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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Summer Suds

This month the BOTB Guys take a look at some summer beers - canned beers with a summery feel to them.  I'll also finish up my take on the state of craft beer in England.

The Beers of Summer 2015

Ahh, summer. Hot days and cold beer. We decided to make our annual foray into summer beers or, as we like to call them, boat beers. Basically beers that are a bit on the light side (but not the lite side) with lower ABVs. Like the old Schaefer Beer ad used to say, a beer for "when you're having more than one." Most of the beers we had clocked in at under 5% ABV, though a couple broke the Boat Beer limit by a couple of percentage points. Being very open-minded Guys, we included them anyway.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Summer Ale; BREWER: Uinta Brewing, Salt Lake City, Utah; ABV: 4%; IBU: 17; SRM: 3; MALT: NA; HOPS: Sorachi; AWARDS: 2010 Silver Medal World Beer Championships. 

What the Brewer Says: "Citrusy and thirst-quenching, this refreshing golden ale is highlighted by the use of unique hops."

Color: Pale yellow with a faint green tinge

Pour: Nice, thick white head

Aroma: Not much noticeable aroma

Body: Light, thin

Taste: Light citrus, with hints of lemon

Overall Impression: Leave it on the shelf

Comments: "Palate cleanser; Not one I would go out and buy again; Certainly a summer beer; better than Bud, Coors Light etc.; Weird color, almost green; Kind of nondescript but better than some summer ales I've had; At least it's not a Shandy."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Session IPA; BREWER: 21st Amendment, San Francisco, CA; ABV: 4.4%; IBUs: 42; MALTS: Golden Promise, Munich, Light, Crystal 45, Caramalt; HOPS: Cascade, Mosaic.

What the Brewer Says: "Down to Earth is the natural evolution (pun intended) of Bitter American, our original session ale. We thought it would be fitting to bring our space chimp home and let him chill. Whether you have a long mission behind you or a full afternoon ahead, this session IPA will help keep things real. More relaxed than an IPA, but with all the hop aroma and flavor, Down to Earth is our tribute to unsung heroes and unplanned adventures."

Color: Pale gold

Pour: Nice head with good lacing

Aroma: Nice hoppy aroma - grapefruit

Body: Medium

Taste: Light grapfruit-bitter hoppiness with a hint of a metallic taste. A balanced malty/bready backbone.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This!

Comments: "Nice job on the packaging; Really nice taste - I could drink this; Well balanced for a golf cart beer; Tastes bigger than 4.4%; Attacks the tongue (nicely); this brewery doesn't disappoint; We had a shit-load of 4.4%ers in England, but this is so much better than any of them, so much fuller flavored; It's got the citrusy taste with some solid malt that gives it a fuller body and more complex flavor than a lot of the session IPAs; I'd like to taste this side-by-side with Bitter American to see the difference. I was a fan of Bitter American."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Session IPA; BREWER: Evil Twin Brewing, Two Roads Brewing Co, CT.; ABV: 4.5%;IBUs: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Despite his bitterness, lack of power and unsuperable aversion to any kind of extravagant labor - he kind of has a charming charisma, and perhaps he is even loveable. Somehow we find him unbelievable, irresistible and stimulating because he is one of the few that masters the ability to effortlessly impress with his sharp intelligence and make it look so damn easy."

Color: Pale Yellow with a faint green cast

Pour: Guinness class head

Aroma: Citra hops dominate with a strong grapefruity aroma

Body: Medium

Taste: Tilts toward the bitter/hoppy end of the spectrum with strong citrus, grapefruit and pine tastes.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This

Comments: "Bitter on the end; Good summer beer - tastes summery, but hoppy; Tastes better than it looks; 16 ounce can makes for a better golf / boat beer; bigger can makes for a better beer can chicken; It's a nice session IPA, not complex, but enough flavor to set it apart from a lot of other summer brews; Nice, easy-drinking beer."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Session IPA; BREWER: Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, CA; ABV: 4.5%; IBUs: 45 - 50; COLOR: 4-5 SRM; MALTS: American Pale Malt; English Carmel 35; Cara Pils; Rolled Oats: HOPS: Bavarian Mandarina, Hallertau Melon, Blend of New Zealand, American Mosaic.

What the Brewer Says: "Brewmaster Matt Brynildson went to the mountain and returned with a vision for a different kind of Session IPA, one that would be brewed and dry hopped with a globetrotting selection of new hop varieties from Europe, New Zealand and North America. He foresaw a beer that would deliver massive hop aromas, a signature malt balance and an empty glass before you knew what hit you. And so the newest member of our Jack IPA family was born."

Color: Golden

Pour: Between Decent and Guinness Class heads.

Aroma: Resinous, hoppy, grapefruit

Body: Medium

Taste: Leans heavily toward the hoppy/bitter end of the spectrum with citrus/grapefruit, pine, hints of lemon and a subtle malt backing

Overall Impression: Nearly Can't Get Enough

Comments: "Nice finish; Starts out strong - finishes strong; Doesn't taste like a session beer; Fuller body bodied beer than you get with most sessions; Really good beer; Have they re-made this beer? Seems like I had it before and was kind of lukewarm about it, but I really like it today."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Session IPA; ABV: BREWER: Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, MI; 4.7%; IBUs: 42; AWARDS: 2014 Australian International Beer Awards - Gold Medal.

What the Brewer Says: "The beer you've been waiting for. Keeps your taste satisfied while keeping your senses sharp. An all-day IPA naturally brewed with a complex array of malts, grains and hops. Balanced for optimal aromatics and a clean finish. The perfect reward for an honest day's work and the ultimate companion to celebrate life's simple pleasures.

Color: Clover honey

Pour: Big off-white head

Aroma: Grassy

Body: Medium

Taste: Hoppy/bitter with grapefruit, pine, citrus and grass

Overall Impression: Between I Could Drink This and Can't Get Enough

Comments: "You don't taste the alcohol difference, but you can taste the hops; Fills the nose; More grassy than grapefruit/piney hops; A standard session IPA; You always want to have it on hand for the summer"


The Beer Facts: STYLE: India Pale Ale; BREWER:21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA; ABV: 7%; IBUs: 70; MALTS: Two-Row Pale, Imported Munich and Light Crystal; HOPS: Bittering: Columbus, Finishing: Cascade, Centennial

What the Brewer Says: "Brew Free! Or Die IPA is brewed with some serious west coast attitude. This aromatic golden IPA starts with three different hops to the nose, quickly balanced by a solid malt backbone supporting the firm bitterness. Our top selling beer at the pub, this IPA starts big and finishes clean leaving you wanting more."

Color: Deep Gold

Pour: Near Guinness Class off-white head

Aroma: Hoppy, pine

Body: Between Medium and Full

Taste: Strong grapefruit, pine with hints of grass and a nice sourdough/bready taste underlying the hops.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!

Comments: "Tastes like a big beer - especially after the sessions; One of my favorites; Tastes really good - has a bigger ABV but doesn't have that 'hot' alcohol taste; An awesome beer, nicely complex and full-flavored."

                                       SKINNY DIPPER

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American IPA; BREWER:St. Lawrence Brewing Co., Canton, NY; ABV: 7%; IBU: 85; MALTS: Pale Malt; HOPS: Cascade, Centennial

What the Brewer Says: "Hoppy and bitter, clear orange color, medium mouthfeel...easy drinkability."

Color: Hazy straw orange-ish color

Pour: Decent white head

Aroma: Straw

Body: A bit beyond Medium

Taste: Leans toward the hoppy, bitter end with some biscuit, nutty underpinnings

Overall Impression: Between I Could Drink This and Can't Get Enough

Comment: "Aroma's neutral, but taste is big; Aftertaste stays with you; Interesting taste - unlike any we've had today; Complex taste; Nice beer - I really like it; Pretty smooth."


What's the bottom line on the Beers of Summer that we tried? Here's the breakdown:

1. Brew Free! Or Die IPA was easily our favorite. It also was a bit higher ABV than most of the others as well. It is a terrific beer and it got top scores all around.

2. Easy Jack came in second. We felt it was quite a full flavored beer for a session with a big hop hit and solid malt backing.

3. Skinny Dipper  edged out All Day IPA by just a bit. It had an interesting nutty quality to it that made it a bit unique.

4. All Day IPA from Founders we all agree is a great staple to have on hand. It's an easy-drinking beer with a good solid hop presence.

5. Down to Earth and Citra Sunshine Slacker pretty much tied with solid "I Could Drink This" votes. We found them both very tasty beers with low ABV that epitomize the spirit of Boat Beers.

6. Sum'r alas did not fare well. We said we'd leave it on the shelf. The color was a bit off-putting - a very pale yellow with a greenish tinge to it. Oddly, when placed side by side with Citra Sunshine Slacker they looked almost identical. But they tasted radically different. I liked Sum'r better than the others in that I didn't find it terribly objectionable, it just was a bit bland for our tastes. 


We were told early on by someone in the know that if we wanted hoppier beers as well as more variety we would find it in the North. North of London the pubs seem to be more independent and tend to have more in the way of craft beers. South of London not so much so. And indeed we found this to be so. While in the South we noticed that many of the same beers were found in every pub: Carling, London Pride, Sharp's, Tetley, Guinness, etc. Once we moved North, there were more local brews, more beers one would consider craft beers, beers brewed by smaller breweries. We stayed with an old high school friend in the village of Ulverston in the northwestern part of England. Ulverston's most famous native son was Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame. There is a Laurel and Hardy museum and the local Ulverston Brewery names all its beers after something related to Laurel and Hardy (Another Fine Mess, Laughing Gravy, Lonesome Pine, Fra Diavolo, Flying Elephants, Bad Medicine, Harvest Moon). If you are fan of Laurel and Hardy, you'll recognize the references. We weren't able to sample all of them, but the ones we did were tasty, malt forward easy-to-drink beers. Not a big hop presence, but definitely drinkable.

One of the things I began to notice was the term "Free House" on the signage of some pubs. I soon learned that a Free House was a pub that was not owned by a brewery. The term "pub" comes from the term "public house" which became a widely used term in the 19th century used to refer to ale houses. For quite some time, most pubs brewed their own beers on the premises but gradually this practice died out as more and more of the pubs were bought up by breweries. These became known as "tied houses" and they had to sell the beer produced by the brewery that owned it. This is one of the contributing factors to what the CAMRA movement refers to as "the homogenization of beer." Free houses often have a much larger variety of beers from various brewers, although they often still have an agreement with one of the larger ones to set aside a certain percentage of their taps for their beers. Free houses are where you are more likely to find craft beers. 

Painting in broad strokes here, I found that in London there seemed to be three types of pubs. There are the big commercial pubs tied to a large brewery that owned it. Their selection was often limited to the beers produced by that brewery. Then there were the more traditional neighborhood pubs, most of which were free houses though some were tied houses. Here you'll find the usual (Boddingtons, Fuller, Newcastle, Carling, London Pride) but also a selections of Bitters, Pales or Blondes on cask. These often boast of Real Ale or CAMRA approved. If you wanted a hoppy, West-coast stlye IPA (and yes, they advertise them as such and, yes, they mean the West coast of the US) you would need to find a trendier pub generally skewing to a younger, hipper crowd. We hit Brew Dog's pub in Shorditch. There they had many of their beers but also guest beers from craft brewers around the UK and from the US (Stone, Sierra Nevada). Lots of IPAs and Double IPAs which was balm indeed for a couple of hops-starved travelers. 

Out of London and to the north we did find more indy pubs such as the Swan Inn which had a nice variety of beers - Stouts, Pales, Bitters, Porters, Fruit Beers, Belgians, cider - from big brewers to smaller local brewers. Plus a couple of nice IPAs.                                                                       So craft beer is indeed alive and well in Great Britain, though not quite at the level it is in the States. 
Inside the Swan. Note the variety of beers and ciders.

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