Archive | October, 2011

Autumn Brew Review (2011)

20 Oct

11th Annual Autumn Brew Review (2011)

 

This event was sprung on me by a roommate who stumbled upon 4 tickets and couldn’t pass up an afternoon of drinking free beer so he invited whoever would say yes. I would never pass up the opportunity to experience over 80 breweries from around the country (with a focus here on the midwest) sharing their wares to a crowd of thirsty people.

I can say that this event had me excited for the entire week before it happened, I was ready to go, I tried to come up with a game plan to try as many beers as possible in the 4 hour time limit that was given to us.

I don’t really know how to go about describing the experience, so I think I will go about it in stages. The first will be about the atmosphere, the second the people I was with and the food, and third and lastly the beers I tried. I will try to wrap it up with an overall summary but this could be a long one.

Ok first off, the atmosphere, it was crowded to say the least. There were lots of people but after the first half hour most of these people were just standing around so the lines to actually get the beer weren’t that long which was nice. Everybody there was ready to try good beers which was awesome, however I did see a few people (all women mind you) pour out of half full glasses of beer if they didn’t like them. I consider that blasphemous and would have those people removed if I was in charge. You don’t like beer? Well then this isn’t the place for you.

The people I was with, 3 other guys, however 2 of them more just learning about the amazing world of small time brewing so it was fun to share some knowledge and act like I was a big shot for a few hours and explain some things to them. The other friend was a little more knowledgeable so it was fun to talk to him about what I was really tasting and to see if he experienced the same things or not. So a good mix to the group, definitely a good group of people to go with. There were also some food options available, which we did have to hit up since we were rapidly becoming aware of how much alcohol was in some of these beers. I had a Chicago-style hot dog which was good but I should have eaten more before I came. Some good choices but I stuck with the cheapest and quickest so I could get back to the beer.

Ahh the beer, I will finally get to that. With there being over 80 breweries and each brewery having at least 3 different beers of theirs to sample, we went through a lot. With that being said I did not keep track of all the beers I tried, my pen didn’t keep up with my mouth. I will give you a list of the beers I tried and then any notes I got time to jot down in the midst of all this madness.

  1. Anchor Brewing-Humming Ale
  2. Boulevard – 2010 Harvest Ale
  3. Ommegang – 3 philosophers
  4. Great Divide – Smoked Baltic porter – this one was very smoky but well balanced
  5. Great Lakes – Oktoberfest – not as good as other oktoberfest options
  6. Jolly Pumpkin – La Roja – very tart, sweet a very different beer but this one stuck out more than many other ones throughout the event.
  7. Lakefront Brewing – Pumpkin Lager – this was amazing a great pumpkin beer and a lager at that!

    – India black ale – this was a hoppy beer that really brought forth the spices in the hops

  8. Mendocino – Red Tail Ale – a very malty brew
  9. Moylans – Kilt lifter – solid scotch ale

    – DIPA – very good, hoppy floral, fruity

  10. New Holland – Envious – a great hoppy/bitter IPA
  11. He’Brew – Freaktoberfest – blood red ale very different looking

    – Lenny’s Rye IPA

  12. Stone – Imperial Russian Stout
  13. Two Brothers – Hop Juice
  14. Victory – Hop Wallop
  15. Surly Brewing Co (one of the main reasons for 98% of the people there being there) – Smoke – this was a smoky brew with a light hop finish

    -2 – their 2nd anniversary ale, a very tart and bitter affair

    – tea bagged Bender – a hoppy aroma but then when you tasted it there were not many hops at all, like a normal bender.

So that was all the beers I had notes for. This was probably only a quarter of the beers I actually got to sample at this event. So in total probably 60-70 different beers I tried that afternoon/evening. Not even close to getting to half of what was being offered, I didn’t even see a quarter of the breweries stands as we ran out of time for that.

Overall, this was an amazing event. There were so many beers, so many breweries and definitely not enough time or liver space to make it possible for me to visit every brewery without hurting myself. Regardless I had a great time. Got to try some very select beers (Surly’s 2 being a beer that only a handful of people in the world will ever try) and some classics (Anchor Steam had their classics on hand).

I would say that the only negative things that I came across were that A) there was almost too much where you had to pick and choose, I didn’t like that. I wanted to experience everything, and tried my hardest to. B) there were no brewers on hand to answer an questions, just volunteers who poured. Which was fine but I had some questions throughout that I would have liked to get an answer to. Oh well, I can always write post cards.

This was a great time, I will definitely try to go back next year and with a year under my belt will be more prepared to take on what turned into a 4 hour power hour with beers ranging from 4% to 12%.

 

Final Grade: A+

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Brew Review: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

20 Oct

Brew: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Brewed by: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico, CA)

Style: American Pale Ale (5.6% ABV)

 

Sierra Nevada has been around since 1980, that’s over 30 years now, and I believe they have been making their pale ale for that long as well, or at least they should have been. The flagship brew of a company that is one of the top ‘craft’ breweries in the US. This beer is the 2nd best selling craft beer behind (yeah we guessed it) Sam Adams. That alone says a lot about how popular and therefore how well liked this beer is. This is a standard in the American craft beer scene.

The Pale Ale pours out a clear golden/straw color with a small off-white cap of foam that rests gently on the surface and is retained throughout the drinking of the beer. This is basically what a pale ale is supposed to look like.

The aroma is so well balanced, there are the hops that you expect from a pale ale, the bitter, grassy and slightly floral hops provide just enough yin to the yang of the sweet malts that also hold a place in this beers scent. There is nothing out of place and everything is perfectly matched to create an aroma that doesn’t stand out but has inspired countless other beers.

The taste is on the same plane as the aroma. There is a solid malt body balanced to perfection by a hop content that picks up just enough spice and character to make this one of the most time honored pale ales of all time. The beer is perfectly balanced and there is nothing bad to say about it at all.

Overall, this beer is exactly what we have come to expect a classic American pale ale to be. Slightly hoppy but with a malt presence to balance it out. Sierra Nevada was one of the pioneers in the craft beer movement in America and this is one of the main reasons why. This beer is loved by many people, both beer snobs and people who just like beer in general. It has enough for the people who love big pretentious beers but doesn’t overpower those who prefer the lighter side of craft beer. This is a beer that anyone who thinks they like beer and know anything about it should have and know well as it has been the basis for many current brewers passions and professions. Deserves a lifetime achievement award (can anyone say Tim Duncan in the 2011 All-star game?).

 

Final Grade: A

Brew Review: Certified Evil

19 Oct

Brew: Certified Evil

Brewed by: Lucky Bucket Brewing Co. (La Vista, NE)

Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale (9.6% ABV)

 

I hadn’t run into any Lucky Bucket beers prior to finding this in the singles fridge at the local store. Not really knowing what to expect and with the label not telling me what type of beer this was I didn’t know what I was getting into. It did say that it was aged in oak aged wine casks so that was a hint that it was going to be a strong beer but even then I didn’t know what else was to come.

The beer poured out a thick black color, a little red and brown swirled around in there and there was a nice looking light brown, tan head that settled nicely to a cap of foam on this silky dark brew.

The smell was really different and not what I was expecting at all. It smelled like Christmas time. I guess that would mean nutmeg, cinnamon, chocolate, dark fruits, raisin, oranges. This beer has it all. There are the roasted grains that show up as well giving this a robust flavor full of roasted scents, some light airy hops and all of the above mentioned stuff mixed into one. A very complex and interesting aroma.

The taste was also different, there was coffee, roasted grains, fruits, hop spice and some bitterness. Not knowing the style made it hard to pin down what I should be looking for and what was different and unique about this beer. Either way, it was still a great tasting beer. There was also a hint of bitterness on the end that reminded me a stout.

Going back and seeing that his was a Belgian Dark ale puts it a little into perspective. I got all the fruits and floral tastes and aromas that I should have detected but that spicy cinnamon and Christmas-like stuff that I smelled and tasted really sort of put this in a class by itself. Overall, a hard beer to pin down to what it was supposed to be. I really enjoyed the beer it had a ton going on and it was all very well put together and really made for a great drinkable beer. Not super heavy, even though it was above 9% ABV. I kind of wanted a little more hops in there, a little more of the hop spice would have made this a great beer. Still well worth a pick up for anyone interested, it wasn’t very expensive and I highly recommend it.

 

Final Grade: A-

Brew Review: Founders Breakfast Stout

19 Oct

Brew: Breakfast Stout

Brewed by: Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI)

Style: American Double/Imperial Stout (8.3% ABV)

With all the craziness that has surrounded the release of Founders Canadian Breakfast stout I decided I would go back and try again where that very controversial beer started from, the original Breakfast Stout. I have had this previously but that was before I was writing down and sharing all the beers that I have tried. I am glad I did because I will eventually share all the glory that is the CBS once I get my hands on it. Also, Founders is a great brewery that consistently puts out great beers.

Oh boy this beer pours out and looks tremendous. Its as dark as night, like looking into a drum of oil, no light escapes its bounds. The head on this beer is beautiful, its thick, rich and long-lasting. Big khaki, mocha cloud that sticks around forever.

The smells that waft off the beer are also amazing. It smells like a coffee house, full of rich smells that bring a relaxed atmosphere and evoke feelings of cozy armchair where you enjoy a good book or newspaper. It smells like what you would wake up to in the morning on a Sunday and your parents had a big pot off coffee on and you were ready for a big hearty breakfast with the family. There were tons of coffee smells and some dark chocolate crept up as well.

Upon the first sip was like drinking a drink of liquid chocolate coffee. The label of the beer says its a ‘double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout’ which in itself sounds like a small meal. But it lives up to that billing and has a big taste of chocolate and coffee with a creamy feel to it brought about by the oatmeal flakes that they added. This is a big heavy beer that feels like your eating something more solid than a liquid. There is also a hint of bitterness at the end which is almost inevitable since there are 60 IBU’s in this treat.

This beer is phenomenal. I am not even a coffee drinker and this still makes me scream for more. This is a coffee drinkers dream. You could literally drink this beer for a meal and it makes sense that you would drink this for breakfast, its got oatmeal and coffee which is a great breakfast combo. This is literally a meal in a bottle, I know that Guiness has been dubbed that before but, having had both, this puts that meal to shame and relegates it to the kids table and takes over the adult table all by itself. A great beer to sip and enjoy for a while because as it warms the character changes and more and more flavors come out to play and make this a complex brew that will always be a treat. Forget getting candy for Halloween or Christmas, I just want one of these and I will be happy.

Final Grade: A

Brew Review: Juniper Pale Ale

13 Oct

Brew: Juniper Pale Ale

Brewed by: Rogue Ales (Newport, OR)

Style: Pale/Spiced Ale (5.3% ABV)

 

I don’t know why I keep trying Rogue beers, they all seem to fall short of the ‘glory’ that seems to come with the name, maybe I am trying to find the one that made the brand so popular and stand out amongst others over there on the west coast. The fact that this one was brewed with juniper berries is different and definitely sparked my interest, however I really had no idea how those berries were going to manifest themselves, were they going to be piney? Bitter? Fruity? I really had no idea so I came into drinking this beer with no expectations, well except for being wowed by some awesome Rogue creation. We’ll see how this goes….

The appearance of the beer was nothing unusual, it was pretty basic for a pale ale. It was a pale straw, yellow color. Pretty clear, not much haze or murk to hide whatever it held in its depths. There was a small white foam cap that rested nicely on the top of the beer for the whole glass.

The aroma was a little hoppy, but there was decent malt backbone to it that balanced nicely. There was a weird hint of bitterness or fresh berries/fruit that I couldn’t really get a hold on for the whole beer, that was a little vexing. I couldn’t put a finger on or find words to describe what I was getting a little sense of.

The taste was malty, the hops lend some bitterness but the sweet malts edged them out for the most part. Once again there was that indescribable weird watery berry bitterness that showed up again. After drinking the whole thing I never figured out what it was. There was a little tint of something in the middle that will probably lead to me drink this again just to try and figure it out, maybe I was just stuffy and couldn’t smell/taste right the day I drank it or something.

For the most part this beer was pretty average, nothing really made it stand out. There were the fairly balanced hops and malts that is pretty typical for a pale ale. The hops were pleasant and the beer itself wasn’t a bad one at all. I think for the most part Rogue has done it to me again. They have tempted me with their lore and then really just made a solid beer that has nothing that really sets it apart from anything else. The thing that will bug me for a while is that weird water fruit taste that I couldn’t get a hold of. Oh well, guess I will have to just drink one more and blame it on lack of concentration the first time around.

 

Final Grade: B

Brew Review: Single-Wide IPA

12 Oct

Brew: Single-Wide IPA

Brewed by: Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City, MO)

Style: American IPA (5.7% ABV)

 

I have tried the Double-Wide from Boulevard but for some reason have passed on the Single-Wide this whole time. Maybe I figured that the Double, being part of some special series (the smoke stack series I think) would be better and I shouldn’t waste my time with the Single even though the Double probably got its roots from the Single to begin with. How shortsighted of me.

The look to this beer is great, it poured out a light amber, rich golden color with some orange and yellow swirling around in there to make a sunset-type look to the beer. That was only half the greatness of the look, the head that this thing came out with was amazing. Tons and tons of white head piled up like pillows or clouds in my glass. It was a very good looking beer, one that belongs in a commercial or something.

The aroma was also pretty darn good. There were tons of floral, fruity hops that rushed at me. I know big beer snobs always talk about grapefruits being something you can smell in beers, and while I do pick it up sometimes I don’t really mention it because lets be honest I think most of those guys/gals are reaching for something with that judgment, however in this beer I could definitely pick up the grapefruits and that was pretty cool. The zest that was brought out with the hops was well balanced by the sweet malts that held up the beer and proportionally kept it in line.

The taste was great, I will say that. All those hops with their fruity, tangy, floral aromas translated into flavors that burst on the scene in a smooth creamy delivery from a beer with a decent amount of carbonation. The hops presented a decent amount of bitterness but nothing that was out of line or didn’t blend in nicely with the other flavors. The hops brought forward light fruits like apples and pears that I sometimes taste in some Belgian beers. That was a very nice treat from this brew.

The brew was much lighter than I expected, the carbonation kept the beer lively and springy and the hops Boulevard used created such a bouquet of floral and fruity tastes and aromas it was hard not to think this beer as a heavy drinker. It was a very refreshing IPA, one that was well balanced and not an absolute hop-bomb that seems to be the trend for anything IPA or beyond. I am really glad I regressed and went back to the Single after trying the Double.

 

Final Grade: A

Brew Review: Claymore Scotch Ale

12 Oct

Brew: Claymore Scotch Ale

Brewed by: Great Divide Brewing Company (Denver, CO)

Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy (7.7% ABV)

 

Another entry in my pursuit of a great scotch ale. I don’t know why but I have a yearning to find, try and drink the best scotch ales out there. I don’t know if I have found it yet, but every time I see one I know I have to try it. On to Great Divide, I have had a couple of their wares, Hoss, Hibernation, and a couple others. I have been impressed but not blown out of the water by any of them. I was expecting sort of the same with Claymore, but I was hoping for something great.

This brew poured out a thick rich brown with some red and purple mixed in there as well. You can tell by the look of this one that its going to fill you up right. There was some off white sort of tan colored foam that rose up but not to a significant degree. Overall this was much darker than I was expecting.

The aroma of the beer was fairly basic, for the most part it was dominated by roasted grains. The roasted aromas sort of took over anything else that was trying to shine through. There was a hint of peated smoked malt. Very subtle, hiding in the background.

The taste followed suit, there was tons of roasted grains that stole the show. All the roasted flavors brought forth coffee and some chocolate, sort of like a porter. The peated malt did show up again as a minor player that complemented the roasted grains but didn’t once again come out of the corner it was relegated to. There was a very small hint of some hops in there but that is sort of expected in this style of beer.

For the most part this was a very easy drinking beer for being 7.7% and having tons of roasted grains and specialty malts present. It had a very creamy and smooth feel to it as well which led to the overall easy drinking. This was much darker and had many more roasted aspects than I was expecting and not enough ‘scotch’ for what I was hoping for. Needless to say it was still a great beer, definitely worth trying as the weather gets colder.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Brew Review: Oscura

11 Oct

Brew: Oscura

Brewed by: Furthermore Brewing (Spring Green, WI)

Style: Steam brewed lager (5.3% ABV)

 

I could not figure out for the life of my what type of beer this was as I as drinking it, only fueled by later research did I find that this was a ‘steam’ beer, so a lager fermented at higher temperatures than normal for a lager beer. That would have put the whole experience in a different light if I had known what I was getting into. I did like however trying to figure out what was going on in my mouth in my head at the same time, although that got too hard eventually and I just settled on enjoying the brew and worrying about what kind it was later on.

This beer poured out a murky brown reddish color. Sort of muddy, not super appealing and with not knowing the exact style I didn’t really know what to expect after that. There was a small white head as well, that was sort of unexpected because I knew there were coffee beans in there and I would have figured they would have made the head a little darker.

The smell was full of coffee, but not really rich thick coffee, but sort of hollow and leaving you feeling like there was less there than there should have been. There were also some lager smells, some bread and yeasts mixed in there. The coffee and lager led to a overall sweet smell to the beer.

The taste was like drinking an iced coffee (well what I would imagine an iced coffee would taste like as I don’t think I have ever had the pleasure of having one). The flavor is mostly coffee with some sweet malts and a little chocolate from the roasted grains. The steam beer technique leads to a smoother feel to the beer which is nice.

Overall the beer would be really good if you like coffee. Me, I am not a huge fan so this one really didn’t get me going. A good description of what goes into the brew is listed on the website, I think that sort of puts in perspective what you are drinking if you have one of these. A very good idea for the beer, one that will be enjoyed by coffee drinkers

 

Final Grade: B

 

Brew Review: Spaten Oktoberfest

11 Oct

Beer: Oktoberfest

Brewed by: Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu (Munich, Germany)

Style: Marzen style Lager (5.9% ABV)

Oh boy, the leaves are starting to turn, I have to fight school buses in the morning on the way to work, fall is in the air which means that Oktoberfest is right around the corner. I decided to celebrate the season with a classic Marzen lager-bier right from the heart of the festival itself, Munich. Granted I would have enjoyed the real thing more I presume but I am still stuck riding the pine on that adventure.

This classic poured out very clear, a golden amber color that was lighter than I would have imagined. There were some hints of brown in there but not as much as I was expecting. There was a small cap of egg-shell white foam that sat there looking appetizing for the whole 12 ounces.

The smell was not the best part of the beer, I will put that out there right away. It had the classic bready lager smell that you get from most German’s but it also had the skunky sat-in-the-sun-too-long smell as well. They might consider moving this beer from a green bottle to a brown one to prevent it from skunking quickly.

The taste was not skunky however, to my relief. There were sweet marzen lager tastes with some light hops bringing this beer into a crisp refreshing category. The lager part of the beer made it refreshing and the hops just added a bit of life to the beer to bring it up even more. The hops were light, earthy and grassy. The good marzen sweet malty tastes linger and leave you wanting some pretzels and more beer.

This was a solid overall beer for the style, not as big and fancy as the American brewers like to have their beers but it really ran true to the German style which was exactly what it was supposed to do.

Final Grade: B+

Brew Review: Big Easy

11 Oct

Brew: Big Easy

Brewed by: Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI)

Style: Imperial Maibock (7.1% ABV)

 

As I was Google mapping cities around my current location for the word “brew” (this tends to lead to new discoveries on my part of breweries and brewpubs I didn’t know existed) I was looking around Milwaukee and found Lakefront. The next day I was in the store and of course found like 3 Lakefront brews so I went for them. This is one, the others will probably follow. Not to mention I was also very excited about an ‘imperial Maibock’ as I didn’t even know a style like this existed.

The Big Easy poured out a very clear, straw golden color. A very lager-like beer in its appearance. There was also not much head to my pour as well. Needless to say there isn’t much to say about the way this beer looks. You could probably switch it with a Bud and not tell the difference.

The smell however definitely separates it from the ice cold, triple hops brewed poo that I just compared it to. There was a sweet lager smell in this brew. Some grassy hops combined with the traditional bready lager smells to make for a crisp refreshing, yet heavy smelling beer.

The taste was surprising, there were more of the light uplifting hops than I would have imagined. The bitter mixes with the sweetness from the grains and malts and creates a unique taste. There were some lager beer flavors but there was also more than that, I couldn’t put my finger on what else I was experiencing. I guess I will have to pick up another couple of bottles to really get the hang of it. Carrots?

Overall this beer was unique, I thought it had a lot going for it because of the additional hops Lakefront decided to put in it. At the same time of it being a maibock it was very easy to drink and went down without a hitch. A very easy beer, that might be the reason behind the name. I still don’t get the Imperial part of the style though.

 

Final Grade: A-