The Confusion of Truth

Face it, most of the major brewing companies have become in essence, beverage manufacturers. So it is not all that surprising that many of the new beers offered are essentially fruit infused concoctions.sidecar A phenomena that extends across many brewing styles, from IPA to Stout to Helles to Porter: Reinheitsgebot be damned! For someone like myself, who loves the purity of recipe and tradition, this is indeed a sorry state of affairs, partially brought on by the unrelenting demand of the capitalist system to always sell more product, whatever that product is.
samjuice It would come as a bit of a shock for those who still buy into the illusion of craftiness to discover that the concerns at a board meeting of Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, or Anheuser-Busch InBev have very much in common when it comes to the sales of their products. Add to that the Big Board demands of the stock market,  and it is not difficult to grasp that much of the essential aspects of brewing culture, will be surrendered in the name of increased sales. At this point marketing becomes a holy essential, which is why Boston Beer was deeply disappointed  by the failure of Samuel Adams Hopscape to move as an early seasonal, which I reviewed as a pleasant wheat ale but did not tickle the flying fickle finger of fate of the consumer. Then there is the latest seasonal:Samuel-Adams-Fresh-As-Helles-960x533
Where to begin with this? It is a pleasant enough drinking experience if you enjoy having a natural flavour orange in the finish. But I fail to grasp the utility of the graphic design. Skull with orange slice eye sockets?  What looks like honey dripping down from the top of the skull? Surely, hasn’t that skeleton concept been overly used, from Rogue Dead Guy to Heavy Seas? Then there is the declarative on the carton that seems somewhat disingenuous from a company concerned with Angry Orchard cider, Coney Island hard soft drinks, and alcoholic seltzer water:

Samuel Adams was a bold & determined rebel. He masterminded the Boston Tea Party and was among the first patriots to call for American independence. He united our country in rebellion against the British Empire in pursuit of the American dream. Oh, and he was also a brewer. We proudly named our beer after this hero.

The “Oh, and he was also a brewer” seems to me to encompass the cynical attitude so prevalent these days. Never mind that the billionaire titans of the beverage industry will use patriotic gimmicks to sell more product until the numbers drop. Now repeat after me: I do believe in craft beer, I do, I do, I do!

A Text Driven Dinosaur

As a note on this website I recently received a comment from magic plus white cream that suggested that this blog is good, but could benefit from great graphics or videos to give the text more “pop”. As magic plus white cream put it: “Your content is excellent”  but with the addition of more graphics and video clips , beerdoctor’s website “could undeniably be one of the most beneficial in the niche.”
Well first and foremost, for better or worse, I am a writer, and one of the most important objectives in creating this archive, is to encourage others to increase their reading. Which I hope, in my own tiny way, is being accomplished here at beerdoctor.wordpress.com., where images are sometimes used to assist the text, for encyclopedic or geographic purpose. In other words: the text is the thing. A small gift to the unknown reader.

Of The Braxton Brewing Company

The Braxton Brewing Company is a Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati contribution to the local brewing scene. Canning their recipes in Covington Kentucky. the first one I sampled turned out to be a personal favorite: storm2x-220x300 which I was somewhat surprised to see it referred to as “A traditional American lawnmower beer”. The lawnmower designation has been around for decades in places like All About Beer magazine, which I never particularly agreed with, even back in the last century. The Cream Ale style is a North American hybrid invention that deserves more respect  (Does anyone remember Cinci Cream Lager? or does anyone want the handsome waiter?) Nevertheless, Storm Golden Cream Ale is an absolutely delicious beer.
Then there is the collaboration of Braxton with Graeter’s ice cream. Graeter’s has been given divine approval from no less than Oprah Winfrey, giving the brand a glowing national endorsement. Whether or not this justifies the high prices of their products, is best left to the consumer to decide. As to the milk stout brewed by Braxton, staying true to its super premium pedigree: 267496 the price of this beer in Ohio, with tax included, comes to $2.66 for a twelve ounce can. This milk stout,  a type of ale brewed with lactose sugar, has plenty of black raspberry flavor all across the palate. The chocolate chip presence seems quite dark, especially combined with the black raspberry. Not overtly sweet, it hides its alcohol strength well, at 7% abv. As a milk stout this is quite a departure from the classic Mackeson’s XXX Stout, that alas, has been absorbed by the Anheuser-Borg InBev portfolio, where resistance is futile.
Then there is Dead Blow Tropical Stout 161540 A very dark brown pour (almost black) with a red undertone visible in bright light, with a subtly rich nose.
Brewed with macerated dates, this is an interesting take on tropical stout. What is tropical stout? This is a style of stout that originated, or was created for, in Asia. The Lion from Sri Lanka is probably the most famous example, considered by many to be the benchmark of the style. Dead Blow has a distinctive smoothness and a finish I would say, can be attributed to the yeast strain utilized at Braxton. A very tasty departure from a style of stout first brewed in places like old Ceylon.

It Was Worth It

To be precise, I do not own an automobile, nor a license to drive one. So in order for me to obtain certain beers that either I have read about or basically been made aware of, I sometimes have to use the Metro and make a bus trip clear across town. Mind you, I am not complaining about this. Over the many years as a beer seeker (which by the way, is the reason the late great writer Michael Jackson called himself The Beer Hunter) I have often gone to extraordinary lengths to satisfy my obsessive curiosity. Call it adventures in beer.

Despite the tremendous growth of breweries in the United States. the problem of obtaining samples still remain. But a recent pleasant odyssey reminded this beer doctor that such efforts, are certainly worth the trouble.

First to the birthday beer: s-l300  Shiner’s 108th Birthday celebration is a collaborative effort with Chameleon Cold-Brew of Austin. A dark brown pour with an inviting malty nose, and solid foam retention. This is an easy drinking coffee ale. Another delightful surprise from the Spoetzl Brewery, where their one time only commemorative recipes have become legendary.

I am happy to see Great Lakes Brewing add Turntable Pils to their year round portfolio greatlakeA very tasty Czech-style pilsner that hits all the right notes. Crisp and very refreshing.

The same can be said of Victory Brewing’s Prima Pils This fresh can version isprimaanother lesson in what the word drinkability actually means.

Rhinegeist’s Fiction rhinegeist_fictionThis is a concept ale that for myself, misses the mark. By that I mean I have encountered other recipes that make use of New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops in a more interesting way. Nevertheless the use of a Belgian yeast strain gives this production a twist. What might be normally considered a Belgian golden ale is given a southern hemisphere detour, producing all kinds of of tropical citrus notes  (which seems to be all the rage these days). Unfortunately the extreme dry finish becomes a bitter  reminder that does not go away. It is said to be somewhat sessionable (that silly word again) but I found this to be a bit of a chore to drink.

On the other hand Rhinegeist Hans 16110770_1547608518589009_5836936773753634816_n  is a style of beer I have always enjoyed. A golden coloured Vienna style lager. This has the nutty malt profile this type of beer is famous for. Nicely balanced with soft doughy notes. This is a very good beer I will certainly buy again.

The traditional side of my beer drinking nature reminds me that we are moving into the season of Bock. An original craft style (before the word craft was even used). What better reminder of the liquid bread approach is Troegs Troegenator beer_13174This big double bock embraces its historic tradition without any apology.

Cheers!

Before The Closing Of The Year

As the year of the improbable comes to a tumultuous close, I thought it best to remain with my tried and true and new, revisiting beers I first sampled  in the last century, along with some exciting new offerings.
First there is my beloved Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout946998l-jpgA Russian Imperial Style Stout, I first encountered in a case of Meet The Brooklyn Family which was a case sampler consisting of a six pack each of East India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, pre-prohibition Lager, and of course BCS. Which was a remarkable occurrence at the time, since it was purchased in Kentucky since the draconian alcohol laws in Ohio made it verbotten to obtain beer that was over 6% at that time.
To be honest, tasting Black Chocolate Stout for the first time was a complete revelation. I had sampled Irish stouts, and milk stout, but this was a royal stout on an entire new playing field. The amount of material required to produce this beer is a testament to a brew of uncompromising character. So it was with great pleasure to see this legendary recipe available in a six pack (four bottle is simply not enough). For those who have never tasted this, be prepared to experience a beer whose origins date back to England in the 19th century.  A stout that was exported to Czarist Russia. To put it precisely, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is a truly great beer, a recipe still relevant in 2016 and beyond.

Another old friend found its way to my door, via Boonville, California. and the solar powered Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Winter Solstice37830l-jpgA wonderful ale I first encountered in the last decade of the 20th century. Always seeking information I actually made a long distance telephone call to ABVC and talked to a brewer to make sure the beer was wassail, which of course it was and is. What is remarkable about the flavor profile of this ale, I could identify this delicious offering in a blind taste test. The same could be said of their unique Summer Solstice, a rare summer wassail.

Although I have complained about hop obsessed creations, my bias did not prevent me from sampling New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPAnew-belgium-voodoo-ranger-imperial-ipa

A dark golden pour with a dense head of white foam, with a strong botanical nose. Not boozy exactly, more like botanically boozy, which anyone who has explored American IPA has experienced . But this Voodoo Ranger is surprisingly complex. There are plenty of citrus notes, along with what could possibly be described as a honeydew melon sherbet like quality. A 9% ale without any alcohol burn. This is very interesting sipping.

Samuel Adams Hopscapehopscapeis the result of all the interest in west coast hops in the last few years. This is a hop showcase wheat ale that is a delicious pleasure to drink. Drinking this, I am reminded what a wonderful world this actually is.

That Time Of Year Again

Where to begin? In 2016, what can accurately be described as the year of the improbable the festive celebration of Holiday beer continues unabated. The tried and true, along with the new, provides a tasting experience of unprecedented variety. As my beloved late father might say: there was never a better time.
For the new, I would first like to thank the excellent beer writer Peter Rowe of The San Diego Union Tribune, who sent me his impressions of a beer I have been seeking for the last two years, and that is Xocoveza from Stone Brewing stone-2016-xocoveza-12-ounce-bottleAn incredible leap of faith take on a Mexican inspired, winter spiced mocha stout. It is a One-of-a-kind recipe, with its own very special idea of what a smooth finish should be to a chile infused ale. With an enormous body, this stout’s complexity somehow manages  to be very soothing at the same time. Delicious all the way through to a malty rich, dark dry finish.

This year, Anchor’s “Our Special Ale” is the 42 edition, which is my 25th year of sampling this Granddad of American Holiday wassail merry-xmas tradition. This year’s version is also the strongest at 6.5% abv. The spruce-like elements long associated with this malt forward recipe give the palate an orange dark chocolate note. An outstanding un-compromised recipe where the word craft actually has meaning, reminding me why I started exploring the world of beer in the first place.

Something I have grown to love is the annual return of Shiner Holiday Cheercheer_6pk_background__largeSpoetzl Brewery’s unique take on a dunkleweizen that employs peaches and pecans. A lovely off center take on holiday festivities. I was somewhat shocked the first time I tasted this, but in subsequent years, it has become an unmistakable, tried and true friend.

Dogfish Head’s Pennsylvania Tuxedodogfish-head-pennsylvania-tuxedo-bottleDemonstrates that experimentation with spruce tips can produce a pale ale that hides its 8.5% strength with a tangy, citrus like palate that finishes wonderfully dry. Outstanding.

New graphics adorn the venerable Samuel Adams Winter Lagersam-adams-winter-lager

Alway delicious here in a city where it is brewed. The hipper-than-thou crowd might disparage this brew, but do not believe it. This has been a quality beer for a very long time. As TV’s Maury would say: “Unitl next time America!”
With best holiday regards,
The Beer Doctor

Mister Fauxpo’s Early Christmas

I only have to blame myself for what happened. I had seen this before. Mr. Fauxpo had always been and would forever be the very definition of a bounder. Not good for anything accept getting loaded, he was the first at the party and the last to leave. Unfortunately for him and the people he has befriended, he often is without any personal monitor for tracking his wretched excesses. He has never understood that beer, with all its culinary connections to civilization,  is not just an alcohol delivery system. For a man of advanced age, this is downright pathetic. He often is totally oblivious to the detrimental effects he has on others.

So when he settled in for the holiday beer tasting, the only detail he was interested in was how strong each beer was. Mr. Fauxpo pretended that he was interested in the flavors of beer, like artisan brewing enthusiasts, but the reality was that this was a complete lie. Mr. Fauxpo was an any kind of beer guzzler, who also has an obsession with smoking marijuana. Not the cannabis cultivation found in those states where it is legal. No. Obtaining marijuana for Mr. Fauxpo involved travel to dangerous neighborhoods where an ugly mix of police-racial paranoia permeated the air. All of this in order to score some mediocre weed. Not that this actually mattered to Mr. Fauxpo. It was the idea of having a beer and a joint on hand at all times that provided the little comfort he had in life. Never mind that the herb he purchased was so dry, he coughed furiously with each inhalation.

So the football game was on free TV and our local team, remarkably, was actually winning. Mr. Fauxpo treated the holiday beers like they were his personal spigot: Hibernation Ale, Breckenridge Christmas Ale, Anchor Our Special Ale, Madtree Thundersnow, Emergency Malt Kit, Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Bell’s Christmas Ale, and Rhinegeist Dad were all guzzled in a quiet fury that was only revealed when Mr. Fauxpo stumbled his way over to the bathroom.
Since I do not permit smoking in my house of any kind, Mr. Fauxpo would go out to the backyard porch, where he would proceed with his fixins ritual of chopping up the dry withered buds to roll into a reefer. This process took often a half hour to perform.

The question will inevitably be asked: so why do you put up with the bastard? Well I have always had a soft spot (in my head?) for people who do not fit too well in the established world. These are dysfunctional folks whose behavioral foundations were set long ago in analog times, who now find themselves living in a bewildering digital age. Mr. Fauxpo could serve as a classic example. He depends upon his cellphone for contact with the outside world, yet is too proud or too lazy, or both, to admit he needs corrective lenses to see the data on his smart phone screen.

This quickly became an ale and safety issue. As someone who does not own a car, nor a license to drive one, the thought of this out-of-control, beer and pothead getting behind the wheel of an auto, is a distinct nightmare to say the least. What was I to do? What was suppose to be a festive season celebration became something rather ugly when Mr. Fauxpo decided, for whatever reason , to display in full, his obnoxious drunken persona. I thought: perhaps if I give him some food, like a large slice of pizza, maybe the cheese will absorb some of the alcohol.
Well he seemed somewhat reasonable when he quietly informed me he would be leaving, by way of the backyard door. I said goodbye and returned to my working area to take care of some chores.

It wan hour or so later when I went out to recycle the cans and bottles, only to find Mr. Fauxpo lying at the bottom of the three step porch, unconscious, with a bloody gash upon his head. I tried to revive him but to no avail. All I knew about his condition was he was still breathing. So then I called 911.

The Firefighter EMT and Police arrived shortly thereafter. The cops wanted to know if there had been a fight. I told them no, he had just consumed too much strong beer, fell off the back porch, unknown to me until I found him later. Looking at how busted up Mr. Fauxpo was, some of the cops suggested he might be on other drugs. So then they scanned the dark area where he fell, using their Mag flashlights. The tiny remaining crumbs of bud found  in his fixins tray were scattered to the winds, right before the constabulary arrived.

All this happened two days before Saint Nicholas Feast day. Since then I have wondered if Mr. Fauxpo’s extreme behavior was a physical manifestation of Krampus. Some gnarly holiday demon seeking to banish the idea of in cervesio felicitas.

Formula Accuracy

A funny thing happened when I contacted the Breckenridge Brewery, via email, breckcanconcerning 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
Tap on!

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 Kitrsk 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.emkprod 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!