Category Archives: Spoetzl Brewery

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!

Out From The Old, Into The New

I feel fortunate that when I first secured a job as a beer writer, it was before the Internet and the ridiculous seriousness of the craft beer community, where it seems that people have suddenly discovered that the beer in the bottle or can does not come from the geographic location that the brewery is famous for. Thus Samuel Adams does make beer in Boston, but also in places like here in Cincinnati. The same can be said of so many other craft brewers. Perhaps what might be more helpful, is an acknowledgement of all the regional breweries who have taken on the contracted task of making those recipes into reality.
Another part of this craft equation I find hard to swallow is the idea that if you are a successful brewing operation, expansion means you get drummed out of the exclusive mickey mouse club of craft breweries. Thus, illustrious and historic breweries are deemed not worthy of the rather silly moniker, sometimes for being successful and sometimes for making recipes using those dreaded adjunct grains which were a vital part of making enough beer to quench the thirst of an expanding nation. Ignoring the fact that beer, has always been a drink for all the people, some craft beer enthusiasts work diligently to transform this ancient beverage into a type of economically driven snob winery. The recent release of certain monastery ales from Belgium is a good case in point: standing in line for hours for a chance to purchase some brew that the self appointed authorities at Rate Beer or Beer Advocate claim to be the best beer in the world creates a consumerist-slave dynamic, that has all the redeeming qualities of camping out, in order to purchase the latest Apple gadget. This most certainly, is not what the greatness of beer is all about.
Because I started my study of beer before a lot of this foolery, I was able to meet the beers half way when sampling without all the designations as to what I was experiencing. It was as simple as trying the beers to see if you like them. Not what some certified expert  (I have to laugh) tells you to be true. I am thankful to have lived through a time when micro brewery was the hip phrase of the day, but even that was basically meaningless. But the regional breweries were vital then, just as they are now.

Moving into this new year, the giant brewery portfolio known as A-B InBev has decided it seems, in their quest to capture the lion’s share of the 21-34 market, that anything with a 6% alcohol content should have something to do with the colour black. Therefore a television add for Budweiser Black Crown will appear during the broadcast of the Super Bowl. Much like last year’s Bud Light Platinum which proved that putting a 6% version of Bud Light in a cobalt blue glass bottle was actually pay dirt. So I was not surprised that the recent release of Beck’s Sapphirebecks-sapphire involved a 2 year development of a black glass bottle to hold the 6% reinheitsgebot creation that makes diligent use of the modern German aromatic saphir hops to produce a rather one dimensional lager that just might appeal to the same folks who enjoy Bud Light Platinum.

Another brewery operation that has been criticized, for not making beer in their home operation of Hawaii, is the Kona Brewing Company, which recently has had a national roll out of their portfolio, producing beer as far east as Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Keeping in line this 6% alcohol by volume theme, I chose to sample their Fire Rock Pale AleKona_Fire_Rock_Pale_Ale a copper coloured malty recipe with plenty of hops for support. This is a solid ale with a malty palate and a dry finish. In a word: good.

Lastly, I recently received a bottle of Shiner Prickly Pear Lagerfront-label from a Shiner Family Pack, and discovered an eccentric beer, first released last summer, that is a love it or hate it creation from the Spoetzl Brewery. Like their unique Holiday Cheer (that one brewed with peaches and pecans), Prickly Pear makes use of native Texas Cactus in a very original and unusual way. Fruity to the point of having a grape like note, this recipe seems to validate the late television chef Justin Wilson’s description of beer as “soda pop with foam on top”. Some will like this odd beer, others will not. I like this beer. As the label says: Drink One Down! End Your Drought!

A Very Pleasant Surprise

Funny how things can be stumbled upon. I was recently informed by the people at Samuel Adams that they have created, within their small batch series, a double pumpkin ale known as Fat Jack. Using their website’s beer locator, I was directed to a place called Marty’s Hops and Vines, found just slightly north of where I live.  A rather unusual place to be sure, a libation pub that I’ve been told, has a rather extensive wine collection. But as any reader of this web site knows, that doesn’t concern me. What does concern me was the wonderful selection of beers available, not only on draft, if you were making a night out, but the take home beer store variety. I was going to say I was like a kid in a candy store, but more accurately, I was (am) an old man in his second childhood in a sweets shop.

What was amazing was seeing so many beers that I have only read about. There were varieties from Ommegang that I did not know existed. I think this will be the place I will hopefully, finally obtain a bottle of their Christmas Adoration Ale this coming winter.

Another nice feature at Marty’s H&V was the beer portfolio was not limited to the United States. This is where, quite joyfully, I obtained a couple of bottles of Baltika No. 6 PorterAn incredible world class porter from St. Petersburg, Russia. A malthead’s delight (please note: malthead not hophead) that was easy to savor, with its rich dark complexity.

Then I came across something I’ve been wanting to try, since being released earlier this year. It is the Spoetzl Brewery of Shiner, Texas, first ale offering, Wild Hare Pale Ale and what a wonderful recipe it is. A gentle reminder of what a proper use of hops can do for supporting malts. Bravo and Golding hops are used assertively without trying to transform the person drinking into a hop slamming lupulin warrior. Very well done.

A toast: To Baltika No. 6 Porter, Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale, and most of all, Marty’s Hops and Vines. Thank you for the happiness. Cheers!

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.

Autumn Preparations

Having recently opened a Twitter account (TheBeerDoctor2), I sent a tweet to Beer Advocate, jokingly asking if all the Oktoberfest beers could be listed on a single thread. “All is not possible” was their earnest reply, and indeed this is true.
Then there is always the perennial question: Which is the best Oktoberfest? Which is, when I come to think of it, a very silly question indeed. Each brewer has their own take on the Marzen style, Samuel Adams uses five kinds of malt. Leinenkugel four specialty hops. The Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin uses Vienna, Crystal, and two-row Munich malts, combined with Tettnanger, Hallertau, and Perle hops. Variations on a theme for sure.
Marzen being a bottom fermented beer takes time to produce. The Saint Arnold Brewery in Texas has their own take on this, replacing lager yeast with a top fermenting ale yeast. While their state brethren over at the Spoetzl Brewery produce Shiner Oktoberfest, using a more traditional approach, which is surprisingly moderate in alcohol. In other words, there is no such thing as the best Oktoberfest. The only criteria is freshness, and which flavor profile you like.
The authentic Oktoberfest beers, which are the six breweries located within the city of Munich, Germany, have a floral note in the finish, which I suspect is due to their proprietary house yeast, of which each brewery is so proud. A fresh five liter can of Hofbrau anyone?

Of course, Marzen style beer is not for everyone. The emphasis on malt, puts off some of the hop obsessed crowd, and quite remarkably, I have read people who say they quickly grow tired of the style, which seems odd, since this style of beer is consumed in the millions of liters.
It is also one of the most food friendly styles, complimenting many hearty dishes. Good beer and good food: what’s there not to love?

The Beer Doctor’s Guide For Approaching Beer #2

Okay it has taken awhile to getting this second installment of this series up and running, and that is due to the fact that there has been plenty of new beers to discover, along with other creative projects.
A true sign of the state of brewing in the United States, are the twin seasonal releases from Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada.  Samuel Adams Noble Pils is an extraordinary tribute to the pilsener style, using all the signature noble hop varieties, providing a doughy citrus experience of the highest caliber. Poured into a pilsner glass, it is like being emerged into an aromatic cloud of hops. This is, in this Beer Doc’s opinion, one of the finest beers ever made by The Boston Beer Company. The 22oz bottle version is in order here: a long relaxing sit down to taste all the hops complexity.
The same approach could be applied to Sierra Nevada Glissade, the Chico, California brewery’s tribute to German Maibock. Well known for their extensive use of cascade hops in their Pale Ale, this golden bock will surprise some with its adherence to European tradition, employing German Spalter, Slovenian Aurora and Styrian hops in the finish. What a remarkable tasting brew this is. The only thing comparable for me, was a fresh bottle of Hacker-Pschorr Maibock, I had many years ago. Available in a 24oz bottle, this too calls for an extensive, tasting investigation.

After mentioning these latest brews, it seems only proper to mention how to pour. Although much discussioin is spent on the style of glassware, I am reminded of what Spoetzl brewmaster Jimmy Mauric said, that the most important thing is to get the beer into a glass, so it can expand and breathe.
Pour Beer Straight Into The Middle of the glass, foam is good, it just needs to settle down…

Which reminds me of a time I was assisting a friend who just purchased a keg (full half barrel) and was buying a co2 system to keep it fresh. The chap at the beer hardware store said: “When you first tap it, it will mostly be foam, pour that off.  After that, if it is still pretty foamy, simply drink faster.”

Waiting for the foam to subside is not a bad thing, unless of course you have an extreme immediate thirst. A luxurious pour can be had by anyone patient enough to let the brew do its thing. A can of the wonderful and quite affordable Genesee Bock is a copper colored beauty to behold.
The visual aesthetics of beer is part of the beer-love experience. It is not surprising that so many Belgium breweries created their own distinctive glasses for presenting their brews. This is where artisanal craft comes in to play, big time.
What kind of glasses should be used? A pilsner (it doesn’t have to be fancy), a cylindrical ale glass, and a mug. The pilsner is great for lager, the ale glass for top fermented, the mug for both.