Remembrance Of Beers Past Again

It was over a month ago that I had a chance to sample Dogfish Head NAMASTEdogfish-head-namaste.gif a remarkable take on the Belgian Whit style that immediately reminded me of the first Belgian white I had many years ago: Celis White, from Austin, Texas. Celis of course, refers to Pierre Celis, the Belgian milkman who was responsible for saving this beer style from extinction, first creating Hoegaarden Whit. A beer that became successful enough that big business wanted in, as Mr. Celis stated: “That’s when things went downhill. The bankers wanted to take over and cheapen the ingredients used in my beers. I resisted awhile, but finally in 1990, I sold the rest of my shares to Interbrew. I was 65, and didn’t want to fight with bankers anymore.”
Of course Interbrew was just an earlier manifestation of the behemoth we know now as Anheuser-Busch InBev. Pierre Celis, no longer connected with Hoegaarden, decided to set up shop in the United States, choosing Austin, Texas because he liked the way Texans talked. The Celis from Austin was very good indeed. So much so that it produced imitations, most notably Blue Moon Belgian White.  But soon the same business considerations came into play, in this case, Miller Brewing Company who purchased the brewery, and then shut it down on the last day of the year 2000.
Pierre Celis died at 86, in 2011. His daughter Christine hope to revive her Dad’s famous recipes, after reclaiming the rights to the Celis name.  Pierre’s philosophy towards artisan brewing is worth repeating: “I think the most important thing is always quality. If you have no quality, it is always the same thing: you are short term. Fancy labels and marketing must come after the quality of the beer is there.”

Cheers to this Celis wisdom.

The March Of Marzen

When discussing the history of Oktoberfest, a little known fact these days is that at the original, held in 1810, there was no beer! That was when King Ludwig I tied the knot with Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, and renewed his nuptial happiness every year with the autumn party. By 1814, beer gained importance. But it wasn’t until 1841 that a major step in the creation of what is now known as Oktoberfestbier, came into being. That is when Gabriel Sedlmayr of Spaten Brewing collaborated with Anton Dreher of the Dreher Brewery in Vienna, and introduced Vienna malt which lightened the color of the brew and also saw the creation of Vienna Amber lager. This is why it has been said that Oktoberfest beer is Vienna lager’s big brother.
The history of Marzen, or bier de Mars, goes back to a time before refrigeration, when the beer of March was stored in caves to be consumed at the end of summer. This is why traditional Marzen can be lagered (or aged) for 3 to 4 months.
There is plenty of time for this malty brew to become rich and mellow.
I have heard people speak ill of the Marzen style which I find puzzling. Maybe they don’t like a malt forward recipe style. Or maybe they just don’t like beer. Whatever the case, I have always enjoyed Oktoberfest beers.
Left Hand Brewing’s Oktoberfest stays true to the Marzen style, although at 6.6% abv is one of the stronger examples, although there are super strong Imperial Oktoberfest beers, such as The Kaiser from Avery and Dragonhosen from Boulder Beer, along with Hansel and Kettle from Three Notch Brewing.
Here in Cincinnati, Oktoberfest beer abounds. From Samuel Adams Octoberfest to Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier (a personal favorite) to Christian Moerlein Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest to Franz from Rhinegeist Brewery.
I have been often asked which one is best? I say that is meaningless. They are all variations of a very beautiful theme.Prosit!

Finished Business

When it comes to the Bass Ale being produced by AB InBev there is little need to break out an old school British bubble mug (the kind you might see in a pub in England, back in their heyday) for this unreasonable facsimile produced at the Budweiser plant in Baldwinsville, New York. You might as well just slip on a foam cozi  for the bottle, pry it off and start drinking, a beer with some flavor yes, but when it comes to representing The World’s First Pale Ale, it is characterless garbage.bass-usa
I will not go into the politics of so-called free market capitalism, but it is suffice to say that Anheuser-Busch InBev has the economic muscle to turn one of this world’s great historic, iconic brands into simply another product in their vast portfolio.
So much for Burton On Trent, England. Now that is just a marketing ploy on the label.
This was made even clearer to me, when I learned from a Beer Merchants email that Pabst Blue Ribbon is held in higher regard in the UK because it is actually still made in the USA. A bit of a reverse take here, where supposedly American beer like Budweiser is being palmed off in Britain as genuine, while it is actually produced in AB InBev plants in the United Kingdom.
There is no need to go into what happened to Beck’s, where Bremen, Germany now works in marketing, as geographical mythology.
I suspect that AB InBev’s acquisition of the Goose Island Beer Company while wind up in the same basket, where their core brands are farmed out to the Budweiser plants, leaving the fancier (as in expensive) productions to the craft brewers in Chicago.
Just because a beer has flavor does not mean it has character. Beck’s drinkers accustomed to the original work were unpleasantly shocked when the made in USA version came into being. But, as is usually the case when big money is involved, few seemed to notice, and even fewer seemed to care.
So far those just beginning to explore the world of beer, I would suggest checking out what I would call beers of character. Here are just a few:
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley-Wine Style Ale
Fuller’s 1845 Celebration Ale
Schneider&Sohn Aventinus
Rodenbach Grand Cru
Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter
Anchor Liberty Ale
As they say in Zen: You are on your own with everything.

Unfinished Business

I should have covered this a year ago, but unforeseen circumstances (I will spare you the details) prevented me from  sampling Budweiser Black Crown Lager until yesterday.
Now I had to share some grief with the so-called craft beer community a few years ago, when my honest reaction to the ill-fated Budweiser American Ale was that it was a respectable brew. Funny how all this became a problem for those who could not fathom the idea that a mega-brewery could entertain the thought of making a beer  based upon taste. But this was before the Goose Island Beer Co. became a wholly owned subsidiary of AB InBev and the faux craft beers of Blue Moon and Shock Top have advertisements on baseball fields.
There are some funny notions about what beer actually is. Leave it to the idiocy of craft beer associations to decide who is crafty and who is not. As the late movie director John Cassavetes once said: “First we got to play games, then we got to keep score.”
Artisan Brewing is a much better term, but I sense that seems too sophisticated, in an ever expanding market where breweries attempt to distinguish themselves from each other. Meanwhile, the people who are not into studying beer, buy their beer oblivious to who owns it or which millionaire it makes happy.
Once upon a time, in a brew galaxy not far away, good beer was found only on draft or in glass bottles. But this was before the craft can revolution (a term that makes me laugh to this day). Funny how the price of the beer remains the same as its bottled brethren, despite the reduced shipping weight. You might ask a craft can enthusiast if they know the difference between a Ball or Rexam can?
Then there is the marketing business about alcohol which can best be described  as a get more bang for your bucks, which is what AB InBev emphasizes with Budweiser Black Crown 6.0% ALC./VOL. on the neck of the bottle. The same more hootch approach used by Budweiser Platinum and Beck’s Sapphire. But the term Black Crown is a curious term for a golden amber lager.
Which brings me to the actual sampling. I found this to be remarkably drinkable beer. The caramel malts provide plenty of support for a base that is pleasure to drink. Enough said.


Recently I began to wonder: how long will it be before the obsession with the India Pale Ale style, will have run its course? Thankfully there are plenty of wonderful styles of beer available, including  what I consider to be one of the best, the outstandingly traditional SUMMER WHEAT from Yuengling, which come to think of it, maybe should be expected from the United States oldest brewery.
I was also fortunate enough to experience recently a fresh batch of HACKER-PSCHORR weisse beer. It is always a joy to taste a recipe that goes back hundreds of years.

Of course my brew perceptions are based upon, and most likely biased by, my many years investigating this immortal human beverage,  so be it. The clog of India Pale Ales is everywhere: from Samuel Adams, to Saranac, to Brooklyn, hop-forward beer recipes are hopping. No one probably is more hop obsessed than the Sierra Nevada Brewery, their 4-WAY IPA pack explores the range of possibilities for the lupulin effect, including a NOONER SESSION IPA, which I guess, all depends on what you mean by “buzz”.

Another welcome seasonal return is NEWCASTLE BOMBSHELL BLONDE ALE, a judicious use of English malt and northwestern hops produces a very pleasant flavor. Flavorful is one tthing, sometimes balance is another, this has both.

This spring has been kind. One recent sunny afternoon I had a chance to share some Rodenbach Grand Cru, the grand daddy of the so-called sour beer style, although the name certainly does not do justice to this amazingly flavorful beer. Even my best descriptions can not due it justice!

I am always pleased to see when breweries get seasonal and traditional. Such is the case with the two bock beers brewed by Troegs Brewing Company in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Their TROEGENATOR double bock, is just what the doctor ordered for the early spring. And then there is their CULTIVATOR , their golden Maibock.
The same can be said for the great local brewery, Cincinnati’s Chrisrtian Moerlein, where the EMANCIPATOR is followed by SANGERFEST, their Maibock as in May festival chorus.

It seems that the Lagunitas Brewing Company is making in-roads in Ohio. LITTLE SUMPIN’ SUMPIN’ is their tasty wheat imfused ale, while their CENSORED is a very nice cooper ale. These are just the ones I have been able to try from their very interesting portfolio.Tune in next time. So many beers, so many miles!Image


The return of New Year seasonal beers is always a joy to behold. For the over-the-hop crowd there is Bell’s Hopslam ImageWhat could now be considered a classic example of what is known as American IPA. I had this years ago, and again I found to be tasty but not worthy of all the hype.
Something I found more interesting is our local Madtree Brewing Company’s PSYCHOPATHYImagePerhaps it is because this beer is local and wonderfully fresh.
Speaking of local, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company’s SPRINGTIME ALEImagea beautiful recipe using a Scottish-style that is approachable and delicious. Again, this may be a matter of logistic freshness.
It was ironic to see, this year, Genesee Bock in a bottleImageAfter all those years of being craft-beer-in-a can I now see the Heritage edition in bottles and cans!
Since bock is on my lips, and Spring in my soul, it is a delicious sight indeed to see the return of Hudepohl Festival Bock and its big brother Christian Moerlein Emancipator Dopplebock.
These two along with Rivertown Brewing’s BockImage are wonderful reminders of the rich Germanic brewing roots found in Southwest Ohio.


The late arrival of the grand daddy of American wassail was a welcome sight indeed. Mind you dear reader, I have had Anchor’s “Our Special Ale” since the 17th edition. This is the 39th year. So I have tasted the changes through those 20 plus years. This year’s version is, at least for myself, a subtle but marvellous departure from recent editions. Here it seems, what might be called the spruce element has been toned back a bit, leaving the malts to move forward. Delicious from start to finish.

Between the holiday beers, the seasonal and special editions, there is something here for every kind of palate. Perhaps it is just my age, but experience has taught me that when it come to the flavor of beer, it is best to accept the unexpected. Take for example Shiner Holiday Cheer the first time I tasted it was, an unexpected shock (peaches and pecans, who would have thought of it?). But now it has become a Christmas tradition: the Holiday wheat bock brewed with peaches.

Southern Tier Brewing Company has several seasonal selections. Krampus, their imperial helles lager is deceptively smooth. This is a Christmas devil full of bottom fermented goodness. While their 2XMAS “brewed in the tradition of Swedish Glogg” is, what could be described as big time wassail, designed for celebrations. Their Old Man Winter Ale the use of any spices.

For beers with malty depth there are the Imperial Stouts to consider. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout immediately comes to mind, with its incredibly rich yet smooth presentation. Sierra Nevada Narwhal proves that even the hop-centric brewers understand the malty depth of the imperial stout style.

Porter is always good this time of year. For those who want a sweeter example of the style, there is Leinenkugel’s Vanilla Porter, brewed on a bed of vanilla beans. For Bavarian purity law goodness there is Hudepohl Classic Porter. Need more complexity? Try Flying Dog’s Imperial Gonzo Porter. As Doctor Thompson might say: “Ok, let’s party.”

Bell’s Christmas Ale is a rock solid take on Scottish wee heavy, beautifully balanced.

Goose Island Ten Hills Pale Ale is a tribute to the hops grown at Elk Mountain Farms. A citrus hop study, with a gentle finish.

I was also able to obtain, from their FS pub series, Full Sail Pale a wonderful tribute to English style ale, available for 90 days only.

Mendocino Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout could serve you well during these winter months. But hey I am partial to oatmeal, I eat a bowl everyday.

Madtree Brewing Company’s Gnarly Brown Ale is a welcome reminder of how to the local beer making culture has evolved. To put it bluntly: what an outstanding ale this is, packaged in a can. A special thanks to therapist Toni, who first alerted me about their brewing operations.

Thank you is my prayer. Enjoy, the holidays are upon us, yes!
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