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!
brooklynblackchocolatestout2ind_bp_label_2xmasold man winter

Moving Towards Dia de los Muertos

This is a replacement piece for one that got technically mangled. The winter seasonal beers are starting to arrive, including some new tasty offerings. Newcastle Cabbie Black Ale is a moderate strength dark ale with plenty of interesting flavour notes. Another is Goose Island Sixth Day Ale, an expertly made strong brown ale that seems to take its inspiration from old English winter ale, without all the ageing nonsense associated with their Christmas Ale. Drink this one bold and fresh.
Looking for something new and golden? Try Christian Moerlein Zeppelin, a hop-forward take on a Bavarian style pale ale that uses Pilsner and Munich malts combined with Noble hops.

As for the return of beloved classics, I will not bore you dear reader with notes, just recommendations:

Breckenridge Christmas Ale67270010_d4fc03ad4b


These are ones I found so far, as we move towards the day of the dead, the holy beer season is quickly approaching. Enjoy.

From Pumpkin To Marzen, And All Points Between

HUDEPOHL_OKT_6pk_renderI love writing about beer but also love reading what others have discovered along the way. Pumpkin beer is quite a discovery for many,  a new world style to be sure, but other than that, there are no recipe parameters. Pumpkin beer is each brewery’s interpretation, and all are quite different. So the idea of “the best” is beside the point. The modern revival of this colonial style of ale, begins with Buffalo Bill’s Original Pumpkin Ale, a rather tame recipe now, but was considered to be audaciously bold, in those micro-brewery years.
Take  for example, Southern Tier’s PUMKING, a massive imperial take that tastes like caramel corn candy in an odd way. A strong (8.6%) ale, its intense flavour disguises this strength.
Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale is a tasty brew that has grown in popularity over the years. First appearing in brewmaaster collections, it is now released in its own six pack. A very well made pumpkin ale that maintains balance, while keeping the pumpkin flavour in the forefront,
Dogfishhead’s Punkin Ale takes a brown ale approach, where the pumpkin is in the background of a very smooth ale. Delicious from start to finish.
Snuttynose Brewery’s Pumpkin Ale exhibits the brewmaster’s skill in all its glory, producing a recipe that is multi-layered with flavour notes and pleasant carbonation.
Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road was the first pumpkin ale for me. Strange now, but years ago, people thought it was strange to drink beer made with pumpkins. That first year it was shipped to the midwest, it was closed-out at 8 dollars a case!
But when it comes to pumpkin ales, the one I would choose is Saranac Pumpkin Ale. Now in their 125th year, F. X. Matt Brewing Company uses their brewing expertise to produce what is for myself, the most drinkable pumpkin ale of all.

Here in the miidwest, Oktoberfest got off to an early start, due to some unusually cool weather in August. Marzen is one of my favorite styles of beer and unlike pumpkin ale, there are recipe parameters (although the ingredients can be super-sized, as is the case with Avery Brewing’s The Kaiser, another imperial version). But the difference between American Oktoberfest and original Oktoberfest, is I think mainly the house yeast used. There is a floral note in Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest that is unmistakably German. Here in Cincinnati, Samuel Adams Octoberfest has a very delicious presence in local festivities, but for me, the official beer for Cincinnati Oktoberfest should be Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier. A personal favorite, now being brewed in Cincinnati.

The arrival of a new fall seasonal from the hop-centric folks at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is worth checking out. Flipside Red IPA  proves that the hop road of discovery is never ending.  Enjoy.

The Good and The Great

I was recently asked what is the state of the beer nation these days and I said it is good. In fact, there is a type of good beer for nearly every taste. Never mind that someone else’s passion for a particular style is not yours, there are so many others to choose from.
Putting aside all the usual debates about whether a beer is craft or not, whether it uses adjunct grains, or fermentables like honey and cane sugar, the real question that needs to be answered everytime: does the beer taste good for you?
This summer I’ve been sampling some surprises. Take for exampleImageRed Hook Wisecracker Witt, a refreshing wheat ale that is well suited to be consumed straight from the bottle.
Or if you want something in a more exotic modeImageWAILUA from Kona Brewing continues the fruit ale category that expands greatly during the summer.
The return of a Newport, Kentucky legendImageis of interest here in the Ohio valley, but actually, this craft take on the Bohemian Special Lager does not taste anything like the watery version made by Pittsburg Brewing before its demise. To be sure, this Wiedemann’s a rock solid lager, contract brewed by the experts at The Point Brewery, in Wisconsin.


It happened a few days after the Super Bowl. There were signs and omens that Sunday, when the overwhelming rush of corporate greed flooded the televisions across the land with hype that went beyond hype in its attempt to create a mythology that could justify all the gastronomic over indulgence that went on all day, awaiting the start of the Big Event that occurred sometime around 6:30 pm, EST.
I had a job to do. To watch the national roll out of Budweiser Black Crown in a coveted ad time spot during the game. Some 6% swill thought up by the enterprising folks at A-B Inbev, aimed at that very important 21 to 34 year old demographic. But I was not drinking any kind of beer. In fact, I had not touched beer for days. I had what I thought was a touch of the flu, if only that had turned out to be the case!
The truth was, I had contracted a virus, via an injury in my right toe that lead to a full diabetic attack that caused gangrene, and lead to my toe to fall off a few days later. Emergency surgery ensued, and with the skills of gifted podiatrists, 97% of my foot was saved. Although I was in a state of total delusion for nearly a month, during my two months in hospital, where the kind and patient dedicated workers at the Drake Center went about the slow arduous task of repairing a broken human being who, in the beginning stages, was very close to death.
I did not have time to think about beer, although during this extended stay, nurses, aides, and doctors became aware of my 18 years as a professional beer writer, which eventually lead to a therapist who asked me what was my favourite beer?  Well after sampling many thousands of beers, this is a question that has no answer. Although this was my reply:
“If I appear dead, make sure I am by putting a glass of Aventinus under my nose. The aroma of that magnificent weizen dopplebock could surely revive me.”
What a heavy time period this is for me. Still recovering, I am at least back home, where I await the full repair of my right foot, so I can walk again, minus a toe. As the great Van Morrison once said in Till We Get The Healing Done:  Till You Deal With The Poison Inside, Sometimes You Got To Just Sit Down And Cry.


Amen to that brothers and sisters, amen to that.

The Return Of New Albion Ale

To put it in the chef’s language: this is a beer of love moment. Created with thoughtful respect for brewing tradition, by none other than Jim Koch of Samuel Adams, for the pioneering efforts of microbrewer Jack McAuliffe, founder of the short lived New Albion Brewing Company, credited for starting up artisan brewing in the United States, which, in the nearly 40 years since, has blossomed into a full scale industry. But this was not the case in those days, when there were only 44 breweries in the entire country, and small scale brewing equipment did not exist. Obstacles that made Mr. McAuliffe not only craft his beer, but the tools required to produce it.
Much of this is being written about. There are videos of the resurrection of this recipe at the Boston Beer Company, where the retired pioneer brewer shows Jim Koch an original label bottle, that has no government warning on it. Luckily, the original yeast strain has been preserved from that time, which makes me wonder: is this the yeast used in Ballantine Ale?
Tasting this beer is a reminder that the struggle to make flavorful beer is no accident. A small group of individuals were determined to not live out their days drinking beer without character. That determination continues to expand.
As for this revival, the beer itself is remarkable for its simplicity. Using only cascade hops, this pale (as in clear golden colour) ale has a nutty, honey note that is gentle and very drinkable. Quite subtle, compared to the hop bomb creations of this century, but so what? This was good drinking beer without any pretension, in an era when such creations were very difficult to find.
My advice, for whatever it is worth, is to try and see if you enjoy this ale. Putting aside its historical significance, and damn it, just drink this ale. Cheers!Image