Winter Solstice 2015 is here. I consider this my favorite winter holiday because this is the holiday that existed before religions and corporations monetized all merry making. Speaking of money, I read today that the Breckenridge Brewery is being bought by A-B InBev, so there famous Scotch ale style Christmas Ale will soon be a part of their vast portfolio, as if the acquisition of SAB Miller and all their other brewery purchases is not enough. But of course it is not. Capitalism has its own twisted logic, which was aptly explained by the late, famous show trial lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, who said: “We live by the golden rule. Those with the gold rule.”
But the creation of new beer continues, despite these business concerns. What better day than this, to review Anderson Valley Brewing Company Winter Solstice
It is a pleasure to see the return of this venerable Holiday ale, now given given additional freshness by being packaged in a can. This subtle wassail, with its vanilla note, is a beautiful reminder that recipes that are truly outstanding are enjoyed as an annual celebration, over several decades. Like its twin seasonal counterpart Summer Solstice, this is unmistakable Boonville beer.
Redhook Brewery who now have some production work performed in Memphis, Tennessee, have released their 31st edition of Winterhook
a winter ale with a recipe that changes year to year. This year’s #31 uses rye malt in the kettle, giving this a spicy departure from the more chocolatey versions of years past. The ale is festively good with plenty of malt and hops support.
Another winter edition that has hop heads in mind is New Belgium Accumulation White India Pale Ale where Mosaic and Amarillo hops perform their citrus magic. Although this is not exactly my choice for winter beer, this a very well made beer, designed for hop-forward drinkers seeking out aromatic bitterness.
For those who really want to go a-wassailing there is 12 Dogs Of Christmas Ale, from Thirsty Dog Brewing Company of Akron, Ohio
like Great Lakes and Anchor’s, this wassail is very well made. Very drinkable, with a (strange as it seems) very approachable complexity. An 8.3 % production that easily will enhance the merry making.
Locally, Rhinegeist has produced a collaborative golden stout with the Three Weavers Brewery of California and this PENGUIN is a very fine example of artisan creativity. My only complaints are I wish it was less expensive, and it would come in a six pack of 12 ounce bottles
Holiday/Winter beer has always been one of my favorite obsessions. Part marketing, part alchemy, the truly outstanding recipes have become a holiday tradition in their own right. An annual welcome return.It is always a supreme pleasure to experience, once again, a masterpiece of American brewing. Great Divide Hibernation Ale is such an example. A dry hopped version of English-style Old Ale, this is a beer of uncompromising quality. A very dark amber pour. This winter non-wassail speaks for itself. Enough said.
I have always liked the schwarzbier style and Brooklyn Insulated Dark Lager certainly answers the call. Rich in malt flavors it maintains the viscosity associated with this very drinkable style, whether it is Kostritzer, Saranac Black Forest, or Shiner No. 97. This is a welcome addition to the Brooklyn winter portfolio.
This is a dark amber pour with a spicy nose that announces that this is an unmistakeable wassail. A very festive (8%) ale indeed. This seems especially designed for beer drinkers who are not afraid of interesting juxtapositions between the malts and spices. There is no doubt: Christmas time is here.
Known in the United States as Warsteiner Winter Special Edition, this is imported to Warsteiner USA in West Chester, Ohio, which made this a deliciously fresh sample. A German reinheitsgebot contribution to the Winter/Holiday collection. This is an easy drinking, malt showcase lager, brewed with soft water, and given hop and hop extract support. Well worth an exploration or two.
A local holiday favorite for the Beer Doctor. This holiday amber has a direct simplicity, further realized in the very pleasant finish. It also reveals how brewing in Cincinnati has evolved in the 21st century.
Another great example of a Cincinnati artisan seasonal. This very dark coloured spiced take on the Scotch Ale style has an unmistakeable flavor profile. A full depth charge of malts and spices reminds me that I no longer live in the 20th century.
This was a bit of an unorthodox shock when I first sampled this, several years ago.Since then, I have grown to love this holiday dunkelweizen. Mostly because it is living proof that a creative brewery has its own distinctive personality. Peaches and Pecans? Who would have thought? This is both festive and unusual.
Another American classic, Bell’s Christmas Ale is a no-nonsense Scotch ale style beer that is perfectly balanced and a perfect delight to drink. A beautiful reminder that there still is much goodness in this world.
Please pardon me for saying this, but the recent post about the M&A of A-B InBev and SABMiller was for the beer doctor downright depressing. Why? Because all it means for beer lovers like myself is that we will see yet another increase in the price of beer, for no other reason than to make these avaricious business types take even more of our god damn money, while simultaneously, forcing many good folks to lose their jobs, in the holy name of streamline efficiency. It may be an early Christmas for the shareholders, but for everybody else, it is just more difficulties.
I take solace in the fact that the creation of beer is far greater than these counting-house concerns.
A prime example of this, is the re-appearance of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2015 Now brewed in California and North Carolina, this new world holiday classic remains one of the very best. Its hop signature is Sierra Nevada’s IPA contribution to the holiday/winter portfolio. Their hop-centric concerns are now manifest in all kinds of artisan brewing creations.
Which I should not be surprised that America’s oldest brewery now makes a seasonal version of this approach, in Yuengling IPL Which is a very hop-forward lager. What I enjoy about this one is the raw (some would say harsh) profile of the hops. A showcase for Cascade, Citra, Belma and Bravo hops, combined with Pale and Munich malts, and given a lively twist through the use of Yuengling’s house lager yeast. This is a powerfully flavoured 5% beer.
As November is halfway to December, I have come to realize after many years of sampling, that the best way to enjoy Great Lakes Christmas Aleis to drink this as fresh as possible. This legendary Midwestern wassail is truly a fantastic recipe. It is no wonder that people in Cleveland line up to experience the first tasting.
When it comes to the granddaddy of American wassail,ageing is not important. The 41st. edition of Anchor’s Our Special Ale is a kind of return to those earlier versions of their Christmas ale where the emphasis was on the malts, dialling back a bit on the spicy complexity, this dark brown (nearly black) pour has a subtle nose, and an almost stout like body. Beautifully balanced, this signature beer could have only come from the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year indeed.
Concerning the A-B InBev SABMiller merger, let me say that although the subject involves the production of beer, this is not about beer. It is all about money. Which is par for the course whenever speculative Wall street and entities such as JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs become involved. Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev summed it all up with: “We believe this combination will generate significant growth opportunities and create enhanced value to the benefit of all stakeholders.” Envisioning this merger as a way to create “one of the world’s leading consumer products companies.”
The go-ahead for giving birth to this behemoth was made possible when the two largest shareholders of SABMiller , Altria the tobacco giant that once owned Miller Brewing when it was called Phillip Morris, and the Santa Domingo family of Colombia agreed to the merger, with a discount of the stock’s cash price, which was done, the New York Times observed, “in order to avoid a huge tax bill from the sale of their holdings.”
In order to pass through U.S. regulatory hoops, the Miller brand in North America will be bought by MolsonCoors. Making Miller Lite and Coors LIght under their control. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out: “taking complete control of MillerCoors would still benefit Molson, which could cut as much as $500 million in costs from the joint venture by eliminating breweries along the US-Canada border, reducing staff and improving procurement, according to analysts.”
The WSJ should know. Just ask the staff at National Geographic, when Rupert Murdoch bought their company.
Why the merger? The two main reasons cited are that A-B InBev wants to have greater presence in the continent of Africa and that they want to get a presence in China, with that holiest crown jewel of beer sales, the number one in volume, SNOW.
The purchase of the SABMiller portfolio involves an accumulation of a huge chunk of world beer culture, something that the money driven mainstream media tend to ignore. What will become of Dogbolter dark lager, the Australian beer dry hopped with cascade hops? What are the plans for Rhino Lager, Zambia’s “the pride of the copperbelt“, or St. Louis from Botswana. Will Impala the cassava based beer in Mozambique, undergo a reformulation? What about Trophy in Nigeria? Or Sheaf Stout in Australia, will they still use Nelson Sauvin hops in Fat Yak Ale?
Breweries from Romania, Slovakia, Peru, Columbia, Honduras, El Salvador, Italy, India, Hungary, Canary Islands, Uganda, Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic, are involved. If you do not believe that there will many people who will lose their jobs, then obviously you are puffing on a Neoliberal pipe dream.
Although there are less than 250 pages of text in William Bostwick’s The Brewer’s Tale, A history of the world according to beer, it is quite remarkable how many undiscovered facts are found in this book. It might be considered somewhat of a hybrid between the writings of Charlie Papazian and the late Alan Eames, in its focus to make sense of the world’s oldest beverage. But what sets Mr. Bostwick’s report apart from other encyclopedic reporting, is that he is also a home brewer, which gives his understanding of the subject a humility arrived at through his personal recipe experimentations that often involves subsequent failure, to achieve the desired results. As a beer writer of 20 years, I understand its one thing to write about beer, but quite another to create the product you are writing about. William Bostwick bridges that divide.
The Brewer’s Tale is very extensive covering the many facets of brewing production. From artisan startups to global behemoths, Bostwick makes it quite clear that brewing beer, whatever the size of production, is first and foremost a business, and it has been this way for many centuries. But also, as a home brewer, he has witnessed the poetic alchemy of its creation. Which gives this book a very readable, poetic center.
For myself, he touches my home base with his discussion of Maris Otter barley, a winter-harvested malt that is a personal favorite. First developed in 1966, its use vanished in the last decade of the 20th century, only to be revived in 2002 (to my Brooklyn Winter Ale delight).
Bostwick is also kind to point out that the great Fuller’s London Pride use of Maris Otter is one of the reasons it is so admired. The book also strikes a balance between tradition and modernity, quoting a brewmaster at Fuller’s, John Keeling, who said: “some people think that the best way is the traditional way. No. Making consistent beer is about making small adjustments”.
But those adjustments, in the case of mega brewing can be quite life changing. As Bostwick discovered after meeting hop farmer John Segal Jr., when his Yakima valley farm lost its contract to produce Willamettes for Anheuser Busch, after it became A-B INBEV.
William Bostwick does an admirable job covering the history of hops, pointing out that East Kent Goldings in British ale, are “the spring-green jewel in pale ale’s crown”. Coverage of that mother of American invention, pumpkin ale, is given proper historical context, with the home brewer working on a batch of his own. (With that in mind, I wonder if Mr. Bostwick has sampled Schlafly Pumpkin Ale? An outstanding recipe that uses Polish Marynka hops.)
The Brewer’s Tale recognizes greatness in beer, mentioning Westvleteren XII and Affligem’s “equally stellar beer” brewed by Heineken, which caused me to recall Affligem Pater’s Vat Christmas Ale a holiday treat produced 18 years ago, when dry-hoping in Belgium brewing was quite rare.
In fact, Bostwick’s The Brewer’s Tale is often a reconteur delight in explaining the industrialization of porter, the use of the Sierra Nevada torpedo, along with the archaeological ramifications of ancient culture from Sumeria and nearly everywhere else. There is an optimism in this report that obliterates both snobbery and bland cynicism that all beer is the same. A kind of testament I found on the August Schell website. where America’s second oldest family own brewery states: WE Repeatedly Introduce New Beer Varieties Under The Simple Truth: The World Can Never Have enough beer.
That is why I have always said there is no such thing as too much beer. The brewers Know it is a continuous work in progress.
The reinheitsgebot purity law has been deemphasized of late because of the expansion of breweries has also expanded experimentation, where unusual ingredients are employed to create unique flavor profiles. Thus, you have beers brewed with all kind of things: from green tea, to Wheaties, to the juice of blood oranges. This is of course, all very interesting, but this does not change the fact that brewing the Bavarian way, can produce some spectacular, time-tested results.
Take for example The Hudepohl Pure Lager Beer. The Hudepohl Brewery’s latest example from their pure beer series . This is kind of a local update to the series which began with their Amber Lager Which now is being brewed in Cincinnati, rather than contract brewed in Wilkes-Barre, Pa, or La Crosse, Wi. Being brewed locally embraces the rich German brewing heritage of the city. A culture nearly destroyed after World War One, when a nationalistic phobia demonized all things German, including former President Theodore Roosevelt, who called for the banning of the German language, from being taught in schools. Combine this with the intolerance of the Temperance crowd, who demanded prohibition and got it.
It has been a struggle to restore our local brewing heritage which Christian Moerlein, Hudepohl, Samuel Adams, Reingeist, Mad Tree, and Rivertown among others, are bringing about.
The Hudepohl Pure Lager Beer has dialed back a bit of the amber colour to produce a more golden pour. And what a pour it is! I am sure part of my perception was due to this being a very fresh sample, but after tasting this, I would say that this is a local reinheitsgebot masterpiece. A delicious, beautiful, easy drinking beer.
The opposite of fresh, there is the vintage 2014 Avery Twenty One An anniversary edition, imperial India style brown ale. Even after a year and five months in the bottle, this reinheitsgebot ale is a cascading dark pour that forms a meringue-like head of foam that stays rocky and thick throughout. This brown ale reveals the sustaining power of Amarillo and Simcoe hops in a vintage setting. The dark malts employed give this a profile that I first experienced many years ago, when the now defunct New Amsterdam Brewery introduced what they called IDA, or India Dark Ale. Twenty One is one of those rare American beers, where the essential four ingredients perform their combined alchemy: peppery, spicy, licorice-anise like etc. It is for me, certainly worth seeking out. A peaceful liquid tribute for expanding my global brewing consciousness.
I finally was able to experience Saranac Legacy IPA A golden pour with obvious quality foam. This is an expertly made American IPA, where emphasis is placed on subtle flavor variations, rather than over-the-top extreme bitterness. A historical recipe that reveals F.X. Matt’s significance as a regional family owned brewery, still going strong in its third century.Their Saranac Octoberfest Is a bright copper-colored pour, with an inviting malty nose. A solid take of the marzen Munich style, with Saphir and Perle hops proving support for the 2-Row and Crystal malts.
This is Octoberfest is spelled with a c because Francis Xavier Matt wanted only English to be spoken at the brewery. This was a case of assimilation: a new language in a new land.
Their Dark-tober(fest)German style lager appeals to this beer drinker because I favor beer with a malt emphasis. A dark pour that has the rich malt flavors I welcome, with outstanding body. What else needs to be said? Munich, Caramunich, Pilsner, and Dark Munich malts are supported by Magnum, and Hallertau Mittelfrum hops.
Then, finally, there is Weihenstephaner Festbier It will come as a bit of a shock to those who think German beer is either amber or dark. This very light golden pour with a botanical nose, comes from the world’s oldest brewery. Here is where the reinheitsgebot quality is in full swing. Especially because the Weihenstephaner house yeast provides a mysterious transformation to the Bavarian malts and hops.
When it comes to the market selection of beer, the casual consumer, as Norman Miller has pointed out, can very easily be overwhelmed by the new varieties that appear on a weekly basis. But of course that is also the best part of being the beer doctor, and after 20 years of professional study, I am simply amazed by how the subject of beer has evolved, in all its myriad forms.
One thing is now obvious to me. Pumpkin beer, like Oktoberfest and Harvest Ale, has become a permanent part of the fall season portfolio, despite those beer tasters who loath it. A quick perusal of the selection available in grocery stores reveals, even to non-beer seekers, that there is an obvious market for this style of beer.
New Belgium Pumpkick Ale is a good example of the Fort Collins brewery’s inventive originality. A bronze-gold coloured pour, with an unfamiliar nose to an unfamiliar palate, where the usual spices associated with pumpkin ale, are given a tart twist through the use of cranberry juice. A Halloween beer to be sure.
Oktoberfest season of course is in full swing and it was a pleasure to sample this year’s Abita Oktoberfest The Louisiana brewery’s take on Marzen is an excellent example of the many variations possible. Here Munich and Crystal malts are given hop (and dry hop) support from Hallertau hops, providing a nut-like profile that has a touch of anise in the semi-dry finish.
From an early contributor of the North Carolina artisan brewing renaissance, there is Highland Brewing Clawhammer Oktoberfest Lager A thoroughly delicious take on the style. Roasted malts given full hop support make this an easy drinking beer. At 5%abv, this Clawhammer (named after the mountain found in western North Carolina) is enjoyable from start to finish.
After reviewing Schlafly Pumpkin Ale recently, I have now had a chance to sample Schlafly TIPA a special release in time for fall. This is a golden rocky headed pour, with a very subtle nose.
The use of Galaxy and Topaz hops from Australia give this IPA a unique profile. A very mellow approach that does not reveal its 7.2% strength. In other words: there is nothing boozy about this, The two hops combined with a single pale malt, using an American ale yeast make this a rather nectar-like presentation.