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.