Before The Closing Of The Year

As the year of the improbable comes to a tumultuous close, I thought it best to remain with my tried and true and new, revisiting beers I first sampled  in the last century, along with some exciting new offerings.
First there is my beloved Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout946998l-jpgA Russian Imperial Style Stout, I first encountered in a case of Meet The Brooklyn Family which was a case sampler consisting of a six pack each of East India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, pre-prohibition Lager, and of course BCS. Which was a remarkable occurrence at the time, since it was purchased in Kentucky since the draconian alcohol laws in Ohio made it verbotten to obtain beer that was over 6% at that time.
To be honest, tasting Black Chocolate Stout for the first time was a complete revelation. I had sampled Irish stouts, and milk stout, but this was a royal stout on an entire new playing field. The amount of material required to produce this beer is a testament to a brew of uncompromising character. So it was with great pleasure to see this legendary recipe available in a six pack (four bottle is simply not enough). For those who have never tasted this, be prepared to experience a beer whose origins date back to England in the 19th century.  A stout that was exported to Czarist Russia. To put it precisely, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is a truly great beer, a recipe still relevant in 2016 and beyond.

Another old friend found its way to my door, via Boonville, California. and the solar powered Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Winter Solstice37830l-jpgA wonderful ale I first encountered in the last decade of the 20th century. Always seeking information I actually made a long distance telephone call to ABVC and talked to a brewer to make sure the beer was wassail, which of course it was and is. What is remarkable about the flavor profile of this ale, I could identify this delicious offering in a blind taste test. The same could be said of their unique Summer Solstice, a rare summer wassail.

Although I have complained about hop obsessed creations, my bias did not prevent me from sampling New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPAnew-belgium-voodoo-ranger-imperial-ipa

A dark golden pour with a dense head of white foam, with a strong botanical nose. Not boozy exactly, more like botanically boozy, which anyone who has explored American IPA has experienced . But this Voodoo Ranger is surprisingly complex. There are plenty of citrus notes, along with what could possibly be described as a honeydew melon sherbet like quality. A 9% ale without any alcohol burn. This is very interesting sipping.

Samuel Adams Hopscapehopscapeis the result of all the interest in west coast hops in the last few years. This is a hop showcase wheat ale that is a delicious pleasure to drink. Drinking this, I am reminded what a wonderful world this actually is.

That Time Of Year Again

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 stone-2016-xocoveza-12-ounce-bottleAn 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 merry-xmas 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 Cheercheer_6pk_background__largeSpoetzl 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 Tuxedodogfish-head-pennsylvania-tuxedo-bottleDemonstrates 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 Lagersam-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

Mister Fauxpo’s Early Christmas

I only have to blame myself for what happened. I had seen this before. Mr. Fauxpo had always been and would forever be the very definition of a bounder. Not good for anything accept getting loaded, he was the first at the party and the last to leave. Unfortunately for him and the people he has befriended, he often is without any personal monitor for tracking his wretched excesses. He has never understood that beer, with all its culinary connections to civilization,  is not just an alcohol delivery system. For a man of advanced age, this is downright pathetic. He often is totally oblivious to the detrimental effects he has on others.

So when he settled in for the holiday beer tasting, the only detail he was interested in was how strong each beer was. Mr. Fauxpo pretended that he was interested in the flavors of beer, like artisan brewing enthusiasts, but the reality was that this was a complete lie. Mr. Fauxpo was an any kind of beer guzzler, who also has an obsession with smoking marijuana. Not the cannabis cultivation found in those states where it is legal. No. Obtaining marijuana for Mr. Fauxpo involved travel to dangerous neighborhoods where an ugly mix of police-racial paranoia permeated the air. All of this in order to score some mediocre weed. Not that this actually mattered to Mr. Fauxpo. It was the idea of having a beer and a joint on hand at all times that provided the little comfort he had in life. Never mind that the herb he purchased was so dry, he coughed furiously with each inhalation.

So the football game was on free TV and our local team, remarkably, was actually winning. Mr. Fauxpo treated the holiday beers like they were his personal spigot: Hibernation Ale, Breckenridge Christmas Ale, Anchor Our Special Ale, Madtree Thundersnow, Emergency Malt Kit, Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Bell’s Christmas Ale, and Rhinegeist Dad were all guzzled in a quiet fury that was only revealed when Mr. Fauxpo stumbled his way over to the bathroom.
Since I do not permit smoking in my house of any kind, Mr. Fauxpo would go out to the backyard porch, where he would proceed with his fixins ritual of chopping up the dry withered buds to roll into a reefer. This process took often a half hour to perform.

The question will inevitably be asked: so why do you put up with the bastard? Well I have always had a soft spot (in my head?) for people who do not fit too well in the established world. These are dysfunctional folks whose behavioral foundations were set long ago in analog times, who now find themselves living in a bewildering digital age. Mr. Fauxpo could serve as a classic example. He depends upon his cellphone for contact with the outside world, yet is too proud or too lazy, or both, to admit he needs corrective lenses to see the data on his smart phone screen.

This quickly became an ale and safety issue. As someone who does not own a car, nor a license to drive one, the thought of this out-of-control, beer and pothead getting behind the wheel of an auto, is a distinct nightmare to say the least. What was I to do? What was suppose to be a festive season celebration became something rather ugly when Mr. Fauxpo decided, for whatever reason , to display in full, his obnoxious drunken persona. I thought: perhaps if I give him some food, like a large slice of pizza, maybe the cheese will absorb some of the alcohol.
Well he seemed somewhat reasonable when he quietly informed me he would be leaving, by way of the backyard door. I said goodbye and returned to my working area to take care of some chores.

It wan hour or so later when I went out to recycle the cans and bottles, only to find Mr. Fauxpo lying at the bottom of the three step porch, unconscious, with a bloody gash upon his head. I tried to revive him but to no avail. All I knew about his condition was he was still breathing. So then I called 911.

The Firefighter EMT and Police arrived shortly thereafter. The cops wanted to know if there had been a fight. I told them no, he had just consumed too much strong beer, fell off the back porch, unknown to me until I found him later. Looking at how busted up Mr. Fauxpo was, some of the cops suggested he might be on other drugs. So then they scanned the dark area where he fell, using their Mag flashlights. The tiny remaining crumbs of bud found  in his fixins tray were scattered to the winds, right before the constabulary arrived.

All this happened two days before Saint Nicholas Feast day. Since then I have wondered if Mr. Fauxpo’s extreme behavior was a physical manifestation of Krampus. Some gnarly holiday demon seeking to banish the idea of in cervesio felicitas.

Formula Accuracy

A funny thing happened when I contacted the Breckenridge Brewery, via email, breckcanconcerning the ingredients found in their Christmas Ale. All of this got started when I happened to read a few misinformed tasting notes on the Beer Advocate website, where tasters noted with approval, how well the beer blended cinnamon and other spices; actually treating this all malt Holiday beer as if it were a wassail!
Since a plethora of misinformation is available these days, online and elsewhere, I felt it was not a good idea to confuse a beer seeking novice who just might be interested in purchasing some Breckenridge Christmas Ale., but would like to know more about it. So despite knowing that spices are not a part of the formula, I nevertheless contacted Breckenridge Brewery and received this response from Terry Usry:

“I’m forwarding your email to the brewmaster to respond. I’d like for you to get your answer straight from the source!”

Nevermind that the last thing I wished to do was trouble some very busy brewmaster with an inane question that I already knew the answer to. Thank heaven the industry devoted newsletter Brewbound, provided some info- source validation:

“Breckenridge Brewery does not add spice to to Christmas Ale, rather the spicy characteristics come from the Chinook and Mt. Hood hops.”

I have sampled Breckenridge for 18 years. A Beer Doctor personal favorite, I have always loved the Scottish wee heavy aspect of this 7.1% presentation. Combined with those select spicy hops, this recipe is a malty Holiday classic. One which I hope to continue to consult, every new holiday season.

This year, for the winter Holiday celebrations, I am hoping to return to some seasonal classics, along with trying some new exciting additions, which I hope to obtain in the next few adventurous weeks. In fact. it is that adventure of discovery which has provided continual inspiration for continuing work as The Beer Doctor. And despite my rather silly complaints about the over-saturation of particular styles of beer, the truth is, every so often, I manage to find a recipe which restores my love for the art and technical mastery required in the brewing process. Creative brewing is a wonderfully human, endless activity.

If beer be the drum of love
Tap on!

Tasting memorable beer is something I do not forget. Not only do I recall the first tasting moment, but also the time and context in which the beer was imbibed. Thus, I recall the first time I had Anchor’s Our Special Ale. It was the 17th edition. I equally recall the first time I drank August Schell Plisner. This was before the Samuel Adams Brewery existed. In those early, pre-craft days, seeking non mass produced golden lager meant buying beers from another part of the country or world. There was for example that Affligem Noel tasted one Christmas eve, providing me early exposure to the estery magic of Belgian yeast.
In those days, the time and energy spent obtaining those rarities, are stories for another time.

This year I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the world class quality of the Rhinegeist/Sun King collaboration Emergency Malt Kitrsk This magnificent 100 Schilling Scottish Style Ale reminds me that Cincinnati seems poised to resume  its position as a vital Midwestern brew hub city. And that is not a bad thing. Emergency Malt Kit obtains its rich flavor by employing 2 row, Aromatic, Abbey, Special B and Chocolate malts, combined with Bravo and Boadicea hops.
In the case of Emergency Malt Kit, the Scottish yeast contribute to the spicy complexity of the malts. Creating a dark chocolate note in a surprisingly dry finish.

When it comes to beer exhibited as a malt showcase, well  this is the stuff malt dreams are made of  especially in the deep of winter.emkprod This limited release Emergency Malt Kit is not about coveting, in my opinion. This collaboration in cans is a celebratory event for a quite tasty, local, holiday seasonal that should be consumed, the sooner the better. Cheers!


Concerning Dick

No, this is not about the penis or erectile dysfunction. This is about the recent uproar concerning Richard L. “Dick” Yuengling support for Donald Trump. It seems that certain Hillary supporters  are outraged that the Yuengling brewery owner would, as one disgruntled drinker said, “actually support that monster”. Which is hilarious when you have any knowledge of the political concerns of America’s oldest family owned brewery.

Dick Yuengling’s concerns jibe quite well with his fellow billionaire’s vision of an America where organized labor and even the EPA, should not even exist. The $10 million fine levied against the Pennsylvania brewer for discharging industrial wastewater into the Schuylkill river for 8 years, was, in the Dick way of looking at things, a perfect example of unneccessary  government interference. So were the $6.6 million in back taxes owed to Philadelphia in 2013. Unfair, Dick protested, he didn’t want to enable Philadelphia’s inefficiency.
The same could be said of the Yuengling family efforts to have decertification of the Teamsters union at their Pottsville facilities. Unless the union was shown the door, Dick threatened to move the entire operation to a right to work state. Employees quickly became conscious that their jobs were on the line, and obliged the brewing padrone’s wishes.

The reason I found the recent outrage rather comical, is because there is nothing particularly new about hard nose brewery owners’ political views. Take the late Joseph Coors, supporter of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, whose his own brother William described as having politics that were “little bit right of Attila the hun”. The Joseph who at one point donated $65,000 to buy a light cargo plane for the Contras, during what could be described as the troubles in Nicaragua.
Or consider the  Anheuser-Busch family of companies support for The Partnership For A Drug Free America. The conclusion was quite clear: Bud that you drink is good! Bud that you smoke is bad!

The Tried And True

Recent acquisitions by Anheuser-Busch InBev (or ABI, as it is conveniently called in Australia) has brought up once again, the craft beer/ or not arguments about who is selling out. This has become a very sorry subject in a neoliberal, monetary driven universe, where a gigantic corporation has the option to actually lose money, in order to abolish any competition (a level playing field? I must look and laugh).
You have Jacob McKean of Modern Times Beer, throwing down the gauntlet on all the misinformation presented about increase production through wider available malts and hops, after being acquired by the Macro Brewery Behemoth. Along with this there is that old saw about increasing their brand’s presence, which, in final analysis, is basically bullshit.
Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, I am reminded of musicians 40 years ago, who embraced overt commercialism in the name of greater communication. So be it. Everyone makes their own choices.
As I once infamously said: “The recipe is the thing that will catch the conscience of the Beer Doctor”. This, for myself, still holds true. Which is why I can enjoy beers across the cultural and economic spectrum. But this is also why when a beloved recipe is ruined by ABI, I must point this out.
It might seem odd, but instead of arguing about what is craft beer or not, it might be more to the point to ask: what exactly is beer? The total abandonment of reinheitsgebot by many breweries in the United States has produced an astonishing portfolio of brews fused with fruit juice, molasses, and even pork scrapple. In this context, beer becomes a basis for the latest alcohol concoction. Purity? Purity be damned.
Market pressure has prompted many established breweries to abandon time-honored recipes, in order to accommodate the obsession with Humulus lupulus flower cones. This has lead many people to believe that this is what good beer is all about, which tends to dull the palate to more subtle styles. A good smack in the face IPA is simply that.
Sadly, market driven greed has pushed aside many tried and true recipes that no longer roll with distribution projections for the future. Thus, you see The Matt Brewing Company having to semi-retire their delicious schwartz bier Saranac Black Forest. Luckily this wonderful beer appears in their German roots Fall Pack, along with Octoberfest, Marzenfest, and Keller bier.
It is ironic that the explosive growth in American brewing has made it more difficult to find classic beer styles imported from other countries. This proves that the stupidity of American exceptionalism has found its way to convince consumers that the United States produces the greatest beer in the history of the universe. Period.

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.