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Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Taste of the Highlands


Bud Anti-Craft Beer Ad Smells of Desperation

There is an old adage in advertising that says if you happen to be number one, you don't acknowledge the competition. You sit regally above the riffraff and let the underlings fight it out for the number two spot. For years Coke never mentioned Pepsi in their ads, for example. So how bizarre was it to see Budweiser roll out a nasty little ad during the Super Bowl which took goofy cheap shots at craft beer drinkers. Nestled in there among their tear-jerk cute puppy/Clydesdale and uber patriotic spots, the ad had the distinctive stench of desperation to it. If you haven't seen it, you can find it at YouTube or a hundred other places online. I will not sully this blog with it. Suffice it to say they portray craft beer drinkers as a bunch of lefty, sissified hipsters who are out of touch with the real world of macho blue-collar beer drinkers, and who, for some strange reason, prefer beer with actual flavor. Bud proudly brands itself as a "macro brew" in a rather clumsy "bigger-is-better-if-you-know-what-I-mean (wink, wink)" message that is probably lost on much of their intended audience. Their tag-line is that they brew beer "the hard way" just in case you missed the point. Besides the Freudian reference, the implication is that they don't cut corners. Yet anyone who knows anything about the beer business knows that the Anheuser-Busch business model for years has been just that: cutting corners on quality and spending big bucks on advertising.

Consider this: Budweiser is by far the largest-selling beer in the country. While craft beer has been growing steadily over the years, the entire industry can't match the sales of Bud. So why the snarky ad? It's like the spoiled rich brat who has everything but can't stand the thought that some other kid has something they don't. What exactly did they hope to accomplish with this ad? Did they think they were going to embarrass craft beer drinkers into switching to Bud? Or was it an attempt to make Bud drinkers feel somehow superior so they wouldn't try a beer with taste and be drawn over to the dark side?

And, really, is this not just the height of hypocrisy? Here's Bud, which wraps itself in the flag at every opportunity, yet is owned by a foreign company (InBev) taking pot shots at the real all-American breweries. Further, the Bud ad denigrates craft beer drinkers and breweries while its parent company, Anheuser-Busch/InBev, busily runs around buying up craft breweries, or invents pseudo-craft brews, so that they can get a piece of the craft beer pie for themselves. In the ad they blast craft brewers for producing such abominations as Pumpkin Peach Ale, yet A-B just bought Elysian Brewery which in fact makes a pumpkin peach beer called Goardia on My Mind (great name, haven't tried the beer).

Look, we here at BOTB have had some fun at times with some of the fruity beers - the raspberry wheats, the blueberry and apricot beers that sometimes stray too far from their beer roots and taste more like a soft drink than they do an ale. But kudos to craft brewers for experimenting with different flavors. After all, a lot of people like those fruity beers even though it's not our mug of ale, so to speak. And some people love their Budweiser, and good for them. No one's trying to take that away. The key here is choice. In my lifetime never have there been so many wonderful options when it comes to beer and that's a great thing. AB/InBev I'm sure would love to see the US go back to the bad old days where the only choice was lager, lager or light lager.

For a great no-holds-barred interview with Dogfish Head's founder Sam Calagione, check out this article, Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione Squares Off Against Budweiser  from Men's Journal on-line mag.

Since the ad aired, a number of craft brewers have come up with their own ads bashing the Bud ad. This one from Ninkasi is particularly pointed and dripping with irony. 


One could be forgiven for assuming that the two styles - Scottish Ale and Scotch Ale - were simply alternate names for the same kind of beer. But the truth is, while they both have their roots in Scotland and use essentially the same ingredients, they are distinctively different styles of beer. 
Scottish Ales are more session ales. They tend to be more subtle as far as flavor is concerned and are considerably lower in alcohol than their big brother, Scotch Ale. They usually clock in anywhere from 2.5% to 5% ABV.

Scotch Ales, on the other hand, tend to be big, robust brews. The flavors are more aggressive and the ABV can be anywhere from 6.5% to 10%. 

Yet both styles share a similar baseline taste profile. Both are malty and tend toward the sweet end of the spectrum. Often notes of caramel and toffee are present in both. Scotch Ales sometimes add a roasted malt to the mix, giving it a fuller, richer, deeper, more complex flavor. Scotch Ales also can have a bit more of a hop  presence to balance out the sweetness.

This month we checked out a few Highland brews and found them quite guid.


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Brew Dog Brewing, Aberdeenshire, Scotland; STYLE: Scottish IPA; ABV: 5.6%; IBUs: 35; MALTS: Maris Otter Extra Pale Malt; HOPS: Chinook, Athanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Simcoe, Nelson Sauvin.

What the Brewer Says: "Welcome to a post Punk apocalyptic mother of an ale. A beer that spent its formative years Blitzkrieg Bopping around India and the sub-continent.This light, golden classic has been subverted with New World hops to create a devastating explosion of flavor. Steel yourself for Kalashnikov bursts of caramel, incendiary tropical fruit and an all-out riot of grapefruit, pineapple and lychee, before a spiky bitter finish. This is quintessential Empire with an anarchic twist. Turn up the volume. Pay the man. Embrace the punked up, pimped up Maharajah of Pale Ales. Nothing will ever be the same again."

Color: Cloudy, light honey

Pour: Better than decent, thick and white head

Aroma: Grass, a bit of pine.

Body: Medium

Taste: Unbalanced, more IPA than classic Scottish ale, resinous.

Overall Impression: Near "Can't Get Enough"

Comments: "A tasty beer; Classic IPA profile; Great session IPA; Tastes just like another one; Nice solid taste of citrus, grapefruit-y; Very nice beer - bit of cheat as it's an IPA, but it did come from Scotland, so that's fine with me."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Newcastle Brewing, Tadcaster, UK and Caledonian Brewing, Edinburgh, Scotland; STYLE: Scotch Ale; ABV: 6.4%; IBUs: 40

What the Brewer Says: "Newcastle Scotch Ale is a well-balanced, malt-forward brew with a delightful velvety finish...Newcastle and Caledonian made a kick-ass beer that does not suck."
Color: Amber

Pour: Decent head

Aroma: UK yeast

Body: Medium

Taste: Malt, initial sweetness with notes of banana, cloves though not overpowering

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This

Comments: "Not a bad tasting beer; Nice taste; Leans toward the malt; Creamy aftertaste; For a malty beer, has a little bitterness toward the end; Has a Newcastle mouthfeel; Enjoyable; Got that hint of toffee going for it along with that bit of banana and clove."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Hopshire Farm and Brewery, Freeville, NY; STYLE: Scottish Ale ABV: 7.8%; IBUs: 30; MALTS: Flaked oats, Chocolate Malt, Dark Crystal, Amber.

What the Brewer Says: "A malty brown ale fermented with Scottish Edinburgh yeast. Flaked oats and six different barley malts...are used in this rich tasting ale. Lightly hopped to let out the sweetness of the malt. A fun beer to make and a fun beer to drink."

Color: Brown

Pour: Decent head

Aroma: Yeast typical of British Isle beers (bit of banana aroma)

Body: Between medium and full

Taste: Sweet / malt with notes of toffee

Overall Impression: I could drink that

Comments: "Creamy malt; Smooth; I like this; Similar in taste to Newcastle, but fuller body; A little sweet, but boy it's good; Water aftertaste; Funny, they refer to it as a Scottish ale but the ABV is up there in the Scotch ale range. Doesn't taste that big, though; A well-made beer; It's a sweetie."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: McEwan's, Edinburgh, Scotland; STYLE: Scotch Ale (export only); ABV: 8.0%;

What the Brewer Says: "McEwan's Scotch Ale has a lot of loyal followers, especially in North America, and its rebirth is a direct result of customer demand."

Color: Mahogany

Pour: Decent head

Aroma: Reminiscent of maple syrup

Body: Full

Taste: Malty and sweet with a bitter bite. Notes of caramel, toffee, maple, raisins and brown sugar.

Overall Impression: Close to "Can't Get Enough"

Comments: "Nice finish; Full; attacks the side of your tongue; Not as roasted a malt as some others; sneaky beer - they've hidden the alcohol well; 50 shades of black; Could pour it on your pancakes; Not just for breakfast anymore; You really get a taste that reminds you of raisins and molasses, but there's enough hop bite to ensure it's not cloyingly sweet; Nice beer."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Davidson Brothers, Glens Falls, NY; STYLE: Scotch Ale; ABV: 8.3%

What the Brewer Says: "Our Scotch Ale is more technically called a Strong Scotch Ale, and it doesn't fail to live up to its name...This is a favorite among wine drinkers, with its sweet profile and high alcohol content."

Color: Mahogany

Pour: Better than Decent.

Aroma: Not a strong aroma - a touch of smoke, molasses.

Body: Full

Taste: Alcohol, sweet with notes of molasses, toffee, caramel.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough

Comments: "Tastes like a big beer; Tastes a lot bigger than the last beer; A bit fuller than the last beer; Residuals are not sweet; End that leaves a bit of a bitter finish; Very impressed with this beer; The alcohol cuts the sweetness."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI; STYLE: Scotch Ale; ABV: 8.5%; IBUs: 50.

What the Brewer Says: "So good it's almost wrong. Dark ruby in color and brewed with seven varieties of imported malts. Complex in finish, with hints of smoke and peat, paired with a malty richness and a right hook of hop power to give it the bad attitude that a beer named Dirty Bastard  has to live up to. Ain't for the wee lads."

Color: Ruby

Pour: Decent

Aroma: Malty sugar, grassy but not a big aroma

Body: Full

Taste: Strong and bitter on the front, mellows on the back with notes of caramel, toffee and some balancing bitterness.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough

Comments: "Founders never disappoints; could almost chew this; A different approach to a Scotch Ale; More hops than in most today; In your face brew; A great beer; it's a Scotch Ale with hops; Great beer for a cold winter night."


Straying from our normal regimen of hoppy IPAs can be a dicey proposition. It's not like we suddenly decided to review a bunch of lite beers or Strawberry Wheats, but Scotch/Scottish Ales are big on malt and tend to be sweeter than the IPA/Pale Ale camp. Despite this, we found this bunch of beers to be very good, any of which we would be happy to see on tap.

Our two favorites were Founder's Dirty Bastard and Davidson Brothers Scot. Both were big, full-bodied, full-flavored beers. Both landed squarely in our "Can't Get Enough" camp. Dirty Bastard had strong toffee/caramel maltiness balanced with a nice hop kick. Scot had a similar profile though sweeter, with hints of molasses and brown sugar.

McEwan's Scotch Ale and Brew Dog's Punk IPA both were very near "Can't Get Enough." We found McEwan's delicious with strong taste of raisins, molasses, brown sugar and maple complementing the expected caramel/toffee. Good for a pint or two, but a bit on the sweet side for too many more. Punk IPA is an interesting hybrid of Old World UK style IPA and New World US style IPA. With a base of English Maris Otter Extra Pale Malt paired with US hops (Chinook, Athanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Simcoe) with some New Zealand Nelson Sauvin thrown in for good measure, Punk IPA has a distinctive American IPA vibe with a hint of its UK roots.

We gave both Newcastle-Caledonian Scotch Ale and Hopshire Farms Shire Ale a solid "I Could Drink This!" rating. The Newcastle brew maintained the sort of classic Newcastle taste as a base with a little more of a hop kick and classic Scotch Ale elements, though a bit more muted than some of the other Scotch Ales. One of the most pleasing aspect several of us commented on was its creamy mouthfeel. Shire Ale is a bit on the sweet side, but very tasty. Strong toffee malt taste with little hop presence. It's a solid Scottish Ale taste profile with a Scotch Ale ABV. Tastes like a session but it's too strong to fit that category.


LAGUANITAS NIGHT TIME ALE: Described as Day Time's "big, dark, scary sidekick" this is nice full-bodied black IPA. Big malt taste with a strong hop bite. A delicious beer that will please both hopheads and stout lovers.

The BOTB Guys