Tag Archives: sampler

Point Beer IPA Variety Pack

When is something a sampler pack and when is something a variety pack? I do not know, but Point Beer, the brand of Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin, calls it a variety pack. I came across the IPA Variety Pack at the liquor store, along with a few other beers, because a small leak in my keezer setup vented all of my gas and I did not realize the problem until Friday night. No beer for me over Easter weekend.

As a sucker for the sampler…er variety pack I could not help myself. Contained within the box were four IPAs: White IPA, One Shot IPA, Spruce Tip IPA, and Peach Mango IPA.

Spruce Tip IPA was a surprise:

Point Spruce Tip IPA

I wanted to dislike this beer before I even had a sip because I thought spruce tips was another gimmick ingredient that would not contribute in any way to the final product. I have had beers made with cacti and invasive vines and whatever you can scrounge from the forest. Rarely, if ever, is there a flavor note that is present where I say, “Damn it, that foraged vine is outstanding in this beer.”

I am not ready to go there with Spruce Tip IPA, but I felt that the real earthy forest notes from the spruce tips were a perfect flavor pairing with Cascade hops. The beer was near my sweet spot in terms of bitterness at 45 IBU. It was good.

Two Mug PurchaseWhite IPA had a lot of potential:

Point White IPA

This beer intrigued me because it uses Sorachi Ace hops from Japan, which heretofore I cannot remember having in any other beer.

The primary failing of this beer is that the body of the beer disappeared under the bitterness of the hops. At 40 IBU, my sweet spot for bitterness, I thought that this would not be the case. However, brewing a beer in the “white” style does not leave the brewer a lot of room to bring hop flavors or aromas forward without the whole house coming down around themselves.

I feel like this is a beer that could be brewed similar to the All Day IPA from Founders Brewing. There is a nugget of potential in this beer:

Purchased One Mug RatingLike White IPA, I was intrigued by the ingredient list of One Shot IPA:

Point One Shot

Like White IPA, One Shot IPA used a hop that I heretofore had not been exposed. This time it was Calypso hops.

I cannot say if it was the hops or the structure of the body of the beer, but I walked away with an impression of something being burnt. Maybe it was the lightly toasted Vienna malt in a lighter body that came through with those notes of charcoal and acrylamides.

Overall, not a fan.

Purchased One Mug RatingWhat about Peach Mango IPA:

Peach Mango IPA

All I could think about when I sipped on this beer was that I must have dropped a peach Jolly Rancher hard candy into the glass. It was sickeningly sweet. It was sweet to the point that no amount of alcohol or bitterness could break through the syrupy feeling coating my mouth.

This is a common thread among a lot of “fruit” beers that I try from commercial or home brewers. If a can of fruit is added after primary fermentation it just leaves an artificial sweetness to the beer that is offensive.

Peach Mango IPA was a failure.

Zero Mug Purchase

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Only in Wisconsin

One of the great benefits to a road trip through any part of Wisconsin is that you get an opportunity to purchase beer from New Glarus Brewing.  Based in the town of the same name, New Glarus is only distributed in the state of Wisconsin.  It has become something of a marketing ploy and rallying cry for this most excellent craft brewer.

You can tell that New Glarus is a big deal because almost every liquor store near the water park resorts advertises that they carry the beer.  It’s like a flame for those thirsty moths.  I already felt like a bootlegger heading home to Iowa with a truckload, or so it seemed at the time, of Surly Brewing cans in the bed of my pickup.  Thus, I played it close to the vest and picked up a few twelve packs of New Glarus products.  Restraint, it’s my new thing.

Some Spotted Cow was going to a neighbor who was kind enough to clear my driveway of snow while we were out of town and another twelve pack was going to be my gift to a forthcoming New Year’s Eve party, so I was left with a sampler pack to talk about.  It’s true, I love the sampler pack.  Contained within was the well-known Spotted Cow, Moon Man, Black Top, and Two Women.

If you have been in Wisconsin over the past few years, I am sure you have spotted a tap with Spotted Cow:

Spotted Cow

Described as a “Wisconsin farmhouse ale” Spotted Cow is the perfect beer for the state that prides itself on sausage, cheese, and snowy football Sundays.  Spotted Cow is light without being a throwaway. The fruit and spice notes are understated in a way that makes them complementary to most foods, especially heavier fare such as the aforementioned cheese and sausage.  True to the “farmhouse ale” designation, which I am going to say is akin to a low-alcohol saison, Spotted Cot is a beer that you can be comfortable in throwing down more than one without fear of being “that guy” at the bar.

In fairness to the other beers I will discuss in a little bit my opinion of Spotted Cow was not formed on the basis of the three bottles in the sampler pack.  Over the course of the weekend it was the one beer I consistently had on tap with dinner or during some bowling.  Many pints flowed from the taps.  I would also like to point out that I feel this is a much better beer out of a tap.  The differences in flavor and what else are not large, but the beer just seems better coming out of a keg than out of a bottle.

Moon Man is a more main stream American craft beer:

Moon Man

It’s a “no coast IPA” and I dig that designation.  It is both damning of the geographic labels we put on beer so often and an acknowledgement of the fact that Wisconsin has no coast to speak of if you conveniently ignore the awesome Great Lakes coastline of the state.

The idea behind Moon Man was to produce an IPA with a lot of flavor, but without the extremism that seems to haunt the style.  I think this beer is a smashing success.  It’s got a lot of hop flavor and aroma which is a direct result of a pretty hefty dry hopping, but the beer is neither too big in terms of bitterness or alcohol that it becomes overwhelming.  It is a deft hand that brews Moon Man.

I do not know what to say about Black Top:

Black Top

I wanted to like this beer a lot, especially after pouring a Moon Man and being impressed.  Something just fell flat and even after three bottles I cannot figure out what was not hitting the spot.  Maybe the flavors got muddled as the addition of darker chocolate and molasses notes fought with, rather than complemented, the cleaner body that seems to be a hallmark style of New Glarus.  I am not prepared to give up on the beer just yet, but it would take some convincing to give Black Top a fourth chance.

Two Women leaves me conflicted:

Two Women

I was sick for much of Christmas break, including when I drank some of these beers, so a grain of salt needs to be taken with every comment I make about flavors.  Nonetheless, something in Two Women gave me pause every time I took a drink.  A distinct burnt or off note was present in each glass that I still cannot place.

It should not be on account of the hops because Two Women is brewed with Hallertau Mittelfrueh hops which are relatively mild and balanced.  As a lager it should have a very clean flavor profile and the beer does except for that one off note.  Given my health over the break I would reach for another bottle of Two Women and see if something was off on my end.

New Glarus Brewing is putting out excellent beers.  I have found that you can always seem to have a new style to try depending upon where you find yourself in Wisconsin.  If you find yourself in Wisconsin, take part in an “only in Wisconsin” event and get yourself some beer from New Glarus.

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.”

The St. Louis Sampler

Okay, the title sounds like something you might find on the Urban Dictionary.  Nope, this is about beer.

In about a week I am going to be spending some time down in St. Louis, Missouri.  It seems like a good idea to prepare myself for the local beverage scene.  In the past this would have meant steeling my taste buds for the offerings from the legendary Anheuser Busch brew kettles.  Since the acquisition of Anheuser Busch by InBev, the meaning of a “local” beer in St. Louis has taken a totally different turn.

For many people a Budweiser is no longer a local beer.  It may be made in town, but it is not part of the fabric or identity like it once was.  This would have been unthinkable not too many years ago.  Ask for a local beer in St. Louis and someone will hand you a Civil Life or a Four Hands or very likely something from Schlafly Beer.

Opened about twenty years ago, Schlafly claims on their website to be “St.Louis’ largest locally owned independent brewery.”  It’s good enough for me.

My local HyVee liquor store was kind enough to stock a twelve-bottle sampler pack that contained four bottles each of Schlafly’s Kolsch, Pale Ale, and Dry Hopped APA (American Pale Ale).  I am going to talk about them in order of “perceived” strength, which for reasons that will become obvious that perception owes more to my taste buds than anything else.

So, we start with the Kolsch:

Schlafly Kolsch

When I think of a Kolsch style ale, called golden ale by a lot of American craft brewers, I think of non-threatening beers.  This is not a style that someone makes when they want the hop bitterness or aroma to smack you in the teeth.  It’s a style that rewards a steady, sure hand when brewing because balance is very important.

The example for Schlafly is very good.  It comes in at a drinkable alcohol (4.8% ABV) and mild bitterness (25 IBU).  All of this makes for a beer that you can have more than one without feeling like you have smoked a pack of cigarettes every time you burp a little.  Yes, I am looking at you Arrogant Bastard Ale.

I said perceived strength earlier in the post because I would have sworn that the Pale Ale was a stronger beer:

Schlafly Pale Ale

In color perhaps, but it comes in at a lower alcohol (4.4% ABV) and the same bitterness (25 IBU).  Had the Pale Ale been brewed with a typical American craft hop (Cascade or Willamette) I could understand the difference in perception because of the strong aroma those hops can have when added later in a boil.

This is considered the flagship beer of the Schlafly Beer lineup and it performs well in that role.  It’s not a niche or experimental beer meant to push the boundaries of what is possible with the dark arts of beer brewing.  Instead, it is meant to be a reliable drink.  Pint after pint.

The Dry Hopped APA is a different animal:

Dry Hopped APA

If you asked a beer aficionado to describe a dry hopped American craft beer, an ale clocking in at 5.9% ABV and only 50 IBU would not probably be the first description you got.  It would likely be something stronger and definitely more bitter, probably closer to 100 IBU which seems like the goal line of “cutting edge” brewing.  However, the Dry Hopped American Pale Ale shows what is possible by combining new techniques to deliver balances and drinkable beers.

It is because the beer does not clock in at some exorbitant IBU that the dry hopping is really allowed to shine as a component of the flavor profile.  More traditional American hops—Cascade and Chinook—make their appearance here and the flavor difference is noticeable compared with the Pale Ale.  By not being overly bitter, the dry hopped aromas hit your palate as you first drink the beers but little lingers as an aftertaste.  Try that with something that has an IBU closer to a Texas speed limit.  I prefer not to spend my night thinking that I mistakenly drank bong water in the back of a Denver head shop.

If you get a chance while you are in St. Louis order a Schlafly to enjoy a true local beer.

Seduced by the Sampler Pack

I am a sucker for the sampler pack, especially when on travel because I want to try as many beers that I cannot get at home.  Buying a six pack of each type is generally not practical because of volume or cost and a lot of craft brewers are foregoing the 22 ounce single bottles for multi-packs or cans.

On Kauai, I ran across this beauty at Costco:

Kona Sampler

If you spend any time on the islands looking for beer you will run across Kona Brewing Company’s products.  The primary facility is located on the Big Island of Hawaii in Kailua-Kona, thus the name Kona Brewing Company.  In 2010 I tried to visit the brewery but was thwarted by a tsunami warning and spent the day upcountry in Waikoloa Village.  Bad memories.  There is also a pub on Oahu.

So, four beers are included in this particular case: Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale, Fire Rock Pale Ale, and a season offering—Koko Brown Nut Brown Ale.

Kona Bottles

I apologize for not having any pictures of the beer alongside the bottles, but I did not have any glasses of sufficient clarity to really capture the color.  Use your imagination, I have faith.

It’s hard to swing a pint glass and not find Longboard Island Lager on the beer menu in the islands.  That is not a backhanded compliment because this a beer that fits its place perfectly.  When you sit down to have a drink after spending a day snorkeling or hiking or doing whatever outside in the brilliant Hawaiian sun you want a beer that is refreshing.  It also helps if the beer tastes good cold.  Longboard does this well.  I will admit that the beer is better as a draft than out of a bottle, but that may have been helped by a plate load of fried food at Kalapaki Joe’s during happy hour.

Big Wave Golden Ale and Fire Rock Pale Ale are a lot like Longboard in that respect.  These are perfect beers to drink while watching the sun go down on the lanai.  Do either of these beers blow me away with originality?  Nope, but that is not really what the future of brewing is all about.  I believe that crafting beers that are right for a certain time and place is the future of brewing.  You do not always want to drink a stout, but when the winter winds are howling and a bowl of hot soup is on the table a stout is an excellent choice.  Take that same stout to Hawaii last week and I would look at it askew wondering how it got there.

Koko Brown Nut Brown Ale is an abomination.  I did not read the label fully before taking my first drink and almost did a spit take afterwards.  What could be so wrong with a nut brown ale?  I love Newcastle, so it should be a home run right?  Except for the inclusion of freakin’ toasted coconut.  There are two flavors, in my opinion, that should never, ever be included in any beers: coconut and banana.  No ifs, ands, or buts about the exclusion.  It’s an absolute.  I left five full bottles for the cleaning crew to take home or give to friends, if they can find someone willing to stomach the sickly taste of coconut in their beer.

Since 2010 Kona Brewing Company is part of the Craft Brew Alliance.  CBA is a partnership between Widmer Brothers Brewing, Redhook Ale Brewery, and Kona Brewing Company to leverage the combined expertise of the three companies while executing independent business plans.  It’s an interesting answer to the trend of big macro brewers buying up smaller fish to improve their “beer cred.”  It’s something that I am going to have to look into.