The Tried And True


Recent acquisitions by Anheuser-Busch InBev (or ABI, as it is conveniently called in Australia) has brought up once again, the craft beer/ or not arguments about who is selling out. This has become a very sorry subject in a neoliberal, monetary driven universe, where a gigantic corporation has the option to actually lose money, in order to abolish any competition (a level playing field? I must look and laugh).
You have Jacob McKean of Modern Times Beer, throwing down the gauntlet on all the misinformation presented about increase production through wider available malts and hops, after being acquired by the Macro Brewery Behemoth. Along with this there is that old saw about increasing their brand’s presence, which, in final analysis, is basically bullshit.
Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, I am reminded of musicians 40 years ago, who embraced overt commercialism in the name of greater communication. So be it. Everyone makes their own choices.
As I once infamously said: “The recipe is the thing that will catch the conscience of the Beer Doctor”. This, for myself, still holds true. Which is why I can enjoy beers across the cultural and economic spectrum. But this is also why when a beloved recipe is ruined by ABI, I must point this out.
It might seem odd, but instead of arguing about what is craft beer or not, it might be more to the point to ask: what exactly is beer? The total abandonment of reinheitsgebot by many breweries in the United States has produced an astonishing portfolio of brews fused with fruit juice, molasses, and even pork scrapple. In this context, beer becomes a basis for the latest alcohol concoction. Purity? Purity be damned.
Market pressure has prompted many established breweries to abandon time-honored recipes, in order to accommodate the obsession with Humulus lupulus flower cones. This has lead many people to believe that this is what good beer is all about, which tends to dull the palate to more subtle styles. A good smack in the face IPA is simply that.
Sadly, market driven greed has pushed aside many tried and true recipes that no longer roll with distribution projections for the future. Thus, you see The Matt Brewing Company having to semi-retire their delicious schwartz bier Saranac Black Forest. Luckily this wonderful beer appears in their German roots Fall Pack, along with Octoberfest, Marzenfest, and Keller bier.
It is ironic that the explosive growth in American brewing has made it more difficult to find classic beer styles imported from other countries. This proves that the stupidity of American exceptionalism has found its way to convince consumers that the United States produces the greatest beer in the history of the universe. Period.

Craft Has Become A Meaningless Word

First a review:  roundhouserenderRed Ale has a long history in the artisan brewing movement. Red beer was a favorite during the last decade of the 20th century. Now days, most red ale productions involve the hoppy concerns of India Pale Ale. So it is not surprising that Bell’s Roundhouse is referred to as an India Red Ale.
Roundhouse has all the modern concerns for tropical fruit notes, in this case, enhanced by the use of honey. Luckily there are enough malts present to keep this drinkable, with a dry hop finish. But to be honest, despite the robust growth in the IPA category, I find this approach to be downright boring. I have tried so many American India Pale Ales and they range from what could be called lupulin warrior concoctions, to what the ever so ambitious folks in marketing distribution call approachable IPA.
According to the folks who keep tabs on sales, the IPA category has quadrupled in the last 4 years.This is an over $800 million concern that makes up 75 percent of the so-called craft beer segment, with fruit and citrus forward IPAs leading the charge. Personally I find this a rather dismal comment on the state of artisan brewing in the United States. None more so than this:sidecar-can-180x300Sierra Nevada’s latest attempt to catch that audience for tropical fruit beer. This time (to be released in January 2017) a pale ale brewed with oranges. This supposedly is to kick up the west coast style of pale ale a bit. There is also on their schedule tropical-torpedo-300x289 giving their famous Torpedo IPA a tropical twist.

This is all fine and dandy if you like drinking this stuff all the time, but I have become weary of spending money on this style anymore, and because of its marketing dominance, there is not much else coming out. A brewing example of Gresham’s Law, where tried and true recipes have been abandoned, in the name of more market share. Nobody seems to know when enough is enough.
How strange after all those talks about what is craft beer and what is not, it really all comes down to market share. Independent breweries do not have the economic muscle of the Mega-Macro Breweries, but their desire to increase sales remains the same. I am afraid that the humble nobility of beer has become quite lost, in all this idiotic market-driven bullshit.

Back To The Fest


Over the decades I have sampled thousands of beers and tasted many novel variations of established recipe styles. This is especially true in the United States, where the parameters of what is considered a stout, an India pale ale, saison, etc., are always being experimented with, to push as they say the boundaries  of what those recipe approaches can do. But being an old school beer writer, I have always had a wonderful affection for two styles of beer: bock in the spring, and Oktoberfest at the end of summer.
This year I thought it best to cover first Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest 2016oktoberfest2016bottlepint The brewery’s collaboration with all things German, that is not only a seasonal. but also a one time only celebratory event. Last year’s work with Brauhaus Riegle in Augsburg, showcased the delicious Steffi barley. This year’s collaboration with Mahrs Brau in Bamberg, draws attention to the nearly forgotten Record hop of Germany used in historic Fest tradition. Like last year’s production, this is a golden coloured Fest beer quite different in emphasis than last year’s, except that both are a pleasure to drink.

Locally Christian Moerlein Das Uber Fest LagerIMG_0157    Is a surprising canned golden lager that is a kind of tribute to the style of Oktoberfest perfected by Paulener in Munich, known as Wiesn Lager. The use of wheat lends this can of beer a delicious drinkable nature. Quite different from their Marzen style Oktoberfest Fifth & Vine.

The American standard for Marzen, Samuel Adams Octoberfest LagerSamuel_Adams_Octoberfest2Remains a classic American seasonal (brewed here in Cincinnati) but their 16 ounce can


is a bit of a departure from my local bottled version.

This seems more malt concentrated, somewhat chalky, perhaps accentuated by its 16 ounce packaging.

The once a year return of Great Lakes Oktoberfestoktoberfest-fixedis always a fun event, with 6.5% strength reminding that good Fest beer is always an occaison to have a party. It is not surprising that I enjoy their year round little brother marzen, Eliot Ness Amber Lager.

The very traditional Bell’s Oktoberfest


Bell's Oktoberfest Beer

keeps everything in balance. After a few years hiatus, the return of the amber lager is solid and real.

For those who think mega brewing incapable of very good beer, I would suggest Molson Coor’s Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfestleineoktober_largeA beautifully tasty recipe that has respect for German tradition, producing a nutty malt profile, that after many years of sampling, I could pick out in a blind taste test.

Flying Double


I was amused to read reviews of Flying Dog’s Double Dog Double IPA where tasters complained about the boozy quality of the production. In this day and age when breweries pop up like unannounced new flowers on a continuous basis, it would be good to remember the wisdom imparted by Fritz Maytag long ago, when he reminded The Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, that breweries have their own personalities.
This is certainly true of the Flying Dog Brewery, whose original roots were set down in Woody Creek, Colorado, where the founder, George Stanahan, befriended the late writer Hunter S. Thompson, who in turn introduced him to the British surrealist illustrator of his published works: Ralph Steadman. It is artwork by Mr. Steadman that graces the covers of Flying Dog beers, often bizarre depictions of dogs to illustrate beers with titles like: Gonzo Imperial Porter, Horn Dog, Dogtoberfest, K-9, The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale, and Raging Bitch.
This tawny coloured pour with a malty nose is a bit of a surprise for what is called a double India pale ale. A big time imperial ale at 11.5%, this has that lupulin warrior niche that many who drink this style, are often not even conscious of. Boozy? Yes, like many examples in the Flying Dog portfolio, but what should you expect from a brewery that embraced Hunter Thompson’s love of drink and firearms: “Good People Drink Good Beer.”
Of course many a state liquor control board could not understand the humor of the labels. With Double Dog, you have the use of copious amount of caramel malt combined with over-the top amounts of hops. Not exactly my cup of beer, but nevertheless, the execution of this recipe is outstanding.

k-9 I first sampled this delicious ale when it was still being produced in Colorado. In those days, the expression “when in doubt, go flat out” was used.It was removed from the label after the Nine Eleven catastrophe.
Raging Bitch is another boozy production of Belgian yeast combined with American hoppy sensibility. Steadman’s notes on this label helps to explain what is going on.
I sampled this just before Cinco de Mayo. Numero Uno is tasty alternative to the one-dimensional  Bud Light Lime. Cactus Juice has proven useful in beer designed for warm weather, whether it is Sierra Nevada Otra Vez or Shiner Prickly Pear.

Beautiful Beers From Maui


A special thanks to the people at Cavalier Distributing for having the wisdom to bring to Ohio, the delicious offerings from the Maui Brewing Company in Hawaii. Unlike Kona, the original Big island brewing company who now have their recipes distributed and brewed in such exotic locales as Memphis, TN. Maui is the real beer from the 50th state.  Odd that beers found 4,367 miles from Cincinnati, cost only a dollar more per six or four pack, than local craft brews found across town.Maui-Brewing-Bikini-Blonde This is a traditional Helles lager perfectly suited for this time of year. Honey sweet malty notes that are never cloying and perfectly balanced. Outstanding.

MBC_Cans_2views_Big_Swell-940x721-300x230 Because of the over saturation of IPA on the American beer horizon, it is difficult to assess another offering. Nevertheless, Big Swell has all the tropical citrus notes associated with the style, and obtains somewhat of an edge, by the use of Maui water.

The last of the 3 year round offerings, Coconut Hiwa Porter is certainly a favorite. The toasted coconut combines with a malts showcase that is wonderfully delicious. My only complaint is that this porter comes in a four pack rather than six.

Last Refuge Of A Corporate Scoundrel



Well if you haven’t heard, those enterprising folks at AB InBev have decided to seize a marketing opportunity from this year’s tumultuous election year by renaming Budweiser as America, starting on Memorial Day weekend, all the way through to November, with the cleverly snarky motto:  America is in your hands.

The Brazilian Belgian Beverage Behemoth has been trotting out faux nationalism for quite some time, attempting to provoke consumer tribalism by claiming that Bud is “brewed the hard way” and they “won’t back down” by attacking other breweries as elite snobs, while at the same time acquiring successful upstarts (Goose Island, Breckenridge, etc.), but maintaining their St. Louis, Missouri American veneer.

What is truly ridiculous about all this, is that most devoted drinkers of Budweiser are not even aware that Budweiser is not even an American company. I discovered this several years ago when I was verbally accosted for buying some Samuel Adams, and was told by the Bud devotee that he only buys American beer.

Many of these hard core Bud drinkers seemed to have missed the memo about how August Bush IV revealed that the last heir of the Anheuser- Busch dynasty was indeed a party hardy screw up that wound up selling the entire company to Carlos Brito’s InBev.

The sale of Anheuser-Busch to InBev for $52 billion was a stock market bonanza that common folks like Warren Buffet could lend his pick axe too. The immediate result of the merger was that 1400 people lost their jobs at A-B. We all know the cost-cutting drill about being leaner and meaner, in the case of the great American lager, this meant that broken rice grains could be used, and expensive Hallertauer Mittelfruh hops were no longer necessary.
Which is par for the course for an outfit like AB InBev who took pride in saving $55 million by this hop substitution. Perhaps this is the ultimate meaning of their Proudly A Macro Beer motto.

In their never-ending quest for more market share, AB InBev has revealed that even politics is fair game for their ubiquitous cereal beer branding. I can hear those sirens calling: Make America’s Bud Great Again, from a global corporation whose only gospel is the bottom line. So much for patriotism. That is just another marketing ploy that Samuel Johnson had something to say about, centuries ago. This rebranding is authetically delusional.

A Classic Revisited

The term pilsener or pilsner or simply pils are terms used to cover a wide range of beers that utilize the Sacchraromyces Pastorianus yeast to create bottom fermenting beer (widely known as lager) that, it is often repeated, changed the world of brewing forever.

This harkens back to 1842 when the Czech town known as Plzen created the first golden coloured beer that is still made there today, Pilsner UrquellurqStill regarded as a classic example of bohemian pilsner with its use of Saaz hops combined with caramel malt sweetness, using open-flame triple decoction. This became (and still is) a benchmark for a style of beer so popular that even Germany had to find an equivalent, which they did in 1895, when Spaten, created Munich Hellesbeer_2559

This was all apart of the obsession with golden coloured beer that to this very day, has taken the world by storm. Pilsner started the pale lager ball rolling that has lead to it being the best selling style of beer in the world. Although many of these new golden beers used corn and rice and sometimes wheat, there is little doubt that the term cold beer took on a new and profound meaning.

So it was with  great pleasure to se that this year’s birthday beer from the Spoetzl Brewery is in fact a pilsnerbirthday-bottle-lgShiner Birthday 107 is a very satisfying tribute to this revolutionary style, providing a malty showcase for botanically aromatic hops. This is significantly focused because of Spoetzl’s German and Czech roots, thus Saaz hops are combined with Hallertau.

One of the very best examples of Bohemian Pilsner in the United States is Samuel Adams Noble Pils Sam-Adams-Noble-Pilswhich uses Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, Saaz, and Hersbrucker hops combined with 2-row pale malt and Czech pilsner malt. This produces a pilsner with delicious complexity.

On the other hand you have Goose Island Four Star Pils Goose_Island-Four_Star_PilsAn Anheuser-Busch ImBev production that is a rather mediocre take, seeking I think, to appeal to the hoppy palates of younger drinkers. This golden pour puts emphasis on the hops grown at Elk Mountain Farm in Idaho. Which produces a beer that seems more like an India pale lager than a pilsner.

Having respect for the bohemian tradition has its benefits. Such is the case with Great Lakes Turntable Pils turntable-fixedAn excellent seasonal tribute from Ohio where nothing is out of balance.

A very good, relatively inexpensive import is Wolters Pilsener wolterswhich adheres to the German purity law, somewhat simple but lively, and quite drinkable.

From pilsener to pale lager lead to the creation of diet beer. Namely, Miller Lite-1x-1A calorie conscious cereal creation that once, many decades ago, actually put a dent in Budweiser’s market share. A disco-era creation that has recently been marketed with retro packaging. No matter. Its the same innocuous suds it has always been. In fact, the whole light beer category is for the beer doctor, liquid boredom. The only one that catches my flavorful attention is Yuengling Light.