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Monday, January 21, 2013

Pale Ales

The BOTB Guys take on Pale Ales (and a few tunes)

We have never dedicated a BOTB meeting to Pale Ales. Ron pointed this out and I found it so hard to believe that I sifted through every blog post since we started this club back in 2008. And he is correct (Oh me of little faith!). We have done IPAs, ESBs, Porters, and Stouts; Autumn Ales, Summer Ales, Winters and Springs; Oktoberfests, Bocks, Reds and Ryes - but not Pale Ales! Wow! Now, we have included Pales in our reviews of Boat Beers, Lawnmower Beers, Session Beers and when we've reviewed various breweries. But we have never dedicated an entire meeting to these terrific brews.

So we finally decided to right this wrong. It is the American Pale Ale that was the earliest style to break away from the light lager lockdown that held sway over US beer drinkers (Sierra Nevada or Anchor Brewing, depending on how you look at it).What we decided to do was to choose Pale Ales we had not reviewed in some other context - not an easy task. Luckily, Ron did a little blog research and sent us all a list of the beers to avoid. What makes a Pale Ale a Pale Ale? We'll get to that later.

But first...

Sherman on the Mount


From The Daily Alta California, March 8, 1876:

                    -To make Lager Bier - Take a barrel, fill it with
        rain water, put in one pair of old boots, a head 
        of last fall's cabbage, two short sixes, a sprig of
        wormwood,and a little yeast.
Let it work,
And when clear,
You'll have excellent
Lager Bier. 

           

We have a tendency to look down our collective BOTB noses at lagers, and that isn't really completely fair. Lagers can be hoppy and they can be malty. Lager is not a style, it merely refers to the process of brewing. There can be light lagers and black lagers. Bock Beers are lagers. The difference between lagers and ales is one of complexity in taste. Ales tend to be the more complex of the two. To quickly recap the difference between lagers and ales: lagers use a yeast which ferments at a lower temperature than ales. Because they ferment at a lower temperature, lagers derive less of their flavor from the yeast than do ales. The yeast used in ales can impart flavors that range from spicy to bready to banana-like. Depending on the ale and the strain of yeast, these flavors will be more or less prominent, but the presence gives ales a fuller flavor, often described as complex. Lagers are more likely to be described as crisp with a cleaner finish. Pilsners are Lagers and Victory's Prima Pils is a great example of a hoppy Pilsner, as is Sam Adams Noble Pils .

Ales have been around a lot longer than lagers, so there is a certain level of irony in the fact that the American craft brew revolution owes its very raison d'etre to the rediscovery and appreciation of ales. A sort of everything-old-is-new-again turn of events.

The truth is, something like 90% of the world's beers are lagers, in large part because of the American mega brewers such as A-B, and Miller/Coors. Therefore when you think of lagers, your first image is that of the yellow, watery beers mass-produced by these companies. So when I spotted a beer called Batch 19 Lager, which claimed to be made from a pre-prohibition recipe found in the cellar of a brewery, I was intrigued. As I began to peruse the bottle and then the packaging, though, I became suspicious. Nowhere could I find the name of this brewery nor the city in which the beer was brewed. This did not bode well, as craft beers are notoriously proud of the cities or regions in which they are produced and the brewery name is always listed front and center. The only beers that don't do this are the pseudo-craft beers produced by the mega-brewers in an attempt to trick craft beer enthusiasts into buying the stuff (see previous post). I had previously tried Henry Weinhard's IPA (which I discovered was brewed by Millers/Coors) and was amazed that it could even be called an IPA. It lacked any of the characteristics you would expect from that style and tasted more like a mega-brew lager than an IPA.

I purchased a bottle of Batch 19 nonetheless, as part of a make-your-own-six-pack (the other five were Hop Wallop, an awesome beer). A little research quickly brought to light that this beer was brewed by Coors Brewing, which did not surprise me. I decided to try it and give it an honest evaluation, putting aside the annoyance that Coors worked hard to hide the fact that they brewed it. I took into consideration the fact that it was a lager, not an IPA or a Pale Ale and therefore it would be judged as such. I opted to see where it would fall if placed on an imaginary line on which I placed Miller, Coors, Bud on one end and Sam Adams Lager at the other end. Just for kicks I'll stick Yuengling somewhere in the middle.

       |_________________________________|_________________________________|
  Millers                                                   Yuengling                               Sam Adams Lager
  Coors
  Bud


In other words, I did not want to compare it to, say, Firestone Jack IPA or any other IPA, because for a hophead there would be no comparison. Anyhow, what follows is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of this brew.
THE GOOD



1. Awesome packaging and concept. There is a whole back story with this beer that claims the recipe was recently found in the cellar of the brewery and it dates back to just before Prohibition in 1919 (thus: Batch 19). I love the packaging, and it's a great story, whether it's true or bullshit. The bottles have a unique shape, with two rings on the neck. 
2. Nice color. It is not the pale yellow of the mega-brews. It is a nice amber color. Not much of a head.
3. Good nose. The aroma reminded me of how beer smelled when I was a kid and would sneak a drink from my father's beer. (And no, that was not in 1919!) It is the aroma of floral hops (Hersbrucker and Strisslesplat hops). I know that the Splat variety of hops creates the distinctive aroma associated with Pilsners, so I suspect that is what I am getting.
4. More flavor than I expected. Compared to the beers on the left hand side of the spectrum, it is brimming with flavor. There's a bit of a bready, malty taste, and a hint of hops there. 
5. The price. I believe it came in at just under $8.00 a sixer, which is a very reasonable price for a craft beer.

THE BAD

1. Would I buy it? No. There are too many tastier brews out there. It might make for a decent entry-level type beer for those branching out from the yellow stuff. In a bar with only this and the yellow stuff, I'd take this in a heartbeat.
2. The price. For roughly the same price I can get Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye, Sam Adams' Latitude 48, Saranac's White IPA... You get the idea.

THE UGLY

Sorry, but I still don't like the deceptive way in which the beer is marketed, wherein Coors tries to hide the fact that it's made by Coors. It's the same approach taken with Blue Moon, Henry Weinhard, and A-B's Shock Top. Come on! Be up front with us. If the beer is good, we will come!

BOTTOM LINE

Where would I place Batch 19 on that sliding scale? It is far superior to the previous attempts mentioned above. Honestly, very close to Sam Adams. It actually had some of the characteristics you look for, namely flavor. I'd like to try SA and this head to head, but here's roughly where I'd place it:

      |______________________________|_____________________________|_____| 
Miller                                                 Yuengling                                            Batch 19         Sams
Coors                                                                                                                                  
Bud

PALE ALES


So what exactly is a Pale Ale? Basically it is a warm-fermented beer brewed with a higher proportion of pale malts. Originally these were malts dried using coke. This method would produce a lighter color than most of the other beers brewed at that time (early 1700's) such as Porters of Stouts. As a rule, these beers tended to be hoppier as well. 
American Pale Ales can be traced back to 1980 when Sierra Nevada brewed their Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Although Anchor Brewing brewed a special American Ale in 1975 called Anchor Liberty Ale to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere's ride. However it did not go into regular production and wide distribution until 1983. The main difference between the English Pale Ale and American is that American hops are used, imparting a somewhat different taste profile than beers using the English hops.

NEW DOGTOWN  PALE ALE
LAGUNITAS BREWING CO., PETALUMA, CA


First up is New Dogtown Pale Ale. Interesting stray fact: the beer was developed by hybridizing their original Dogtown Pale Ale with their Kill Ugly Radio, a 40th anniversary tribute beer for Frank Zappa's second album.

THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 6.10%; IBUs: Unavailable; MALTS, HOPS, YEAST: "Ounces and ounces of malt, hops, yeast, and water"

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This is not the original Pale Ale as brewed in far away 1993 in the back of the Old House of Richard's Building in the West Marin hamlet of Forest Knolls right next to Little Lagunitas...It is way better. Back then the beer tasted like broccoli and kerosene and the carbonation ate right through and drained your stomach into your gut."

COLOR: Golden honey

POUR: Decent white head with good staying power

AROMA: Perhaps a little on the hoppy side, but not a great deal of aroma detected by any of us

BODY: Medium

TASTE: It opens with a little malt taste - more neutral, then finishes with a hoppy, great bitter finish. It has notes of citrus and nuts.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Can't get enough!

COMMENTS: "A bit of a tart finish to it; A nice pale ale; A nice beer you can just keep drinking; it would make a good session beer; It's better than some IPAs I've had; It would make a good kayak beer; It's sooooo much better than Henry Weinhard; You really can't go wrong with Lagunitas."





ITHACA PALE ALE
ITHACA BREWING COMPANY, ITHACA, NY




THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.8%; STYLE: American Pale Ale; MALTS: 2-Row Pale, Crystal, White Wheat; HOPS: Columbus, Cascade, Centennial; DRY-HOP: Cascade, Columbus

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "With a deep golden color, Pale Ale nicely balances the bitterness of West Coast hops with the sweetness of malt. Boasting a fragrant aroma and pleasant hop bite, it is a well-balanced, refreshing ale."

COLOR:  Cloudy amber gold

POUR: Decent head that laces nicely

AROMA: Tends toward the hoppy side with a slight piney scent, but not overly so

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Toward the bitter, but does not have that up-front hops taste. There are notes of malt and a little citrus

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Just shy of "Can't get enough!"

COMMENTS: "A little more bitter, maybe a bit hoppier than Lagunitas in the aroma; Ithaca's a great brewery; I COULD DRINK THAT!; Ithaca's Flower Power IPA is one of the best beers out there and their Pale Ale is its tasty little brother; It is a terrific session beer; I'm proud that it's from New York."






FIRE ROCK PALE ALE
KONA BREWING, KONA, HAWAII




THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.9%; IBU: 35; STYLE: "Hawaiian-style" pale ale; MALTS: Pale, Wheat, Munich, Honey; HOPS: Galena, Cascade, Mt. Hood

WHAT THE SAYS: "Fire Rock Pale Ale is a crisp, refreshing "Hawaiian-style pale ale. Its signature copper color results from the unique blend of specialty roasted malts. The pronounced citrus-floral hop aroma comes from the liberal amounts of Galena, Cascade & Mt. Hood hops added to each brew."

COLOR: Copper/dark honey

POUR: Between decent head and Guinness class, off-white head with nice lacing

AROMA: Somewhat hoppy/citrus

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Fairly balanced, with more malt than the previous brews, some notes of nut and bread

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: I could drink this"

COMMENTS: "It's a 'refresher'; It's a decent beer; Easy to drink; It's a hydrating beer; Legend has it they make a terrific IPA that they don't bottle and you can't get outside the Islands - what's up with that?; Less full-flavored than the ones we've had so far."





FIRE HOUSE PALE ALE
CORTLAND BEER COMPANY, CORTLAND, NY



  
THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.9%; IBU: 47.5; STYLE: American Pale Ale; HOPS: Cascade

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Firehouse Pale Ale's name was inspired by the 1914 Cortland Firehouse which is located across the street from the brewery. The beer pours a golden color with a frothy white head...A great everyday drinking Pale Ale."

COLOR: Unfiltered golden orange

POUR: Near Guinness class off-white head 

AROMA: Fairly hoppy/piney aroma

BODY: Medium

TASTE: A little toward the malty side of balanced, with notes of malt and nut

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: I Could Drink This!

COMMENTS: "It looks delicious; Another very good beer; It really doesn't taste like it's 47.5 IBUs; I like it - it's got a nice taste; I smell more hops than I taste; Again, like with Ithaca, it's a great New York State beer."

    

SHOALS PALE ALE
SMUTTYNOSE BREWING CO., PORTSMOUTH, NH



THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.6%; IBU: 52; STYLE: English Pale Ale; MALTS: North American 2-Row, Carastan, C-60, Carahell, Carafa II D H; HOPS: Bittering - Cascade and galena / Flavoring - Cascade

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our interpretation of a classic English beer style is copper-colored, medium-bodied and pleasantly hopped. Its flavor is delightfully complex: tangy fruit at the start, with an assertive hop crispness and a long malty palate that one well-known beer writer has compared to the flavor of freshly-baked bread."

COLOR: Reddish amber

POUR: A bit better than Decent head - off-white with decent staying power

AROMA: Bready

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Leans toward the bitter/hoppy, with notes of bread, nut, toffee and citrus

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "This is a nice beer; I'd buy it; I like this; I remember getting this in a sampler, and I liked it then; Most of the beers we've tasted are sweet up front then finish more bitter - this one's just the opposite; It's a nice session beer; It has a fantastic taste - a very pleasant beer; It's perfectly balanced."


  STONE PALE ALE
STONE BREWERY, ESCONDIDO, CA



THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.4%; IBU: 41; STYLE: British Pale Ale with American hops; HOPS: Columbus, Ahtanum

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our flagship ale, Stone Pale Ale is our Southern California interpretation of the classic British pale ale style. Deep amber in color, Stone Pale Ale is robust and full flavored. A delicate hop aroma is complemented by a rich maltiness. This is an ale for those who have learned to appreciate distinctive flavor. Stone Pale Ale is great by itself, or with food that requires a beer of character."

COLOR: Amber

POUR: Way better than decent off-white head, with decent staying poer and good lacing

AROMA: Fresh malts

BODY: A bit beyond medium

TASTE; Just about midway between balanced and bitter. It has a nice hops presence with notes of malt, nut, and maybe a touch of caramel.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough"

COMMENTS: "It's exactly what I'd expect from Stone; It's a really, really good beer; They get a lot of taste out of a 5.4% beer; Never leave a Stone's undrunk!"

OLD SLUGGER
COOPERSTOWN BREWERY, COOPERSTOWN, NY



For our final "inning" of our seven inning game we looked to Cooperstown Brewery, located in the city that is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Appropriately enough, Cooperstown beers all have a whimsical baseball theme.

THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.5%; STYLE: American Pale Ale; MALTS: 2-row English pale, Crystal; HOPS: Mt. Hood, Cascade, Fuggle; FERMENTATION: In open vessels by Ringwood yeast - a top-fermenting yeast.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: " Old Slugger is a hearty Pale Ale, copper in color, crisp malty fullness  on the front of the palate and lingering hop bitterness on the back with a dry finish. Old Slugger is the flagship beer of the Cooperstown Brewing company and was first brewed in July 1995 and bottled in November 1995."

COLOR: Copper

POUR: Unfiltered, with too much head/carbonation

AROMA: Toward the sweet/malty/bready

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Somewhat sweet, with notes of malt and nut

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "Leave it on the Shelf" and "I Could Drink This" 

COMMENTS: "It's very carbonated; Like drinking a Diet Coke; The carbonation kind of gets in the way of the taste: Overall, not a bad pale; I got some quite a few years ago and I didn't care for it; It seems to change from batch to batch; It has a Genesee Beer taste; It gets better as it sits, the carbonation is overpowering when it's firs poured; It's too much like a soda when it's firs poured; Not the best pale we've had today; Generally they do it right at the brewery, I've been there; I'll buy it and drink it because it's a New York State beer, but it's not a great beer."


PALE ALE FINAL TALLY
 The battle of the Pales came out with Lagunitas as the overall winner. The results are as follows:

1. Lagunitas
2. Ithaca
3. Tie with Smuttynose and Stone
4. Cortland Fire House
5. Kona
6. Cooperstown

There's our look at Pale Ales. It was another enjoyable meeting that included good food, good music and, of course, good beer. Next month we celebrate Valentine's Day with a look at Reds:  Irish Reds, Red Ales, Red IPAs and anything else that might be a red (okay not Raspberry or Cherry beers). Until then...
Sláinte,
The BOTB Guys 




Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter, Holiday, Cristmas, Hanukkah Warmers, Ales and Beers Part 2



Hope everyone had a terrific holiday season and, perhaps, had an opportunity to try some of the yearly holiday brews out there. As we mentioned last time, we decided to spread the holiday brews over a couple of meetings since there are so many of them out there and, let's face it, the so called holiday season pretty much stretches from Thanksgiving to New Years. (Unless, of course, you happen to be a retailer. In that case it starts somewhere around June and runs to the end of May).This month we take a look at some interesting brews, a few of which should be consumed with great care.
But first...

Sherman on the Mount
Beer sales are up but sales by the Mega-brewers are down. More and more beer drinkers are learning to love craft beer - and that's bad news for the likes of A-B. Because the truth is, once you've developed a taste for good craft beer, it's difficult to go back to the watery stuff produced by the big guys. And yet how do the big guys respond? It always comes down to their religion  - the Church of the Almighty Dollar. I always get the feeling those in charge ask themselves: WWMBD? - What Would Montgomery Burns Do? And I get this image of their think-tank meetings looking something like this:
SETTING: Board room of Duff Beer, brewed by Awflager-Blech Breweries, a subsidiary of the All-Bev, a multi-national Belgian brewery conglomerate.
MR. BURNS: I have been brought in here by All-Bev to turn this company around and I intend to do
                        just that! Those Belgians have been breathing down my neck for weeks to get results.
SMITHERS: Sir, I'd be happy to do that for the Belgians.
MR. BURNS: Yes, well. Smithers, bring me up to speed. What has been done to fight the craft  
                        brewers who have been slipping their hands in our corporate pockets and taking
                        the lint that is rightfully ours.
SMITHERS: Well sir, first we put Duff Beer and Duff Lite in as many different sized bottles and
                      cans as we could, as well as making as many package sizes as possible - 6 packs, 12
                      packs, 24 packs, 30 packs and so on.
MR. BURNS: Why would be do that?
SMITHERS: To take up as much shelf space as possible, forcing out the micro-brews.
MR. BURNS: Excellent! Sounds like a brilliant plan. What happened?
SMITHERS: Store owners complained that craft beer drinkers bought their beer other places. They
                       built more shelf space, started creating craft beer sections which resulted in even more
                       visibility for craft beers and bigger sales. People started going directly to the craft
                       beer section and ignoring us altogether.
MR. BURNS: Alas, hoisted on our own petards! What next?
SMITHERS: We made Duff American Ale. It's actually regular Duff with a little food coloring, but
                       we thought "American" would make people forget we're owned by a Belgian company
                       and "Ale" would fool the craft beer drinkers.
MR. BURNS: And?
SMITHERS: Well, loyal Duff drinkers weren't interested and craft beer drinkers didn't fall for it.
MR. BURNS: Then what?
SMITHERS: We tried to sneak into the craft beer world by creating phony breweries, coming up with
                      names and designs that really looked like they were a micro-brew. Nowhere on the
                      label could you see the name Duff or Awflagler-Blech. Then we filled them with Duff.
MR. BURNS: Brilliant Smithers! I like it. How did that work out?
SMITHERS: Well, not so hot. The craft beer drinkers are a crafty lot, sir. It didn't take long for them
                      learn the truth once they tasted the beer. Then the beer bloggers let everyone know.
MR. BURNS: Damn that cursed Interweb and it's readily available information! What is our next
                        approach.
SMITHERS: Well, sir, we're already in the process. First we created Duff Lite Premium! We put it
                       in a really nifty looking silver bottle. It's Duff Lite with a little higher alcohol. Since
                       we call it "premium" we can charge more for it. Next we'll do the same thing with
                       regular Duff. We'll call it Duff Black because research shows that black makes it seem
                       mysterious, richer, deeper, more expensive. We'll up the alcohol one percent and sell it
                       at a premium price as well. Furthermore, we'll use broken rice instead of whole grain 
                       since it's cheaper and the leftover hops from Lenny's back yard. Plus we'll lay off
                       over a thousand employees and cut the benefits for the rest.                    
MR. BURNS: I like it. Let them buy their own insurance like the rest of us!

SMITHERS: Well, uh, actually sir, the company pays for your insur-

MR. BURNS: Any other ideas?
CARL:   Well, just a thought here. Just spit-ballin' but... Duff Beer has a state-of-the-arts facility,
                we have everything we need to make really top-notch craft beer. So what if we took on
                craft brewers head-to-head. Make Duff IPA, Duff Stout, Duff Porter. Make the IPA the
                hoppiest damn beer out there using the best hops we can, give the stout a deep, rich
                roasty chocolate-malt flavor that will stand out, make a Porter rich in coffee and toffee
                flavors. Get samples out to all those beer blogs and web sites - you know, Beer Advocate,
                Rate Beer, Battle of the Beers - those guys will be skeptical, but if the quality is there,
                they'll know it and they'll get the word out. Let's not hide behind slogans, and marketing
                and packaging. Keep the beers we have for the loyal Duff drinkers, but go toe-to-toe with
                those craft brewers and show them how the big boys can do it! What you say? 
MR. BURNS: Smithers, fire that lunatic! Any other ideas?

ALL: No sir!
DON'T FEAR THE (HOME) BREWER
I remember years ago the first time I tried someone's home brew. It was, in a word, awful. I remember having to force it down and pretend. It was awful in an era long before the advent of the microbrew, so you weren't exactly comparing it to great beer. As an interesting side effect of craft brew popularity, home brewing has also gained in popularity. And the home brew equipment and knowledge has also grown so that there are some very good home brews out there. Our own Mike Watkins and his Grindstone Brewing is a great example. I had the opportunity the other day to try the home brew of a good friend of mine, Dave Grant. There's always a little trepidation in this, as I can never help but hearken back to that first experience (and I must say I've had a few other HB's in the intervening years that have been less than stellar). But Dave's taste in beer is simpatico with mine, and he is pretty much a perfectionist in everything he does, so I was fairly confident it would be okay. In fact it was better than okay. It was a terrific, hoppy brew. That wonderful grapefruit/piney smell of Centennial hops immediately told me I had nothing to fear. Up front and back it was a full-on hopsfest.
I bring this up because I find it interesting that guys like Dave and Mike can make beer in their basements and back rooms far superior to those made by multi-million dollar breweries. Just saying...

WINTER WARMERS ETC. PART 2
CHRISTMAS STOUT
GRINDSTONE BREWERY
Speaking of Mike, we kicked off the evening with his contribution - a Christmas Stout. But because this was from Grindstone Brewery, it was a stout with a nice hop kick.
THE BEER FACTS: 6.8% ABV;  IBU: 70; STYLE: Stout; MALTS: Chocolate Rye Malt; HOPS: Mike's home grown combination
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "I wanted to create something with a festive feel to it, make a Stout that tastes like a Stout looks like it should taste."
COLOR: Pitch black
POUR: Guinness class
AROMA: On the hoppy side, piney, chocolaty
BODY: Full/thick
TASTE: A nice bitterness, although we expected sweetness from the aroma. Chocolate, but dark chocolate. There are notes of walnut and pine as well.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Can't get enough!
COMMENTS: "It's like biting into a dark chocolate almond bar; WOW!; This is a brewery that rarely disappoints; I COULD DRINK THAT; One of the better stouts I've ever had; I could drink that as well, and I usually am not a big fan of stouts."
GREAT LAKES CHRISTMAS ALE
THE BEER FACTS:  7.5% ABV;  IBU: 30; MALTS: Harrington 2-row Base Malt; Crystal 45; Special Roast; Roasted Barley; HOPS: Hallertau (US version); Cascade; SPICES: Honey, Cinnamon, Fresh Ginger.
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "...a festive holiday ale that will make you wish the holidays would last just a bit longer."
COLOR: Golden honey
POUR: Decent head
AROMA: A bit of ginger or other spices detected
BODY: On the thin side of medium
TASTE: A little toward the sweet (honey) side, but still near balanced. It has notes of spice (ginger and cinnamon) and sweetness (honey).
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: I Could Drink This!
COMMENTS: "I can taste the spices a little, but don't smell them much; A nice beer - I like it; We tried this last year or the year before and it was real spicy - not very good. this is a nice improvement; I like the taste of this. I'm pleasantly surprised; It has a pleasant after-taste."

GOOSE ISLAND 2012 CHRISTMAS BEER
GOOSE ISLAND BREWING, CHICAGO, IL

THE BEER FACTS: 7.3% ABV; STYLE: Brown Ale; MALTS: Pale, Munich, Caramel; HOPS: Changes year to year; STYLE: Brown ale 
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Every year to celebrate the holiday season we brew up our Christmas Ale, and with each year we change the recipe slightly so that you have something to look forward to."
COLOR: Dark copper
POUR: Decent head
AROMA: Malt and a little bready.
BODY: Between thin and medium
TASTE: Balanced, wit notes of malt and a little nutty.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: I could drink this!
COMMENTS: "Of the Christmas Ales, I'd take the Great Lakes over this; Clean taste; It's a session beer, pleasant; Quite inoffensive with a middle-of-the-road taste."
BRECKENRIDGE CHRISTMAS ALE
BRECKENRIDGE BREWING, DENVER, COLORADO
THE BEER FACTS: 7.2% ABV; IBU: 22; STYLE: American Strong Ale; MALT: Two Row Pale, Caramel, Chocolate, Black; HOPS: Chinook, Mt. Hood
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "The Colorado high-country winter calls for a beer with extra flavor and strength. Here it is. At over 7% alcohol, with a sturdy texture and rich flavors of caramel and chocolate, our holiday seasonal is the fermented equivalent of a good fire."
COLOR: A transparent amber
POUR: Pours with less than medium head, with some lacing
AROMA: Yeasty and bready
BODY: Medium
TASTE: Between balanced and sweet with notes of bread, yeast, and a little toffee
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: I could drink this!
COMMENTS: "Better than their Christmas beer of a couple years ago - a lot less spice; Not a knock-your-socks-off beer, but it's okay; At a friend's house, if he were to pull it out of the fridge, I would drink it; A lightly hopped ale; You could drink this all day long while gift wrapping and not get snockered (said before seeing the ABV's); A good session beer; I wouldn't have guessed 7.2% - maybe I should wrap without scissors."
MOUNTAIN HOLIDAYS IN VERMONT
ROCK ART BREWERY, MORRISVILLE, VERMONT
THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Bock; All other info unavailable
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: Nada
COLOR: Brown
POUR: A bit better than decent head
AROMA: Yeasty, bready
BODY: Between medium and full
TASTE: Balanced, with notes of malt, bread, and nut
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "I could drink this" and "Leave it on the shelf"
COMMENTS: "This is a nice beer; I could drink that; Cream; It's more like a nut brown; It is a lot less intense than the color/name leads you to believe."
FULL SAIL WASSAIL WINTER ALE
FULL SAIL BREWERY, HOOD RIVER, OREGON
THE BEER FACTS: 7% ABV; IBU: 56; STYLE: Winter Warmer; MALTS: Caramel, Dark Chocolate; HOPS: a blend of Pacific Northwest hops
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Choosing our ingredients for Wassail is like taking time to choose the perfect gift. Each year we carefully select the best hops and malts to brew this special beer...for a pleasant hoppy aroma and finish creating a deliciously balanced beer that appeals to both hop and malt lovers alike. In other words, a Christmas miracle."
COLOR: Mahogany
POUR: Decent beige head
AROMA: Sweet malty yeast with a banana bread scent. Starts sweet and finishes bitter. There are notes of malt, bread, a little taste of nuts and toffee, and a subtle hint of banana.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "Can't get enough" and "I could drink this!"
COMMENTS: "Starts out a little sweet, then bitters off; It is a complex beer; Cleans up at the finish; Not as sweet as Great Lakes Christmas; It has a warming quality; For many of the Christmas beers, the spices put me off, but I could drink this one; Decent."
Now For the Big Boys!
These next three were pretty big beers. We trod carefully here as too much big beer can equal big head tomorrow!
SAMUEL ADAMS MERRY MISCHIEF GINGERBREAD STOUT
BOSTON BEER COMPANY, BOSTON, MASS
THE BEER FACTS: 9.0% ABV; IBUs: 25; STYLE: Stout; MALTS: Samuel Adams two row pale malt blend, wheat, Special B, Paul's roasted barley, flaked oats; HOPS: East Kent Goldings and Fuggles; SPECIAL INGREDIANTS: Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves & ginger (By the way, you gotta' love Sam Adams and their web site - they give you all the facts, ma'am).
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This rich dark gingerbread stout entices with the aromas of the holidays, hinting at the merriment and spices within. The flavor of gingerbread comes alive beginning with the smooth sweetness and heartiness of dark roasted malts and a touch of wheat. But it's the intensity and spices of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger that add a wicked kick for a jolly playful brew full of merry mischief."
COLOR: Black
POUR: Nearing Guinness class head, lots of lacing.
AROMA: Sweet and gingery
BODY: Really full!
TASTE: Ginger, a little nutmeg, and cinnamon



OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: I Could Drink This!

COMMENTS: "Tastes like a cookie; I could drink this and wrap gifts; I'm not ashamed to say I like the gingerbread; Like it or not, I like the fact that they have the balls to say it's gingerbread; I can taste the ginger, but couldn't tell it's a stout; Roll it around on your tongue and WOW - what a taste treat; If you don't like gingerbread, you won't like this; A nice dessert, or sipping, beer."

CRIMINALLY BAD ELF
RIDGEWAY BREWING, OXFORDSHIRE, UK
THE BEER FACTS: FIRST FACT: Awesome name! 10.5% ABV; Other info is unavailable
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: Company's web site is under construction and I didn't have a chance to fly to England to talk to the brewers. Alas!
COLOR: Amber/copper and fairly clear
POUR: Decent thick and beige/tan head
AROMA: Toward the malty end with the familiar banana scent of English yeast and a strong alcohol presence
BODY: Medium
TASTE: Strong banana taste up front with a bourbon-like kick
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "I could drink this" and "Leave it on the shelf" - the negative here was an overly strong alcohol taste detracted from the enjoyment of the beer.
COMMENTS: "Smells like Johnny Walker Red; It's like knocking back a shot; It would kick your ass if you drank it while gift wrapping; It's a brandy snifter style drink; If we could mix the gingerbread man with a little elf, it would cut the sweet out of the gingerbread and cut the alcohol taste out of the elf; It's a big beer; It's a taste bud fryer; Don't wrap presents with the elf - especially not with scissors!"
HE'BREW JEWBELATION SWEET 16
SHMALTZ BREWING COMPANY, SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY
Okay, these guys just have way too much fun brewing beer. First of all, the brewery is called "Shmaltz Brewing Company" - the name cutting two ways: It's one of those great Yiddish words that has passed into common English usage (originally meaning "rendered fat" but more commonly meaning "overly sentimental") which is a nod to the Jewish-American vibe of the brewery, but there's also "malt" in "Shmaltz," making it an excellent brewery name.  On top of that the company motto, "The Chosen Beer," tells you this is a brewery, like Stone, that gets a kick out of tweaking the establishment a bit.


 THE BEER FACTS: 16% ABV!!!(Whoever thought you could drink a beer that made a barleywine taste like a lightweight?); STYLE: American Strong Ale; MALTS: Count 'em: Specialty 2-Row, Spelt, Flaked Quinoa, Roasted Wheat, Flaked Oats, Caramunich 40, Carapilsner, Kiln Amber; HOPS: Fuggle, Willamette, Golding, Palisade, Tettnang, Crystal, Ahtanum, Columbus, Zythos, Cascade, Centennial, Apollo, Simcoe, Summit, Citra, Amarillo.  FACTOID: It has been rated as one of the top 50 beers in the world.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "16 malts, 16 hops, 16% ABV! For our Shmaltz Sweet 16, it's all cupcakes and unicorns this round! Romans 16:16...16 books in the Hebrew Bible go by the names of Prophets, Lincoln was our 16th president...The true 16 oz. pint must pour to the 'painted line,' taken from Old French and Latin...A 16-ton weight famously crushed skits in Monty Python's Flying Circus...In South Park's 'Satan's Super Sweet 16' serial killers from hell failed to produce a cake baked in the form of a Ferrari. Thankfully there's a ton of ways to come of age so Shmaltz it up, Tribe - L'Chaim!"

COLOR: Black

POUR: Decent tan head that tends to fade quickly

AROMA: Strong alcohol

BODY: Full

TASTE: Plums and raisins with notes of toffee, coffee and caramel. It has been rat

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: I Could Drink This! (In moderation)

COMMENTS: "WOW!; Holy @#%&; This stuff'll kill ya'!; Woop!; It's not for the faint of heart; Oy vey! Ron and I had their IPA which was awesome. This one will is really complex, but definitely a sipping beer."

Up next, we check out some pale ales we've overlooked.
Sláinte,
The BOTB Guys