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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.