A funny thing happened when I contacted the Breckenridge Brewery, via email, concerning the ingredients found in their Christmas Ale. All of this got started when I happened to read a few misinformed tasting notes on the Beer Advocate website, where tasters noted with approval, how well the beer blended cinnamon and other spices; actually treating this all malt Holiday beer as if it were a wassail!
Since a plethora of misinformation is available these days, online and elsewhere, I felt it was not a good idea to confuse a beer seeking novice who just might be interested in purchasing some Breckenridge Christmas Ale., but would like to know more about it. So despite knowing that spices are not a part of the formula, I nevertheless contacted Breckenridge Brewery and received this response from Terry Usry:
“I’m forwarding your email to the brewmaster to respond. I’d like for you to get your answer straight from the source!”
Nevermind that the last thing I wished to do was trouble some very busy brewmaster with an inane question that I already knew the answer to. Thank heaven the industry devoted newsletter Brewbound, provided some info- source validation:
“Breckenridge Brewery does not add spice to to Christmas Ale, rather the spicy characteristics come from the Chinook and Mt. Hood hops.”
I have sampled Breckenridge for 18 years. A Beer Doctor personal favorite, I have always loved the Scottish wee heavy aspect of this 7.1% presentation. Combined with those select spicy hops, this recipe is a malty Holiday classic. One which I hope to continue to consult, every new holiday season.
This year, for the winter Holiday celebrations, I am hoping to return to some seasonal classics, along with trying some new exciting additions, which I hope to obtain in the next few adventurous weeks. In fact. it is that adventure of discovery which has provided continual inspiration for continuing work as The Beer Doctor. And despite my rather silly complaints about the over-saturation of particular styles of beer, the truth is, every so often, I manage to find a recipe which restores my love for the art and technical mastery required in the brewing process. Creative brewing is a wonderfully human, endless activity.
If beer be the drum of love
Tasting memorable beer is something I do not forget. Not only do I recall the first tasting moment, but also the time and context in which the beer was imbibed. Thus, I recall the first time I had Anchor’s Our Special Ale. It was the 17th edition. I equally recall the first time I drank August Schell Plisner. This was before the Samuel Adams Brewery existed. In those early, pre-craft days, seeking non mass produced golden lager meant buying beers from another part of the country or world. There was for example that Affligem Noel tasted one Christmas eve, providing me early exposure to the estery magic of Belgian yeast.
In those days, the time and energy spent obtaining those rarities, are stories for another time.
This year I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the world class quality of the Rhinegeist/Sun King collaboration Emergency Malt Kit This magnificent 100 Schilling Scottish Style Ale reminds me that Cincinnati seems poised to resume its position as a vital Midwestern brew hub city. And that is not a bad thing. Emergency Malt Kit obtains its rich flavor by employing 2 row, Aromatic, Abbey, Special B and Chocolate malts, combined with Bravo and Boadicea hops.
In the case of Emergency Malt Kit, the Scottish yeast contribute to the spicy complexity of the malts. Creating a dark chocolate note in a surprisingly dry finish.
When it comes to beer exhibited as a malt showcase, well this is the stuff malt dreams are made of especially in the deep of winter. This limited release Emergency Malt Kit is not about coveting, in my opinion. This collaboration in cans is a celebratory event for a quite tasty, local, holiday seasonal that should be consumed, the sooner the better. Cheers!
No, this is not about the penis or erectile dysfunction. This is about the recent uproar concerning Richard L. “Dick” Yuengling support for Donald Trump. It seems that certain Hillary supporters are outraged that the Yuengling brewery owner would, as one disgruntled drinker said, “actually support that monster”. Which is hilarious when you have any knowledge of the political concerns of America’s oldest family owned brewery.
Dick Yuengling’s concerns jibe quite well with his fellow billionaire’s vision of an America where organized labor and even the EPA, should not even exist. The $10 million fine levied against the Pennsylvania brewer for discharging industrial wastewater into the Schuylkill river for 8 years, was, in the Dick way of looking at things, a perfect example of unneccessary government interference. So were the $6.6 million in back taxes owed to Philadelphia in 2013. Unfair, Dick protested, he didn’t want to enable Philadelphia’s inefficiency.
The same could be said of the Yuengling family efforts to have decertification of the Teamsters union at their Pottsville facilities. Unless the union was shown the door, Dick threatened to move the entire operation to a right to work state. Employees quickly became conscious that their jobs were on the line, and obliged the brewing padrone’s wishes.
The reason I found the recent outrage rather comical, is because there is nothing particularly new about hard nose brewery owners’ political views. Take the late Joseph Coors, supporter of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, whose his own brother William described as having politics that were “little bit right of Attila the hun”. The Joseph who at one point donated $65,000 to buy a light cargo plane for the Contras, during what could be described as the troubles in Nicaragua.
Or consider the Anheuser-Busch family of companies support for The Partnership For A Drug Free America. The conclusion was quite clear: Bud that you drink is good! Bud that you smoke is bad!
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.
First a review: Red 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:Sierra 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 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.
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 2016 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 Lager 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 LagerRemains 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 Oktoberfestis 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
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 OktoberfestA 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.
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. 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.
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.