Category Archives: Bells

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.

Craft Has Become A Meaningless Word

First a review:  roundhouserenderRed 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:sidecar-can-180x300Sierra 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 tropical-torpedo-300x289 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.

A BEER UNTO ITSELf

The return of New Year seasonal beers is always a joy to behold. For the over-the-hop crowd there is Bell’s Hopslam ImageWhat could now be considered a classic example of what is known as American IPA. I had this years ago, and again I found to be tasty but not worthy of all the hype.
Something I found more interesting is our local Madtree Brewing Company’s PSYCHOPATHYImagePerhaps it is because this beer is local and wonderfully fresh.
Speaking of local, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company’s SPRINGTIME ALEImagea beautiful recipe using a Scottish-style that is approachable and delicious. Again, this may be a matter of logistic freshness.
It was ironic to see, this year, Genesee Bock in a bottleImageAfter all those years of being craft-beer-in-a can I now see the Heritage edition in bottles and cans!
Since bock is on my lips, and Spring in my soul, it is a delicious sight indeed to see the return of Hudepohl Festival Bock and its big brother Christian Moerlein Emancipator Dopplebock.
These two along with Rivertown Brewing’s BockImage are wonderful reminders of the rich Germanic brewing roots found in Southwest Ohio.

The Strange Train: Transition

The new year has no-so-gently reminded that winter has taken a bite and appears to not want to let go. Somewhat unusual in Southwestern Ohio, where mild winter days are usually common, but such is not the case (so far) this year.

Blame it on the end of The Long Count of the Mayan Calendar (1year, 10 months, and days), or maybe it is just Cincinnati (where sometimes the clocks seem to run backwards) but change is certainly happening and it is both abrupt and baffling. What I mean is that a local grocery store, Keller’s IGA in Clifton, closed its doors in early January, due to (I am told) a failure to pay state sales taxes. With its demise, the neighborhood residents are deprived of a source for groceries, but worse for myself, this brings to an end the store with the finest beer selection in the city.
How many beers had I purchased and sampled from Keller’s? That would have to be in the hundreds. An incredibly large assortment, both domestic and foreign, they were often ahead of the curve. Bell’s Hopslam, which so many are so gaga about now, appeared there seasons ago, when it was still a ridiculously high priced six-pack, only a couple of dollars cheaper.
Thanks to Keller’s I was able to experience Dogfish Head Miles Davis Bitches Brew without having to travel to Fairfield, Ohio’s Jungle Jim’s. From Saranac to local Mt. Carmel and Rivertown, Keller’s IGA had an entire range of beers to accommodate nearly any taste.

What makes this even sadder is when I think of the good friendly people who worked there who have lost employment. Being known as the beer doctor, there was often humor and passionate discovery when I visited the store. Now, all of that is gone.

The train of transition requires adjustment. Keeping a good supply of beer on hand is not a problem. My local store, a convenience gas station two blocks from my house, orders up whatever I request. Because of this, the annual return of Genesee Bock continues. But it is not the same as visiting that brewery smorgasbord once known as Keller’s IGA. Buying beer there wasn’t really about shopping, but much more about exploring possibilities.
A toast to the little store that could!
The Beer Doctor

The Long March Of Marzen

Actually, despite the melodrama of this title, it would be better to call this the long leisurely stroll down Oktoberfest lane. Of course in most cases, Oktoberfest beer refers to Marzen, that often amber coloured, malty brew that appears each fall, not only in Munich, Germany, but nearly everywhere else, since numerous breweries create their own versions of the style.
When I was younger and more foolish, I use to think What is the best Oktoberfest beer? But after many years I discovered  such judgmental analysis is a waste of time, because  Oktoberfest, in all of its variations, is a beer of love kind of thing.
Left Hand Brewing Oktoberfest was one of the earliest to appear this year. A smooth malty traditional that is a bit stronger than usual (6.6%abv), but completely focused.
Dundee Oktoberfest is Rochester, New York’s take, a densely malted recipe that puts emphasis on the orange-citrus notes and reminding me that malt is good for the soul.
Point Oktoberfest from Wisconsin, has an approach a bit brighter, but still very traditional. Another nudge to the fact that beer is food to be enjoyed with other food.
Heavy Seas Marzen from Clipper City Brewing in Baltimore, is a year-round available tribute to the style, once called “MazHon”  that is malty smooth with a long gentle finish.
Leinenkugel Oktoberfest, from the craft beer division of Molson Coors, is a deliciously doughy version, expertly balanced with four specialty hops. Munich, Pale and Caramel malts give this recipe finesse.
Bells Octoberfest is lighter coloured (almost pale lager) version of the Fall classic. A pleasant reminder that not all the beer featured in Munich is deep amber in colour. This reminds me of the Lowenbrau recipe. A 5.5% quaff-able to be sure. Good from start to finish.
Saranac Oktoberfest is a tribute to German heritage. Like much of what is made at Matt Brewing, this beer is expertly done, achieving a marvelous balance between malts and hops.
Samuel Adams Octoberfest is the one most Americans will notice, due to its national visibility. And what a recipe it is! Over many years this recipe has been refined, so that it achieves sophisticated balance, which is a remarkable achievement considering the scale of production.
Moerlein Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest is a great Cincinnati take on Marzen, although it is not (as yet) produced here. A copper coloured beauty that is simply a pleasure to consume.
There are so many more, and as this season unfolds I will attempt to try as many as possible.
Hey, it is a job, but somebody has to do it.
Thank You.
The Beer Doctor