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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Random Samplings

Hope we don't disappoint anyone, but we opted to forgo our yearly foray into Oktoberfests. After a couple of Octobers worth of sampling these annual brews we came to the conclusion that most of them are so similar that it turns into an act of futility to try to judge one against the other. Pretty much every craft brewer produces their version of an Oktoberfest, and to stay true to the style they are of necessity malty German Marzens. While Germany is known for many wonderful things...

...hoppy beer is not one of them. The other option would be to do an all pumpkin ale meeting, but we're not masochists. After all, part of the reason for this whole BOTB venture into beerdom is an excuse to drink good beer. One pumpkin ale a year for me is plenty; it's one too many for Ron.

In the end Ron came up with the idea of just bringing a beer you like, possibly one that is not a brewery's flagship beer. Ergo, we ended up with a mixed bag of brews. So this month we'll check out what the BOTB Guys had to say about a variety of beers, plus Ron and I checked out some beers brewed in Georgia and South Carolina on a trip South. 

But First, Let's Check in at Beer Camp

 I want to throw out a solid "Way to go!" to Sierra Nevada for their current Beer Camp mixed 12. As I've mentioned before, I'm not always a fan of the mixed 12 packs because invariably there is a beer or two that ends up languishing in your fridge because you tried it and found you weren't a fan. I have a lot of faith in Sierra Nevada, though, so I thought I'd give their Beer Camp a shot. The current configuration contains: Oatmeal Stout (Beer Camp # 45), Imperial Red Ale (Beer Camp #65), Imperial Pilsner (Beer Camp # 43), Floral IPA (Beer Camp #53).

I must say, there is not a loser in the bunch. None will linger in the fridge for long. 

The Imperial Pilsner (5.6% ABV) somehow manages to be both light and full flavored, with the Crystal and Pacifica hops jumping right out at you  to deliver a surprising hop hit right off. 

The Oatmeal Stout (9.0% ABV) tastes like you always hope a stout is going to taste: rich, complex, full-bodied, with a smooth mocha flavor. A delicious, toasty taste. Definitely not a session beer, but a great sipping beer.

The Imperial Red Ale (8.1% ABV) has a very solid hop profile with a nice grapefruit-hop taste balanced by a rich malt backbone.

The Floral IPA (5.9% ABV) is not an in-your-face hop bomb, but it is a very easy-drinking IPA with a nice hoppy opening and a good full-bodied, balanced taste overall. In a strange twist, the IPA is the session beer of the bunch.

I have to say, this is one of the better mixed 12 packs I've ever had. I'm a big fan of Sierra Nevada (though not a cheerleader for them as you'll see with our review of Brux!). In fact one of the better fall seasonals out there is their Tumbler. You can usually count on them to throw a few more hops in the mix than other breweries.

Notes on Some Southern Brews

Ron and I and our respective wives took a quick trip to Georgia and South Carolina recently. Originally scheduled to fly from the 'Cuse to NYC and then to Charleston, SC, we were able to, thanks to the foresight of my spouse who kept a sharp eye on the impending path of Hurricane Sandy, switch flights and connect through Atlanta instead of what was about to become the Soggy  Apple. We lost a day off our trip, but that beat spending the entire time in LaGuardia.
We did a whirlwind tour of Savannah, GA, Hilton Head, SC, and Charleston, SC. And Ron and I attempted to sample as many different beers from those states as we could. Below are the notes we took on the various brews we tried.

Palmetto Pale Ale (Palmetto Brewing, Charleston, SC): Tastes very similar to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. 

Westbrook IPA (Westbrook Brewing Co., Mt. Pleasant, SC): Unfiltered, nice lacing, nice floral hoppy aroma, 60 IBUs, 6.9% ABV. Solid hops flavor.

Lowryeder Rye IPA (Sweetwater Brewing, Atlanta, GA): Similar to Hot Rod Rye by Bear Republic. Very nice - Simcoe hops give it a rich, grapefruit/pine taste in a very balanced IPA. Sweetwater won "Small Brewery of the Year" award. Their motto: "We're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time."

Terrapin Hopsecutioner IPA (Terrapin Brewery, Athens, GA): 7.3% ABV; 71 IBU; "You may lose your hop head over this one!" Made with six different hops (Warrior, Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade). Great beer! Big time hop aroma and taste.

Then there were three from the Moon River brewing Company. The name comes from the song written by Johnny Mercer, a native son of Savannah.
Swamp Fox IPA (Moon River Brewing, Savannah, GA): 7% ABV, Floral Hop aroma, nice hop presence, slight salty taste that works

Captain's Porter (Moon River Brewing, Savannah, GA): 5.3% ABV, typical proter, chocolate and coffee. 

Slo-Vannah American Pale Ale (Moon River Brewing, Savannah, GA) 4% ABV, malted oats added gives it a roasty, caramel taste to balance a moderate hop profile. Tastes stronger than 4%.


We kicked off our session at Ron and Vicky's with a specialty brew co-produced Sierra Nevada and Russian River breweries. It's one of those "special" concoctions that come in fancy bottles with corks. Like it was a wine. And it's priced like a wine as well, at a rather steep $14 a 750 ml. bottle. It's called a domesticated wild ale, which is, according to Russian River's web site, " ale fermented with Belgian yeast, finished be a secondary bottle fermentation with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis." (Thus the name).

This is one of those beers that, if you're a Belgian fan, you would probably find interesting. If you're a hophead - not so much so. Here's the down and dirty:

Brux - Sierra Nevada and Russian River

THE BEER FACTS: A Belgian domesticated wild ale; 8.3% ABV

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: See above quote

COLOR: Pale wheat

POUR: Quite heady especially on the initial pour - 1/2 beer 1/2 head
AROMA: Grassy, grainy

BODY: Light

TASTE: Spicy/sweet, coriander, carbonated

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Leave it on the shelf - especially at that price!

COMMENTS: "Tastes like Old Fezziwig; Nothing to write home about; Carbonated, I don't totally dislike it, but I wouldn't actively seek it out, especially at $14 a bottle; Summer ale taste."


Several years ago, as I was just beginning to stretch my beer taste buds, I stumbled upon a 22 ounce bottle of a beer called "Arrogant Bastard." I read the back of the bottle and had to try it. I one of the boldest bits of salesmanship I've ever seen, the long diatribe on the back of the bottle admonishes you to put it back because you probably are not going to like it, especially if your idea of beer is the yellow fizzy stuff made by the big breweries. In essence, it says that you are not worthy of such a beer as the one you are holding in your hands. I loved the bravura, and I loved the beer. Stones Brewery makes big, bold, no bullshit beers. They do not try to cater to the middle. Even their lower octane brews such as Levitation Ale are loaded with flavor and hopping with hops. So imagine my surprise when I realized we have never actually included Arrogant Bastard in any of our tastings! We remedied that situation at our last meeting.

THE BEER FACTS: ABV 7.2% - HOPS: Classified

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This is an aggressive ale. You probably won't like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to apperciate 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 aimed at convincing you it's made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beverage will give you moer sex appeal. Perhaps you think mult-million dollar ad campaigns make things taste better. Perhaps you're mouthing you words as you read this. At Stone Brewing, we believe that pandering to the lowest common denominator represents the height of tyranny - a virtual form of keeping the consumer barefoot and stupid. Brought forth upon an unsuspecting public in 1997, Arrogant Bastard Ale openly challenged the tyrannical overlords who were brazenly attempting to keep Americans chained in the shackles of poor taste. As the progenitor of its style, Arrogant Bastard Ale has reveled in its uncompromising celebration of intensity. There have been many nods to Arrogant Bastard Ale...even outright attempts to copy it...but only one can ever embody the true nature of liquid Arrogance!"

COLOR: Brown

POUR: Decent head.

AROMA: Hops, citrus, malt

BODY: Between medium and full

TASTE: Nice bitter hops, with a nutty malty fullness. Bit of nice alcohol burn to it.


COMMENTS: "Just a truly great beer!; Like an oral orgasm; Tough to beat this beer, it's big and bold, but you can have a few as well; It just fills your mouth; This is the beer that really pulled me into the craft beer world."


THE BEER FACTS: ABV 6.8%; a British style strong ale

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "A hearty British style strong ale with a deep chestnut color. A warming elixir that's magically delicious."

COLOR: Deep Chestnut (brown)

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Malty, English yeast

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Caramel malt, hint of lemon, pine, nutty.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Can't get enough!

COMMENTS: "Nice malty winter drink; Fireplace beer; Nicely balanced and warming; Good kick-back-by-the-fire-on-a-cold-winter's-night beer; Really balanced, you're not hit in the face by any particular flavor."


THE BEER FACTS: ABV 8%; IBU 70; Imperial Red Ale; HOPS: Simcoe, Cascade; MALT: Harrington two row base malt, Crystal 77, Special Roast.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Like vampires (most especially the notorious German vampire from the 1920's film era) this beer has a bit of a reputation as 'the beer with the bite.'"

COLOR: Mahogany

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Strong hoppy scent

BODY: Between medium and full

TASTE: Dark fruit, grapefruit, caramel, roasty, brown sugar


COMMENTS: "I could frickin' drink that!; Finishes very nicely; Good aftertaste; Grows on you; Lots of hops, but very complex as well."



WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "It's a harvest beer with a hop kick, using all cone hops."

COLOR: Mahogany

POUR: Decent head with staying power

AROMA: Hoppy and malty

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Balanced with a nice bready, roasty tasted countered by a grapefruit/floral hop presence.


COMMENTS: "I could drink that!; Not an overpowering hoppy taste; After you swallow it, it tastes good for a long time; Really nicely balanced flavor, much more full-flavored than most Oktoberfests out there."  

 Next up - With more and more breweries producing holiday beers, we're going to devote the next two meeting to those annual brews.

The BOTB Guys