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.
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.
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 UrquellStill 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 Helles
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 pilsnerShiner 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 which 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 An 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 An excellent seasonal tribute from Ohio where nothing is out of balance.
A very good, relatively inexpensive import is Wolters Pilsener which 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 LiteA 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.
I have a very ancient refrigerator in my house. This Norge is over sixty years old. All the plastic fixtures have broken off, so the metal shelves have disappeared, except for those found on the door. But the thing about this ancient decaying monument to American appliances is that it still works. And it is cold. So much so that storing stuff in the back can make things icy. Thus, the cold storage locker has been given a name, it is affectionately known as The Lagerator.
People who come over for a sampling session are surprised that I place bottles or cans outside the lagerator for minutes before opening. And even now, in 2016, you would be surprised how many people still drink ice cold beer, no matter what. So it was indeed a pleasure to obtain the Samuel Adams Adventures In Lager and store it in the lagerator.
This is an impressive collection. First off, there is Samuel Adams Double Black. An amped up version of their Schwartz bier style black lager. This is black bier and then some. A very lovely dark pour that has plenty of the delicious malt complexity associated with this cool cave style. Simply outstanding.
For those folks fascinated by hops, there is Ella Blanc India Pale Lager. Which is a very good example of the creative possibilities produced by the brewers of the Boston Beer Company. Here is a hop showcase for their lager yeast, using Australian Ella hops along with Hallertau Blanc hops from Germany, creating many flavor notes that are surprisingly complex. The body and texture is quite good, utilizing pale malts and flaked oats to tasty advantage.
Keeping it real, as it is said in modern vernacular, there is Double Pilsner. This is SA’s imperial version of Samuel Adams Noble Pilsner (also included). A full bodied, tawny coloured pour, which is a loving tribute to the ancient Hallertau Mittelfrueh hop. There is nothing small about this 8.6 ABV lager. Except a small reminder to proceed with delicious caution, because the alcohol is nearly invisible.
It is with great joy to see the return of Samuel Adams Double Bock. A legendary recipe in the Sam Adams portfolio. This beer is the meaning of the term liquid bread. Take me bock. Take me all the way bock. Take me way way way bock! Need I say more? I will always love this beer.
America has a tradition of running things into the ground. Anybody remember Jim Fixx? The joy of running guru headed the jogging craze until he fell over dead one day working out. Then enthusiasts started to consider walking instead.
Strangely this perception came to mind when I perused the latest batch of hop bombs, hatching out of the sprawling American brewing industry. As a beer writer, some would rightfully say ancient beer writer, I find it difficult to write about these beers. Flavourful? Yes. Often in a sledge hammer sort of way. But imaginative? Not really, in fact after I became acquainted with the citrus- bitter profile (there are so many of them) it becomes downright boring, with the buzz of high alcohol in the case of Imperial and Double IPA, off-setting any other considerations.
This is where a kind of Gresham’s Law of brewing has taken place. Just follow the money. How else can you explain all the IPA varieties being produced by Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams? Sampling their Rebel Rouser I realized the hop-forward juggernaut is unstoppable. Even the venerable Matt Brewing Company has succumbed to this criteria. Why? Because that is where the money is. Ask Yuengling or Leinenkugel’s about their India Pale Lagers.
So it is pointless to seek out and provide coverage for those expensive grapefruit-citrus-bitter concoctions rolling out of America’s breweries nearly everyday. Thankfully there are still malt forward beers being produced, but they have become more difficult to find. Take Bell’s Consecrator Dopplebock Easily one of the best American dopplebocks available. An expertly used old world yeast lets this malty spring tribute speak for itself.
Here in Cincinnati, the pride of its Germanic roots shines in Christian Moerlein Emancipator Dopplebock
An easy drinking celebration to the end of Prohibition, this modestly strong (6.9%) beer is a beautiful reminder that the spring bock tradition is still alive and well. Bock your house tonight.
But things like bock, dopplebock, brown ale, black bier, milk stout, are no longer in vogue. Bitter citrus tropical have become the vocabulary of the craft beer wunderkinds. Am I crying in my beer? Yes I am. So many recipes are coarse and shallow. Sadly, so many will purchase this outlook (session IPA anyone?) and will never know what truly great beer actually tastes like. So much for all this hoppy mediocrity.