Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 31 of the 31 Beers of Christmas

Last night the mildly hoppy Dortmunder Lager felt good on my sore throat, so today I wanted to go with one that was even hoppier, and I opted for Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye. I've had and enjoyed Bear Republic's Black Bear Stout. My review for this one is going to be brief and here it is -- I liked it, and it did exactly what I wanted it to do, which was make my sore throat feel a little better. The reason for such a wimpy review is that the sore throat has pretty much spread to the rest of my body and the mucus makes it impossible to do any kind of real review.
Even though this project is going out with a whimper and not a bang, I've enjoyed doing it very much and feel like I've learned a lot. I'll probably try something similar in the near future.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 30 of the 31 Beers of Christmas

So, a guy pulls into the parking lot today, Ohio plates and he's wearing a Great Lakes Brewing Company shirt. I had never heard of this outfit -- probably because none of their beers are yet available in South Carolina, but we talked for a few minutes about beer, and then he went on his touristy way. But later on, when he was leaving he handed me a bottle of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold "A handcrafted Golden Lager From Cleveland, Ohio." A very friendly gesture and serendipitous because I hadn't decided what beer I was going to review tonight. From the label: Not as dry as a Pilsner or as malty as a Munich-style lager, our golden lager is a balanced beer named after Dortmund, Germany, the city where the Dortmunder style originated.
Sounds good. Let's go for it. By the way, my already puny taste buds are in worse shape than usual as I have a cold. Here's hoping I can do this beer justice. And thanks again, Ohio man.

APPEARANCE: Rich golden color with a hint of ruby. Inch and a half of white pillowy head. Not much in the way of bubble action. Lace from the top of the glass to the bottom.

AROMA: Sour with some citrus notes.

TASTE: Nicely balanced. I don't know what kind of hops they use but I like them -- although maybe it's just because the bitterness feels good on my sore throat -- subtle but pungent and the flavor lingers.

BURP TASTE: As might be expected from a beer with as few bubbles as this, there have been no eructions.

DRINKABILITY: As you may have noticed, I don't drink a lot of lagers, and I guess that's because lager to me means BudMillerCoors junk, but this I could drink -- well, if I lived in Cleveland.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 29 of the 31 Beers of Christmas

For day 29 let's try a -- no, not another Chocolate Stout. I spent all afternoon yesterday brewing up a batch of Chocolate Stout, and I'm in the mood for something a little different. So let's go with Rogue Brewing's Mocha Porter.
What? It's not the same thing. I mean, yeah, it's similar. I said I wanted something a little different, not a lot different. And Porter is not Stout and mocha is not chocolate. Is it? I'm not sure what mocha is, hang on. According to, mocha is a flavoring obtained from a coffee infusion or a combined infusion of chocolate and coffee. It's also a seaport in Yemen and a glove leather, finer and thinner than doeskin, the best grades of which are made from Arabian goatskins. So I'm hoping Rogue is referring to the chocolate coffee thing. If this beer is made from glove leather it might be hard to handle.

APPEARANCE: All right, stop me if you've heard this one. It's black, though it fades to dark dark brown when held up to the light. Thin off-white head.

AROMA: Roasted malt, coffee and chocolate in that order.

TASTE: A lot more coffee than chocolate in this mocha, and more hops than I'm used to most porters and stouts -- still not a lot, but with the coffee and the roasted malts, it makes for a bitter brew. There is some dark chocolate but for some reason most of that ends up in my moustache and does not make its presence known until I lick my lips.

BURP TASTE: Pretty much all coffee.

DRINKABILITY: I've always said I like a balanced beer, but maybe I like unbalanced beers even better -- a bitter beer like this makes me crave something a little more malty, so I get to enjoy another beer.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 28 of the 31 Beers of Christmas

On day 28, we took the beer show on the road, to La Hacienda Mexican restaurant. This is one of our usual haunts and I usually get a Dos Equis -- Grande. But I wanted to try a cerveza I had never tried before, so I got a bottle of Pacifico. Big mistake, it smelled like water, tasted like watered-down water. I had to order a Dos Equis just to make sure my taste buds still worked.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 27 of the 31 Beers of Christmas

We're in the home stretch now, only five beers to go. Tonight what do you say we go with a stout? What's that? You say I've already had plenty of stouts this month. I know, I know. It is my favorite I won't deny. If all goes according to plan I intend to brew my first batch of stout tomorrow -- I want to have it ready to toast the birth of my grandson in February.
This one is different -- I mean, yeah, it's a chocolate stout but it's brewed with vanilla beans too. And vanilla is a flavor I recognize. (Which reminds me I bought some coriander the other day because it seems to pop up fairly regularly in beers and I wanted to be able to recognize it next time. Tastes like sand. So if your beer tastes like you're trying to drink it on a windy day at the beach that's coriander.)
Anyway, Aphrodite is an import, it's brewed in Quebec, Canada. The label is kinda sexy, I guess, a topless woman with vanilla in her hair and a cocoa bean necklace, which is kind of worrisome cuz I've learned not to trust sexy labels. It's an 11.5 oz bottle -- chintzy Canadians, where's my other half ounce? -- and it cost $5.99 at the Charleston Beer Exchange.

APPEARANCE: Black (of course) with a one inch brown head with slowly expanding and then bursting sinkholes.

AROMA: All chocolate, dark chocolate.

TASTE: Take that vanilla out of your hair, young lady. The taste is all cocoa. Even the mildly bitter finish feels more a dark chocolate bitterness than hoppiness. A little bit of chocolate history for you: Aztecs believed that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cocoa tree, and also that it had nourishing, fortifying, and even aphrodisiac qualities. The Aztec emperor, Montezuma drank thick chocolate dyed red. The drink was so prestigious that it was served in golden goblets that were thrown away after only one use. He liked it so much that he was purported to drink 50 goblets every day! Montezuma would have loved this beer. I'm not sure how he'd feel about malted barley since the Aztecs did not have any sugar and drank their chocolate thick, cold and unsweetened, but I think he'd get used to it. I can see us now, me and Monty, toasting each other with our golden goblets after a day of building pyramids and cursing those conquistadors.

DRINKABILITY: Very, but as we've already established, I'm prejudiced.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 26 of the 31 beers of Christmas

I can't feel too bad about never having tried this next style of beer. Black IPA hasn't been around long enough for people to even agree on what to call it -- it's also called Cascadian Dark Ale, Dark IPA, India black ale and several other things. I'm cheating a little -- well, no, not cheating, I'm changing the rules a little. Up till now I haven't looked at descriptions or other reviews of the beer I'm sampling because I didn't want it to influence my taste buds. But I'm interested to know more about this oxymoronic sounding beer and what I should be looking for when I taste it. Here's a description from the Great American Beer Fest judges: medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. . . moderate dgree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma."
The one I'm sampling is Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (purchased at eth Charleston Beer Exchange for $6.69), which has 90 IBU. which is high even for this high-hoppy style. But I'm not scared.

APPEARANCE: Black, with a a frothy off-white head that's not going anywhere fast. The black blocks all light so I'm not sure what the bubbles are doing.

AROMA: Pine. I smell pine. Lots of pine. And some old but not rotten plums. And I guess that's hops behind the pine and the plums.

TASTE: Wow, I just might turn into a hophead after all. I wouldn't say this is exactly balanced, because the hops do dominate from start to finish, but there is a definite undercurrent of malty, citrus sweetness fighting to get up. Not sure what happened to the pine I smelled as I don't really taste it. The black color is not the only thing different from a typical IPA. The mouthfeel is thicker too.

BURP TASTE: Oh, there's the pine!

DRINKABILITY: This is the perfect beer to drink when it's snowing outside and -- unusual for South Carolina -- it is snowing outside.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A break in the beer action to talk about Christmas.
I enjoyed the Krampus beer yesterday and learning more about the Christmas Krampus. Since then I've done some more research and learned about an even odder European Christmas tradition. The Caganer is a part of many manger scenes along with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, wise men, shepherds and angels. Who is he? As near as I can determine, the name translates as the pooper and he is the guy taking a dump in the stable or somewhere in the nativity scene.(Sometimes the adults hide him and let the kids find him -- kind of like a game of "Where's Waldo Pooping"?) Although this one at a Spanish mall is not hard to find.
And this is not a new thing, the caganer has been around since the 17th century. There are lots of theories as to why he gained a place in this sacred scene -- everything from he's fertilizing the earth to a demonstration that we're all equal (cuz everybody poops).
You can also get little statues of famous people pooping to decorate your home at the holidays.
You can get presidents and popes pooping.

Even reigning royalty

This may seem odd to people like us who did not grow up with this style of Christmas decoration. But I think it's a great family tradition.

The Christmas Beer - Old Foghorn

I'll never be able to try all the beers in the world; there's just too many and more and more being made all the time. But that's a good thing, it's good to live in a land of plenty. But there are also some types of beer that I have never tried -- and that's a bad thing, so I'm going to try to rectify that at least somewhat. Tomorrow I plan to have my first Black IPA, (and for those of you who don't know, IPA stands for India Pale Ale, so I'm very interested to see how a beer can be both black and pale), and today I'm going to introduce myself to Barleywine.

Or am I? Now that I look at the label of this bottle of Old Foghorn a little closer, I see it says "Barleywine Style" not "Barleywine". Ordinarily I wouldn't think anything of it, but this is from Anchor Brewing Company, who already got off on the wrong foot with me by trying to slip me an Old Milwaukee in the guise of their flagship brew Anchor Steam. So I don't trust them completely, but I'm willing to let bygones be bygones.

All right, I know nothing about barleywines, so this time I'm going in with a true Zen mind.

APPEARANCE: Dark copper in color, pillowy white head that is in no hurry to go anywhere. Lace that you could make light-blocking curtains out of, bubbles that mosey up to the top.

AROMA: You can definitely smell the alcohol, some fruitiness -- maybe grapefruit.

TASTE: Very interesting combination of flavors. First alcohol, then hops and finally -- and I don't know how they do this, since I understand it the back of the tongue is where you experience hop bitterness the most -- a malty taste at the finish.

MOUTHFEEL: This one lingers with you, and you can feel it warming your frozen Wintery bones.

BURP TASTE: So far no burps. Kind of surprising because there are a lot of bubbles.

DRINKABILITY: I really like this. A great Winter warmer. Maybe I need to give Anchor Steam another try.

Merry Christmas, y'all. Don't let the Krampus get you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas with Krampus

In the USA the worst thing that can happen to children whose names are on Santa's "naughty" list is they may get a lump of coal or maybe a bundle of switches in their Christmas stockings. But in Austria, Hungary and some other European countries Saint Nick brings along a companion -- a demon called the Krampus, a cloven-hooved goat-horned demon with a tongue that would make Gene Simmons hang his head in shame who punishes bad children, beating them with sticks and chains -- if they're naughty enough he throws them in a basket and hauls them off to hell.

That coal's looking pretty good right now, isn't it?

Southern Tier Brewing Company -- who sound like they might be local (or at least regional) but who are actually headquartered in Lakewood, New York -- have a Christmas lager honoring this dark Christmas tradition.

This review is by request for my brother-in-law, Jamie.

(When he's not torturing and murdering children, Krampus is lusting after women -- though he seems a bit perplexed by this one. Can anybody translate?)

All right, let's go:

APPEARANCE: Light copper color, frothy head.

Oh by the way, this is one of those rare occasions when my girlfriend Kim and I are off on the same day so I've roped her into co-reviewing.

AROMA: Kim says it smells a little fishy and a little citrusy. I agree but then she smelled first and my olfactories are very susceptible to suggestion; so much so that if I smell a beer after India it smells a little bit like soy sauce.

TASTE: Very hoppy and, at 9% ABV, very warming. My co-reviewer says that beers -- for lack of a better word -- are either tight or broad to her taste buds. She says that this beer is tight but not as tight as Anchor Steam. Asked to elaborate she says tight beers are more crisp and refreshing. An example of a broad beer would be Blue Moon. I think I would like to have more co-reviewers. It's interesting to me how other people taste -- well, that didn't sound right, but you know what I mean.

BURP TASTE: Amazingly enough the burps are warming too. Now that's a first.

DRINKABILITY: Not a session beer at all, but a great Winter warmer. And the warmth of the burps is an added bonus.

Merry Christmas, everybody -- or as Southern Tier prefers it, "Merry Kramp-mas and to all a good pint."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 23 of the 31 Beers of Christmas

John Lyda, Brewmaster and vice-president at Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, North Carolina recently said, "If you don't have to guess what flavor is in the beer, there's too much!"
I found this enormously encouraging, because as you know my beer reviewing is almost all guesswork. Tonight I'm going to guess with a beer brewed in Asheville, although not from Highland. It's Wee-Heavy-Er, a Scotch Ale that I must have picked up at Total Wine cuz it doesn't have a price tag like the Beer Exchange's do. It was a while back so I don't remember how much it cost. (Actually, I just remembered I bought this at Earth Fare -- still don't know how much, not much around 5 bucks.)

The first thing that stands out about the label is that it says "French Broad" but it actually depicts a Scottish dude. That, I say that is a joke, son. It's actually from the French Broad Brewing Company. According to

Asheville has long been famous for its stunning scenery, lively mountain music and famous attractions such as Biltmore and the Blue Ridge Parkway. And now, it’s become the craft-brewing center of the Southeast. Asheville’s brewing scene has garnered so much enthusiasm that it was named the winner of the Examiner’s "Beer City, USA" poll in 2010.

The Asheville area is home to ten craft breweries. On any given day, about 50 local beers can be enjoyed in Asheville, served on draft and in bottles. Tourists regularly travel here to sample and savor Asheville’s beer flavors, ranging from creamy, mild golden ales to robust Belgian-style brews.

So if you're planning your next beer vacation. . .

All right, enough messing, let's get to guessing.

APPEARANCE: Very interesting color. Dark brown, almost cola colored but held up to the light it turns a deep amber, and I swear it looks redder and slightly darker at the top of the glass than the bottom, but that could be a trick of this glass's shape. Small off-white head that faded fairly quickly though not entirely. And not even enough lace to make a g-string for Barbie.

AROMA: Moss, some nuttiness or something equally earthy -- but again, I'm guessing.

TASTE: Nice balance of flavors, more malt than anything else but hops demand your attention as well. For those of you keeping score at home this ale's specs are (according to the label) IBU - 24, SRM 14.5 and OG 17 degrees P. IBUs are individual bittering units or something similar, OG is original gravity, and I have no idea what SRM means, but since we're guessing I'll go with "Scottish Real Manliness."

I really do like a balanced brew like this. It's more fun to sip and pay attention to than one that's overbalanced one way or another. Here the second it gets a little sweet a little bit of bitter pops up.

MOUTH FEEL: Nice medium body. It feels chocolatey even though it doesn't taste like chocolate if that makes any sense. I mean, it leaves your tongue happy, like it had some chocolate.

BURP TASTE: Satisfying enough that you wish it had more bubbles.

DRINKABILITY: If you can't tell from this rave review, I find this beer very drinkable. The ABV is not sky high at 7% but it could sneak up on you because the alcohol taste is not pronounced.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and -- assuming I don't run off to Asheville and hop on one of their brews cruises -- we will find out what happens to bad little boys and girls. Stay tuned.

Day 22 of the 31 beers of Christmas

I first had Leinenkugul's beer when we took a trip to Wisconsin a few years ago. At that time it wasn't available here. In addition to their original lager, I also sampled their Honey Weiss, Berry Weiss and Sunset Wheat. When it became available here I also had their Summer Shandy. I had never tried their seasonal Fireside Nut Brown Ale (available only in November and December.) I picked up a six-pack at Harris-Teeter for $7.99.
The Jacob Leinenkugel is the seventh oldest brewery in the United States, even though it is no longer the family owned business it once was since it was purchased by Miller several years ago -- or "merged" with Miller as Leinie puts it on their website.

And away we go --

You know, a good beer blogger is not just a beer reviewer, he's a graphic designer as well. I thought it would be cool to have a picture of Fireside Nut Brown Ale by my fireside. Clever, eh?
Yeah, well my FBFF (Feline Best Friend Forever) didn't think so either. She thought I should pay attention to her and she has remarkably good aim with her tail.

APPEARANCE: Frothy head, nice effervescence. Color could not get any more copper.
(Well, that's a little better picture.)

AROMA: I'm looking for nuts, but I'm getting soap. But good soap, not cheap stuff.

TASTE: Again I think my expectations are messing me up. This feels more like an Autumn ale than a Winter. This is thinner, no warmth, very mild hop bitterness. I've recently been introduced to the concept of session beers -- which I take to mean beers you can drink several of, unlike a lot of craft beers which can be a little overwhelming after a couple. This would be a good session beer. It's quality stuff but nothing really stands out.

BURP TASTE: On the other hand, the burps are very refreshing -- and there are a lot of them, I did mention this brew was bubbly, did I not? More hops evident on the eruction than on initial intake.

DRINKABILITY: I think on another night this might have hit the spot, but I worked eleven hours, the sun never really came out and I was looking for something more in the way of alcoholic solace.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tonight's beer is Entire Butt, and I've been waiting all day to do this joke, so let's get it out of the way -- there is no way this beer could be half-ass.
Ha ha! Get it? Entire Butt? Half-ass?
Oh, and despite what you might think, this beer is not related to Full Moon either
Ahem, but seriously folks, show some respect. This beer is made by a crack team of brewers.

(Oh, also if you do a Google image search for "entire butt" make sure you have safe search enabled to avoid retinal meltdown.)

Entire Butt is actually an old-fashioned term. As I've mentioned before, an exact definition of porter is hard to find but it used to refer to a blending of different beers that porters liked to drink. This ale is imported from Shropshire, England. From the importer's website:

Salopian’s Entire Butt is a bold recreation of a historical porter, which was blended from a variety of ales. The original English term for porter, “Entire Butt,” means essentially “the whole barrel.” This translates roughly into American English as “everything but the kitchen sink.” And this beer surely is that. It is made with 14 different malts and 3 hop varieties to achieve the effect of a blend of ales. Overkill? Perhaps, but it is hard to argue with the results.

APPEARANCE: Looks black as stout when you pour it, but if you hold it to the light it changes to a dark dark brown with a little bit of ruby round the edges. Head that dissipates rather quickly, but the lace has a little more staying power.

AROMA: Malty for sure. Something else going on in there but I'm not sure what. And this is probably as good a place as any to announce that I won't be doing daily beer reviews in January, but I'm not stopping at 31. I'll still be reviewing, just irregularly. One thing I want to do is work on my taste buds. Taste some coriander and some of the other spices that show up regularly -- eat some raw hops, as Anonymous is urging me to do. That way these reviews will hopefully be a bit more insightful.

TASTE: Misleading, because from the color I'm expecting something chocolatey or roasty and it's all malt. Get a lot of malt flavor and it's kind of like raw bread dough, one of my secret vices.

BURP TASTE: So far, no burps. Now that I think about it, there's not a lot of bubble action -- whoops, spoke too soon. Just had an eruction. It tasted very mild but biscuity.

DRINKABILITY: There is like no hop action at all, and this beer does not have a high ABV (so it won't knock you on your ass -- false advertising!), and I could see drinking a few of these.

BTW Paste Magazine recently released its list of the 25 best new beers of 2010, and I've only tried one of them. This is a hipster magazine and a lot of them are only available regionally but I would love to try all of them particularly #11.
Oh, the one I have tried? #12 Sexual Chocolate. Who could turn that down?

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Day 20 -- Let's Thai one on.

Okay, here's one I bet you haven't tried. Westbrook Brewing Company is a brand new brewery in Mount Pleasant. In fact, as near as I can tell, their facility is still under construction. But they must have the important stuff in place already, because today at the Charleston Beer Exchange they had a tasting and growler fill event. They had three beers available for tasting -- Batch #1, which as the name might imply is the first batch they brewed, a Belgian pale ale (that's the one you'll want to try, Anonymous) and a White Thai. I sampled them all -- by the way, it was only a short time ago that a beer tasting like this would have been illegal in South Carolina, and it's evidently still heavily regulated, no more than 2 ounce samples, et cetera -- but I opted for the White Thai when it came time to fill my growler.
Edward Westbrook, the founder and CEO was on hand, and he seemed like a nice young man. Kind of low key, not a hard sell kind of guy at all, but friendly and knowledgeable.

Here we go:

APPEARANCE: Now that is a white head -- and I don't mean a blemish, it's beautiful and fluffy, like looking down on clouds from heaven. More lace than a Victoria's secret catalog. The color of the beer is pale and cloudy.

(Yes, I know I'm not pointing at the head. Give me a break, I just learned how to work the timer on my camera.)

AROMA: Spice -- but which spices other than ginger I couldn't say. I am going to research spices and at least learn what coriander and these other things taste like.

TASTE: Your tastebuds get a double tingle as the hops come in right after the ginger starts to fade. There is a lot of spice going on, but it's almost all undertones. Nothing overwhelming. There's something lemony in the finish too.

BURP TASTE: Nondescript.

DRINKABILITY: The warming effects of the ginger make it nice for a winter brew, and the lemony finish make it a possible summer ale as well. Westbrook, I am impressed.

(Look at that lace!)

By the way I also picked up a beer called Entire Butt which I hope to review in the next day or so. I know nothing about it but I couldn't resist the combination of white Thai and tails.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 19 of the 31 Beers of Christmas

It's been a busy weekend -- weddings and parties, and believe it or not, I'm a little tired of drinking beer. But don't worry, I won't let you down. For day 19, I'm going with Ephemere from Unibroue which is an ale brewed with apple juice, coriander, curacao peels and other natural flavors. I confess I haven't done my coriander and curacao homework so it's unlikely I'll be able to pick them out, but I love apples so maybe I've got a shot there.

APPEARANCE: Looks like unfiltered apple juice. What color is that? Not much head or lace, but a busy effervescence.

AROMA: Apples and not just any apples -- but green apples, sour green apples, Granny Smith apples. Hey hey, how about that?

TASTE: Plums and Band-aids. No, I'm kidding. It tastes like apples, but it's not sweet, or not overly sweet. The hops jump in there and make their presence known before you start thining you're drinking apple juice.

BURP TASTE: All apple. It's weird to have your breath taste fresher after a burp than before.

DRINKABILITY: A good choice for when you're tired of drinking beer. If it was a little sweeter it would be a good summer ale.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Man, it is cold out there today and I've been out in it most of the afternoon. You know what that means -- time for a beer that can warm you up a little. Yep, a stout. This one is from Dogfish Head and it's got chicory and organic Mexican coffee in it.

APPEARANCE: Yep, that's stout, all right. Black as der fuhrer's heart. The label says it has a bone white head, but that's not how I'd describe it. It may look white compared to the beer's blackness, but it's really more of a tan and it didn't last long enough for me to get a second opinion. No lace to speak of either.

AROMA: Coffee, and something like vanilla. I've never tasted chicory, so maybe that's what that is.

TASTE: Tastes like cold coffee, only not nearly as bitter. There is some bitterness there, but it's not as pronounced as it is in coffee, or as tingly as hoppy bitterness usually is. I'm going to assume that's the chicory. According to Wikipedia, chicory is used as a coffee substitute, so that makes sense. I made my wife take a sip of this. She doesn't like stouts, but she is a big coffee drinker. She voluntarily took another sip -- which means she liked it.

BURP TASTE: No burps. I'm surprised at how much this disappoints me.

MOUTHFEEL: Not as thick as most stouts, maybe because it lacks that chocolatey richness that I associate with this style.

DRINKABILITY: If you like coffee and beer, you'll love it. Me, I guess I'm more of a beer and hot chocolate man.

Day 17 of the 31 beers of Christmas

Yes, yes, I know I'm late. If you want to ensure this never happens again, donate enough to this blog so that I can ditch that pesky job that interferes so much with my beer-drinking and blogging time.
Day 17's beer is Affligem, a Belgian Tripel. This beer was chosen and purchased by my brother John, who often comments here anonymously -- well, anonymously until just now. There is an important lesson in this, folks. If you have a request for a beer that you'd like the Green Genius to review, if you buy that beer and bring it to my house, your request shoots all the way up to the top of the list.

I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to do justice to this beer for several reasons. One you probably already about it and that is I'm not really able to do justice to most of the beers I've reviewed this month, my palate is quite an ignorant little thing -- but it's learning. However my inadequacies as beer reviewer were brought home when John -- who has a nonchalant attitude toward beer reviewing and says all that matters is whether you like it or not -- nonetheless after one sip of Backwoods Bastard he described its "pillowy head" and the tastes of blackstrap molasses, chocolate and coffee. Which brings me to the second reason for the tardiness of this review -- we didn't stop after Affligem (which is 9.5% ABV) but had a Backwoods Bastard (10 %) and then a Pabst Blue Ribbon (?!). Also I couldn't find a pen or a good cartoon movie to occupy John's kid, Hannah Banana. And I was enjoying his stories about his trip to Belgium too much to take much notes even after I found a pen.

Enough excuses? Okay, here we go:

This is a great label. It not only tells you what glass to use but how to pour it so the yeast at the bottom of the bottle does not go into the glass -- though they point out if you like a nuttier flavor, then pour the yeast out too, which is what John did. It won the World Beer Cup in 1996, 2004, and 2008. This is an abbey beer, brewed by monks, and the Affligem Abbey was founded in 1074 and "Artifacts indicate the abbey was brewing beer for pilgrims as early as 1129." Wow, that makes Guinness's 1759 (which I use as a benchmark for venerable brews) look like a Johnny-come-lately.

APPEARANCE: Beautiful copper color. We were using different style glasses and mine appeared more orange than John's. I hate to sound so unoriginal but I think the perfect term for the head on this beer is "pillowy."

AROMA: I smelled oranges, but I'm not sure if that's because there was anything orangey in he bouquet or if I had oranges on the brain because I had seen orange in the glass.

TASTE: Prefect blending of malts, hops and alcohol. Nothing dominated and nothing faded. I really enjoyed this beer, but I think the difference in where each of us are in beer journey became obvious after we shared one of my new favorites the Backwoods Bastard, and I could see that what John really likes is a clearing away of extraneous flavors and I like all that molasses and chocolate and stuff.

BURP TASTE: It seems sort of sacrilegious to talk about abbey ale belches, but the Belgians do like bubbles and you know what bubbles do. The burps were mild and enjoyable.

DRINKABILITY: This beer is very smooth, so easy to drink. According to Wikipedia the Affligem brewery (though not the abbey) is now owned by Heineken. Hopefully they won't dumb it down too much.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Halfway through the 31 Beers of Christmas Project and what have I learned so far? I don't like beers with sexy snakes on the label, but I do like Scotch Ales. And I'm going to have another one tonight. This is Kilt Lifter from Moylan's Brewery in Novato, California. The label is adorned with all the many championship trophies this ale has won, at the World Beer Championship where it won Gold in 1997, 1998, 2003 and 2009. Add to that some Best of the West bling and California Champions at the US Beer Tasting Championships 7 out of the last 8 years. All of a sudden that blue ribbon Pabst won back in 1896 don't look so impressive, does it?
Moylan's also wants me to "drink safely" and apparently that entails getting a good grip on your mug.
I'm ready.

APPEARANCE: A very dark brown, no light gets through it but it's not black like stout. So dark it's hard to see what the bubbles are up to, but they keep coming up and the head is lasting so I assume the bubbles are doing their job.

AROMA: Is dark a smell? No, then let's go with mulch -- mulch with a dash of sweetness.

TASTE: A nice balance of malt and hops. Usually on beers with a higher ABV -- this is 8% -- you taste alcohol first, but here it's actually the last thing you taste. I really like this, but it seems to be lacking something that Backwoods Bastard had. I know BB was a Wee Heavy and this is a Scotch Ale so maybe it's not a fair comparison. But I think what I liked about the Bastard was the bourbon flavors that came through from being aged in bourbon barrels.
Hey, maybe in January I'll review a bourbon every day.

BURP TASTE: Not very gaseous, and the burps are almost tasteless, just a little maltiness.

DRINKABILITY: Very nice. If I hadn't had a Backwoods Bastard first this probably would have made a bigger impression on me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Steamy Day 15

Now here's one that I'm a little embarrassed to admit I've never tried. Anchor Steam holds a very important place in American brewing history. It's been made in San Francisco since 1896, which makes it only 137 years younger than Guinness, and only 67 years younger than Yuengling, America's oldest brewery. So they've been around for a while.
More importantly, most people agree that the whole craft beer movement started in 1965 when Fritz Maytag bought the Anchor Steam Brewery and -- well, I'll let a San Francisco beer blogger explain it:
Maytag’s and Anchor’s contributions to the microbrewery revolution cannot be overstated. They gave us the first authentic American beers since Prohibition by brewing beers with real flavor and body. Today, there are once again 1,500 craft breweries in the US, and nearly all use stainless steel, brew all malt ales (instead of cheaper adjuncts such as rice and corn), experiment with whole hop cones and dry-hopping for added bitterness and fragrant aromas, and create dozens of styles. But it all started with Anchor during its first decade under Maytag’s watch and wallet. While California Commons (Anchor trademarked the word “Steam” beer), porters, American pale ales, barleywines, and wheat beers are pedestrian today, imagine trying one for the first time. That’s exactly what area beer drinkers did back in the ‘70s entirely due to Anchor.
It should perhaps be noted that Fritz retired this year and sold the brewery to the Skyy Vodka people.
Okay, let's get to drinking:

APPEARANCE: Pours a deep, rich amber with ruby highlights tat show when held to the light. Nice head of about an inch that leaves lace as it slowly dissipates.

AROMA: Mild maltiness, like the kitchen when your grandmother baked biscuits three days ago.

TASTE: I don't know what happened to that malt I smelled, because all I taste is hops -- well, hops and a sort of metallic taste. I know it came from a bottle and even modern cans don't leave the beer tasting like tin anymore. But I swear this tastes a little like 1970's cans.

BURP TASTE: Yes, I'm adding my own category. The can taste is even more pronounced as an eruction.

MOUTHFEEL: Nice level of effervescence. Enough alcohol that I'm starting to not mind the metallic taste.

DRINKABILITY: Most of the beers I've been drinking this month are not ones that either my wallet or my waistline could afford to drink on a regular basis. This one feels more like an everyday beer. For somebody else not for me.

It occurs to me that this beer might work better paired with some foodstuff. This is something else I'm interested. Beer-food pairings. I've got some gouda, hang on.

Well, no, that didn't help much, but the cheese did sop up some of the metallic taste.

CONCLUSION: Damning with faint praise is about all I can do here. I don't hate this beer and I certainly will not be adding it the list of beers I will never try again, like I did with beer #6. But I'm not going to seek it out either.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Getting delirious on Day 14

My brother John is kind of my sherpa on this trek through the worlds of interesting craft beer and homebrewing. He knows a lot about making beer, been homebrewing since the early 90's and can talk IBUs and Specific gravities with the best of them. And he knows a lot about drinking it too. He gave me my first Guinness and even though it was decades ago I'm still a little embarrassed to admit that my taste buds were not mature enough to handle it and I poured all but two sips down the drain. When I announced that I would take requests on this journey, my brother had several suggestions, most of which I couldn't pronounce and have been unable to procure, but one of his recommendations I did track down. It's Delirium Tremens a strong Belgian Ale imported from Belgium and I got this at the Charleston Beer Exchange for around 10 bucks.

I can tell you before we even start if I decide to give awards to the beers I've tried in December, it's going to be hard to beat this one in the best-looking bottle category. A beautiful ceramic bottle, foil wrapper, pink elephants, dragons and sunglass-wearing alligators dancing all over the label. It is truly a work of art. If rednecks drank this beer you could find empies for sale at the Ladson Flea Market like you now see empty empty Arizona Iced Tea bottles.

John said in his request that this beer tastes like bubblegum to him, and that's a new one on me. But having tried and enjoyed sweet potato and banana beer I think I can handle bubblegum beer.

One more background note before we get started. Wikipedia thinks the pink elephants don't belong on the label because "Although it is commonly thought that sufferers hallucinate pink elephants, which may explain its use on the beer's label, the most common animals seen in delirium tremens hallucinations are cats, dogs, and snakes." But that wouldn't make nearly as pretty a label now, would it, Wiki?

All right. Enough thinking. Let's get to drinking.

Well, it took me a minute to get it open. The foil doesn't really peel off and you have to use the barbed wire contraption underneath. Then there's a cork, which pops off with a satisfying champagne-y pop!

APPEARANCE: I'm a little disappointed that it's not pink. I mean what color would you expect a bubble gum beer to be? It is in fact a very pale tan with a nice inch or so of head that doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon. And I don't think I've ever seen so many bubbles in a glass of beer -- there's thousands of them and they just keep coming.

AROMA: Sweet. Actually I'm getting more fruit than I did from any of the fruit beers. If I had to try to guess what fruit dominates I'd go with peach.

TASTE: Well, I think I may taste what John is talking about, but I don't think bubble gum is how I would describe it. It's a kind of fruity sweetness that dances on your tongue just long enough to counterbalance the strong alcohol taste and then disappears. Maybe more than any beer so far this month, this one really makes me feel inadequate in my descriptive powers. As soon as I think I've got a handle on a flavor something else comes to the surface. It's complex but fun, how about that? There's a lot going on, and all of it is enjoyable.

MOUTHFEEL: Again, see TASTE. I have a hard time telling the difference. I can tell you that it is very bubbly and therefore very gaseous. The burps taste as complex as the beer.

DRINKABILITY: Honestly I feel like I've had a four course dinner. Very filling is what I'm trying to say.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 13 of the 31 beers of Christmas

This one's gonna be brief. Not only was it a long work day and a long ride home but I woke up at 4:00 am with a toothache and it's been paining me all day. I can't wait to dig out the heavy duty pain killers and no doubt my taste buds will get caught in the crossfire.
Meantime, I've got Harvest Ale from Founders. I've enjoyed everything from these guys especially Backwoods Bastard, my favorite beer so far this month. Harvest Ale is wet-hopped, which means the hops are fresh not dried,and it has 70 IBU's, which is a respectable amount for sure, 6.5% ABV. I picked this up at Total Wine but I don't remember how much I paid for it -- 2 or 3 bucks.

APPEARANCE: One of the lighter beers I've tried this month, only slightly darker than your typical BudMillerCoors. Nice 1/4 inch head with some legs on it.

AROMA: Hops. Maybe some pepper. Hops always smell kinda peppery to me, so take that with a grain of. . .well. . . salt.

TASTE: Hmmm, I don't know that I've ever had a wet-hopped ale, and there's a definite difference. That back of the tongue tingle is less obvious but it does linger on the tongue for some time afterwards. There aren't really any other flavors that I'm picking up. And a burp tasted like nothing but hops.

MOUTHFEEL: Like most hoppy beers -- wet or dry -- you can't really drink a lot of this at one go. Hops kind of demand that you slow down and pay attention to them.

DRINKABILITY: I like it. It's very overbalanced on the hoppy end of the scale so it makes me crave malt, but as a hoppy beer -- and a change from the malty ones -- it's quite nice. I'm not 100 per cent on wet hopping yet though. I need to try a few more before I make up my mind.

Tomorrow -- assuming I'm not in the dental emergency room -- another request, this one from my brother. Delirium Tremens, which he says tastes like bubble gum. Can't wait.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Banana Bread Beer for Brunch

I've got a Christmas party to go to tonight, and I've got a feeling it's going to be alcohol-free. And even if it's not I don't think a good guest sits in the corner sipping and sniffing beers with his eyes closed, wishing he had a better nose and scribbling down his rambling, barely cohesive thoughts on the beverage he's supposed to be enjoying. But since I don't want to get behind again on my reviews, just for y'all, I'm going to make the ultimate sacrifice -- I am going to have beer for brunch.
It's okay, don't worry, this stuff is healthy - made with real bananas, which is good (potassium and some other healthy junk) and they're fair trade bananas, so it's good for your karma too. (It also says in the fine print says "banana flavor added" so that's a little less good.)
From the label: "Tempting banoffee aromas (banoffee? what is that? some kind of banana coffee, what have I got myself into? Hang on a minute, I gotta Google that -- oh well, that's okay, according to Wikipedia Banoffee is " is an English pastry based dessert made from bananas, cream, toffee from boiled condensed milk (or dulce de leche), either on a pastry base or one made from crumbled biscuits and butter. Some versions of the recipe also include chocolate and/or coffee. Its name is a portmanteau constructed from the words "banana" and "toffee" That sounds delicious.) and flavors are balanced by the rich silkiness of a masterful malt bland and the peppery spice of the freshest, ripest hops. (That sounds good, I like balance in my beers.) I also learned that "long ago, ale was known as "liquid bread," back in the good old days when you could literally drink a toast. Ha ha.
This is our first import; it's from Wells and Young Brewery Company in Bedford, UK. I picked it up at Total Wine for $4.99 (minus a dollar, I had a coupon.) It's ABV is 5.2%. And it's by request for Lisa the Librarian.

Enough preliminaries. Bring on the bananas.

APPEARANCE: Pours a nice copper color, with a thin head that lingers and leaves lace. Nice effervescence.

AROMA: Not surprisingly, it smells like bananas. Not overwhelmingly but definitely. Mild spice aroma too, but since it's not cinnamon I can't identify it.

TASTE: Not nearly as sweet as I'd been thinking it might be. You get hit with banana as soon as it hits your lips, but it's not cloying as some fruit beers can be, and by the time it finishes its trek through your mouth you finish with a pleasant mild hop tingle. So the label didn't lie. This beer is nicely balanced.
(Update: If you burp afterward the taste is all banana.)

MOUTHFEEL: Honestly, I am having a hard time differentiating mouthfeel and taste. It feels wet and fruity (no, that's taste) and bubbly.

DRINKABILITY: Very smooth, goes down easy. Unlike a lot of fruit ales, I wouldn't mind having more than one. Like most fruit ales, I can see how this would be even better in the summertime.

Now I just wish I had a banoffee for dessert.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On the 11th beer of Christmas. . .

Wasn't sure if I wanted another stout tonight or a fruit beer, then I realized I don't have to choose. I've got a cherry stout in the fridge -- which I picked up at Total Wine for $3.49. I've had cherry stout before but not many, not for a long time and not from Bell's. This cherry stout like the previous one is brewed in Michigan which must the only place in America cherries grow.
Kind of skimpy on art and info on the label. A picture of a tree with only three cherries (which have fallen off the tree) which doesn't sound like much but they are enormous. Each one as big as the entire tree trunk; it's a wonder the tree could hold them at all. On the back it says "A mysterious dance of tart Michigan cherries with the dark, roasted malts of a big and bold stout."

Enough thinking; let's get to drinking:

APPEARANCE: Pours inky black with a caramel-colored head that dissipated before I could photograph it. I held it up to the light to see if there were any ruby tints but no, it's all black. Not much in the way of bubbles either. This doesn't look like cola, flat or fluffy. It looks like a glass of ink or -- I hesitate to say it -- soy sauce.

AROMA: Dark chocolate, dark fruit.

TASTE: Very interesting. It seems like I can taste cherries first, but they're sour cherries, not sweet. Then the bitter dark chocolate taste takes center stage and then when you swallow the cherry taste returns, this time cleaner and lighter than before. I can't detect any hops at all. The bitterness is all from the cherries. How can I tell? Hop bitterness feels different like a tingle on your taste buds, especially at the back of the mouth. This is more of an all-over tongue experience.

MOUTHFEEL: Not nearly as thick as most stouts. The aftertaste of sour cherries and dark chocolate lingers for a long time.

DRINKABILITY: Very refreshing. But as I'm learning about my beer tastes, whenever I drink something way overbalanced one way or the other -- in this case malts -- it makes me crave something with a little of what's missing -- in this case hops.