly carbonated and, contrary to popular belief, it is relatively low in alcohol, weighing in at around 4.1%, which is the case with most Stouts.

Alas, No Guinness, For We Know it Well

In our head-to-head comparisons, we did not include Guinness primarily because it is so iconic we were afraid it would be too easily recognized, thus skewing the blind taste parameters we try to stick to. I am, however, enjoying one as I write. Ergo, Guinness shall be my Muse as we explore the results of our head to head comparisons.

Beer Bracketology

We decided to have a little fun with our competition this month. We choose to set up our competition Bracket style, ala the NCAA Tournament. Thus the beers would go head-to-head and then advance. We ended up with nine beers, however, so we decided on a play in match to get the requisite 8 necessary.

The Play-In Round

This first round set the tone. Deadlocked after six votes, I had to step in for the tie-breaking vote. My house, so I only voted if there was a tie since I was the only one who knew which beers were competing.

Great Lakes Brewery's Blackout Stout
- 9.0% ABV - Great Lakes from Cleveland has been a real comer in the Craft Brewing world. They have established a presence through clever appellations evoking iconic historic events and characters associated with the Great Lakes regions, such as Eliot Ness Amber Lager, Commodore Perry IPA and Burning River Pale Ale. More importantly, they have created a number of excellent beers, and their Blackout Stout is no exception. A rich black in color with a dark, full head, Blackout Stout has a solid hops presence balanced by a malty smoothness. There is an interesting spiciness, and a sweet, malty quality as well.


Shipyard Brewery's Blue Fin Stout - 4.7% ABV - Shipyard Brewery is out of Portland, Maine. They have a solid line-up of beers including Shipyard Export, Shipyard IPA, Old Thumper ESB, and Chamberlain Pale Ale. Their Stout is a classic Irish Stout with a bit more carbonation than would be normally found in Guinness or Murpheys. Pitch black in color with a rich head and rich malty nose. Caramel and malt flavors dominate with a roasted malt finish.

The Winner is...
Great Lakes Blackout Stout - In a close 4-3 overtime decision.

-ROUND 1 -
Game 1
Blackout Stout - Described previously


Paper City's Riley's Irish Stout - 5.5% ABV - Paper City Brewery is located in Holyoke, MA and has been in operation since 1996. They produce a wide variety of European influenced beers including Holyoke Dam Ale (an English style ale), Ireland Parish Golden Ale, and Winter Palace Wee Heavy. Their Irish Stout is classically black in color with a rich tan head. Distinctive chocolate notes predominate with many noting an undertone of coffee and tea!

The Winner -
Paper City's Riley's Irish Stout in a 4-3 decision
Game 2 -

Middle Ages Black Heart Stout - 6.6% ABV - Middle Ages Brewery in Syracuse, NY is fast becoming one of the premier craft breweries certainly in New York State. Using the Middle Ages as a theme, they create an impressive array of distinctive, British Isles-inspired brews, with their own unique spin. From their flagship Syracuse Pale Ale to their aggressive Dragonslayer Imperial Stout, Middle Ages beers are always bold and unique. Black Heart Stout was described variously by our judges to have coffee and chocolate overtones, a full taste, sweet with a slight hops presence.


Murphy's Irish Stout - 4.0% ABV - Murphy's was the only beer produced in Ireland in the competition and it did not fare well. It was not as deep black as the other, more of a dark brown. The head was not as full and it was described variously as "weak, watery, disappointing, bland and flat." A bit surprising, but having tasted it myself, I agreed. At least in comparison to the other contestants, it was a disappointment. Not surprisingly...

The winner is...

Middle Ages Black Heart Stout - In a unanimous blowout.

Game 3 -

Sam Adams Imperial Stout - 9.5% - To call the Boston Brewing Company a craft brewery stretches the definition a bit. It has grown to be one of the larger breweries in the country after the Big 3. Nonetheless, they brew some excellent beers. Sam Adams Lager and Ale are excellent session beers and are often life savers. In a bar or restaurant with taps dominated by Light this and Lite that, Sam Adams often can be found as the lone voice for a flavorful beer. But Sam also produces an"Imperial" series of big, assertive beers. Their Imperial Stout is an impressive beer. It has a "take no prisoners" bold flavor that either you're going to love or hate. It was by far the most distinctive beers in the group. It created quite a buzz (literally and figuratively) with comments like: "Wow! I'll remember that. Odd. Distinctive. Too sweet. Large. Strong. Malty." I personally was impressed with it and loved its unique character.

Watkins Lake Effect Imperial Stout - 10% ABV - Created by one of our members - master home brewer Mike Watkins, he wanted to enter this to see how it fared. Mike brews his beer from hops he grows himself and his motto is "There's no such thing is too many hops!" As a result, his Imperial Stout had a strong hops presence which was surprisingly well balanced with a rich maltiness. Though one reviewer considered the beer weak, most took note of the hops.
This was a bit like having a couple of number 2 seeds play each other in the first round - not really fair to either, nonetheless...

The Winner is...
Watkins Lake Effect Imperial Stout
in a nail-biter.

Game 4 -

Heavy Seas Peg Leg Imperial Stout (Brewed by Clipper City Brewing) - 8.0% - Heavy Seas out of Baltimore, MD is another fun brewery that follows a theme (in this case the sea and pirates) and creates an impressive number of brews, from their Red Sky At Night Saison Ale up to their Mutiny Fleet series of big beers. Peg Leg falls in the middle, though 8.0% is a solid middle. A deep mahogany in color with a rich brownish head, this beer drew raves all around. It has a deep, nutty flavor described by one of the judges as a "full, malty robust taste," which I think nails it. Some described its taste as "spicy" while one said "buttery." We noticed sediment in the bottom of the glass, to which Dan said, "Awesome!"


Victory Brewing Company's Storm King Imperial Stout - 9.1% ABV - Victory Brewing Company is located in Downingtown, PA. Best know for their Hop Devil, Prima Pils, Golden Monkey mixed 12 packs, Victory produces at least nine other beers on a regular basis plus an array of interesting seasonals. Never ones to shy away from good, flavorful brews, their Storm King Imperial Stout scored well with our judges. A very flavorful beer with a strong initial hops bite followed by a deep roasted malt that would warm the cockles of any beer lover's heart.

The Winner Is...
Victory Brewing Company's Storm King Imperial Stout - in a last second buzzer beater.

game 1

Riley's Irish Stout vs. Blackheart Stout
The winner...
Middle Ages Black heart Stout

game 2
Font sizes Lake Effect Imperial Stout vs. Victory Storm King Imperial Stout
The winner
Watkins Lake Effect Stout

-Round 3 - The Finals-

Watkins Lake Effect Imperial Stout Vs. Middle Ages Black Heart Stout

The Champion:

Middle Ages Black Heart Stout

In Italy There is No Beer - That's Why We Drink it Here...

Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but Italy is not really known for its beer. Wine, yes. Coffee, yes. Beer, not so much. Peroni and Nastro Azzurro are the predominant brands and both are essentially light (in the traditional sense of the word, as opposed to dark) lagers. If you're looking for something with hops, or even something with a solid maltiness, you'll be hard pressed to find it here.

So why bring up Italy? Well, a bunch of us (several members of the Battle of the Beers club) and wives traveled to the land of Michelangelo for a whirlwind tour. We booked through Trafalger Tours, which meant we traveled by bus from Rome to Venice to Verona to Florence to Sorrento to Capri and back to Rome. The success of such a tour is greatly dependent upon your tour guide and here we struck gold with Maria. A vivacious and tireless guide, Maria has a seemingly bottomless well of knowledge about all things Italia. Whether it was geographic, historic, artistic, linguistic - or any other -ic - Maria had the info.

We were in Rome on Easter Sunday and it was a bit of a zoo. The Pope addressed an enormous crowd. Unfortunately the weather was dreary. Because it was Easter Sunday, the Sistine Chapel was closed to tours so we would not see that until the end of our tour. It was worth the wait. It's one of those things you just can't appreciate until you see it first hand.
Rome is a strange city. Some of the most amazing art work in the world resides there along with the ancient ruins of the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. But at the same time, I have never seen more graffiti in my life. It seems every square inch of available space is covered with it. And it's not artistic graffiti either. It's just random scribbles. It's as if some strange graphic virus ran rampant through much of the city. It's unfortunate.

This is a beer blog, so I do want to return to potables. In Italy that means wine not beer. Many of the meals we had included vast amounts of wine. Generally that meant a choice of a dry red wine or white wine. And it was delicious. My preference is for dry reds, but I found the whites to be tasty as well. Often the wine was served in large earthen pitchers (see photo to the left).
Maria pointed out that Italian wines were much lower in sulfites than wines sold in America and therefore we were likely to not experience headaches from overindulgence often brought on by the sulfites. We may have put this theory to the test once or twice simply in the name of science, of course.

Shelly took full advantage
of the seemingly limitless supply of wine,
bless her heart.



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