20 April 2009

Black Wattle Original Ale

Rating: 6.1
Brewery: Barons Brewing Company (Sydney, AU)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 5.8%
Seller: Blue Dog Tavern (Chalfont, PA)
When Enjoyed: 17 April 2009

What the hell is a wattle seed? This is bound to be the first question on your mind when you approach this beer in your local cooler. Indeed I was driven to Wikipedia to better understand what I might expect from this peculiar Australian brew. Unfortunately, there is no tasteapedia yet, and I've never had the opportunity to chew on an acacia plant. Nonetheless, I boldly approached Baron's attempt to re-define the Australian word for beer.

The Black Wattle Ale pours smooth with a decent head that is retained poorly. It's got a rich amber color that previews the heavy roasted barley flavor to come. And that is in fact my main beef with this beer, afterward I was left with more questions than I had answers. Not only was I still asking myself 'what is a wattle seed again?' I was also asking 'where was the wattle seed?' (perhaps if I drank this whilst watching Lost I would also be asking, 'when is the wattle seed?). Barons packed this beer with so much powerful barley that it is really the only discernible taste. The hop quotient is almost non-existent and I imagine the barley has overpowered the wattle seed flavor to a significant degree. Now, I'm willing to imagine that since this seed is used to make bush bread that it might taste something like roasted barley. If that is the case, then why add roasted barley at all, why not go full wattle on me and knock me out?

To be fair, this is not all that bad a beer. Its a solid amber ale, and if you like roasted barely the way I do, you'd order this beer frequently. If Barons became Australian for beer, I would be pleased. But false advertising is false advertising and there are penalties for that in my book. On top of that it shows that the Australian microbrew tradition still has a ways to go to catch up with the American one. I can just imagine what Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head could do with an ingredient like wattle seed. For the native continent of this assuredly alluring ingredient to be so timid about its presence in this beer is dissapointing.

15 April 2009

Extra ESB - 471 Small Batch

Rating: 7.1
Brewery: Breckenridge Brewery (Breckenridge, CO)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 7.8%
Seller: Blue Dog Tavern (Chalfont, PA)
When Enjoyed: 15 April 2009

The ESB, or Extra Special Bitter, is definitely a style that is getting harder to find in the tanks of American Microbreweries. The style in many ways is the non-colonial version of the IPA, medium-high bitterness with a stiff malty backbone with a blend of session-y working man attitude. In my opinion it tends to stick in between the IPA and other session beers, like Red Ales or French variants like Saison or Biere de Garde. This limited run offering from Breckenridge Brewery though has a distinct American character.

For starters the hop blend in this ESB leans a little heavier on the crisper American varieties (like chinook) than the British ones (like fuggles). Furthermore, they amped up the ABV a bit thus making it an "Extra Special" ESB. While the ABV comes as a surprise, certainly pegged it lower than that in a tasting (and 7.8% is still not too terribly high, just higher than than the style usually comports).

The pour comes out dissapointingly flat, however and the head is not very thick, though it has decent retention. Which brings me to the paradox of this beer, for an ESB its got plenty of bitter, but not much that is 'extra' or 'special'. The only surprising thing about this beer is the ABV, and even that isn't close to jaw dropping. While a solid beer by any measure, stacked up against similar quality beers in its session or IPA cousins, I'd choose the other beers.

The RD Bar Crawl - Beer Week Edition

Every once and a while Harry and Jim will embark on a more epic sized night out, hitting up three or more bars in one evening and detailing their adventure in a rambling post that will surely be more entertaining than analytical.

This also concludes the Responsible Drunk's coverage of Philly Beer Week.

What does one do after spending the better part of the day slowly getting wasted on delicious microbrews from the world over? One hops on the Broad Street Line and pilgrimages to Pat's Steaks, thats what. After that, one goes on a bar crawl, because why not?

Your intrepid responsible drunkards set out from Pat's Steaks to the newish South Philly spot Devil's Den (11th and Ellsworth) for what was deemed to be one of the Beer Fest after-parties. There, we partook in some tasty flights from Bells as well some other area brews. They were all tasty, though my memory of the night is pretty spotty. The DD is a happening little spot, if a little small for what seems like a great beer drinking venue and what at least sounded like good food.

From there it was a trip up Broad Street to the newly expanded Good Dog bar and restaurant (15th and Locust) for a purported Yards Firkin. For those who don't know what a firkin is, its a special quantity of ale stored in a cask (roughly equivalent to a quarter barrel). Yards brought their Porter and it was delightful. The Good Dog is the tall-skinny variety of bar, with three cramped rooms with two bars all on top of one another. If you need some space to breath, its best to trek up to the third floor. Ultimately, its a great reasonably priced place to descend into drunkenness with some good friends over a game of darts (but presumably if you don't care for darts or drinking, the food is not bad either).

To cap off our epic day of beer, we sauntered down the block to what is perhaps my favorite place in the city, Monk's Cafe (16th and Spruce). As a Belgianophile, capping a day of epic drinking with some epic ales, a pot of mussels and some frites is about all a boy could ask for. Be warned though, Monk's is popular and won't take your reservations. Get there early or plan for a covert take over of the barstools. Otherwise you will look like a jackass, and a sober jackass at that. To mark the occaision Monks had this year's first tapping of Duvel's Groen (Green Label). In many ways this is a Belgian white that owes a lot to German sensibilities. It's bright complexion refreshing quality are maintained through a solid malt complex, no small feat. From there, the final nail in the coffin was a bottle of Rochefort Trappistes No. 10. If you ever need a knockout punch, this is it, it literally sent Harry home. We'll probably review this in the future, so I'm going to withold my thoughts on it 'till then, but really this was the perfect nightcap to an epic day of beer.

14 April 2009

Philly, Craft, Beer and Festival Continuations

This is a continuation of thoughts of Philadelphia's Third Annual Philly Craft Beer Festival. The remaining thoughts of beer tried and reflections on the event as a whole.

On-Point Lager: Blue Point Toasted Amber Lager- Tried this lager and is one of the better to be had. Even though toasted, this lager avoids the smoky flavor and is very crisp. Just a great, flavorful and crisp lager.

A Couple More Rocky Runs: Manayunk's Tripel Lindy- Manayunk's Tripel offering. In general it did fit the style of a Tripel but came out a little flat. Expected it to be a little more interesting and flavorful, but instead was bland for it's style.

Best Name for Wanting to Drink Something Because You Would Never Drink It In Real Life: Manayunk's Schuylkill Punch- For those not from the Philadelphia Area, the Schuylkill is one of the rivers that goes through Philadelphia which people wouldn't want to touch around here, much less drink from. In terms of this beer, Manayunk's Schuylkill Punch is a Fruit Beer. Dominated by its Raspberry taste, it is a little too fruit flavored and sweet for my tastes and tastes nothing like a normal beer.

All Natural Drunk: Appalachian Organic Brown Ale- The organic movement is starting to enter the brewing world as well. Had my first organic beer the summer of last year and this provides a strong argument for the expansion of such a trend. The main thing I noticed with this brown ale was it being really rich in flavor. It was by far the most flavorful of any Brown Ale that I've had. If that's the organic impact, then there will certainly be a spot for organics within brewing.

Christmas in March: Verte du Mont-Blanc- This French Brewery tucked far away in the alps decided to make the trip to Philadelphia to participate and it was appreciated. Tried a juniper spiced ale. Generally more of a winter ale, spruce ales tend to be hit or miss with people. The piney flavor can be offsetting for drinkers, however this is a great version. The pine flavor is strong enough to taste but not overpowering to the point of not wanting to drink it. Just very well done and to bring out for tasting one of the rarer styles in beer was fantastic.

Other Thoughts:

That wraps up the new beers that were tried at the craft beer festival this year and here are a few other notes about the event.

A couple of the Californian Breweries had a bit of a disappointing showing in my mind. Stone and Anchor both came but had their most popular selections only. Stone with Arrogant Bastard and Stone IPA and Anchor with Anchor Steam and Anchor Porter. At a Craft Beer Festival one hopes to try some new or at least different beer offerings from breweries than what is the norm. Maybe it was the distance that led to them sticking to the standbys but the Colorado breweries that came seemed to have a variety of offerings.

Also disappointing was some of the breweries not at the first event. Unknown if they were only around for the second event and if the first event had some exclusive breweries of their own, but we did spend some time looking for some breweries and found only limited presence or none at all at the festival. Four+ we were especially looking forward to talking to the brewers of and finding out what brewing is like in Utah and what differences it presents towards the making of beer. Hopefully a chance shows up in the future.

The only other mild setback due to no fault of their own was Oskar Blues Brewery. It goes to show their popularity as by the time we got to their stand all of the beer was gone. However we have since picked up some of their beer and will have a review of it soon. Oskar Blues along with Sly Fox are once again showing good beer can in fact be found in a can.

Now for the long list of positives that made the Festival a truly great event. The organization of the event was superb with free transportation to the event, having the right number of people to stands making sure lines were basically non-existent for the event. It was great that the whole 4 hours could be spent for the beer and not for waiting in line. Also, everyone at the event running stands was very nice and approachable. Along with the introduction of some beers for the first time and a wide selection of great craft beer the event was well worth it and a great representation of what craft beer has to offer.

13 April 2009

Thoughts of Philly, Craft, Beer and Festival (Not Necessarily in that Order) - The Review Part Two

The Third Annual Philly Craft Beer Festival was March 7th at the Navy Yards. This was the first session of 2 occurring from from 12:30-4:30. 4 hours of sampling an assortment of local and non-local craft beers led to a flurry of tastes, discoveries and drinking. To give a sense of the madness that we were able to collect, here is a rundown in fairly chronological order. First the beers.

Breakfast Beer: Franziskaner Weiss- While not suggesting as a daily habit, certain beers do tend to pair well with breakfast food. The wheat beer and similar styles make a safe choice for pairing with the usual breakfast items such as eggs. This Weiss matches perfectly with our breakfast and is great by itself. One of my personal favorites in the category, it is a solid, filling beer taste with that hint of zing found in Weiss beers that makes it interesting.

(New) The Up and Comer: River Horse Honey Weizen Bock- The up and comer status is not necessarily for the beer itself, but the brewery. River Horse is located in Lambertsville, New Jersey. While being around since 1996, it hasn't really been prevalent until recently. Last year is the first time I can remember seeing their products readily available so it is pretty new to us. Either way their new beers are starting to seem to always impress. The oatmeal milk stout which we reviewed previously is very good and this one is as well. A little darker than most Bocks it still fits the style nicely and the taste of honey adds a nice touch. It is quickly becoming one of the go to choices at the Responsible Drunk.

The Fruit Beer That Wasn't: The Breury Black Orchard- Fruit beers seem to be gaining a lot of popularity recently. While before rarely taking up taps at local bars, now seems to often take up one if not two taps in a lot of places. A lot of this popularity seems to be focused on the lambics, which tend to be very fruity in taste and might be trying to draw in new tastes and tasters. The Black Orchard on the other hand is trying to do something different. The fruit like taste in this beer is complimenting the beer instead of overpowering it. The black wheat style's heavy and darker taste and the fruit taste match really well together. The Bruery's website mentions the use of Chamomile, Coriander and Citrus peel which creates a fruit like taste in the beer. At first taste it gives off the taste of black raspberry. It'd be nice to have more fruit beer go in this route of working to compliment and add a nice complexity to the beer instead of just overpowering the beer itself.

Home Brewing is the Best Brewing: Keystone Homebrew Belgian White- Keystone Homebrew is a homebrewing store located in Montgomery County that sells a variety of homebrewing supplies so people can brew their own beer. They just happen to brew a bit of their own too. Make that quite a bit. Keystone had one of the largest selections of beer on hand to try. Trying the Belgian White, it is a great matching of style and the Homebrews seem to have more flavor packed in to them. I'm sure the freshness and small batches help this process.

(New) The Lager of Bocks: Yuengling Bock- While Jim has given most of the description needed for the Yuengling Bock (look at Part 1 for his review) here are a few other things to note. In general we agree about its taste. After a couple of beers it seems like it would be very hard to tell the difference between Yuengling Lager and Yuengling Bock. However, the mild differences in taste does add a complexity unknown to the Lager and does fit Bock in style. The other note is on the availability side. While watching our World Champion (that will never get old) Phillies in Spring Training at Clearwater, Yuengling Bock on tap was available, so maybe it might also be available at Citizen Bank Park during the regular season and be a chance to try it, if you haven't already gone and done so. I will be looking into this as soon as I can make it to a game and keep everyone updated.

Here is Brighthouse Field's place to get beer. An amazing selection for a baseball stadium and there is Yuengling Bock; middle tap on the right hand side.

The beer fest was too large and grand to fit in one entry
so a continuation will soon follow with the rest of the beers and thoughts of beer fest.

Local 2

Rating: 8.4
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
Glass: Chalice
ABV: 9.0%
Seller: Blue Dog Tavern (Chalfont, PA)
When Enjoyed: 11 April 2009

A new round of our continuing series of Brooklyn vs. Dogfish Head. In this round we've stepped up to the bomber class, today we have Brooklyn's latest installment in their bottle-conditioned series, a strong Belgian Ale called Local 2 and later we'll review Dogfish Head's berry fruit beer, Black and Blue.

The best way to sum up this beer is that it is a dark ale for white ale drinkers. Very rarely does a bold, malty, black as night ale have the adjective refreshing attached to it; this is one of those rare times. Typically, ales this dark are dark for a reason. Brewers like to showcase malt blends that pack lots of nutty, woody bready flavors together that make a high ABV beer enjoyable. Here, Brooklyn has toned down the ABV and added a citrus twist vis a vis an infusion of locally grown honey and hint of orange peel; flavors that are traditionally found in witbiers.

The up front citrus definitely softens the malt character a great deal, allowing it to finish smooth and without any alcohol or bitter aftertaste. In a way, the citrus flavors trick your brain into thinking this beer is a lot less heavy than it is. The downside to all this is, if you are a malt purist you have to dig real deep to get to the malt and yeast flavorings of this beer. While the beer is refreshing, surprising and mellow, it actually isn't all that complex. From the purist perspective, this might be a beer that would dissapoint a Belgian enthusiast but surprise an American one.

This certainly signals some exciting things on Brooklyns horizons. Along with a new line of reserve series, a double IPA and an Old Ale that are coming to a tap near you, Brooklyn is starting to dip its toe into the genre-bending tradition of American experimental brewing; a tradition that is mostly dominated by extreme beer types of the Dogfish Head ilk. That said, I would not be expecting a sextuple IPA's in the future for Brooklyn. Head Brewmaster Garrett Oliver is a man grounded in tradition and while willing to experiment, will do so with a firm grasp on classic tastes and a commitment to placing them in new contexts (ala Local 2) rather than just exploding our taste buds with Hop-Bombs.

06 April 2009

Philly Craft Beer Fest - The Review Part One

Oh wow guys, so sorry this is about a month late, but this was so good I needed to take a month to think about how good it was and put it into words. Quite honestly, this was the best forty five dollars you or I or anyone could ever spend. If you have a beer loving loved one in your life, purchase them tickets for next year's fest. It will surely please them mightily.

The Responsible Drunk official Beer Fest Festivities began bright and early at 11 AM at my place for a special breakfast of eggs, bacon and a solid wheat beer, which in this instance was the lovely German variety Franziskaner. After boarding the train to go to the fest we quickly realized that most of the city had the same idea. If you weren't going to beer fest, you were probably going on the Erin Express and thus riding the R6 at 11.30 AM with a nalgene full of Coors Light. Way to go Philly! World Fucking Champions indeed!

On to the fest. Basically, organizers FTW here folks. In essence the organizers found the perfect balance in the beer to people ratio that bordered somewhere between that of a Wednesday night frat party and a swinging local bar on a Saturday, only increased the scale by a factor of 10 and set it in the lovely Philadelphia Naval Yard facility. To give you a feel for the room, it was about a football field long, sides lined with beer and just the right amount of people. To be honest, Harry and I waited in exactly one line all day. That translates to about 4 hours straight of beer sampling from that nifty 6 oz souvenir glass (do the math).

And boy was that glass raised a lot that day. One beautiful if too-obviously macho thing about beer fest is the organic crowd cheer that I like to call the beer-wave. If you are at beer fest and the dude next to you raises his glass and starts bellowing, you and all around will be impelled to mimic his bellowing until the entire building is bellowing along with you. Then you all drink and for a moment, all is right in the world.

When you are trying over 25 new beers in one day, it can be a little hard to get a handle on what you liked and didn't like, what is good and what is not. There were a few newsworthy highlights, and I'd like to run them down for you all here:

Yuengling Bock - Our beloved hometown brewery has begrudgingly given into the seasonal beer craze and brewed its first new beer in 180 years. I say begrudgingly because if you go into this beer expecting much more than a glass of Yuengling, well, you will be dissapointed. Yuengling Bock is basically a darker, ever so slightly maltier version of its Amber predecessor. In this way, Yuengling has nodded to the movement of craft beer without succumbing to any of the pretension, and in essence pulling one over on the non-local beer-o-philes.

The Bruery's Saison Du Lente - This California Belgian influenced brewery does a wonderful job of mimicing styles from across the pond. I particularly like a good saison because the philosophy of a table beer is something that I think is lost on a lot of craft brewers, especially in the sweep of monster beers that has nearly taken over the industry in the last few years. This one is light, crisp but maintains a satisfying maltiness. It makes a great anytime beer.

Blue Point Brewery - This brewery from out on Long Island had a really solid representation with a Toasted Amber Lager and a RYPA (IPA made with Rye). The RYPA especially stood out because it seemed to be a popular style across the board at the fest and in my opinion this topped them all.

Alright, this is part one of four. Stay Tuned for Harry's analysis and then a recap of our epic post-fest bar crawl!

Double Simcoe IPA

Rating: 9.8
Brewery: Weyerbacher (Easton, PA)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 9.0%
Seller: The Foodery (Philadelphia, PA)
When Enjoyed: 6 March 2009

Usually the Double IPA marks a beer where hops abound and the aftertaste tends to get a bit bitter. The Double IPA tends to be a stronger beer with high ABV content, bitterness and hoppy flavors. Generally the Double IPA takes all of the flavors that mark a regular IPA and increase it towards an extreme.

This beer's namesake however, is also based on a very special hop: Simcoe hops. The Simcoe hop is a relatively newer hop hybrid created in 2000 known best for it being less harsh to the pallete. This allows for breweries to put in much more hops into their brews without the aversive bitter taste overpowering the beer.

These special Simcoe hops is what really makes the beer. The normal complaint against Double IPAs tends to be that they are too bitter to enjoy regularly. However, the Simcoe IPA does away with this bitter taste in the beer. There is a sense of the hops difference straight from the pour. The color creates a dark orange, almost greenish color. However, the great difference is the improvement upon the taste of the Double IPA.

The initial taste maintains the very hoppy flavor expected within a Double IPA and also gives hints of a citrus taste as well. However, the main benefit of the Simcoe hop is from the aftertaste. It doesn't contain any bitterness at all, and goes down amazingly smooth for a Double IPA and a beer of 9% ABV. The initial taste creates a great strong hop flavor and also prevents the bitterness that spoils the taste of some Double IPAs and IPAs in general. It's aftertaste is less bitter than even many IPAs on the market. As such, it makes for an eminently drinkable beer. If you happen to be a fan of Double IPAs or IPAs this is a must try. The Simcoe hops makes the Double Simcoe IPA the equal of any other IPA or Double IPA around.

Blue Star

Rating: 7.2
Brewery: North Coast Brewing Company (Fort Bragg, CA)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 4.5%
Seller: The Foodery (Philadelphia, PA)
When Enjoyed: 26 February 2009

So we here at the Responsible Drunk might have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves here. Tired of the cold weather we decided to try a summer beer a little early. Wheat beer tends to be a summer seasonal beer, best for relaxing and having a drink in the hot weather. This is generally because of it light, crisp and not too complex flavor. Wheat beers tend to focus on having a very crisp and light wheat flavor that can be complimented by a small dose of citrus flavor, although not required.

Blue Star fits this style very well in making a light crisp beer that isn't very complex on taste. The initial taste has a very crisp wheat flavor. While being crisp, Blue Star is also very smooth and doesn't have the hoppier or maltier taste of other beers. The initial taste fits the style perfectly and creates the beginnings to a great wheat beer and summer drink.

However, Blue Star doesn't pan out after that. The crisp initial taste becomes bland by the time the aftertaste arrives. The flavors of the beer die off a little too quick and make the rest of the taste relatively bland for a beer in general. If there was more to the beer than the initial taste it would have made for a great wheat beer and summer drink. Instead it's taste towards the end of drinking and aftertaste left a bit to be desired.

10 March 2009

Beer Talk with The Responsible Drunk...

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of brewer profiles from the Responsible Drunk. At Beer fest we were able to chat with Christian Ryan from River Horse Brewing Company in Lambertville, NJ about what they got brewing for this year, his thoughts on brewing philosophy and why some beers taste different out of the bottle and on draft...

RD: The Weizen Bock is brand new?
CR: Yes, just kegged that off yesterday
RD: What else do you have coming out new?
CR: At the beginning of our year we have the year roughly mapped out. We do try to do three reserves a year we try to do at least as many draft-only’s, because that is only like a half tank, get it out, blow it out and see what happens. The dunkel last year was one of those, and we’re bringing that back full time. Full time for Oktoberfest, and we’re going to do a fall run too… We’ve got Hopalatomus, last year we did a draft only, we’re bringing that back full time. We’re going to do a wheat-rye beer for our first reserve in a couple months. In the fall we’re going to do a farmhouse. We’re doing a pumpkin tripel…
RD: Gearing up for Oktoberfest?
CR: Yea, I think it will go very well. We got a Milk Stout coming back out… we’re probably going to do a barley wine for Christmas time. We’re going to do a Russian beer thing, a Russian style stout.
RD: Do you have a general philosophy…
CR: I do what I like, I don’t want to stick with style, I guess my philosophy is, I don’t like styles. If you stick to styles, then you are making beer that everybody else has. While it’s a good guideline I don’t want it in beer
RD: You don’t wan to peg yourself in extreme beer…
CR: I’m not a really big extreme beer fan, I like drinkable… For me if you dump 40 pounds of hops in a beer to the point where you can’t taste anything else, then what’s the point? Anybody can do that, look hey, I have the hoppiest beer! Alright, so what? I can’t taste anything else. Every person in this room could make that.
RD: And consistency is the other thing:
CR: That’s the hard part. Honestly, anybody can make good beer, the hard part is making good beer consistently.
RD: We recently reviewed Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron, and we review everything out of the bottle, and neither of us liked it out of the bottle, but we had it on draft list night, it was amazing. I feel like bottling technology has gotten to a point where it shouldn’t matter whether its on bottle or draft:
CR: Depending on which beer. So for us you have our Tripel, or Double or the Belgian Freeze, it's bottle-conditioned, so those are getting up to about 3.8%, 4.0% by volume CO2 but in the keggar, we only bring it up to about 2.8%... It can be a different experience, some guys don’t filter their draft, but filter their bottles… so there’s no real reason they should be different but in reality sometimes they are.

Beer Talk with the Responsible Drunk is edited for clarity and drunkenness.

09 March 2009

The RD Night Out - Brooklyn Event at London Bar and Grille

In our continuing coverage of beer week, the Responsible Drunk headed out to the London Bar and Grill in the Art Museum district of Philadelphia on Monday night to sample some brand new Brooklyn brews and chat with Head Brewmaster Garret Oliver (pictured on left).

Brooklyn Brewery has been admired on this site for its consistency and stylistic discipline. This concept of a devotion towards a German style reinheitsgebot rigidity must not be overstated, however. More accurate would be to say Brooklyn attempts to blend that sort of consistency and discipline with truly American flavors, and the best argument it has presented so far was on display in two new beers premiered this week for Philly Beer Week.

BLAST! is a new double IPA that showcases Brooklyn venturing into Dogfish Head territory. The dry hopped Imperial Pale Ale has a super foamy head, a bright complexion and features a blend of 8 different hop varieties, including the vaunted and popular new SIMCOE(r). In the opinion of Mr. Oliver, its a powerful beer (8%), and judging by his brewing selection, I'd say that is a reasonable assessment. Surly there are more potent IIPA's out there, but this is pretty much what you would expect from Brooklyn in that department.

Local 2 is the second in a new series of 100% bottle conditioned Belgian style ale from Brooklyn. Last year they released a smooth, citrusy Belgian white which was more or less by the book (as Brooklyn is wont...). This year, however, Mr. Oliver has taken it up a notch. This dark Belgian ale blends honey grown in a local apiary with dark roasted caramel and other Belgian malts with a Belgian yeast that lends a special spicyness to a beer that is otherwise rich in fruit and chocolate. Pulling this brew off with typical Brooklyn consistency is truly a feat. When I asked Mr. Oliver about his inspirations for this beer, he said, "definitely Chimay Grand Reserve, like it used to be in the 80's" as well as Achel Extra, but he stressed the importance of adding an American flavor, hence the locally grown honey and the dry chocolate malt.

I'm sure we will be getting around to full reviews of these beers, as well as the solid Blunderbuss Old Ale which was also on tap, as soon as they are more widely available. Stay tuned for more updates on Philly Beer Week activities!

Old Man Winter Ale

Rating: 8.1
Brewery: Southern Tier (Lakewood, NY)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 8%
Seller: The Foodery (Philadelphia, PA)
When Enjoyed: 6 March 2009

Brewers attack a winter ale in a variety of ways. Some go for a spicy, hoppy amber, like Goose Island's Lake Effect, to warm our souls and tantalize our taste buds. Some go malt crazy and produce a stout that packs in the coffee and chocolate, to complement the tons of coffee and chocolate we're already consuming during the holidays, Lagunitas' Cappucino Stout comes to mind. Southern Tier's Old Man Winter is certainly in the malty category.

Stylistically speaking, Old Man Winter might fit the loose definition of a porter, but it's makers have stuck in the Old Ale category (an even looser affiliation). It is very dark, the malts are prominent, but it doesn't carry the same density as a stout. It has a smooth pour, with some measure of carbonation, but not too jumpy. The head is thick and brown in color. The real star is the flavor. The malt complexion here is one that cuts both sweet and bright, with a hop content that is relatively high. The hops here are what really defines it as an Old Ale, allowing for the right bitter cut to a dark ale, and acting as a preservative that will allow it to age with some amount of grace. It is probably worth cellaring half of your six pack, if you're into that kind of thing.

The ABV is also on the high side, and with cellaring that will increase further. The real skill of the brewers comes with the unrecognizability of this beer's strength. We were both quite sruprised to find out this beer was at 8%, the alcohol taste is practically non existant. While there is nothing terribly suprising about this brew, there are certainly more interesting Old Ales to be found, Old Man Winter is sure to please on a cold winter night in.

03 March 2009

Orval Trappist Ale

Rating: 8.9
Brewery: Brasserie d'Orval (Guame, Belgium)
Glass: Tulip or Chalice
ABV: 6.2%
Seller: The Foodery (Philadelphia, PA)
When Enjoyed: 26 February 2009

Say it slowly now, brettanomyces. Yes, brettanomyces. This is the stuff classically unique beer is made of. Brettanomyces is a unique strain of wild yeast found only in the backyard of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval which is situated in the southern regions of Belgium and borders both France and Luxembourg. The inclusion of this sort of ingredient is truly what sets this beer apart from others. There is no other beer like it, which is perhaps why this bright, bubbly amber ale is Brasserie d'Orval's only brew, which even sets it apart from the other half dozen trappist breweries in Belgium and the Netherlands.

This brew, available only in the skillet-shaped bottle pictured above, pours smooth into any rounded bottom glass with a rich head that has a noticeable citrus fragrance. The carbonation is powerful and maintains itself through the whole experience. This is a quality that many American made Belgian Ales overlook, often they nail the ingredients and consistency but the potency is mitigated by a lackluster carbonation.

Orval is an eminently enjoyable drink, in the end, it does not bowl you over with ABV or malt content, nor does it offer a truly varied palate of tastes that its Trappist counterparts often do. It is stylistically unique in this way, as a relatively low alcohol amber with a relatively high hop content, it presents a truly unique flavor, but as tasty as that is, it is not something that will develop and improve over the course of the bottle. It is also worth mentioning that its low ABV and not-so-sophisticated malt makeup means that this beer will not age as well as the premiere tripel's and quadrepel's of other Trappist breweries.

What really makes Orval a valuable experience is that wonderful little organism brettanomyces. The yeast's effectiveness has the double effect of infusing Orval with its bubbly texture and augmenting its palate ever so slightly in the direction of a wheat beer. It serves as a welcome reminder that our best beers owe their quality to unique, tiny, living organisms.

26 February 2009

Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

Rating: 6.9
Brewery: Dogfish Head (Milton, DE)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 12%
Seller: The Foodery (Philadelphia, PA)
When Enjoyed: 10 February 2009

This is the continuation to the comparative rating of brown ale displayed in their distinctive way by Brooklyn Brewery and Dogfish Head Brewery. Where Brooklyn's Brown Ale demonstrates a modest, but solid representation of the Brown Ale style; Dogfish Head creates a Brown Ale focusing on the experimental.

Dogfish Head as a brewery focuses on creative artistic flourishes of standard beer styles that people have become used to. However these are anything but ordinary. Dogfish Head takes pride on using unusual ingredients and brewing methods to create drastically different and creative tastes on different styles of beer. Palo Santo Marron for the Brown Ale is no exception. The description from the bottle itself explains its unique brewing process. "The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this ale comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted. At 10,000 gallons each, these are the largest wooden brewing vessels built in America since before Prohibition." This kind of eccentric brewing has become much of the norm for Dogfish Head. Always leading to interesting and complex tastes, this offering however falls short in terms of a brown ale.

While experimentation is appreciated in the creation of new craft brews and tastes, this offering seems to have gone too far. It tastes little like a brown ale and often the taste is too complex and conflicting to be greatly enjoyable. The overly strong alcohol content also seems to kill some of the lighter tastes usually present in brown ales and takes a deep caramel and vanilla flavors that often seem to work against each other during drinking. A little less would have done a lot more for this beer and given it more of a brown ale taste that was expected. This beer seems to be the opposite offering of the Brooklyn Brown ale in that it is incredibly interesting but not always eminently enjoyable.

09 February 2009

Brown Ale

Rating: 7.7
Brewery: Brooklyn (New York, NY)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 5.5%
Seller: The Foodery (Philadelphia, PA)
When Enjoyed: 07 February 2009

Consider this week to be round one in a set of comparative ratings between two breweries that consistently stand in comparison against one another; NYC's Brooklyn Brewery and Delaware's Dogfish Head. This week will pair off reviews of each brewery's brown ale, today, Brooklyn's classic Brown Ale. Harry will be posting later with an assessment of DFH's storied Santo Palo Marron.

Brooklyn Brown may be considered by some to be Brooklyn's flagship ale. Brooklyn, philosophically speaking, strives to create genre defining ales, steering clear of wacky ingredients, extreme techniques and much of the madcap artistry that draws people to DFH. Instead Brooklyn has sought a sobering (see what I did there?) approach, concentrating on getting the right balance of malts, yeast, water, hops and barley so as to conjur a stylistic form. In European terms, they look towards the British and the Germans much more than the Belgians, Dutch or French. All that said, Brown Ale may be Brooklyn's by the book attempt at a classic English style.

This beer starts off great. Poured into a pint glass, it has an embracing dark brown color that toes the line with a porter. It hits you with a smooth, almost creamy malt front end. The hops come through ever so slightly in the middle and it leaves you with hints of chocolate and coffee. Indeed, this is a beer that hits all the right notes on that first sip. The question then is, where does this beer go from here?

That is exactly where this beer trails off. As nice as those particular notes and flavors are, it all seems pretty standard. Brooklyn seems to have gotten so caught up in making a standard bearing classic that it left out some of the muscle this beer should have. I might also point out, this is an incredibly safe beer. Not to doubt the brewing talents of Brooklyn (to be sure, they are some of the brightest American brewing minds), but the degree of difficulty on this type of Brown Ale is quite low. How can you really go wrong with dark malts, coffee, chocolate and a lowish ABV? You can't really, and that is why this beer is eminently enjoyable, but not really all that interesting.

04 February 2009


Rating: 7.8
Brewery: Yuengling (Pottsville, PA)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 4.4%
Seller: The 13 Original Colonies
When Enjoyed: Just about every evening

Growing up near Philadelphia, there are a few things you inherit as a cultural birthright. Beyond undying allegiance to the area sports teams, we are brought up with an allegiance to either Pat's or Geno's, a special appreciation for Sylvester Stallone, and a general disgust for most things New York. Yuengling is such an inherited object. As a child, I knew that drinking was wrong, but I also could comprehend that Yuengling was something special. When there was beer around my house or at a party or a ballgame, it was Yuengling. Once I was within shooting range of 21, it didn't take long to appreciate Yuengling, even though I was at school in a state that didn't have it.

For those of us who grew up around it, Yuengling has defined what a Lager means. Now, Lager is not just a style of beer, it is a broad name for a brewing technique that encompasses many different styles, like Pilsner or Bock. Ask for "A Lager" in Chicago or LA and the bartender will give you a deranged look. Ask for "A Lager" in Philadelphia, you will receive Yuengling. This happens not because Yuengling is "America's Oldest (surviving) Brewery" or because it is brewed in Pottsville, which is at this point a suburb, but because to most of us, it does define what a lager should taste like. It is refreshing, but not watered down and has enough body to give it the heart it needs to stand out amongst the PBR's and the Budweiser's of the world.

Ubiquity alone is not a qualification for a good beer. Yuengling, despite having an unassuming taste, has endeared that very taste into the mouths and hearts of millions in the 13 original colonies. It hasn't achieved this through advertising (in fact they just started their first-ever TV ad campaign, "Yuengling, Lager's first name"), but simply by providing what the people want, and in this case, the people's taste can't be discounted. Yuengling is an Amber Lager, served in a green bottle or on draught and unmistakably has a distinct body to it. It certainly is a refreshing beer, but one that you don't mind chewing over from time to time. At 4.4%, you can spend an evening with a six-pack and feel very good about yourself. One needs to be careful not to over analyze the taste, because it is really important that this beer remains free of pretensions, otherwise we stand to disrupt the superb balance of aesthetics and populism that this beer offers.

Cappuccino Stout (Limited Release)

Rating: 7.1
Brewery: Lagunitas (Petaluma, CA)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 8.29%
Seller: Blue Dog Tavern (Chalfont, PA)
When Enjoyed: 04 February 2009

Another Stout to be tried. This one is a Cappuccino Stout, which is a Stout that has coffee flavorings. In general this type of Stout tends to have a mixture of tastes where it often goes back and forth between tasting like a Stout and tasting like a coffee. Lagunitas's version however has some tricks up its sleeves.

The first to be considered is the alcohol amount. At 8.29% this is about twice as strong as other Stouts are. While the alcohol amount is increased this also has a very strong impact on the taste of the beer. This Stout is much more bitter than other Stouts. This Stout seems to be more of an Imperial Stout than a Stout. An Imperial Stout is one of a higher alcohol content and tends to be more bitter than the milder taste of a Stout. However, this Stout also has the coffee taste that comes in short bursts. The color is a very dark color but when held up to light shows a dark red as well. The head is relative small and not full of flavor compared to that of other Stouts. The main taste comes from the beer itself which is mainly bitter with coffee tastes sneaking in every now and then.

In terms of the main thoughts about this beer, personally the beer seems to be labeled as the wrong style. This hurts its value, because drinking this while thinking it's a Stout and getting the taste of an Imperial one makes for it to be slightly less enjoyable. However the main feeling that reflects its score is its bitterness. While bitterness marks the Imperial Stout style, this specific beer seems too bitter. While bitterness in a beer can be enjoyed, it usually requires a variety of other interesting tastes to go along as well. This beer seems to only have the bitter taste of the beer and the occasional coffee taste that has some bitterness with it as well. It's hard to fully enjoy the whole beer (1 pint 6 ounces worth) much less think about going to multiple of them in the same night. That is the main thing that hurts its value as a beer.

02 February 2009

Prima Pils

Rating: 4.9
Brewery: Victory (Downingtown, PA)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 5.3%
Seller: Blue Dog Tavern (Chalfont, PA)
When Enjoyed: 01 February 2009

Victory's take on the Pilsner is a much different approach than most breweries take. Pilsners are usually marked by their light and crisp flavor with a small amount of hops introduced. Generally when looking to a Pilsner is to enjoy something light and crisp in flavor with a small amount of hops. However Victory takes a spin on the traditional view of the Pilsner.

This is easy to see as soon as it pours from the bottle. Instead of the typical gold color of a Pilsner, Prima Pils pours out as a more greenish-orange tint to the typical gold that is used to being seen. This color difference can be contributed to the higher amount of spices and hops being used in this beer. The increase in spices also comes out strongly in the aroma of the beer. At least Prima Pils warns the drinker enough of the difference in taste that is coming.

Upon tasting, Prima Pils starts off with the crisp flavor expected from a Pilsner, but then rapidly changes to all of the other flavors of spices thrown into the beer. While innovation is appreciated in the field of craft brewing and this is an innovative take on the Pilsner it doesn't seem to add to the quality of the beer. While it's trying to create a more interesting taste on a style that has a pretty standard taste, it seems to carry it too far. The final product seems to taste almost entirely of different spices that overpower the crispness and the hops of a typical Pilsner. While the innovation is there the final product leaves more to be desired. This beer is an example of pushing the envelop too far where instead of a spiced Pilsner, Victory has created a beer that tastes more of spices than anything else.

Oatmeal Milk Stout (Limited Edition)

Rating: 8.1
Brewery: River Horse (Lambertville, NJ)
Glass: Pint
ABV: 6.7%
Seller: Blue Dog Tavern (Chalfont, PA)

When Enjoyed: 01 February 2009

Stouts, generally speaking, are a very comfortable variety of ale. It's the ale you order when you need to feel at home, when you've got an appetite for something heavy and something sweet. That said, its also a very misunderstood variety. Stout to most folks has one name, and that name is Guinness (and rightly so!), but there is a lot more to stout than the Irish classic and River Horse's current Limited Edition is just the ale to demonstrate that fact.

There are in fact, two general varieties of stout (which, in truth, are darker brothers of the Porter variety), dry and sweet. Most people know the dry variety (Guinness), but the sweet stout is loved by many for its easy appropriation of chocolate, cappuccino, cinnamon and other wintertime goodies. Knowing that, you often go into a stout with a fairly limited set of expectations; River Horse plays deftly on those expectations to deliver a perfectly comfortable ale with just enough twists and turns to warrant your appreciation.

One pictures an Oatmeal stout as a dry variety, emphasizing those malty, chewy grains and oats. To be sure, this stout delivers on the chewy front. The oatmeal smell hits you off its foamy head like a warm bowl of Quaker Oats on a January morning. From there, things get interesting, balancing out that chewy malt is a creamy pour with a consistency nearing whole milk with notes of vanilla and an almost smoky finish.

Crossbreeding beers is often a flawed venture. Part of the reason beer has distinct lines is that those lines are not meant to be crossed lightly. This ale achieves something other more experimental ales fail at; it seamlessly blends qualities that are peculiar to both varieties of style (or species of a genus, to use scientific nomenclature). It does so because its makers set modest limitations and never forgot why we all love a good stout.

01 February 2009

A Manifesto Continued

The main points I want focused upon from this blog and what should really be taken out from our manifestos: 1) This blog is meant as only a starter and not the end all to the discussion of that beer. If your opinion is different from ours great we want to hear it. These ratings are not meant to be a 'this is it, end of discussion' view but just a conversation starter. So start working out those comment boxes; which fits in with the other main point that. 2) The score is the combined average rating of all the scores for a specific beer. We both come up with our own rating and then average the two together. So even our scoring is not set in stone, but feel that it is a good starting point for the review itself. Now without further delay to enjoying great beer.

"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer. "
- Abraham Lincoln

Beer has become one of life's grand beverages. Enjoyed by the many, savored by the few. However who is it that's really savoring? This blog tends to help guide the drinker on a quest to savor more while drinking beer. It sets out to show the different side of beer than the common mainstream beers that populate the market. Instead the focus is on craft brews that have steadily been growing in both number, variety and taste. We tend to show the world of craft beer and show new depth of quality in beer where often the focus is more on the quality of its materials and taste than that of their current advertisement which seems to be prevalent with many of the macro beer companies out on the market today.

However that's not to say that all craft beers are good, or that a macro beer can't be of good quality. So how is one able to sift through all of the choices that have been popping up in the beer world. That is what this blog intends to help find out. The key here is to help the reader find good beer of their choosing, not by the rarity of the brew or of its ingredients, but by what matters; taste. We intend to find what's good and set our focus on this goal alone.

Now in terms of the blog itself. The main focus of information will be based on the critique of different craft beers. Beers will be rated by each contributor and a value given based on a 0.0-10.0 scale will be given based on assessment of the beer. A review will also follow this score given by the author with the strongest, or perhaps most on-point view of the beer. This will help give the reader a sense of what they are getting themselves into with this craft beer and the tastes and other points of the beer that will come from it. The focus of the grading will be based upon taste according to these factors: First, the quality of the beer within its own style. As craft beers, the variety of beer has been categorized into styles of beer. A rating will focus on how this beer compares to other beer within its own style. Second, the rating will focus on how it tastes as a beer in general compared to all other beers.

Along with rating craft beers itself, this blog also plans to expand upon this goal of showing good beer by adding news of craft brewing, rating bars and distributors as well as lists ranging from best seasonal, to year end lists. In general we hope this starts a discussion with our viewership in order to drink better tasting beer. Enjoy.

A Manifesto

As a kick-off for this venture, each of the authors will be posting their manifesto to help readers understand where this blog is now, and where it is headed. The following is the first of two manifestos.

Beer is perhaps the one beverage that can assume the responsibility of the old saying "all things to all people". One can find oneself in it, on it, under it and over it. It can both sustain and destroy, augmenting one's thoughts even it its absence. It is for this reason, its world is a hard one to navigate. In this blog we seek to articulate as clearly as possible a guide to beer. Through our own careful analysis and exploration, we hope to help readers everywhere better appreciate the artful science that goes into making craft beer.

First, the particulars of the blog. Our main focus, our malts and yeast if you will, will be the critiquing of craft beer. All beers will be rated by each author and consensus, numerical score will be assigned on a 10 point scale to the first decimal place. The rating should be taken with a grain of salt, it is hardly assumed to be precise, but will help our readers quickly and with some accuracy identify our opinion. All beers will be rated from the bottle, unless otherwise noted. In the interest of as much disclosure as possible, we will also go as far as to tell you where, when and what glass the beer was enjoyed in. The review will be handled by whichever author has the strongest opinion, either positive or negative. In the future we hope to expand the blog to include semi-regular lists of our favorite seasonal beers and a year end set of compilations, as well as adding a news feature and a review of bars in and around the Philadelphia area.

Second, what kind of beers will we rate? As we see it craft beer includes a wide variety of production methods. In essence, any beer that aspires to anything other than lowest common denominator mass consumption without regard for the art of beer will be included. This allows for both the tiniest of brewpubs and craft-aspiring beers from major manufacturers such as Budweiser and Coors. We believe this to be the widest possible net, as it appears to us fairly disingenuous to try and determine the differences in quality between, for example, Natural Light and Milwaukee's Best. We will also disclose, at the risk of sounding hypocritical in the future, that this is the sort of rule that is made to be broken.

Third, what, generally speaking, makes a beer great? This is the trickiest question to answer, and one that will really be better articulated in the future as we review more and more beers. That said, as there are multiple authors here with well-formed conceptions of what makes a great beer, it is important to set something down before we get started. The authors come to the table here with particular style preferences, some will in most situations prefer a trappist quadruple to an imperial IPA. This is a tendency we will attempt to subdue or at least mute in our reviews. That said, it is important to know that we authors have those opinions for a reason and to say that one particular style's construction doesn't factor into the rating or review it receives would be dishonest. It is with that in mind that it should be said we seek to rate a beer according to its own style as much as possible. That is to say, a great pale ale is a great pale ale, and not a great doppelbock. This will be the primary level on which a beer is critiqued. In effect the authors will ask the question "Does the beer acheive what it set out to acheive?". The secondary plane of criticism will add a degree of difficulty, weighting particular styles more by a not insignificant amount. The reasoning behind this has less to do with personal palates and more with what goes into the beer making process. A lot more creativity goes into a high gravity or special beer that inherently makes that beer more volatile. For example, we might say the roof of my apartment is solidly built and for that reason it is a good roof, but you do not weight it the same in comparison to the Sistine Chapel. We will seek to critique beers according to this standard.

In all this blog, while certainly contributing to the author's edification as they explore beer in new and interesting ways, exists to serve the people. If all we wanted to do was talk about beer, well, we do that anyways and nobody but ourselves benefits. We truly want to share our appreciation with the general public in a way that provides helpful advice, appreciable criticism and good conversation.