Tag Archives: lager

Backpocket Brewing NewBo Pils

Backpocket Brewing is getting to be known as the brewery of choice for collaboration beers. Recently, they have released a Swabian Hall Smoked Brown and Raygun IPA with the store of the same name in Des Moines. Today’s offering is NewBo Pils:

NewBo Neighborhood Brew

A while back the NewBo City Market, which rose out of the 2008 flood to become a hub of activity in the revitalized NewBo Arts district in downtown Cedar Rapids, collaborated with Millstream Brewery out of the Amana Colonies to make a pale ale. I wrote about the beer here.

This offering is a different beast. Instead of an ale, NewBo Pils is a pilsner. Pilsners fall under the lager family of beers which forms the other side of the beer world along with ales. Now, this beer is interesting in that pilsners are a traditionally Czech style of beer and the NewBo City Market is across the Cedar River from Czech Village. See the connection?

Pilsners, particularly summer pils, are supposed to be a crisp beer that you can drink as the temperature stays elevated into the evening. Served cold these are the ultimate lawnmower beers.

NewBo Pils pretty much nails that description.  For me, pilsners have an aftertaste that I somewhat disagree with and that I cannot place accurately.  It’s not the smokey or piney aftertaste of an IPA or the lingering mouthfeel of a high gravity porter.  It’s just something off.  It could be NewBo Pils or Natty Light.  The off aftertaste is present.

Here is the thing, pilsners are the style of beer that was bastardized by the mega-brewers to produce things like Miller Lite and Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you spent any time in a basement in college drinking beer from a keg you know the fundamental taste profile of a pilsner. Please do not say pilsner lager either. It’s just like saying tuna fish. A pilsner by definition is a lager.

Until someone comes up with something really daring or different a well done pilsner is going to taste like a well done Budweiser. This is not damning or faint praise, but it is the reality of the style. Now that lagers are the new frontier of craft brewing according to some and brewers are getting their feet underneath them from a technical perspective given the intricacies of brewing lagers there may be some exciting new beers to try that really push the envelope.

However, until that time comes to pass craft lagers are going to taste like well-done examples of America’s favorite style of beer:

Two Mug Purchase

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Backpocket Brewing Jackknife APA

The Iowa beer trail stops in Coralville, about a half hour south of my domicile in Cedar Rapids, where Backpocket Brewing makes it home in the rapidly developing Iowa River Landing. Today’s offering is Jackknife APA:

BackPocket JackKnife

Clocking in at a modest 5.8% ABV and definitely non-intrusive 40 IBU—using Centennial and Cascade hops as the backbone for that bitterness—Jackknife is the kind of pale ale, American or otherwise, that would be quite welcome at a fall tailgate.

This is the kind of beer that you hope your favorite bar keeps on tap all the time because it hits a number of notes in an unassuming fashion that makes it an everyday beer:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

The term “American pale ale” is at the same time foreign and familiar to me. If someone offers an IPA, I have a conception of what that beer should be in my head. Light of body, high in hop character, and enough alcohol to cut through the flavor. Offer me an American pale ale and I will hesitate. What does that mean exactly?

As I see the term get used to describe more and more beers—much in the same way that session is getting applied to beer types of all kinds—my mind coalesces around these salient adjectives or characteristics:

  • Heavier in body compared to a mainstream IPA; Uses toasted or roasted malts to impart a deeper reservoir of flavor to offset hoppy bitterness
  • Fairly mainstream and one-note hop profile; These are not beers that incorporate a half dozen novel hop varieties because that would create a flavor traffic jam with the increase in body
  • Middle of the road alcohol; You may call it session-able because the beer is clocking in below 7% or so in alcohol, but most people would just call it drinkable
  • It should not be gimmicky in any way; These beers are the spiritual ancestors to such crowd pleasers as Budweiser in the red can or Coors banquet just better in every conceivable way

Maybe I am making too much a marketing ploy to get me to pay attention to a beer when the shelves are full of IPAs to the point of confusion. Sometimes the paradox of choice comes into play when I wander the craft beer case.

Too bad this beer is not in cans. It’s the kind of beer you would find in a cooler being passed around after a hike or a bike ride or the aforementioned tailgate. Trust me, tailgating in Iowa City needs a serious upgrade from the generally insipid swill that inhabits the hands of the Hawkeye faithful in the fall.

See what others are saying about Backpocket Brewing Jackknife APA at Beeradvocate.

If you get a chance Backpocket Brewing has a nice taproom and restaurant in the Iowa River Landing area that can be quite lively when the weather turns pleasant and Iowans stream to outdoor drinking venues. By May 1st most of us have thrown off the shackles of winter and early spring in order to enjoy the great outdoors, usually on our bicycles, before the cold creep of winter threatens. This is also known as Big Ten football season.

Dry Dock Brewing Co. Amber Ale

Amber ale is one of the founding styles of the craft beer movement in America—think about Fat Tire Amber Ale or Samuel Adams Boston Lager which shares a lot of traits with amber ales while being a lager—but it has gotten overshadowed in recent years with the explosion of IPAs and derivative pale ale styles.

Dry Dock cans an Amber Ale:

Dry Dock Amber Ale

The beer may carry the title Amber Ale, but the brewers describe it as an extra special bitter (ESB). This may be a stylistic choice as most consumers see the word bitter in a beer and run the other way. While that is an unfair critique, this beer does have a muddled character.

Overall, the beer lacks life. The malt body comes across flat, the hops are indistinguishable, and there is an unpleasant sour taste. Not tart like a true sour beer. More like something was spoiled. Not pleasant.

I find it fascinating that I really liked the beers I had in Dry Dock’s Aurora taproom, but I have so far found the beers from its production brewery to be lacking or stylistically something I find offensive. Yes, I am looking at you hefeweizens.

Whatever it was Dry Dock’s Amber Ale failed:

Zero Mug Purchase

Upslope Brewing Company Belgian Style Pale Ale

Anything other than India Pale Ale that skews toward the “lower” end of the beer scale is a good thing. Increasingly, you see “session” pale ales and generally easier drinking pale ales cropping up all over the place. It’s nice to have an option to supplant the curse of insipid light lagers as the summertime beer of choice.

I had some of these same hopes for Upslope Brewing’s Belgian Style Pale Ale:

Upslope Belgian Pale Ale

Sure, it’s heavier than a lot of “session” pale ales at 7.5% ABV but the mild bittering (30 IBU) meant that it might drink a little lighter. No such luck. This beer was packing a spicy punch that was the direct result of coriander being prominent in the ingredient list.

Coriander needs to come with a warning label when used as a brewing ingredient. It seems like there is a knife edge “bliss point” with this particular spice. Too little and you do not taste it among the other flavors. Too much and it feels like coriander, coriander, coriander…

In this particular example we have a case of going too far over the edge in comparison to the rest of the beer. Coriander is supposed to have a citrus character and the flavor may have been enhanced by a Belgian strain of yeast that highlights those same flavor notes. Think about it like a flavor supercharger.

Brewers need to be careful when incorporating spices into their beers that can provide a lot of flavor punch similar to hops. Prior to the use of hops beers were spiked with lots of spices like wormwood in a style called gruit. Gruit fell out of favor as hops came into play because hops have a preservative quality that helped ensure beer was drinkable past a certain consume by date. However, some of these ingredients get used in addition to a normal hopping and the impact is overkill. It’s a lot similar to beers that get dry hopped. Sure, the IBU rating is not very high but there is a ton of hop flavor and aroma that amplifies the effect.

High hopes crashed themselves on the shoals of coriander overkill:

Purchased One Mug Rating

Upslope Brewing Company Craft Lager

Upslope Brewing Company from Boulder, Colorado was a new name to me as I perusing the refrigerated cases at the liquor store in Steamboat Springs. My knowledge of Front Range breweries runs toward the Denver metro and ends about there and as a non-resident I am not too unhappy with that performance.

Started in 2008, Upslope Brewing has a year-round lineup consisting of five beers and a rotating lineup of special releases. One of the year-round beers is Craft Lager:

Upslope Craft Lager

It’s a light lager with middling alcohol (4.8% ABV) and almost no bittering (15 IBU). When it’s cold it goes down easy and that is about all that you remember.

Utilizing a mild hops like Saaz for such a small amount of bittering leaves little aroma or non-bitter flavors to be exhibited. A light lager seems like a perfect blank canvas to experiment with some subtle flavors that might get lost in a beer with a more malt heavy body. I have seen this style used to showcase rose hips, ginger, peppercorns…the list goes on for a while. Some of these experiments were successful and others were less so. Some were even non-qualified disasters.

This beer was inoffensive to the point of being boring. It’s really no different than a hundred other lagers out there. If what you want was the bare minimum in beer flavor just pick the cheapest option out of the cooler and call it a day. This lack of any character is actually something that experts think is afflicting the German beer market. Sales of beer and consumption have fallen a lot recently. Experts peg the reason being the wide proliferation of a few similar styles of beer. Basically, beer is boring in Germany and consumers want something with a little excitement.

I was hoping that after a good experience with Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils that I would feel warm and fuzzy about lagers. It was just not to be:

Purchased One Mug Rating

As a note, Upslope Brewing Company has committed to donating 1% of the revenue from Craft Lager to Colorado Trout Unlimited through the 1% for Rivers Campaign. If you are into that sort of thing.

Oskar Blues Old Chub

Dark beer can be a conundrum. To a lot of people dark beer means a heavy load of hops, alcohol, and malt body. In reality, a lot of dark beers actually tend to be light on the alcohol and hops—I am looking at the world of stouts that drink as easy as insipid American light lager. Truly, spend a day drinking Guinness or a craft doppelganger and you will understand quickly that dark does not necessarily mean big.

Oskar Blues Old Chub is not trying to hew to that convention:

Old Chub

It’s a big beer, but in all the wrong ways for this particular beer drinker. Old Chub was a serious let down after the awesomeness of Dale’s Pale Ale and the lager perception bending powers of Mama’s Little Yella Pils.

What happened? First, the beer is strong (8% ABV) and that alcohol does not seem to be balanced out or integrated with the rest of the beer. It tastes like the beer was fortified. This is not Night Train or Thunderbird, so don’t worry about ending up wrapped around a bottle of bum wine. Still, you can taste the booze with every drink.

Second, the cocoa and coffee flavors override any other flavors to the point that the beer tastes kind of like a poorly drawn mocha with an extra shot of espresso from the dregs of the Starbucks grind bin. Coffee is a hard mistress to tame when it comes to beer and few do it well—yes, Coffee Bender pulls the trick off amazingly.

Last, the beer’s aroma and flavor stick around the back of your mouth like a night in a dive bar. You wake up the next morning, cough out few wads of whatever that stuff is in the back of your throat, and taste the unfiltered cigarette that some hipster was smoking beside you. Yep, that’s what it was like with Old Chub. You can chase it with a pint of Dale’s Pale Ale and still find remnants in your throat.

It’s like a Sputnik…nope, it’s more like bong water:

Zero Mug Purchase

 

Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils

I have been harsh to lagers lately. Most of the lagers I try leave my palette with an off taste that is not quite burnt. It’s not musty or soapy either. It’s just an odd flavor that makes me want to pour the beer out and grab the nearest pale ale.

Since I was such a fan and consumer of Dale’s Pale Ale while in Colorado I brought home some Mama’s Little Yella Pils:

Little Yella Pils

What is this liquid masquerading as a lager? It has none of the bad traits I associate with the breed. It, dare I say, drinks smooth like my favorite ales. What alchemy have the brewers at Oskar Blues conducted to create such a monster?

First off, this beer is true to style meaning that it does not employ the use of so-called “adjuncts” like corn and rice. Say what you want about corn and rice in beer, but the traditional recipes used in Europe do not call for the ingredients. These beers also do not use a lot of the ingredients modern American brewers are using to craft stunning beers—yes, I am looking at you Surly Coffee Bender.

Second, the hop bill consists solely of Saaz hops. This is a very traditional hop for pilsners and seems more in place in this style as opposed to more common American craft beer hops like Cascade, Centennial, or Willamette. A pilsner lager is normally an easy drinking beer—hence the use of this style as the backbone of American light lagers that are meant to be consumed in units measured by 24 cans—so a potent hop really interferes.

The end result is a “smaller” beer that begs to be quaffed. I came home from a three hour long hike with my daughter and enjoyed a beer on the patio as the sun was setting. It fit the moment perfectly.

This all kind of surprised me because Oskar Blues is known for being on the more aggressive side of craft brewing. It’s not Stone Ruination aggressive by any means, but several of their beers are pushing higher alcohol and/or bitterness levels. This is not a brewery known for making session beers. Heck, the main line beer—Dale’s Pale Ale—clocks in at 65 IBU.

It’s a malty, not too hoppy easy drinking beer from a brewery better known for trying to knock your socks off:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating