Tag Archives: microbrew

Samuel Adams Got Me Again

I have been seduced by the sampler pack yet again.  And, again, it was a sampler from Samuel Adams.  The devious grin of the Founding Father drew me in and the chance to try six different beers from one twelve pack was too good to pass up while I wait for my latest homebrew—an Irish red ale—to finish bottle conditioning.

This particular sampler was full of “summer” beers that included Boston Lager, Belgian Session, Little White Rye, Summer Ale, Porch Rocker, and Blueberry Hill Lager.  I won’t get into the merits of Boston Lager at length here because I have covered it in the past and this beer is so well known.  If you have any inclination toward craft beer, you have probably had a Sam Adams Boston Lager by now.

I am going to talk about the beers in the order that I enjoyed them starting with Belgian Session:

Belgian Session

I am fool for session beers.  These beers are low in alcohol and bitterness, but make up for that in the spicy, citrus, or floral notes from the malts, hops, and spices used in brewing.  It’s like the heavier notes in most beers get tamped down and the little flavor notes get amped up.

Belgian Session comes through with those flavors very well.  Session beers, a style that is hard to define but generally denotes lower alcohol and clean finish, are the perfect accompaniments for summer.  The temperatures go up and when you find some shade this type of beer is desirable.

Little White Rye was the surprise of the bunch:

Little White Rye

Similar in its base profile to some of the other beers in the sampler, the two distinct differences are the inclusion of rye malt—a personal favorite of mine for just about any beer—and white sage.

I knew what to expect when it came to rye, but I was slightly disappointed because I did not really note any of the peppery bite I have come to associate with rye beers.  Maybe my palate is not sensitive enough to register subtle notes of malted grains.  Oh well.

The white sage, however, came through is a totally unexpected way.  I expected the inclusion of a pretty potent taste and aroma like sage to either be gimmicky or overpowering.  Somehow neither of these things happened and it leads to a really unique beer.  Unlike Blueberry Hill Lager, which is discussed later and shares a similar basic profile, Little White Rye did not taste like I was consuming the experiment gone wrong of a mad brewer.

Samuel Adams is well-known for tying its beers to the seasons—Winter Lager, Alpine Spring, White Christmas, etc.—and for summer there is a seasonal variant:

Summer Ale

Summer ale is like summer songs on the radio.  You can drink this without remembering very much about it the next day and you won’t really care.  Generally referred to as “lawnmower” beers, Porch Rocker and its ilk drink a little too light for me because there is little attempt to balance the alcohol or malt with any bitterness.  In Porch Rocker’s case, coming in a just 7 IBU, this is one of the least bitter beers you can probably find without drinking gruit ale.  I may not be a dyed in the wool hophead, but I want a little bit more from my beer in terms of aroma and bitterness.

There is something evocative about sitting on a porch during a hot summer day that has been seared in the brains of beer marketers because I keep seeing the imagery being used to sell me beer:

Porch Rocker

Porch Rocker is supposed to be a take on a Bavarian Radler, which is a beer mixed drink consisting of beer and either soda or lemonade.  Sound like a shandy?  Yep, it’s pretty much a shandy.  Therefore, sweetness is on tap.

With Porch Rocker you get sweet and you get lemon, but not much else.  It’s like a guilty pleasure of beer that does not drink like beer at all.  How it ended up in a beer sampler pack is beyond me.  It should have been sitting next to Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Most children have had their mother say to them at one point or another, “If you do not have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  I have never understood that logic and it definitely does not apply to Blueberry Hill Lager:

Blueberry Hill

First off, this is a better beer than Wild Blue from AB-InBev.  Rarely have I only had one drink of a beer and poured the remaining bottles’ contents down the drain but in the case of Wild Blue I was so inclined.  Already, Blueberry Hill Lager had a steep road to climb because of my preconceived notions of how vile a blueberry beer could be.

Sweet is the first word that comes to mind.  Not sweet in a “kiss of sugar” kind of way.  This beer was sweet in a grape soda kind of way.  Sickly sweet.  For some beer drinkers this might be a good thing—like the people who can actually drink Redd’s Apple Ale—but count this kid out.

The dominant not is sweet.  At 5.5% ABV and 18 IBU there is not nearly enough alcohol and/or bitterness to counteract the sweetness.  To complicate matters, the sole hop used—Tettnang Tettnanger—is not noted for its bold profile so any hop aroma or bitterness, whatever may have been present, is overwhelmed by sweet blueberry.  It is a one note beer in a bad way.

In summation, I would say that two of the summer beers were suprises to the good side—Belgian Session and Little White Rye—while three disappointed—Summer Ale, Porch Rocker, and Blueberry Hill Lager.

I have to give more credit to the Boston Beer Company than I have in the past.  Not only are they out there brewing all kinds of different beers and distributing them all over the United States, which is a great thing, but they have taken on the giant, Anheuser Busch prior to the merger with InBev.

It was a story that I was ignorant of until reading Barry C. Lynn’s Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction where he talks about AB deciding it wanted to destroy Samuel Adams.  Starting with ads criticizing the location of the brewery, at the time done under contract at various locations, AB was later accused of manipulating markets for various ingredients to pressure craft brewers that it viewed as a threat to its business.  This is truly the elephant being bothered by the gnat because at the time AB probably spilled more beer than Boston Beer brewed.

Boston Beer not only survived its brush with the giant, but it set the stage for a lot of people to follow and gain access to distribution channels that might have been closed off had AB succeeded in slaying Boston Beer.  The craft beer movement may have been stalled by the efforts of AB, but it was in no way stopped.

Given where craft beer is at today vis a vis the market, in that people demand these beers, it’s hard to imagine the entire movement being strangled in its infancy.  However, if Boston Beer had been beaten that very well may have been the outcome.  For that I raise a glass and say, “Thank you Boston Beer.”

Some Missouri Beers Make the Trip North

A few times a year my sister-in-law makes the trip north from Kansas City.  It’s a guarantee that a few bottles of Kansas City’s finest barbecue sauces will make the trip.  I am not talking about KC Masterpiece.  I am talking about Oklahoma Joe’s or Arthur Bryant’s or some new place that I have not heard of that just might be the best place ever.  They sure know how to smoke meat down in Kansas City.

Beer, however, is not something that I think of when I think of Kansas City.  Part of this is because I forget that Boulevard Brewing is located there and that is a shame because I have many fond memories of Boulevard Wheat.  After Fat Tire Amber Ale and a handful of beers from Summit Brewing in St. Paul, Boulevard Wheat was one of the beers that saved me from the path of PBR.

The first beer that I cracked open was an O’Fallon Brewery Black Hemp:

Black Hemp

Okay, O’Fallon is really more St. Louis than it is Kansas City but it came from someone in KC so I am including it in the roundup.  I do not understand why hemp gets included in so many things as an ingredient other than for a chucklehead laugh.  You know, “He, he, he…it’s got hemp…that’s like weeeeeed.”

I have yet to try a beer that uses hemp as an ingredient where there is any discernible difference in taste brought forward by the hemp.  Maybe if I had two beers that were the same save for the inclusion of hemp in one I would be able to taste a difference.  Otherwise…not so much.

Once I got past the whole issue around hemp, I found this to be a competent dark ale.  The beer comes across a little too dark.  Too much smoke that is not balanced out by any other flavor.  It’s not an overly strong beer (5.8% ABV), but it drinks a lot stronger because of the heavy charred flavors.

The next two beers come from the actual Kansas City area.  The Weston Brewing Company is located in Weston, MO and produces the official beer of Livestrong Park–how long will that name stick?  I was given some Ruddy Wheat:

Ruddy Wheat

I would like to say good things because I know people are trying hard.  This beer, however, is thin.  It’s really light in body regardless of the color and the flavor is almost non-existent.  To further the problem the flavor that does exist is odd.  I cannot pin my finger on the problem exactly.

Perhaps, the alcohol is not balanced by the body of the beer and the hops are a non-player.  Trolling through reviews on Beeradvocate I noticed that the reviews chalked up some of this to the possibility of this being an extract brew.  Interesting.  I did not know anyone at a commerical scale would be using extract to brew.  Chalk that up to my own ignorance.

I love flying monkeys.  Who does not love flying monkeys?  I watched the Super Bowl preview for that weird looking Oz movie and wondered where the flying monkeys were until the end.  At least someone had the good sense to make sure flying monkeys were still in the picture.  Flying Monkey Beer?

Flying Monkey

Not so much.  I do not know what the urine of a flying monkey would taste like, but I imagine that this insipid beer would come pretty close.  It seems like this is a case of good marketing taking precedence over actually making good beer.  Reminds me a little of Flying Dog Brewery and the crazy names for their beers.  In Heat Wheat anyone?

Apparently, this batch was made by the folks at Weston Brewing.  Said so on the bottle.

So, while the good folks in Kansas City can make a wicked plate of burnt ends slathered in the best sauce in the world people would be advised to wash it down with a Boulevard beer if they want to stay local because from what I’ve tasted there is a ways to go.

Giving Credit where Credit is Due

One of the good things about people knowing that you are a “beer hound” as I am is that your gifts tend to center around beer during the holidays.  Seems logical right?

When someone comes from Colorado or Minneapolis they tend to bring me a few 22 ounce bottles of something I cannot get in Iowa or a trunk full of Surly Coffee Bender—thanks to my brother who really came through this past weekend with a nice delivery of Twin Cities-centric beers.  However, what does someone local do who wants to bring a host gift to a little holiday season get together?  The answer appears to be a Samuel Adams sampler pack:

Sam Adams Sampler Box

Offhand I kind of scoffed at the idea of Sam Adams.  Why?  I have no idea, honestly.  I put them in a category of craft brewers who have gotten so big that they have left behind some of the craft and adopted some of the macro.  I think that this is an unfair characterization.

No, this is not a New Year’s resolution to be a kinder and gentler me.  Rather, it is a realization that there is a lot of credit due to the vanguard of craft brewers who have ridden a wave of popularity to become quite large in the last few years.  I usually think of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada because both of these breweries were at the forefront of my awakening in terms of beer—the transition from Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s to Fat Tire Amber Ale was a jarring life transition—but Sam Adams should be on that list as well.

Perhaps more than any other craft brewer, Sam Adams and the parent Boston Beer Company has done more to propagate improved beer throughout the United States.  Furthermore, the vanguard of craft brewers has really opened up the minds of beer drinkers to different styles and ingredients in a way that would have been unimaginable without their efforts.  Can you picture one of the macro giants pursuing a sour ale brewing regimen?  Nope.

Let’s start with where it all began:

Boston Lager

It is hard to imagine a beer world where Boston Lager is not part of the landscape.  This beer has moved out of the purely craft domain and become something different.  When you are an option on the menu at Red Lobster you have reached a certain critical mass.

The beer is good.  It’s like a historical exhibit on where the craft beer movement started and you can understand how the movement evolved in one glass.  Here is a beer that came out in the late 1980s that had a full, foamy head, a dark color, and a considerable—for the time—hop profile.  At a time when people considered Michelob to be a premium beer, a pint of Boston Lager must have been a slap to the teeth.

Boston Lager stands up well to the times because it is well executed.  The Winter Lager feels like an evolution of Boston Lager:

Winter Lager

Utilizing a single variety of hops, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Winter Lager has an easy drinking flavor that pairs well with the season.  Unlike a lot of “winter seasonals” this beer lacks the overpowering spice aroma and flavors that brewers pile on to make a beer for the cold months.  Dare I say that Winter Lager is a subtle brew?  I think that I would.

Old Fezzwig Ale is like a cousin to many of the homebrewed ales that I make:

Old Fezzwig Ale

Using Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Tettnang Tettnanger, the same in Boston Lager, produces a beer with a hop profile similar to what I make in my basement.  I mean that as a compliment, by the way, because I have an unabashed love of the beers I craft myself.

The inclusion of an ale is a nice counterpoint to a lager.  What’s the difference?  Ales and lagers represent the two families of beers whose primary difference is the type of yeast used for fermentation, which dictates the method of fermentation.  The primary supposed difference is that lagers produce fewer yeast derived flavors as opposed to ales because of lower fermentation temperatures allowing for a better expression of malt and hop flavors.  Considering that the variety of styles with the ale and lager families are so varied this distinction is becoming less important every day.  Let it be known, however, that the Miller Lite you hosted at that tailgate was a lager.

Holiday Porter is another ale:

Holiday Porter

It’s a pretty well-executed porter.  This style of beer is great during the cold months if the components are balanced.  Too often, a brewer will use the dark base as a platform to showcase a lot of alcohol and a lot of bitterness.  I have seen porters—and stouts for that matter—with IBUs above 100 and ABVs over 8%.  That is a lot of beer.

In truth, I would have liked to see Holiday Porter with less alcohol—blasphemy says the peanut gallery.  Hear me out.  Beer makers are tripping over themselves to make stronger and stronger beers—witness Bud Light Platinum—without really considering if it something that people really want.  I am not advocating for a hard cap on the alcohol in beer or anything, but brewers could learn that a little less alcohol can go a long way to providing a nice canvas to show some unique and subtle flavors that might get lost in a bigger beer.

Two of the beers included in the sampler pack were not so successful: Chocolate Bock and White Christmas.  I’ll address them in a descending order of approval with the bock first:

Chocolate Bock

This beer totally lacked any bitterness to counteract the sweetness that hits the tongue from the inclusion of cacao nibs.  There is a fine line to be walked with very dark beers when it comes to the interplay between sweet and bitter.  It is one of the reasons that I usually dislike milk stouts.  The inclusion of a non-fermentable sugar gives the beer a sweet thickness that I find unappealing.  This beer has many of those same characteristics.

The Chocolate Bock was a winner in comparison to White Christmas:

White Christmas

Sold as a white beer with spice notes for the holidays, White Christmas is one insipid liquid.  First, at 5.8% ABV there needs to be some body and bitterness for balance.  However, there is none.  The beer is very light in body—as you can see by the color—and lacking completely in bitterness.  So, there is a strong alcohol flavor and aftertaste that ruins everything from the first drink.

White ales are a hard beer to execute well, in my opinion, because the brewers instinct to go over the top is not rewarded as it might be with a stout or an IPA.  What usually results is a beer that is less than the sum of its parts in a major way and ends up getting poured down the drain.

Lucid Brewing Dyno and Summertide

On my latest trip to the Twin Cities I was able to procure a couple of bottles of beer from Lucid Brewing.  Located in Minnetonka, Lucid got its start in 2011 with the first beers hitting the shelves in November of that year.  Almost a year after being available to the public is a fair amount of time to allow for an evaluation.

One bottle each of Lucid’s Summertide saison and Dyno pale ale made the trip south with me.  How did things turn out?

I was disappointed.  Both beers were fairly well executed, but each felt a little one note or flat.  Dyno:

Competent American-style pale ales are just not that compelling anymore.  When the choices for something other than a “Big Three” beer were Sam Adams and a whole lot of nothing else the story would have been different.  Now…there are so many choices to excite the palate that uninspired beers turn into also-rans.

Summertide saison:

Saisons area style I generally love—one is in bottles right now and will be ready to serve tomorrow—so I was prepped to love this beer.  Like Dyno, I felt that this beer was competent but not compelling.  Dare I say…boring.

This may sound like an indictment of what the guys at Lucid Brewing are doing, but it should not read that way at all.  The greatest thing about the explosion of craft beer in the United States is that every person who hoists a pint has the opportunity to find the beer that suits their particular palate or tickles their fickle fancy.  The next person in line may write that Surly’s Coffee Bender tastes like leftover bong water and, while I may vehemently disagree with that assessment, it does not in any way change their opinion.  Nor is either opinion wrong.

The other great thing about beer is that just because you do not like one beer from a brewer, it does not mean that you will dislike all beers from that brewer.  The next time I am in Minnesota I will try Lucid’s Air, Foto, or Camo.

Surly Fest & Coffee Bender

I am a big fan of the work that Surly Brewing is doing up in Minnesota.  I like a lot of the beers coming out of the brewery and the company has been a driving force in loosening some of the more insane restrictions placed on breweries.  Now, it will be possible for breweries in Minnesota to have commercial taprooms on site which makes the entire idea of a microbrewery more economically feasible.  Thank you Surly.

This trip to the Twin Cities brought Surly’s Fest and Coffee Bender to my refrigerator.

Fest is an oddity.  Wrapped in a label which evokes the season Oktoberfest beers that dominate the shelves at this time of year, the folks at Surly have made it a point to say that this is not an Oktoberfest beer in any way.  Huh?  Rather, it is “single hopped, dry hopped, rye lager bier.”  Whatever that means:

The beer is not overly strong (6.0% ABV) nor is it overly bitter (34 IBU).  Maybe I was expecting an Oktoberfest beer or a marzen because the dry hopping really stood out to me.  Dry hopping is a technique where hops are added after the boil, usually after primary fermentation but brewers are trying all different kinds of timing.  Because the hops are not added during the boil, the aromatic oils that may normally be destroyed by the high temperatures are preserved.  When you open a bottle or can of a dry hopped beer you get hit with a fistful of hop aroma.  Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it is overpowering.

Remember in college when a stoner would open the door to his dorm room and it smelled like the inside of a bong?  A beer that has been aggressively dry hopped can have that effect.  Fest does not fall victim to that pratfall.

Overall, this is another well-executed beer from Surly.

In the past, I have written about Bender.  This is about Coffee Bender:

What can I say?  These guys took a beer I liked and added something that I really like—coffee!  Coffee Bender is the same strength (5.5% ABV) and bitterness (45 IBU) as the regular Bender, but the coffee flavor adds so much to this beer.  Unlike some other beers where coffee has been added, the regular Bender seems like a perfect platform to let the coffee flavor and aroma really shine.  It’s not lost in a mountain of hop aroma or bitterness.  The coffee also contributes a bitterness that is all its own.  This may be one of my new favorite beers.  Uh oh!

This beer has inspired me to try adding coffee to some of my forthcoming homebrews.  Maybe a coffee stout.  Until then, I will just have to bootleg Coffee Bender from the Twin Cities.

The claim is that you will not know whether to start or end your day with a Coffee Bender.  My fear is that I would finish of a half dozen of these and be wired to the gills for the rest of the evening.

My only complaint with the folks at Surly Brewing is the limited distribution of their beers.  In order to meet local demand, distribution is limited to the Twin Cities metro.  Seriously, why do you have to be so mean?

On the Iowa Beer Trail

The other day I went to the liquor store to pick up some beer for my father.  Like my sister-in-law, he insists on drinking insipid macro-brew.  His vice is Coors Light.  Since I rarely go to the liquor store–brewing beer has its benefits–I spent a few minutes perusing the coolers full of beer.

An interesting bottle caught my eye because it was a flip-top quart.  It’s rare to see flip-top bottles outside of Grolsch.  The bottles were from the Angry Cedar Brewing Company.  Located in Waverly, Iowa the company was founded in 2008 following the catastrophic flood of the Cedar River.  Hence the tagline “When life gives you water, make beer.”

At the store I picked up Wheat Wave and Angry Amber Ale.  Let’s deal with Wheat Wave first:

The color in the picture is a little washed out, but this beer is very light.  In every sense of the word.  Wheat beers are supposed to be light.  Lawnmower or sunshine beers, if you will.  However, this beer is light to the point of missing any sense of itself.  It’s a very forgettable beer.

Angry Amber Ale?  Well:

There is more to Angry Amber Ale versus Wheat Wave, but it strikes me as a half-hearted effort or a first time homebrew recipe.

If this sounds harsh, I do not mean it to come across that way.  One of the benefits of the great fracturing of beer in the United States away from the giant macro-brewers is that individuals are able to go out and make beers that could not be commercially viable at large scale.

On one end of the spectrum you have the brewers in the Pacific Northwest pursuing the absolute limits of hoppiness or the guys out at Dogfish just pushing the limits.  Regional styles are returning and regions are building reputations as brewers strike it out on their own from other successful ventures.

Iowa truly lacks this kind of dynamic environment.  The laws until recently were particularly onerous and stunted the growth of the industry until recently leaving budding breweries in the lurch.  Hopefully, as some new breweries open up and brewers start to push the limits everyone will be forced to step up their game.

I look forward to seeing the evolution of the beers from the Angry Cedar Brewing Company.  Right now?  Meh.