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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In the Bleak Midwinter

Message in a window in Glasgow, Scotland - Thanks to
Rosemary Jordal

Alas, winter is upon us. The snow piles high while the mercury sinks low. The glorious green of summer gave way to a brilliant burst of fall colors followed by the inevitable monochromatic melancholy of midwinter.

And to make matters worse, the Bills didn't make the playoffs. Again. Nor did the Jets nor the Giants nor the Browns nor the Vikings - a pathetic clean sweep for the BOTB Guys.

Thank God there's beer!

For our January beer club, we came upon a dilemma. Gerry proposed what, at first blush, sounded like a great idea. To wit: imagine you have a brother-in-law who drinks only mass produced mega brews and you would like to ease him into craft beers. What beer would you choose to nudge him toward more flavorful ales? And why would you choose that beer? It made for an interesting academic question. Something that would make for a lively discussion. Possibly over a delicious IPA. But would it necessarily make for good drinking? 

Upon further review, we began to realize that if we were to be true to the premise, it would necessitate an evening of fairly middle-of-the-road brews. I mean, let's face it, you're not going to ease someone into craft beers with, say, Heady Topper or Arrogant Bastard. Yet those are the kinds of beers we look forward to each month. Instead we would be bringing some fairly tame pale ales, perhaps even lagers. And where's the fun in that?

Gerry, savvy ex-administrator that he is, sensing the way the wind was blowing on this question, readjusted the sails and suggested we just bring a favorite beer with which we'd choose to celebrate the new year. 

In the end, we had a mixed bag of 12 different beers because nearly everyone tried to adhere to both precepts.

The brother-in-law beers were: Long Trail Ale, Left Hand Brewery's Sawtooth Ale, Middle Ages Boxing Day Bitter, Ballantine IPA, and Harpoon IPA.

The beers we brought as our New Year's celebration beer were: Long Trail Limbo IPA, Southern Tier 2X, Commodore Perry IPA, Up Top IPA, Circus City IPA, Elysian Space Dust, Apocalypse from Middle Ages, and Grindstone Brewery's Holiday Hopped Ale.

Because there were so many beers, some of which we had reviewed in the past, we once again did not do a thorough analysis. Instead I'll give you a quick group consensus on each and why this particular beer was chosen to entice a non-craft beer drinker to the dark side. 

Try-It-You'll-Like-It Beers

Long Trail Ale - Reason: "It's one of those beers from my early days of craft beer. It's one of the ones that got me into good beer." Group: A nice balanced pale ale. Easy drinking malt first with some nice hoppiness to it. I Could Drink This.

Sawtooth Ale from Left Hand Brewery - Reason: "A real nice pale ale that isn't over the top so it shouldn't scare him off but enough flavor so I like it too." Group: Another nicely balanced pale ale. Very tasty but nothing overpowering. I Could Drink This."

Middle Ages Boxing Day Bitter - Reason: "I just think it's a good beer and if he doesn't like it I'm sure he can find a Bud someplace." Group: Terrific beer. Nice piney hop presence with a solid malt backing and a bit of toffee at the finish. Can't Get Enough!

Ballantine IPA - Reason: "I figured the old familiar name of Ballantine might assuage his trepidation a bit as opposed to, say, Caged Alpha Monkey for instance. It's a real flavorful IPA though, so ultimately I'd be tossing him into the deep end." Group: Great beer. Good to see a name from the past resurface as a really tasty IPA. Impressive. Can't Get Enough!

Harpoon IPA - Reason: "If you're going to get him to an IPA, Harpoon would be a good one because while it's definitely an IPA, it's a fairly balanced one, without a real high IBU so there's no overload on the senses." Group: A good, solid, dependable IPA that skews toward the English IPA. Strong malt with a nice hop bite. Can't Get Enough!

New Year's Kick-Back Beers

The rest of the beers we did not really review, we merely enjoyed them as per our hosts instructions. Some of them we've had before (Soutern Tier 2X, Commodore Perry IPA) while others we'll take a closer look at down the road.

Next Month we zero in on Scotch Ales and Scottish Ales (they aren't the same). We'll explain the difference and give our unbiased opinion of several from both here and abroad.

Coming this spring: Live updates from the pubs of England - where a couple of BOTBers check out craft beer British style. Join us on a virtual pub-crawl through the English countryside and London. How does British craft beer stack up with American craft beer?

The BOTB Guys