Friday, July 30, 2010

5 Beers I don’t ever want to drink again and other realizations from my childhood

Some craft beers are delicious. Some are really good but drinking more than 2 or 3 is a struggle. Some are interesting and some border on just strange. And then some are just not that good. Perhaps they just don’t appeal to you. Perhaps they were so bad you still shudder to think about it. To be honest, I haven’t come across that many I wouldn’t drink again. But there have been a few I’d like to forget.

Anchor Steam Beer: I had this once about two months ago and had difficulty finishing the bottle. But after watching this little video from Brewtal Honesty, I wanted to give it a second chance. It did not go well. The first few sips go down just fine and you start thinking “this isn’t half-bad.” Then you get past the halfway point and an aftertaste starts to build - it’s woody, it’s nutty, and kind of strange. I want to liken it to sitting on a patio that is too close to the clothes dryer vent but I feel the name “steam beer” may just be playing mind games with my palate. Cue the John Lennon.

By the end, I felt like I had licked a piece of treated plywood. But lots of people love it as it has a long and storied history in San Francisco dating back to the Gold Rush. Hey, the bottle looks really cool but I guess this one is just not for me - I mean what the hell is Steam Beer anyway? Anchor owns the rights to “Steam Beer” so this is the only one that exists - other brewers on the west coast make a similar beer but cannot use the term Steam Beer so they call it California Common. The idea is that it is a Lager-Ale hybrid that in the old days could be brewed with out any cooling or ice. Apparently no one knows for sure where the word steam came from and Anchor seems kind of mum about whatever process they currently use. The best explanation I’ve found about the word “steam” comes from the book The Naked Pint: it seems back in the day, the wort (this is the liquid that results from soaking the malt and grain in hot or boiling water and it’s one of the early steps in making beer) was cooled in tanks on the roof of the brewery creating a plume of steam that the whole city could see. That’s cute.

Side Note #1: The Anchor Brewery and Distillery, I believe they make a whiskey, was recently sold to the same group that made it rich with Skyy vodka. From what I’ve read, they promise to uphold all the Anchor brewing traditions.

Cristoffel Nobel: This a Belgian triple hopped lager but I have also seen it referred to as an Imperial Pilsner. Either way, it is not as hoppy as “triple hopped” would imply. This was actually one of the first beers I tried when I started this whole process and I didn’t think it was half bad then. I had it again just the other day and was no longer impressed. Looks like cloudy cider in the glass and has a dry sweetness to the malt that I’m just not a fan off. It’s not bad but also not good enough for me to ever want to drink it again.

Lancaster Brewing Co.’s Milk Stout: When I bought the Lancaster Brewing Co. Variety Pack, which included their Strawberry Wheat, Hop Hog IPA, Amish Four Grain Pale Ale, and obviously the Milk Stout, the man with the ponytail at the beer distributor complimented my purchase and said that the Milk Stout was his favorite stout. This peaked my interest as I too like a good stout. Unfortunately, this is not a good stout in my opinion. They make it using a lactose sugar, hence the name, and I have to assume this is what makes it taste different than what I normally look for in a stout. Some element of the flavor of this beer makes me want to wipe my tongue with a napkin. Even after the beer is done, the aftertaste made me shiver. I’ve have talked to 3 other people, that’s right 3, that related similar reactions. So counting my vote, we have one vote for the milk stout, cast by Ponytail Guy, and 4 votes against, all cast by people sans ponytail.

Sidenote #2: I’m not trying to imply that there is something wrong with having a ponytail. In fact, I am pro-ponytail. One of my good friends rocks a ponytail every now and again, at which point we call him Ponytail Phil, Pony Boy, or Lady. But other than the fact that this guy at the beer distributor compliments every purchase I make (he would probably say “good stuff” if I walked up to the counter with a case of Moose Head Light Lime), the most memorable feature about this man is his ponytail. So he is Ponytail Guy because it sounds better than Man Who Freely Compliments.

Lancaster Brewing Co.’s Strawberry Wheat: I’m not trying to gang up on the Lancaster Brewing Company. I love their Hop Hog IPA and the Amish Four Grain Pale Ale is pretty good as well. But even Ponytail Guy warned me that the Strawberry Wheat was a little strange. And it is - strawberry and beer is just a weird combo, but then again I am not a huge fan of any fruity beers. Wife loved it. Also, I heard that if you do a black and tan with the Milk Stout and the Strawberry Wheat that is tastes like a chocolate covered strawberry. Wife tried it, said it was okay. I took a sip and said “oh…no.” But I still think it is a neat idea.

Insanity (Weyerbacher): Weyerbacher is located in Easton, PA, which is where I grew up, so it pains me to put this on the list. I am a huge fan of most of their beers, many of which will be the subject of an upcoming post, but the Insanity brew is definitely not for me. To make their Insanity beer, Weyerbacher takes their Blithering Idiot brew, which is quite good, and ages it in oak bourbon casks or barrels. Blithering Idiot already has an ABV of 11.1%. Now the aging doesn’t increase the ABV any, but the bourbon taste of Insanity makes it taste even stronger. I do not like bourbon and the smell is enough to turn my stomach. So even though I only had a taste of it at the brewery, it was enough for me to make up my mind. Those that enjoy the bourbon would probably love this in a snifter during those cold winter months.

Honorable Mention: Alvinne Gaspar, which was made to be one of the hoppiest, most bitter beers in Belgium (it has a whopping 115 IBU’s, International Bitterness Units, where most IPAs fall in the 60-80 range), was originally on this list but after another trip to the Tap and Table and another taste of this I have decided it is not as bad as I originally thought. I’m not saying it’s great but I also can longer say I wouldn’t want to try it again. Also, The Left Coast Hop Juice (that I wrote about here) is not as good of a double IPA as the 5 oz. flight I had led me to believe. After this second trip and a full glass of the Hop Juice, I’d much rather have Weyerbacher’s Simcoe Double IPA. The Hop Juice isn’t bad, just not as good as I originally thought.

Now, I realize….
1. that not everyone has the same tastes as me
2. that some people love fruit beers and that a strawberry beer sounds like the best idea anybody has had since the fourth season of The Wire
3. lots of people like bourbon.

I also realize that not every craft beer is worth drinking just because it is a craft beer. But for every beer that doesn’t suit you there are probably 2 or 3 that do so don’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch. You’ll never know unless you try.

Click here for some other realizations from my childhood...

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cask Ales, Candlelight, and Lots of Links

A night out with the Wife to celebrate the 2 year anniversary of our secret marriage (our 2 year anniversary of announcing our nuptials will be here in a few days) led us to the Tap and Table in Emmaus. What makes this place standout to me, other than the hundred or so bottled beers they offer - none of which come from the Bud, Miller, or Coors families, even Yeungling is absent from the menu - is that the place is lit almost entirely by candlelight, you generally sit rather close to strangers (this has it‘s benefits), and besides the five beers they have on tap you may also choose from 3 cask ales.

What is a cask ale? Well it seems that it is similar to taps but without the added carbon dioxide. I believe the system works on the natural carbonation formed from the brewing process. So you are drinking the beer in it’s more natural state, from the same “cask” the beer is conditioned in, without the added CO2. I assume a cask looks like an old wooden barrel but it may have a may more modern look like a keg. I think the barrel idea makes for a better mental picture. Also thinking of barrels makes me think of monkeys and who doesn’t get a chuckle out of thinking about monkeys, especially monkeys around a barrel of beer. If you have been attacked by monkeys or maybe had a bad experience at one of those Great Adventure drive thru safaris then I apologize for the bad memories. I don’t think my Dad reads this so we should be in the clear.

My first encounter with a cask ale was at the beginning of the summer at the Tap and Table. I ordered the Lancaster Brewing Company’s Hop Hog IPA. This is a beer that I have had from the bottle and one that I like (also one that will be mentioned in an upcoming IPA post) so I thought it was a good place to start to my cask beer comparison. It is a little flatter, a little warmer, but not much. When people talk about warm beer in Ireland or England, I imagine that this is the warmness they are referring to. I could look into this further but I would rather just make bold statements based on my daydreams and move on.

On this particular trip to the Tap and Table, I started with a Sprecher Hefe Weis and some Shibumo oysters. Sprecher is a Wisconsin brewery started by a former Pabst brewing supervisor with a focus on the European brewing styles, click here for a great little history on Sprecher and brewing in general. This was my second experience with a Hefe Weiss, or Heffeweizen, and it was similar to the Harpoon UFO I wrote about here but this one was a bit lighter, a bit smoother, and completely delicious with the oysters.

Next, I moved on to the Beer Flights - $10 for 5 beers, each 5 ounces, essentially a sampler. Incidentally, beer flights is now my new nickname for the morning after diarrhea (I am by no means implying that this night out gave me the beer flights - I thought it as soon as I read it on the menu). On this particular evening, I chose the following five beers:

Blue Point Pale Ale 5% ABV (on cask): Blue Point Brewing Company is from Long Island, New York. Patchogue, to be specific. This is the only beer from the three I tried that is actually listed on the Blue Point website which confuses me a bit. But anyway, the Pale Ale was good. Nice balance between the hops in the front and the malt at the end. The citrus of the hops is there throughout, perhaps more than other pale ales but it still has the slight malt sweetness common to pale ales. I would but this above some other Pale Ales I’ve had but I am a fan of hops.

Blue Point 10th anniversary IPA ?% ABV (on cask): This was a good IPA similar to a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA with the grassy but floral hop flavor, maybe a bit more of pine taste but still very comparable. Not as much bite as other IPAs but this is probably a result of the cask. Cask ales typically have almost a creamier quality than the same beer in a bottle. Generally this makes the flavors more subtle because they seem to be more blended together. This was good but the name "10th anniversary" had me expecting more.

Blue Point Rastafa Rye 7.5% ABV (on cask): This was really good and my favorite out of the 3 Blue Point brews listed here. Great citrus taste from the hops but without the bitterness that normally comes with hops. Maybe the rye helps to smooth it out with a bit of spice, or maybe the cask factor kept it smooth. Overall, very flavorful and unique. This definitely receives first place consideration for the evening.

Alvinne Gaspar 8% ABV: This is a Belgian IPA and was described as “lively, sweet, funky, strong bitter finish”. Funky indeed! Would only recommend this to a true IPA fan and even then I would stress the word FUNKY. Nothing like I’ve ever had - a lot of competing flavors, very bitter, and dare I say sour. Maybe I’m just not ready for it yet because it gets a grade of B on most beer sites like and I could not give this above C minus at this point in my adventure.

Left Coast Brewing Co. Hop Juice Double IPA 9.4% ABV: Now this is what I was looking for in an IPA. A flavor explosion! Obviously this will have more to offer than the Blue Point IPA since it is a double. The hop profile was very bright and really woke up the taste buds. A definite recommend for IPA fans. This tied for 1st place on the night with the Rastafa Rye.

I would have ordered another Hop Juice but I was already having trouble focusing in the flicker of the candle light and had my heart set on finishing with a Stout. The problem with the 5 flights, as they call it, is that it immediately feels like your in the middle of a college power hour and you drink them way to fast. The higher ABV percents don’t help the matter either.

I finished the evening with a full pint of Young’s Chocolate Stout, from England, which was a perfect dessert replacement with it’s hints of dark chocolate (i.e. not very sweet) and espresso. This obviously leads to me to the point in the evening when getting into an argument with Wife over stout beer is the logical next step, signaling to myself, Wife, and the strangers seated 6 inches away that perhaps the 5 flights had done me in.

Thanks for driving honey, now take me to drunk, I’m bed.

A fellow flight drinker. Nice guy.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

The Blog’s First Comment and My First Hefeweizen!

The blog got it's first comment today! This is like that first dollar bill that your drycleaner has hanging next to their register. Thank You to Mel Linder - I hope the blog put a smile on your face.

I am celebrating with a Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen. It just so happens this is my first experience with a Hefeweizen, and I am enjoying it. First Comment, First Hefeweizen - it’s just good symmetry. In the past, I was always unwilling to go for something that said “unfiltered” or “wheat”. Call it fear or call it loyalty to all things filtered and non-wheat. For example, when I smoked, I smoked cigarettes with filters; when I swim, I like to swim in pools with filters, and when I have a Thomas’s English Muffin I want the original, i.e. the non-wheat english muffin. I’m sure many of you have the same loyalties. But I assure you it is safe to cast those allegiances aside for a good Hefeweizen. Honestly, I don’t even know if what I am drinking is a GOOD Hefeweizen (since it is my first how can I be sure (that‘s what she said)), but judging on the other Harpoon brews I’d say it is probably average, or maybe just a hair above that.

Some Other Harpoon Beers:

Harpoon IPA (5.9%ABV): This is rather mild for an IPA. If your looking for that real hoppy bitterness that most associate with American IPA’s, then you will be disappointed. Most American IPA’s have around 60 IBU’s, which is some sort of bittterness measurement that helps with comparisons, and Harpoon’s comes in at 42 IBU’s. However, this is still a decent ale that has a lot of the same action as an IPA but on a much more subtle scale. For even more reference points, the Summer Beer discussed below has 28 IBU’s.

Harpoon Summer Beer (5.0%ABV): This is a Kolsch-style ale (the “o“ should have those 2 dots over it). What does this mean? Well, it is brewed in the style of a Kolsch, which is a German beer named after the region it is brewed in: Koln, Germany. Like France with its wines and such, a beer can only be labeled a Kolsch if it is brewed in Koln. Okay, well what does that really mean? It is similar to a Pilsner (think Pilsner Urquell or Beck’s) but lighter and less hops taste (so hardly any bitterness) but with that same crisp, dry finish. This is very light, which I think is a good quality for the hot days of summer.

Harpoon Crystal Wheat (4.8% ABV): Very similar to the summer beer but with a considerable amount of lemon and even less bitter (12 IBU’s) than the Summer Beer. If your into lemons in your beer, and I’m not talking a little lemon zest or hint of lemon, I’m talking actual lemons, then you’ll probably enjoy this. Wife loves it.

So to recap: I beat the IBU horse to death, put parenthesis inside parenthesis, and typed “Hefeweizen” more times than I cared to. For more info on Harpoon Brewery:

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Don’t Forget Your Roots (Part 1): The Magic Hat Summer 2010 Variety Pack

As a drinker of Rolling Rock, the toughest part about trying to branch out to the world of craft beers is trying to determine where to start. I can’t go to the nearest brewpub or beer store and ask for a craft beer that tastes like sparkling water served in a dirty glass. This would probably just get me club soda in a dirty glass, which is not quite what I’m looking for. However, I do recall having a few Magic Hat #9 every now and again. A friend of mine drank it and looked cool doing it and I wanted to look cool too. So I put on a rodeo shirt, tousled my hair, and ordered myself a #9. After several failed attempts to look cool, I actually started to like the beer and so my craft beer journey begins with what could be the beer that started it all.

The Magic Hat Summer 2010 Variety Pack (South Burlington, Vermont):

Magic Hat #9 (5.1%ABV): This not quite pale ale is a good place to start. It has nice and easy slight sweetness with a mild ale taste. Neither side tips the scales heavily in either direction but the sweetness may have a slight edge. This makes sense; the label states that it is infused with apricot.

Very Drinkable but a little heavy on a warm day. Could easily take down six if it were a cool summer evening. It does have a very slight hint of spice that may be better suited for a fall or winter bender/variety pack.

Odd Notion Series Summer ‘10 (5.5%ABV): From what I gather this series is something that Magic Hat does for “the serious ale aficionados” and to allow their brewers to “set their creative impulses free.” I am not a serious ale aficionado and this was definitely creative. Per the label, this is brewed with ginger but that is not the taste I got. I asked Wife if she tasted ginger, as it is one of her favorite things, and she said “not really”. It was interesting. I didn’t like it as much as Wife did but I would drink it again. About the same thickness as a #9 but very different taste - it might go very well with certain foods if your into that sort of thing. Overall, the name is fitting because it is odd.

Regardless of the time of day or temperature I could do 2 of these at the most in one sitting. Maybe 4 if the needle on the old buzzmeter was already jumping.

This would be a good beer to have with a buddy so you can both quizzically look at the bottle after the first sip and go “Huh” and then take another gulp. In fact the more I think on it, I would like to try another.

Blind Faith IPA (6.2% ABV): Similar to the Odd Notion Series, Magic Hat has an IPA On Tour which they describe as a “revolving roster” of four feature IPA’s. The current installment for the summer is Blind Faith IPA. Before I continue I must say that I have become quite the fan of IPA’s since the purchase of this variety pack and will eventually write about several that I highly recommend. This one, however, is not on that highly recommended list (I even went back for seconds after sampling some other IPA‘s and that only lowered my opinion).

The Magic Hat people describe this as extremely well balanced and I beg to differ. The front taste of this IPA gives a flash of the bitterness associated with an India Pale Ale but quickly goes to this strange middle taste of pine-sol or gin. This middle taste is very puzzling and not very pleasant. The beer does finish nicely with the sweetness that most Magic Hats finish with. So that after-taste is good and the front end is nice but there is this god awful middle taste that after about 2 beers is unbearable. Perhaps a bad batch?

Wacko Summer Seasonal (4.5%ABV): Now this is a summer beer - something you could drink plenty of on a hot day! Crisp, not heavy, with a light sweetness that fades quickly. A true winner. Of the beers in this variety pack, this is the one I have been looking to buy in a six or twelve pack to take with me to different summertime events: picnics, ballgames, hole digging parties…. Of course, I’ve only seen sixes and twelves of the Blind Faith, Odd Notion, and obviously #9. And distributor has been out of cases the past 3 times I was there. Typical.

Overall, this was a good medley that offers something for everyone and was an excellent place to start my exploration of the world of craft beers.

For more info about Magic Hat, check out

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