Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Empyrean Kölsch

The Kölsch is one of my favorite beer styles, a cross between an ale & a lager, it's at once crisp & refreshing and flavorful. Empyrean's take on the style, which originated in Cologne, Germany (Köln to the natives) pours the color of fresh pineapple with a three-finger snowy head. The alcohol content is four and change, with a bitterness score of 22 IBU. There are faint traces of peach and mango in the flavor profile, and breadiness that comes out as the beer warms up. Perfect for summer, but a great companion for spicy sausages or chili in the cooler months. Best Kölsch I've sampled yet!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Empyrean Peachy Keen Sour Ale

Sour beers are an acquired taste. I have acquired it.

Often when I go to Yia-Yia's for some "fancy" beer, I order some kind of sour beer - a gose, a lambic or a berliner weisse, the bartender always says to me, in a conspiratorial tone "You know that's a sour beer, don't you?" I started enjoying sour beers a few years ago when I was offered some samples of Goose Island's sour Belgian, Lolita and some of her sisters. Peachy Keen was originally a win barrel-aged beer, available only on draft. The bottled version does not seem to be barrel aged however. It pours a hazy golden hue with ruby highlights, minimal head, and a very low hop profile (21 IBU). Very light; it would serve equally well as a summer beer or an autumn ale in place of a Märzen. The peach flavor predominates, but it goes very well with the sour edge. If you're a fan of the sours, this is one that you would enjoy. 9/10 on the IGB Scale.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ales: India Pale Ale

Related tangentially to pale ales, the India Pale Ale (IPA) has become, along with America's love affair with hops, one of the more popular styles in the craft beer explosion. The back story of the India Pale Ale style is that English brewers made a high-alcohol, high-hops version of their regular pale ales for shipment to colonial troops and administrators in India, since hops and alcohol both act as preservatives. There has been some doubt lately cast about the veracity of this legend. The style languished until being revived by craft brewers over the last two decades. An IPA in its basic form tends to be a medium amber in hue and very bitter, although the form the bitterness takes depends on the variety of hops used. Two major trends in IPA's have surfaced recently. One is a "race to the top" in the use of hops. Brewers have been trying to outdo each other with the hop content of their beers, coming out with beers with IBU's (International Bitterness Units) creeping upward from a respectable 40-45 to 70 to (the highest I've seen) 104 by Lagunitas. I've been told by a local brewer that you can't increase actual bitterness without limit, that eventually you reach a point where adding additional hops have no effect. As I mentioned before, the way the bitterness is expressed varies. Some high hop content IPA's are very smooth, while others taste like you could remove paint with it! The other trend is where brewers call everything an IPA. A hoppy red ale is a Red IPA; you have Black IPA's, Belgian IPA's; IPL's (India Pale Lagers) and who-knows-what-else. This is mainly to capitalize on the IPA's popularity, and it tells you, for instance, that a black IPA is a beer that tastes like an IPA but is dark in color. Low or medium bitter ales with a lower alcohol content are being touted as "session IPA's" (a session beer is one with a lower alcohol content, enabling one to drink more of them in one drinking session) - but to my way of thinking they're just pale ales under another name.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ales: Brown Ale

Brown ales are...well...brown. Okay, there's more to it than that, but the style is definitely named for the color of the beer, which is...brown! Generally brown ales are lightly hopped and have a slightly nutty flavor to them. The craft beer industry has gotten more creative in naming their beers the last few years, so you'll often see brown ales called something else, because "brown ale" just doesn't have the zip of "Mahogany Autumn Ale" or some such. Occassionally a brown ale will have coffee notes, or even have coffee or chocolate added. A prominant example of a brown ale is Newcastle, likely the best known and granddaddy of brown ales. Brown ales are usually light enough that they don't trigger the "I don't like dem dark beers" reaction, but with enough body and flavor to differentiate from the run of the mill lagers.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ales: Pale Ale

After the "basic" ales mentioned in the last article, we have pale ales. A pale ale may or may not end up with a pale golden hue - the "pale" refers to the type of malt used. In general a pale ale refers to an ale that is more aggressively hopped than an amber, but not so much as an IPA. Pale Ales tend to be about 5% ABV, with some as high as 6%. Originally pale ales came about due to technology changes in the heating process in the 1800's. Previously the direct heat caused the malt to darken, producing the darker stouts and porters. The new direct heating method yielded a pale malt and thus a paler ale. (This is similar to the advent of Pilsners in Bohemia). In England, this style of beer was also called "bitter" interchangeably with "pale ale". American brewers shied away from the term "bitter". It wasn't until recent years that the term "bitter" shed its negative connotations in the U.S. In England, and eventually in America, there were subcategories of Bitter, such as Best Bitter, Extra Special Bitter (ESB). Pale Ale was for a while the most popular of the craft beer categories, but became overshadowed by IPA's, so much that what would have been called a pale ale might now be called a "Session IPA" or simply an IPA with a low IBU count.

Pale ale is often a good introduction to craft beer noobs since it looks like a light beer and doesn't set off dark beer alarm bells. I've occassionally seen people picking up a pale ale under the mistaken belief that it is "light".

Friday, July 1, 2016

Sam Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA

The label says that it's brewed with real grapefruit, so I was expecting something like a radler or a shandy, but I was pleasantly surprised with the complexity of the latest offering in Sam Adams' Rebel series. You can taste the grapefruit, but at first it seems like it's a characteristic of the hops rather than added flavoring. Speaking of hops, the IBU level is 52, which is not super high on the hoppiness scale, but fairly bitter nonetheless. the beer warms up a little, I can detect some of the actual grapefruit in the mix - more like grapefruit peel than grapefruit juice though. Back to the hops - there is some grapefruitiness in the hop bill, but pine notes as well, making this an interesting brew to say the least. I'd recommend this as a summer ale and give it a 7.5 on the IGB scale of tastiness.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ales: Amber, Red and Blonde

The ale styles known as Amber, Red and Blonde are what I like to think of as your "basic" ales. There's nothing fancy going on here, no truckloads of unnecessary hops, no addition of flavorings like fruit or coffee, just plain ol' ale! One could think of these ales as the craft beer industry's answer to the American pale lager...a much wittier and more well-read answer! They all clock in at 4.5 - 6% ABV and have a moderate hop profile of 25-30 IBU. They all tend to be similar in some respects to lagers, but with a layer of subtlty and complexity not found in most lagers. The main difference among these three styles is color. The blondes are naturally a golden yellow, the reds a coppery red and the ambers somewhere in between, although some reds can differ in taste, with a sweeter, maltier character reminiscent of a Vienna Lager or a Märzen. Of the amber ales, New Belgium's Fat Tire is a great example, as is Nebraska-brewed Lucky Bucket and Odell's 90 Schilling. Red Ales seem to proliferate around St. Patrick's Day, with Killian's being a great example of the style. Don't confuse a red ale with that Midwest abomination, beer mixed with tomato juice!