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Friday, August 31, 2012

Autumn Adams


A Little Faux Mellencamp

Went to buy beer in a small town;
There's no craft brew in this small town;
No IPA .in my small home town;
Just lots a' Bud and Miller beer.

If I want good beer in this small town;
Need to drive miles from my ol' small town;
My beer money goes to some other big town;
Wish I could spend it here.

I do, in fact, live in a small town, and running to the local Big M to pick up a six of something good is, shall we say, problematic. The Big M has a nice, big walk-in beer cooler, so you would think that there would be plenty of room for a few good beers. But, once they have set aside room for Bud in: 30 packs, 24 packs, 12 packs, 6 packs, 12 ounce bottles, 12 ounce cans, 22 ounce bottles, various light versions with and without lime, not to mention various sizes, shapes and styles of Michelob (pricey Bud) and Busch (cheapo Bud), there is barely enough room left to squeeze in the mandatory Miller, Coors, Pabst varieties. There's usually a brief nod to foreign beers (Guinness, Becks). But craft beers? Well, there's Sam Adams Lager and usually Magic Hat No. 9 Not Quite Pale Ale.
But try to find an IPA. No way. A stout other than Guinness? You wish. A Porter? That's a tall order.There are lagers and light ales by the dozens. But other than a couple of flagship beers some of the larger craft brewers, there's nothing.
Now, none of this is new. I've bitched about it before ad infinitum as any reader of this blog knows. But I got thinking of the concept of "flagship" brews. Most breweries have what they consider their bread-and-butter beer. It's usually the one that got them on the map. Or it's their best seller. But is it their best beer? Below, strictly for the sake of debate, I've listed a number of breweries, their flagship beer, and then what I humbly consider a superior brew produced by them. This is strictly 100% subjective. The breweries chosen are fairly random ones which had a flagship brew that sort of jumped out at you. You are welcome to jump into the fray with your own examples or refute those I have selected. Of course, my preferences will lean heavily toward the hoppy.

Flagship: Sam Adams Lager

 For a straight-up lager - it blows away the big brewery's lagers. There's no comparison. Just place it side-by-side next to any of the macro-brew lagers - it's darker, richer looking, with a thick, full off-white head that has some staying power. And the flavor is vastly superior (meaning that there actually IS flavor) with a decent if not extraordinary hop presence.    

Better Adams: Latitude 48 IPA

An exceptional and surprisingly affordable IPA. Well balanced but with a good hop kick to it. 

Flagship: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Oftentimes a lifesaver in a restaurant or bar. It may well be the only decent beer available. It's tough to find a S-N beer that isn't good. Their pale ale is hoppier than many and is a classic West Coast Pale Ale. Terrific session beer. 

Better S-N: Ruthless Rye

I must admit, I've become a fan of Rye IPA's lately. Anything but pale, Ruthless Rye is a seasonal brew that you wish was year-round. The rye adds a complexity to a well-hopped brew. 

Flagship: No. 9 Not Quite Pale Ale

Not quite a fan of this beer that seems to crop up all over. Apparently it's very popular as they never "retire" it like they do some of their others. It has a strong taste of apricot and wheat. I've seen it said that it makes a good introductory beer for someone not used to craft beers. Maybe. I have yet to find anyone who really likes this beer. Macro-brew drinkers won't go there and craft brew aficionados view it as a light-weight. 

Better Hat (by far): hI.P.A.

A much superior brew. At 70 IBUs it has a nice hop bitterness.

Flagship: Syracuse Pale Ale

A classic English style Pale Ale, more malt than hop. A very good session beer, but...

Better Middle: The Duke of Winship

A neat hybrid of Scotch Ale and English Porter. The Porter has a nice way of taking the sharp edge typical of Scotch Ales, creating a mellow brew with a complex, malty taste.

Flagship: Dortmunder Gold

The beer that Great Lakes was built on, it's a golden lager with a kiss of hops.

Better Lake: Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale

A big, bold interesting brew. Powerfully hopped yet very balanced. 

Flagship: Guinness Stout

Okay, so Guinness is not in any sense of the word a craft brewery. It is a world-wide brewer, and Guinness Stout is becoming nearly as ubiquitous as Budweiser. But since Guinness Stout is sort of the epitome of the style, I thought I'd include it here. For all the hoopla, Guinness Stout is a very easy-drinking, mild, malty beverage. 

Better Guinness
Guinness Foreign Extra

It's essentially a hopped up version of their stout. A few years ago they came out with Guinness 250 to celebrate 250 years of brewing. That beer was similar to this and was more popular in the US than in Ireland. 250 was a limited release and is no longer available, but Foreign Extra has been around for about 200 years and shows no sign of vanishing. While I enjoy a Guinness Stout now and then as a change of pace, I really like the Foreign Extra, though it is much more difficult to find.

Flagship: 60 Minute IPA

A nice, inoffensive IPA. It won't hit you in the face with hops so it makes a good sort of entry-level IPA.

Better Dog: Indian Brown Ale

The obvious choice here would have been the 90 Minute or 120 Minute, but I decided to go in a different direction here with their Indian Brown Ale. It's a brown ale with hops for a kind of brown ale/IPA hybrid. 

Flagship: Arrogant Bastard

"This is an aggressive ale. You probably won't like it. It is quite likely that you don't have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory - maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign..." With those words printed boldly on their bottle, Stone Brewing fired a shot across the bow of the mega-brewers and challenged the American beer drinkers to strap on a pair and delve into the world of bold beers. Go here: if you've never read the entire statement - it's a brilliant bit of  reverse psychology/mission statement/in-your-face-Budweiser promotion.

Better Stone: Arrogant Bastard

Come on. Tough to beat that ol' Bastard. However, you might want to try their version of "light" - Levitation Ale. The best low-alcohol (4.4%) beer I've ever had - amazingly hoppy and complex. 


We kicked off our latest BOTB meeting with a bit of nostalgia. We opened the session with Genesee 12 Horse Ale. Dan provided us with some of those short retro-style bottles of this beer from our collective youths. Genesee Brewing is one of those regional breweries (Northeast) that survived the battle of the megabrews that decimated many of the smaller breweries through the '60's and '70's and into the '80's before the emergence of the micro-brews. It's a funny thing with regional companies: people either retain a fierce loyalty to their product inspired by pride of place, or else there is sort of self-loathing view that anything local and small can't possibly be very good. Genesee Beer has always had a loyal following; to the point that people who moved out of state routinely have cases shipped to them. On the other hand, there are those who loathed the beer which, really, was pretty much the same as every other American beer pre-craft beer times. 
So who had the Clydsdales first?
But Genny also produced some interesting brews other than their flagship Genesee Beer. One of them was 12 Horse Ale. And tipping one of those took us all on a nice trip down memory lane. 12 Horse was a bit different from Bud and the other Bud wanna' be's of the time. We didn't rate this beer or any of the other "palate cleansers" we enjoyed prior to the Sam Adams selections du jour. But our intrepid club recorder, Ron, did dutifully jot down some of the comments regarding the 12 Horse. To whit: "It's a good golf cart beer; It really takes me back; Has a clean finish; Not bad; There is no after-taste; It makes one awash with reminiscence; I had a Bud the other day, and this is better." Ron kindly did not divulge who had the Bud, but I must come clean. It was, alas, yours truly. One of those situations where I was a guest and it was the only beer. It would have been rude not to partake. But seriously, what a boring beer!


Sam's sent us a few autumn selections this month, so it's time to leave those fruity summer ales behind and checkout the bounty of heartier, mostly malty brews that come with the changing of the leaves. (Thanks to Ron Walter for the above photo taken at Selkirk Shores.) 


THE BEER FACTS: Awesome label: a somewhat wrinkled, pudgy, pale pumpkin face with a sinister expression. 8.5% ABV; 25 IBUs; Color 25 SRM; Malts - Sam Adams 2 row malt blend, rye, special B, smoked malt; Hops - East Kent Golding, Fuggles; Other Stuff - Pumpkin, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Pleasantly plump and satisfied. This rich and luscious brew indulges in flavor with over 28 lbs. of pumpkin per barrel, for a full bodied sweetness and deep russet color."

POUR: Beautiful, foamy effervescent head the color of creamed coffee

COLOR: Antique walnut

AROMA: Caramel-ly

BODY: Medium to full

TASTE: Sweet, with notes of spices, smoke, toffee, and coffee

OVERALL IMPRESSION: "I Could Drink This!" (Though opinions - as noted below - varied greatly.)

COMMENTS: "Nice color and nice, creamy head; This could rewrite pumpkin beers; I kind of like it; They didn't disguise it enough - it still tastes like pumpkin beer; I would rather they used the pumpkins in pies; If this was the last beer served at my friends house, I would drink it; Dark porter taste with pumpkin; There seems to be little or no cloves or coriander taste, which is good in my opinion; It is more like a malty porter; It is a lot less sweet than last year's pumpkins; It is more beer-like than any other pumpkin beer I've ever had; If you put enough alcohol in it, you can even drink pumpkin beers."


Not our first time with this brew. We included it last year in our Oktoberfest tasting. New label though. Nice!  Samuel Adams gave us food pairings to accompany their Octoberfest. They suggested sausage. Yes, sausage! Come on - what doesn't go with sausage? I could (almost) drink a Bud with sausage. Oktoberfests are a German Marzaan style, so nothing says German like processed meat. 

THE BEER FACTS: 5.3% ABV; 15 IBUs; Malts: Sam Adams two-row malt blend, Munich -10, Caramel 60; Hops: Tettnang Tettnanger, Hallertau Mitterfrau Nobel Hops; Yeast: Sam Adams lager yeast

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Samuel Adams Octoberfest has a rich, deep reddish amber hue which itself is reflective of the season. ...Octoberfest masterfully blends together five roasts of malt to create a delicious harmony of sweet flavors including caramel and toffee."

POUR: A better than decent head, slightly off color ecru

COLOR: Copper

AROMA: Malty

BODY: A bit less than medium

TASTE: More toward sweet than balanced, with strong notes of malt

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: A somewhat indifferent "I could drink this."

COMMENTS: "Nice label' It's on tap at the Hot Spot in Sackett's Harbor and at Ruby Tuesday's; It really isn't much; Hey, it's refreshing; It's a malty marzen; It's pretty weak; Not a bad Oktoberfest; It's very drinkable; The Tasman Red would have been a much better and braver choice; It's a good example of the style; It's a little better than most Oktoberfests."


Next up: Hazel Brown from Sam Adam's Harvest Variety Pack. The label is, again, very pleasing. One might expect the usual nut brown ale, but the first whiff and the first taste tell you otherwise. This is a beer that tastes, not of fruit, but nuts (as the name implies). Ron reminisced about his in-laws' hazelnut trees, saying, "Yeah, that's the taste." Whether that's the taste you want in your beer or not is a matter of, well, personal taste. Nuts are great to eat with beer no matter what. 

THE BEER FACTS: 5.2% ABV; 20 IBUs; COLOR: 28 SRM; MALT: Samuel Adams two-row malt blend, Caramel 60, Dingeman's biscuit, Paul's Roasted Barley; HOPS: Hallertau Mittlefrueh Nobel Hops, East Kent Goldings.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "In honor of the fall hazelnut harvest, we brew this flavorful nut brown ale. Its distinct hazelnut aroma and taste are accentuated by slightly sweet caramel and toffee malt notes. Medium in body, it finishes smooth with an underlying spiciness, making it a great choice for the fall."

POUR: Less than a decent head, not as pronounced as the others

COLOR: A nice looking brown

AROMA: Hazelnuts

BODY: Despite the claim by SA that it was medium, we felt it was pretty full, filling the mouth.

TASTE: Sweet with notes of toffee, a little caramel, and definitely hazelnuts.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: It fell somewhere between "leave it on the shelf" and "I could drink this."  Opinions varied according to one's tolerance for the taste of hazelnuts in beer.

COMMENTS: "It tastes like hazelnut coffee; It looks better than it tastes; Drink this before the Octoberfest; It has a bitter, clean finish; It's very different for a brown; If you're not fond of the hazelnut taste, you might not like it."


It's kind of fun to revisit a beer to see what we now think of it, or see how the brewer may have tweaked the recipe a bit. And sometimes it's just a matter of what beer you had before. We checked out Irish Red when we were looking at Irish beers. It fared fairly well against other beers of its ilk.

THE BEER FACTS: 5.8% ABV; 25 IBUs; COLOR: 30 SRM; MALTS: Sam Adams 2-row malt blend, caramel 60; HOPS: East Kent Golding, English Fuggles; Hallertau Mittlefrueh Nobel Hops; YEAST: Samuel Adams ale yeast

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "The gentle rains and fertile soil of Ireland helped inspire this style of ale, known for being remarkably balanced. Pale and caramel malts give Samuel Adams Irish red its rich, deep red color and distinctive caramel flavor. The sweetness of the malt is pleasantly balanced by an earthy character from the East Kent Goldings hops. Samuel Adams Irish Red finishes smooth and leaves you wanting to take another sip."

POUR: Nice lace, good off-white head

COLOR: Red/brown/mahogany

AROMA: Yeasty/bready

BODY; Medium

TASTE: Midway between balanced and sweet with strong notes of yeast and bread

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: "I could drink this!:

COMMENTS: "It has a bit of a bitter finish; A nice red; It kicks Killian's ass - it has a lot more hops; This is a nice red; It would be great on St. Patty's Day."


THE BEER FACTS: 4.9% ABV; 28 IBU; MALT: Samuel Adams 2-row pale malt blend; malted wheat, roasted unmalted barley, chocolate malt, caramel 60; HOPS: East Kent Goldings and English Fuggles; YEAST: Samuel Adams ale yeast

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: Samuel Adams Cream Stout is a true cream stout, balancing body and sweetness, with the natural spiciness of grain and hand selected English hops. Our brewers use generous portions of roasted chocolate and caramel malts as well as roasted unmalted barley to impart a fullness of body, a roasty malt character and rich, creamy head. "

POUR:  Very nice, chocolate milk head

COLOR: Very dark to pitch black

AROMA: Chocolate, coffee, and sweet

BODY: Full, thick - filled the mouth

TASTE: There is a deep roast on the malt; sweet and a tasted of burnt cocoa

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Strong opposing opinions on this one so that the final verdict landed somewhere between "I could drink this!" and "Leave it on the shelf." 

COMMENTS: "It IS creamy; It's a one-glass kind of beer; It would make a good dessert beer for chocolate cake and ice cream."

Before we leave Sam, we have to comment on their specially designed glasses again. They seem to make every pour a Guinness- like event. It was noted that no longer would you need the nitrogen to get such a pretty and unique pour. Many thanks to Sam Adams (again) for their beers and their glasses. As has been said before: "They just do beer right!"


We enjoyed a number of "palate cleanser" beers (otherwise known as "just drink 'em" beers) which we did not rate. They were a random selection brought in by each BOTB member. They included: Middle Ages 17th Anniversary Session IPA, Pyramid Outburst IPA, Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale, Stone's Arrogant Bastard, Grindstone Brewery's latest summer ale. A few thoughts from random members:

Middle Ages 17th Anniversary Session IPA: : It smells as good as it tastes; It's one of the better tasting lighter (alcohol-wise) IPAs; It reminds me of Stone's Levitation - amazing hoppy flavor in a moderate alcohol beer; I'll tell you what - that's a good beer; What a pleasant surprise."

Pyramid Outburst IPA: "It's one more bite up from the Thunderhead; Nice hops; It's a really nice beer; I like that Outburst - I'll tell you."

Burning River: "That's a great pale ale; It's a big beer; This is good!"

Stone's Arrogant Bastard: "You can't beat that Bastard; They have a right to be arrogant; Stone makes some damn good beer."

Grindstone Brewery: "Oh, yeah; That's what I'm talkin' about; I've had bad home brew, I've had good home brew, this is great home brew - this could compete with a lot of the craft brewers out there."

We'll leave you with a few shots of open mic day at Riley's - after our tastings so everyone sounded amazing!

Next month we take a look at Ryes!
The BOTB Guys


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