Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sam Adams Harvest Saison

Part of the 2014 Harvest Collection, Harvest Saison pours a delightfully hazy ripe pineapple hue with an short eggshell colored head. Sweet to the taste, made with barley, oats, rye and wheat, this saison delivers on the Belgian style very well. Banana, bubble gum, pineapple and pear all vie for the attention of the taste buds. Similar in some respects to a hefeweizen, or even a dunkelweizen (sans the dark color of course) but with a character all its own. Great addition to the annual Harvest Collection.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

North Coast Brewing Old Stock Ale 2011

A version of Old Stock Ale 2011, aged in oak bourbon barrels, was my personal choice for best beer at the 2011 Lincoln Okto Beer Fest a few weeks ago. While this incarnation doesn't have the silky smoothness of its cooler big brother, it's certainly no slouch.

Cloudy, dark apricot-orange in color, not much of a head. Technically a barleywine, it undoubtedly shares some characteristics with its grapey cousins. Very strong raisin tastes, maybe some plum, and lingering on the borders of perception...figs. Hold on; I think that I detect some black cherry on the back of my tongue. Almost syrupy in consistency, similar in feel to those "nectars".

Very tasty; but be careful, 11.9% ABV makes this a sit-at-home-and-don't-operate-heavy-machinery brew.

Ad Astra Ale by Free State Brewing

Pours a coppery bronze color with a teensy little beige head. Getting some toast with the first few sips. Some honey and peppery notes as well. Just a hint of peach on the back of the tongue as it warms up. Not a bad autumn brew...even though it is freakin' hot outside!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New Belgium Abbey

First of all, I can't believe that I have never had one of these before. I've tried many different varieties of New Belgium brews and reviewed most of them, but somehow missed Abbey. Billed as a Belgian Dubbel, Abbey pours a deep mahogany with ruby highlights, with a  tan, one-finger head. malty sweetness, with a symphony of dark fruits: raisins, figs, plums, black cherries and dates. Lots of maltiness and even some subtle piney hops hiding out behind the scenes. Great representative of the style.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Belgium Tour de Fall Pale Ale

Pours a coppery amber color, with a beige three-finger head. Clear, with no sediment apparent. Bready taste right off the bat, with some floral notes floating around waiting to be discovered. Hops are fairly mild, with none of the obvious pine or grapefruit that you sometimes get, balanced nicely with the malty caramel sweetness. One thing that I've noticed about New Belgium is that they don't just beat one style to death, or tart their beers up with exotic flavorings (usually!) but just make good solid brews. I've reviewed several of their pale ales in this space and they're all a little different, starting four years ago with Mighty Arrow. Tour de Fall is a keeper...have another one on me.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Modern Monks Fox Hole Pivo

Fox Hole is a bar in Wilbur, Nebraska and pivo is Czech for beer. Pouring a clear pale golden hue with a towering four-finger head that quickly recedes to one finger, this Modern Monks creation is billed as a Bohemian style pilsner. However it's not as hoppy as I'd expect a pilsner to be; more like a K├Âlsch if I had to hang a label on it. The under 4% ABV makes it very easy to drink more than one, but really, the taste is smooth almost to the point of blandness. Nice try though.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Beer Styles

When I first started getting interested in craft beers and micro-brews a few years ago, I focused a lot on the differences and similarities among the different beer styles. I did research on the internet and at the library, collecting various charts and beer "family trees", trying to make sense out of the traits that defined each style. And since we don't have a reinheitsgebot here in the U.S. (or anywhere other than Germany for that matter) brewers can pretty much call a beer whatever they damn well please! While it appears to me that in the early days of American craft brewing, brew masters attempting to brew "true to style", whether that meant a traditional or regional style, or a resurrected  type of beer that had long disappeared. As more an more micro-brews sprung up, engendering more and more competition (as well as other market forces) naturally we saw more innovation with a bewildering array of beers flooding the market. the counterpoint to the huge number of beers and breweries we saw that certain beer styles had a coolness factor that couldn't be ignored. One of these was the IPA. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, a designation given during Britain's colonial days to beers that had to stand up to the long trip by ship to India, necessitating a lot of hops and a lot of alcohol, both which served to act as preservatives. (Some research indicates that this may be a myth, however)

Within the modern brewing community, "IPA" became synonymous with "really hoppy" and many breweries designated their hoppiest beer as an IPA. This resulted in a wide variance in IBU's (International Bittering Unit - a measurement of hop derived bitterness) from brewer to brewer and region to region, with the Pacific Northwest gaining a reputation for being a center for hoppy beers.

With the popularity of IPA's has come the phenomena of branding anything that is even slightly hoppy as an IPA. You have your Black IPA's, Red IPA's, Belgian or White IPA's, Rye IPA's ad infinitum. There is some disagreement among the craft beer community about whether or not this is a good thing. If you are one who believes that craft brewing is a sacred calling that should be outside the realm of crass commercialism, then sure, it's bad. But if you recognizer that it's a business like any other, you see that "IPA" has become shorthand for "hoppy" and leave it at that.

Another appellation that has achieved critical mass is the term "Imperial". Originally used only as part of the style Imperial Russian Stout, a specific style of stout that received its name due to it being brewed in  England for the Russian Czars,"'Imperial" has come to mean "a really large amount of alcohol" when appended to an existing beer style, like "Imperial Porter", or "Imperial Amber".

The bottom line is that what a brewery calls its beer may or not be a helpful description of what is actually in the bottle. Read beer reviews, sample when possible and do your research. there's a lot great beer out there!