Category Archives: american ale

The Old And The New

First off I am pleased to review a beer I consider to be one of the best beers brewed in the worldupload_icHHiw-mediumA masterpiece from Augsburg, Germany, Brauhaus Riegele’s Commerzienrat Privat is one of the most delicious fest lagers I have ever encountered. Although there are many fine examples of German brewing genius available, I put this in my go-to list as an acknowledgement to the tenacity of Luxe Brands of Monroe, Ohio for seeing fit to get this amazing imported beer on the crowded grocery store shelves, which is ironic, since this beer, available in 11.2 ounce bottled six packs, is only a dollar more than our local 12 ounce can productions.
A very serious Reinheitsgebot production, Commerzienrat Privat uses husk-separation, a labor intensive process known as Spelzentrennung, along with Brauhaus Riegele’s special lager yeast that is brewed and matured for 8 weeks, before being released.
I am not going into all that culinary babble to describe what this beer tastes like. I can only say that this beer has a nuanced botanical profile that can only be truly found in the finest examples of Bavarian brewing.
It is a bit of a throwback to see these heavy dark bottles with gold foiled wrapped bottle caps. But it is a pleasure from start to finish.

Braxton Brewing of Covington, Kentucky has released Twisted Bit,s-l300 their contribution to the Dortmunder/Export style, and it is a very good one. A rich satisfying lager with the kind of body to be expected, from this time tested German tradition. This is a great edition to the Braxton portfolio.

Despite all the craft beer hype, beer sales have been in decline for quite some time. Breweries seeking to increase volume have started packaging beer in larger formats. Thus we now see 15-packs and 30-packs to appeal to cost conscious consumers who see little virtue in buying apex priced six or four packs. So it is not too surprising that Great Lakes Brewing Co. released their Rally Drum Red Alerally-drum-allIn 12 packs of 16 ounce cans. This red ale has much in common with Cincinnati’s Christian Moerlein OTR Alechristian-moerlein-brand1A valuable reasonably priced beer. Both of these beers are 5.8% abv. The OTR has an IBU rating of 40, while Rally Drum is 45, giving Rally Drum a slightly more bitter dry finish. Both of these very good beers (OTR proud brewing in Cincinnati, and Rally Drum brewed by Harpoon Brewing in Boston, MA) are excellent choices where quantity and quality are not a separate consideration.


More Autumn Adventures

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 Alepumpkick  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 OktoberfestlOctoberfestBottle 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 Lagerclawhammer 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 TIPAlTIPABottle 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.

The Return Of New Albion Ale

To put it in the chef’s language: this is a beer of love moment. Created with thoughtful respect for brewing tradition, by none other than Jim Koch of Samuel Adams, for the pioneering efforts of microbrewer Jack McAuliffe, founder of the short lived New Albion Brewing Company, credited for starting up artisan brewing in the United States, which, in the nearly 40 years since, has blossomed into a full scale industry. But this was not the case in those days, when there were only 44 breweries in the entire country, and small scale brewing equipment did not exist. Obstacles that made Mr. McAuliffe not only craft his beer, but the tools required to produce it.
Much of this is being written about. There are videos of the resurrection of this recipe at the Boston Beer Company, where the retired pioneer brewer shows Jim Koch an original label bottle, that has no government warning on it. Luckily, the original yeast strain has been preserved from that time, which makes me wonder: is this the yeast used in Ballantine Ale?
Tasting this beer is a reminder that the struggle to make flavorful beer is no accident. A small group of individuals were determined to not live out their days drinking beer without character. That determination continues to expand.
As for this revival, the beer itself is remarkable for its simplicity. Using only cascade hops, this pale (as in clear golden colour) ale has a nutty, honey note that is gentle and very drinkable. Quite subtle, compared to the hop bomb creations of this century, but so what? This was good drinking beer without any pretension, in an era when such creations were very difficult to find.
My advice, for whatever it is worth, is to try and see if you enjoy this ale. Putting aside its historical significance, and damn it, just drink this ale. Cheers!Image

The Brewing Juggernaut

It is difficult to believe these days, but there was a time when the term beer seeker actually had meaning. This was the force behind calling the great British beer writer, Michael Jackson, The Beer Hunter, or his American counterpart, James Robertson, who would sometimes be referred to as The Beer Hound.
The search for beer was an exotic quest in those days. People would travel substantial distances, in order to obtain some elusive production, that was scarce but highly prized. Such is the stuff, as the old cliche goes, of legend. Whether it was something from the United States west coast, or across the great pond in England (King & Barnes anyone?). The obsessional dimensions of that era seem almost incomprehensible now.

This was surely made apparent to myself last week, as I checked out the selection at a local Kroger grocery superstore, where a vast array of brewing style selections were available, including such notables as Chimay Grand Reserve to North Coast Brewery’s Brother Thelonious Ale. All presented in a straight forward customer format that was democratically overwhelming with its message of so much beer, so little time.

Not only is there an abundance of beer selections, but there is a plethora of writers on the subject. This is all for the good, because no matter how many examples are sampled in a given geographic location, there are hundreds, if not thousands of recipes I can only read about. A warm thank you with unabashed gratitude goes out to all those lovers of this ancient beverage who see fit to share their passion and experiences, and thus help alleviate the logistical impossibilities.

Make no mistake, this brewing juggernaut can be an absolute tyranny of pleasure. The recent arrival of Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, 2012-2013 is a prime example of a great English winter ale, and I must confess, that this version is probably the best I have ever tasted. Not because of recipe variation it should be noted. For this great ale is still brewed in Yorkshire with water from a well sunk in 1758, using solid slabs of slate as square fermenting vessels, with a house yeast from the 19th century. But being a natural agricultural product, there are harvest variations in the whole dried fuggle and golding hops employed, and this year, these variables seem to come together to make the famous Shakespeare quote on the label to be a statement of fact.

Another early arrival of the upcoming season is a famous wassail Holiday ale from Boonville, California, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Ale. A legend in its own right, there was a time when the label said nothing about what the beer consisted of. So much so, that many years ago I made a telephone call to the brewery to make sure it was brewed with spices. A festive malty production then, as it is now, but also now being brewed into cans. Part of the craft can movement as younger folks might say, celebratory and rich.

Speaking of can beer, Ohio has become a distributing point for the famous Colorado, Oskar Blues Brewery.  Dale’s Pale Ale being the first out of the starting gate. A rather raw hopped up production that borrows from the West Coast school of IPA and American Pale Ale, with a 6.5% abv that is a popular selling point for the cadre of fans who love a hop smack in the face. Although many claim this to be perfectly balanced, this aspect escapes me. A lively hop centric brew that many drink straight from the can.

In keeping in line with the supermarket approach of all roads lead to beer, I had a chance to sample some examples from the giant brewing concerns. This included Miller-Coors reintroducing Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve to a national market, providing a gentle reminder that the use of Cascade hops is one of the essential elements in the return to more flavorful beer.
Also I had some Michelob Original Lager, during a MLB playoff game and was pleasantly surprised by its focused quality. Strange that the flagship Budweiser is touted during baseball games, while the one-time top shelf all malt, Munich-style Michelob, is less expensive in price than their Great American Lager, where rice brewed beer is as steady as petrified beechwood.


The re-introduction of Yuengling beers to Ohio has brought about renewed interest in beer in general. The fact that many special beers have found their way into grocery stores is an affirmation of this. Although there are memorable beers from past holiday seasons that are no longer available, all in all, there has never been a better time for beer. Especially not having to go on a safari-like beer search (although there was a limited charm in that eternal quest) is very welcome indeed. And the pleasant surprise of seeing quality beers at the grocery and convenience stores is a blessing I do not take for granted. As always my only prayer is thank you.
The arrival of Summit Winter Ale fits the bill quite nicely.  An English nut brown ale approach with a new world dimension, this has an unmistakable flavor profile, that I am certain I would be able to identify in a blind tasting. The smooth rich malty quality of this recipe I have grown to cherish over the years, where 2-row Pale, Caramel and Carafa II malts are combined with Willamette. Fuggle, and Tettnanger hops. To put it succinctly: this ale is like the return of a long absent friend.

Something I never tried before this year is Full Sail Wassail from the Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon. Seeming to take a note from Belgian Christmas beers, this has a complex flavor profile: orange citrus, a touch of dark chocolate notes combine with a very solid finish. An outstanding spiced ale, where the emphasis is on the finish, which is long and very festive.
Speaking of festive, the return of Dundee Festive Ale,  is for myself, a very joyous occasion. A remarkably underrated Holiday beer, the recipe achieves a balanced presentation that makes it a joyous drink. A bah humbug eraser from start to finish.

Fade To Black Vol. 3

The latest in the Left Hand Brewing Company’s winter series, Fade To Black, Volume 3, is a pepper porter. Where did they arrive at this inspiration? I have no idea. Perhaps it was from the Black Lotus Brewing Company in Clawson, Michigan, who produce a beer described as “Classic porter  with infused Thai and Jalapeno peppers. A sizzling after taste that has flavor as well as heat.”

What a delicious, mysterious brew this porter is. The traditional porter concern for malty depth, providing bright fruity esters (rather than the darker black currant notes of an Imperial stout) from the six malts used, including Chocolate, Munch and Crystal, combined with Warrior and Mt. Hood hops. But it is the peppers, found in the finish, that keeps the marvelous mystery going. A deliciously drinkable extraordinary ale.

Descriptive promotion by Left Hand invokes Robert De Niro  in the campy Angel Heart movie as Lucifer, smoking a cigar and ready to bargain for your soul. First off, I have never been a fan of combing nicotine and beer, and the description by Left Hand of Fade To Black #3 as having “an herbal smoke ring”; is, in this taster’s perception, totally misleading. My God, this porter is so much better than any ridiculous Hollywood movie.

There Is No Such Thing As Too Much Beer

The science of tasting beer can be a hilarious subject. Take a look at members’ reviews over at Beer Advocate, where some brews are hailed as the second coming, while others, for the crime of being produced by companies owned by international corporations are banished to the outer darkness, the unholy ones, as it were. All of this of course, is quite arbitrary, especially when beloved breweries, such as The Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago, receive an Anheuser-Busch Inbev offer they could not refuse.
It should be noted that Goose Island chose to discontinue producing their Nut Brown Ale and Oatmeal Stout before the acquisition. Their concentration on the beer connoisseur segment of business, emphasizing expensive, oak barrel aged products, seemed far away, from the Goose Islands I sampled in the last century, which were modestly priced ales of great character. Such is the nature of change, as the old cliché goes. But one thing I do hope for, is that Goose Island returns to bottling their Christmas Ale into 12 ounce bottles, instead of the 22ounce version, given the silly name of bomber, so in vogue with the craft beer crowd. With a few exceptions, most bombers means you are going to spend a lot of money for 22ounces of beer. Three $9 bombers means you are paying $27 for a five and a half pack of beer. I gather that many believe that this leads to a superior drinking experience. Equally, many believe that if a beer is modestly priced, it must not be good, and many a fine recipe is dismissed because it is not expensive enough. Delegating many tasty recipes to condescending terms such as a good gateway beer.

I bring all of this up because of recent tastings of different Oktoberfest beers, which are popping up everywhere. Take Beck’s Oktoberfest from Bremen, Germany. A fest beer given the Oktoberfest designation in the United States, since only the brews within the city limits of Munich are allowed to use the name in Germany. Beck’s, now a part of the Inbev global portfolio, still makes a very tasty Marzen lager for fall, using only the four classic ingredients.
Or take Shiner Oktoberfest, probably the lightest take on Marzen. Where a doughy palate is simple and direct. The 96 Anniversary recipe, called a seasonal ale on the bottle. But this is where geography plays into the picture. The Spoetzl Brewery, being in Shiner, Texas, has to designate any beer above a certain alcohol level as ale, regardless of the fermentation method.  The geographic location also helps explain why this recipe has a lighter approach: it gets very hot in Texas. Different parts of the country have different requirements.  There is certainly room enough for all to be enjoyed.