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 An 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 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 CheerSpoetzl 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 TuxedoDemonstrates 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 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
I recently ruffled some feathers over at Beer Advocate when I invoked class warfare by stating that anyone who spent $44 for a 22 ounce bottle of Goose Island Bourbon Stout was a fool. What the hell do I know? other than having a working class appreciation of this ancient beverage, I know nothing about matching cigars with beer. Cigars? Nicotine poison combined with liquid bread? Thanks but no thanks. Whether it is some successful business type cleverly able to manipulate the money supply, so they can live out La Dolce Vita, or Brooklyn brew master Garrett Oliver; if you think cigars and beer belong together, you are being an elitist snob, whether you care to admit it or not.
Beer Advocate as a web site has plenty of folks with all kinds of opinions, but to be honest, I really don’t belong there. What do I have in common with someone discussing the merits of purchasing a $100 bottle of twelve ounces of beer? Absolutely nothing. Despite the level headed approach employed by the two brothers who created the site, too often the members wander off into yuppie drivel, totally unconnected from beer’s historic implications. Their rational usually proceeds along these lines:
1. Craft beer good. Giant (macro) beer bad.
Never mind that there are plenty of so-called craft brewed beers that are actually lousy. I will not bother to name brands because a beer seeker can find this out themselves. What is important to this line of thinking is that beers that the craft beer crowd doesn’t care for, like adjunct grain pale lagers, are not only reviled but actually hated. What is even more strange is the people who complain about corn in beer, have no problem seeking out rare stouts stored in bourbon barrels. If I remember correctly, bourbon, is made of at least 51% corn.
Which leads me to being asked recently what is pure beer? Pure beer, in the Bavarian Purity Law sense, is beer made with four ingredients: barley malt, hops, yeast and water. A rigid criteria to be sure, and one that was all but abandoned when new world all grain versions of golden pilsener became the American standard, until folks like Fritz Maytag noticed that flavorful beer was almost completely lost, at least on the national front. Of course what followed was the so-called craft beer revolution, where emphasis was placed on the purity of the recipe, such as Samuel Adams lager being allowed to be sold in Germany as beer.
Well one thing led to another and pretty soon all kinds of styles were being given new world treatment: from India Pale Ale, to Russian Imperial Stout, to wassails brewed with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkins. But the true meaning of pure beer remains the same, no matter what experimental brewers like Dogfish Head Brewery create.
Which is why I am surprised when a pure beer recipe is offered, is not often acknowledged, nor very well received. A case in point is Budweiser American Ale, the giant brewer’s pure beer take on American ale. A well made beer that has been given a short leash just because it is made by Anheuser-Busch. The very same indifference applied to when their Michelob brand reverted back to an all malt recipe. Remember: craft beer good, big beer bad.
Here in Southwest Ohio, the arrival of Hudepohl Amber Lager is hardly even acknowledged. A tribute to the non golden, non all grain beer made for the German immigrant population in the middle of the 19th century. It is straight forward, direct and good. The kind of beer made before golden lager took over the world. Modestly priced, the only elite factor is whether you know about it enough to seek it out. It certainly won’t increase your cachet with the crowd over on Beer Advocate.
I was recently asked what is the difference between German and American Oktoberfest. After many years of sampling these annual celebrations, I think it comes down to the yeast and the ester interaction with the malts and hops, which produces in the German versions, a very distinctive dry floral finish. People who complain that American takes on Marzen lack this, really have little to complain about, since fresh versions from Munich are available.
People who do not care for Samuel Adams Octoberfest (with a C rather than the usual K) do not seem to appreciate that Jim Koch and company have developed their own North American take on this style.
It is also equally true that elite beer drinkers have difficulty acknowledging that commercial interests such as Beck’s of Bremen, Germany, have shown they are quite capable of brewing a highly drinkable fest bier themselves.
Since the Marzen march continues to this day, I want to mention a somewhat extraordinary drinking experience from a couple of weeks ago, when I got my thirsty hands on a 25 ounce bottle of Dogfish Head Brewery’s tribute to the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis Bitches Brew, that groundbreaking 2 LP set that is considered by many as the beginning of jazz fusion music.
The Dogfish Head tribute is several parts imperial stout combined with a honey ale that uses gesho, a traditional African root used as a replacement for hops. The result is an incredibly balanced (yet mysterious!) presentation that is silky smooth, where neither the chocolate notes nor honey sweetness dominates. Some reviewers at Beer Advocate have said they taste alcohol, which despite this being a 9% ale, I could not detect at all. Just a delicious focused ale from start to finish.
Of course the perfect musical accompaniment for this is Miles Davis Bitches Brew, which 40 years later is still worth listening to. Alas, bottles of the ale were sold out within a day around here. So it is very likely that I will never taste another. I am happy that I was able to experience it