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Friday, August 10, 2012

Hop-ology - Please Sir, Can We Have Some More?

Sherman on the Mount

A Beer By Any Other Name
How About a Shot of Culture With that Beer?

     'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
     Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
     What's a Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
     Nor arm, nor face nor any other part
     Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
     What's in a name? That which we call a rose
     By any other name would smell as sweet;
     So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd
     Retain that dear perfection which he owes 
     Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
     And for that name which is no part of thee
     Take all myself.

Wise words from the oh-so-much-wiser-than-her-age (around 13) Juliet in Shakespeare's immortal Romeo and Juliet. Put simply: it matters not what someone (or something) is called, but who (or what) they (it) actually are (is.) In the case of our famous star-crossed lovers, Romeo is a Montague and the Montagues and Capulets (Juliet's family) were the Hatfields and McCoys of Shakespeare's Verona. Therefore, by dint of his name alone, Juliet is supposed to hate him. (Luckily, in our modern and enlightened world such arbitrary judgments based on such trivial things as one's last name, skin color or religion have long since vanished.)

Yet, prodded by teenage hormones and the machinations of masquerade ball chicanery, she gets to know the boy before she knows the name. Of course the whole thing ended in a three day affair, a secret marriage and six dead, but her point is, none-the-less, well taken.

In the world of brewing, however, there is much in a name (how's that for a segue?). Budweiser years ago branded itself "The King of Beers," and when it comes to production, marketing and sales, who can argue? Budweiser created a legion of brand loyalists not by brewing the best beer, but by hiring the very best advertising agencies. Budweiser is undoubtedly the King of Image. Budweiser sells macho, red-blooded American rugged individualism like nobody's business. Bud Lite goes after the younger crowd, while maintaining its "boys' club" vibe. It's been brilliant marketing of a somewhat bland lager that has kept it at the top of the heap of bland lagers. 

Look, I have nothing against Budweiser, per se. It's just that Anheuser-Busch products are like those invasive species of weeds. It is everywhere. Any venue that sells beer will have A-B beers. But like the way those weeds can dominate a landscape, forcing out all other forms of vegetation, A-B beers tend to hog space that could be available for other, more interesting beers. Shelf space in a store, taps in a bar. These are limited commodities and A-B products demand so much of it, followed by Miller/Coors, that in many places your choice is no choice. Craft beers are crowded out. In a typical bar, by the time taps are set aside for Bud, Bud Lite, Bud Select, Miller, Miller Lite, Miller 56 (or whatever the hell the number is), Coors Light, Blue Moon, Shocktop and maybe,if you're lucky, Sam Adams Boston Lager, what's left? Well, if it's in the summer, you might get a seasonal, which is another light, fruit-flavored beer.  So your choice is Lager, Lite Lager or Light fruity Lager.

Why is this so? Because the the big breweries have the power. What's in a name? Well, if you're Budweiser, everything.

Once upon a time the Battle of the Beers was Budweiser vs. Miller vs. Schlitz (yes, Schlitz). Today it is the mega brewers vs. the craft beer industry. As far as volume is concerned, it is no contest. The big guys easily kick the craft brewers' collective butts. But the little guys are slowly making gains. Each year for the last several years, craft brewing's piece of the pie has grown. And the big guys have taken notice. This all begs the question: why don't the big breweries brew their own "craft" beers? Why is there no Budweiser IPA? No Miller Stout? No Coors Porter? Instead they get lighter and lighter in a race to see who can, in fact, get closest to water (or, as the joke goes, make love in a canoe).

The answer, I suspect, lies in the philosophies of the two industries: love of money vs. love of beer. This is not to suggest that craft brewers have no interest in making money. Indeed, most of them produce a somewhat middle-of-the-road brew that appeals to a wider base - consider Sam Adams Lager and Sam Adams Light - and most produce a fruity seasonal that sells very well. There are more and more Shandies out there. But they also brew full-bodied beers with complex flavors. To do so requires costly ingredients: barley malt instead of corn and rice; copious amounts of hops. So, where the craft brewers opt to put their money into making good beer, the big guys would rather keep making the same old same old and put their money into making good commercials.

Hooray For Rye 
He's Our Kind of Guy

One of the recent trends in craft brewing has been the movement toward Rye IPAs and it has been a tasty trend. There is something about the use of rye that produces a fuller, rounder flavor that just fills the mouth. S-N's Ruthless Rye is a great example, and Harpoon at long last has released their Rich and Dan's Rye IPA which we were lucky enough to review back in May. We found it a terrific "Can't get enough!" brew and have been waiting patiently (well, not that patiently) for it to arrive in stores. I found it in a Wegman's and immediately bought all they had on the shelf. At a time when summer beers dominate the shelves, it was great to see this one bucking the fruity trend.

Samuel Adams Hop-ology - a Mixed 12 For the Ages

Last summer, Samuel Adams made a limited release 12-pack of Latitude 48 called Latitude 48 Deconstructed. It was marvelous. Just as summer rolled around again, we felt a great deal of nostalgia for Deconstructed, and Sam came out with a new limited-release that caught our attention - IPA Hop-ology. First of all, anything with the word "hop" in it makes us sit up and take notice. It's kind of like that old "SEX - now that I have your attention" gambit. Well, HOP got our attention. And upon closer inspection we found the mixed-12 had 6 intriguing beers: Latitude 48, Grumpy Monk Belgian IPA, Whitewater IPA, Tasman Red, Dark Depths, and Third Voyage. Whereas last month we looked at what I referred to as "the lighter side of Sam" with some level of interest and professional curiosity, this month we dove into some of Sam's more complex brews with great anticipation. 


THE BEER FACTS: 5.7 ABV - 55 IBU Color: 13 SRM - Malt: Sam Adams two-row pale malt, Bohemian pils malt, Honey malt. Hops: Ahtanum, Simcoe, Cascade, Amarillo, Fuggles, Saaz. Yeast: Belgian ale Yeast - First Brewed 2009

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our inspiration for this brew began with the idea of taking some of the elements we loved about IPAs, with their citrusy, piney character, and seeing what happened when we combined it with other style influences...The result is golden ale with layers of complex flavor from apricot and clove, to a cereal maltiness, and a citrusy hop finish."

POUR: Decent head, foamy and white

COLOR: Rich yellow/honey

AROMA: Floral and pleasantly summery

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Nicely balanced, with notes of muted clove and a slight bit of bready maltiness.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: A little beyond "I could drink this!"

COMMENTS: "If you hop it, they will come; Nice hoppiness that's pleasant, balanced with a nice malt; Sweet on the lips - slightly bitter after; For a Belgian, it tastes good to me; A good summer beer; A boat or lawnmower beer; The label is good to look at, the Monk is grumpy because his stein is empty; Nice artwork on the labels."


THE BEER FACTS: 5.8% ABV - 60 IBUs - COLOR: 14 SRM - MALTS: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend and white wheat - HOPS: Australian Topaz, Ameriaca Chinook, Cascade, Simcoe, Citra - YEAST: Samuel Adams ale yeast - SPECIAL INGREDIENTS: Orange peel, coriander, apricot - AVAILABLE: Year round - FIRST BREWED: 2012

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "We love hops at Samuel Adams, and while we enjoy traditional IPAs, we thought we might spice things up a little bit, literally, by combining the intense hop character of an IPA with the crisp spicy wheat charcter of a Belgian-style white ale."

POUR: Decent off-white head about a finger's worth, and cloudy (unfiltered)

COLOR: Honey

AROMA: Bready/earthy

BODY: Medium

TASTE: A little sweet and spicy up front with a bitter hoppiness at the finish, with bready notes and a hint of apricot.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Pretty much midway between "I could drink this" and "Can't get enough."

COMMENTS: "Reminds me of Saranac's White IPA, but maybe not quite as hoppy; There is a pine aftertaste; The label says there is an apricot taste, but I can't taste it; I like this - it's a good beer; It's a beer that's good to sit around the pool with; A wheat that doesn't taste like a wheat; It's a nice summer beer."


THE BEER FACTS: 6% ABV - 60 IBUs - COLOR: 20 SRM - MALT: Samuel Adams 2-row pale malt blend, Caramel 60, Gambrinus Honey Malt - HOPS: Hallertau Mittelfrueh Nobel hops, East Kent Goldings, Zeus, Simcoe, Ahtanum - YEAST: Samuel Adams Ale Yeast - Available year round - FIRST BREWED: 2009.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA is a unique IPA brewed with a select blend of hops from top German, English, and American growing regions all located close to the 48th latitude within the "hop belt" of the Northern Hemisphere. The combination of hops in this beer creates a distinctive but not overpowering hop character."

POUR: Decent whitish head with about a finger's worth of foam. It, too, is cloudy (unfiltered.) 

COLOR: Dark honey to amber
AROMA: Deliciously hoppy

BODY: Between medium and full

TASTE: Hoppy/bitter with notes of grapefruit hops and malt


COMMENTS: "It attacks the tongue; That's a good beer!; It's brewed with a lot of hops and a lot of malt; It's a big beer; There's a nice bitter aftertaste that makes you want to go to the next sip; A reasonably priced, really good IPA; Aptly named as it has a lot of 'latitude'; You can taste the deconstructed hops; A good 'hide it from the company' beer."


THE BEER FACTS: 6.75% ABV - 60 IBUs - COLOR: 14 SRM - MALTS: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, Special B, and Carafa III - HOPS: Australian Topaz, Galaxy - YEAST: Samuel Adams ale yeast - AVAILABILITY: limited release - FIRST BREWED: 2011.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: Bold, lively, and a bit rugged, this wily red IPA gets its character from the Tasmanian hops that are full of grapefruit, pine, and earthy notes, creating a bold flavor that threads throughout the taste...This flavorful brew is rounded and smooth with a dry and citrusy hop finish."

POUR: Decent creamy head with good retention.

COLOR: Brown with hints of red (maybe auburn)

AROMA: Sort of a coffee aroma

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Not an overwhelming hops taste, but a complex flavor. Perhaps a bit of licorice with notes of roasty malt, toffee and coffee, with a bit of a bitter finish

OVERALL IMPRESSION: "I could drink this!"

COMMENTS: "Less balanced and more to the malty side; More Oktoberfest - sweeter and maltier; It would be a GREAT Oktoberfest. It would rule all the other Oktoberfests if it were brewed as such; There's enough alcohol to make you pay attention; It's more of a Porter style IPA than other IPAs."


THE BEER FACTS: 7.6% ABV - 55 IBUs - COLOR: 60 SRM - MALT: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, Caramel 60, Munich, Carafa I - HOPS: Zeus, Ahtanum, Saaz, East Kent Goldings, Topaz, Simcoe - YEAST: Samuel Adams lager yeast - AVAILABILITY: limited - FIRST BREWED: 2011 - OTHER STUFF: Despite IPA (India Pale ALE) in its name, Dark Depth is technically a LAGER which began life as a PORTER. 

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Dark and fierce, this English porter was transformed form a mild ale to a dark and complex lager that confounds definition. Immersed in dark, roasted malts and a bold citrus hop character, these big and contrasting flavors are brought together with the smoothness of a lager for a brew that's rugged, mysterious and full of flavor."

POUR: Decent creamy, off-white head with good retention
COLOR: Dark mahogany

AROMA: Vanilla and sorghum

BODY: Thick/full

TASTE: Sweet with notes of caramel toffee

OVERALL IMPRESSION: "I could drink this!"

COMMENTS: "It's a dessert beer; Has the taste of a Baltic Porter; Tastes like molasses/sorghum; I'd drink it if it's all I had in my fridge; It's a good 'kick back beer' - drink one and head to bed."


THE BEER FACTS: 8% ABV - 80 IBUs - COLOR: 24 SRM - MALT: Samuel Adams two-row malt blend - Caramalt, honey malt - HOPS: Cascade, Simcoe, Zeus, Summer Saaz - YEAST: Samuel Adams ale yeast - AVAILABILITY: limited - FIRST BREWED: 2011

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Bright and intense with a vivid hop punch. Third Voyage features Cascade hops from different growing regions throughout the world. The unique conditions of soil, moisture, and sunlight from each yield subtle differences that make this beer a complex medley of hop notes."

POUR: Decent creamy off-white head with respectable retention.

COLOR: Rich amber

AROMA: A little yeast, raw bread dough, cookie dough

BODY: Very near full/thick

TASTE: Balanced - it has a "double" taste to it, malty with a bitter finish

OVERALL IMPRESSION: "Can't get enough!"

COMMENTS: "This is the star of the 12-pack; It dwarfs the rest; An aftertaste that screams, 'More of me'; The aroma is concealed by the full mouth taste; A real sailor's beer; Hoppy-malty-bitter - it's a three tiered taste!"


...In a word: "us." Six terrific beers in one 12 pack. No losers. Wow! Our overall favorite was probably Third Voyage with Latitude 48 a close second. The others were all delicious, with each of us preferring some better than others. But overall, we'd like to see Sam make this available year round!

The Gold Medal Goes to: Third Voyage

The Silver Medal Goes to: Latitude 48

The Bronze Medal Goes to: Tasman Red

Tough call on the last three. There was a kind of a split between Dark Depths and Whitewater, with the nod going to Whitewater by a nose. Grumpy Monk we saw as nice boat beer, pretty easy-drinking and a mild alcohol profile. So...

4. Whitewater
5. Dark Depths
6. Grumpy Monk

The BOTB Guys 

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