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: 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 A 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 isanother lesson in what the word drinkability actually means.
Rhinegeist’s Fiction This 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 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 This big double bock embraces its historic tradition without any apology.
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.
I was amused to read reviews of Flying Dog’s Double Dog Double IPA where tasters complained about the boozy quality of the production. In this day and age when breweries pop up like unannounced new flowers on a continuous basis, it would be good to remember the wisdom imparted by Fritz Maytag long ago, when he reminded The Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, that breweries have their own personalities.
This is certainly true of the Flying Dog Brewery, whose original roots were set down in Woody Creek, Colorado, where the founder, George Stanahan, befriended the late writer Hunter S. Thompson, who in turn introduced him to the British surrealist illustrator of his published works: Ralph Steadman. It is artwork by Mr. Steadman that graces the covers of Flying Dog beers, often bizarre depictions of dogs to illustrate beers with titles like: Gonzo Imperial Porter, Horn Dog, Dogtoberfest, K-9, The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale, and Raging Bitch.
This tawny coloured pour with a malty nose is a bit of a surprise for what is called a double India pale ale. A big time imperial ale at 11.5%, this has that lupulin warrior niche that many who drink this style, are often not even conscious of. Boozy? Yes, like many examples in the Flying Dog portfolio, but what should you expect from a brewery that embraced Hunter Thompson’s love of drink and firearms: “Good People Drink Good Beer.”
Of course many a state liquor control board could not understand the humor of the labels. With Double Dog, you have the use of copious amount of caramel malt combined with over-the top amounts of hops. Not exactly my cup of beer, but nevertheless, the execution of this recipe is outstanding.
I first sampled this delicious ale when it was still being produced in Colorado. In those days, the expression “when in doubt, go flat out” was used.It was removed from the label after the Nine Eleven catastrophe.
Raging Bitch is another boozy production of Belgian yeast combined with American hoppy sensibility. Steadman’s notes on this label helps to explain what is going on.
I sampled this just before Cinco de Mayo. Numero Uno is tasty alternative to the one-dimensional Bud Light Lime. Cactus Juice has proven useful in beer designed for warm weather, whether it is Sierra Nevada Otra Vez or Shiner Prickly Pear.
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.