All posts by beerdoctor

Thomas Rowe aka The Beer Doctor is a writer, musician and visual artist who has been a passionate seeker of fine beers for over twenty years.

Ramblings From The Beer Doctor


Concerning Samuel Adams

The continuing dip in sales volume at the Boston Beer Company has brought tears and lamentations amongst the stock holders on Wall St.  Jim Koch, whom many consider to be one of the founding fathers of the craft beer revolution, complained that the federal government assisted in this demise, by allowing the big boys such as: AB-I, Molson-Coors, to use their considerable economic muscle to dominate shelf space, through mergers and acquisitions and faux craft brew branding. This is a bit of a change in the position of Mr. Koch who only a few years ago said his company was ready to compete on that larger global market, where not only Bud Light, but Heineken and Dos Equis abide.

But this was before the craft brew industry shot itself in the foot, when it collectively decided that overtly hopped beer. in the form of American IPA would become the primary focus of new productions. In many cases this has become a boring set of variations on the same damn theme: double IPA, triple IPA, IPA infused with fruit juice, IPA brewed with flour to enhance a Cloudy IPA, etc. Here is where Samuel Adams fell into that marketing trap. I recall tasting their strong Rebel Rouser IPA and wondered how in the world that a company that perfected one of the world’s great Vienna ambers, Samuel Adams Lager, could now produce this brutal, vegetal monster? I can not even imagine Jim Koch drinking this.

If the Boston Beer Company wants to sell more beer, here are a few suggestion from a lowly beer drinker, who has no financial skin in the game:
First, stop believing that seasonal beers require having natural flavors added. Perhaps it is time to abandon the Saigon Cinnamon infused Winter Lager, with a straight up dunkel weizen bock. The Summer Ale should be retired, a white bier variation is just not good enough.
Second, lower the price of Samuel Adams Lager. It should compete with Yuengling Traditional Amber. It should be available in 18 pack cans. Boston Beer Company has to decide whether they make beer for a diminishing elite market or for everybody else.

The Return Of Pilsner

Pilsner or Pilsener, has been a much aligned style by beer snobs in the brewing industry. Southern Tier produced a beer called Euro-Trash to show their disdain. Stone Brewing and others have added their meaningless snark to a style of beer that changed the entire world. Fortunately, some brewers like Victory in Pennsylvania, always treated this historic style with the respect it deserves. primaPrima Pils is one of the very best pilsners available in the United States, and I recommend the can version, because it is a remarkably fresh presentation.
For those who still believe a bottle is better, Bell’s Lager of the Lakes blolfits the bill quite nicely. Bell’s, a Michigan based brewery founded in the last decades of the 20th century, has great respect for tradition. This is quite apparent in this Bohemian Pilsner, where even a hop-forward recipe version of this style is supported by a substantial malt backbone.
The same can be said of Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest 2017summerfest A very well made lager that is simply a pleasure to drink. Who in the hell decided that having a beer involves a tasting struggle? If a beer does not taste good, why bother?
Locally, I have Christian Moerlein Pils cmpilsA beautiful hometown rendition that strangely is not always available.
But it is with a heavy heart that I was completely disappointed by the ridiculously expensive Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner doubleaughtThis 12 dollars plus tax six pack claims it is a tribute to the balanced light lagers of central Europe. Actually it is an almost lifeless manifestation of beer, where a thin all malt body is brewed with Hallertauer hops, and pours into a glass and becomes a completely flat, no foam at all, in less than 90 seconds. Funny that the price of this beer was the same as Bofferding Pils bofferdingA quite delicious, all natural pilsner from Luxembourg.  To be factual about the Double Aught, it was purchased straight out of a sealed case on the day it was delivered. The bottle said best before July 30, 2017. So there was no storage or light damage involved. It was just lousy beer. Let the truth be told.

The Two Kinds Of Beer

It was John Keeling of Fuller’s Brewery who said it best:

“To me there is only two kinds of beer. Beers I like and beers I don’t.”

Which sums up how I feel about the brewing industry after many decades of research. All those marketing terms about craft and can craft and all the double talk about beers being inferior because of adjunct grains, and then remarkably become outstanding when a hip brewery makes a stab at a Mexican lager.
Then of course there is the ridiculously stupid statement from Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione who said rheinheitsgebot was a centuries old art censorship law. No Mr. Sam, it was a food purity law where pork scraps were not considered to be worthy of beer production. But all of that concern for pure ingredients is behind us now, in the globalist tradition where Goose Island products can be purchased on the continent of Australia.

As far as I know, no one calls London’s Fuller’s Brewery a craft brewery, but the 172 year old brewery makes some of the finest brew in the world, in my ancient opinion. Their ESB, London Pride and 1845, I hold in highest regard. These are venerable go to beers… if you are lucky enough to find them.

When Alaska Finally came around.alaska alt

For nearly a decade, the only contact I had with the Alaska Brewing Company in Juneau Alaska was being on their e-mail list where I read of merchandise and new productions to their portfolio. For quite awhile Alaska Brewing beers were only available on parts of the west coast. So like a thirsty beer gorilla I look through the bars of my logistical cage, wondering what their rauchbier Smoked Porter actually tasted like. Then recently I saw a reasonably priced 12 pack of their Amber Alt Ale ($16, tax included) which was and is a can beer I have been waiting for. Unlike many flagship ambers, that are usually variations on Vienna lager, Alaska Amber is the old ale style usually associated with the Westphalia region of Germany. Top fermented at a cooler temperature, the recipe is an adaptation from The Douglas City Brewing Company of over 100 years ago, when thirsty miners needed a beer with substance.

One of the best local beers is marketed as a baseball season novelty.

I can not express how much I have enjoyed the Braxton Brewery’s 1957 All Star Ale1957-Can-300x270Their wonderful take on an English mild. A limited specialty release, which is sad, because this is a great recipe that I would love to see brewed throughout the year. The baseball marketing with the Crosley field cracker jack analogy simply gets in the way.

Now to a beer I do not care for. pacer
Christian Moerlein Pacer Pale Ale is a Citra dry hopped ale designed to accentuate the fruit characteristic of this hop. It is well done, but as John Keeling reminded me, it is a beer I have no desire to drink again.
Again thank you, from an ancient taster.
The Beer Doctor

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