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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.
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
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!
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...

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."
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).
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."


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."
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."
THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Bock; All other info unavailable
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."
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!
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


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."

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!"
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.
The BOTB Guys

1 comment:

  1. Good info on the holiday brews. I learned a lot from these well written reviews ... will use this info for some sampling with friends & family.

    Keep up the good work. - Tim