Wednesday, December 29, 2010

013. Everybody Wang CHANG Tonight

I was very surprised by this beer. I was expecting more citrus or spices, but this is a surprisingly bright, cheerful beer. It has pleasant, simple notes that would go well with spicy food. That's appropriate since this particular beer hails from Thailand.

I think this is my first Thai beer, but I could be wrong. I may have had one a few years ago and there is -- I admit -- a slim chance that I may have had this one before. But if so, it was so long ago that I don't remember it at all, so I'm counting it as a "new beer" for the purposes of this blog.

Chang Beer
From Thailand

Revive exotic passions and rediscover Thai True Balance in your life with Chang Thai Beer. Our genuinely imported, premium Thai beer is synonymous with Thai culture and pride. Chang beer has a sparkling gold appearance and a smooth, crisp taste and is made from the finest quality malt, hops and deep well-water.

After the success of Chang beer in Thailand the brand was launched worldwide Now Chang is widely available and exported to countries around the world including UK, USA, Europe, Asia and Australia.

It has become established as a symbol of Thai culture amongst discerning beer drinkers.

Alcohol content: 5%

Let's hit the usual points:

Color: Incredibly bright, light and yellow/gold
Aroma: light, minute hint of hops
Head: Almost none
Lace: Almost none
Carbonation: Light

I like this beer, quite a bit. In fact, it almost tastes like an American beer in its lack of spices and unusual flavors. I like it, and would definitely drink this again, particularly with my next spicy, Thai meal.

PS: One thing I noticed with this beer was just how heavy the danged bottle was. I mean, so much so, that I actually noticed it.  So, I tossed it on my postal scale and compared it to a bottle of Shiner Bock (imagine... I happened to have an empty SB bottle around). The Chang bottle (complete with the elephants on its shiny green label), weighs 11.4 ounces and the Shiner Bock bottle weighs 7.4 ounces. I have no idea why I'm mentioning this, but it just came to mind.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Seasons (egg) Beatings...

I love eggnog. Really.

I know a lot of people split on this particular bottle of holiday cheer, but I really like it. I grew up on the non-alcoholic variety and must admit that I don't have any particular loyalty to any specific brand. As long as it's creamy and has a nice flavor, I'll drink it... usually cold (I know, that's another area where people are split with strong opinions about warm vs. cold).

As an adult, I've mixed my own "adult version" on more than one occassion -- usually with poor results. I never seem to get the alcohol/creaminess ratio quite right. In fact, when i've mixed it poorly, I've even had my share of bellyaches from a bad mix. After that, I've turned to pre-mixed eggnogs... and again, I've had mixed results. Oh, the Pennsylvania Dutch brand is okay, but a bit harsh for my taste, and it certainly doesn't win any points for being creamy. I've also tried another one or two brands (the names elude me because they were not memorable).

This year, however, I was shopping at Randalls in NW Houston and saw a bottle in the wine department (in case you don't know, you cannot buy hard liquor in a grocery store in Texas). It was only $7.99 for a 750 ml bottle, so I tossed it into the basket, right next to the half gallon of Lucern egg nog I'd gotten from the dairy department.

Warninks Eggnog
Available around Christmas

Until now, all U.S. consumed eggnog that contained alcohol were spirit based, which can lead to a harsh after taste. With Warninks' wine-based old world recipe, a smoth, rich creamy finish is guaranteed to make the holidays memorable.

The ultimate Christmas cocktail is several hundred years old and still remains the best holiday treat all over the world.  a European creation from the 17th century, the recipe for eggnog (eggs beaten with sugar, milk or cream and some type of wine or spirits) has travelled well, adapting to local tastes wherever it landed. Historically, there is an indication that wine was widely used instead of the higher proof brandy in many European countries, resulting in a smooth and well balanced taste profile. But when the drink crossed the atlantic, brandy and wine, which where heavily taxed, where replaced by Caribbean Rum as a cost-effective substitute, and more recently by wisky and bourbon, putting a permanent twist on the original recipe.

Alcohol content: 14%

I love this stuff! It is much smoother than brandy-based eggnogs, and the eggnog itself has a nice, sweet flavor. Now, it's still too thin for my liking, so I mixed it in a 50/50 ratio with the Lucern Eggnog, added a sprinkle of nutmeg, and got the beverage I've been searching years to find!

Over the course of the week before Christmas, I had a full bottle to myself (every evening I'd have a few sips while watching the Grinch and wrapping gifts). I finally picked up another bottle for a Christmas party I was attending, and it was a smash hit. The crowd devoured it and they all complemented it on being smooth and rich (so rich that one guest could only finish half a glass before she said there was just too much sugar for her; next year I think I'll bring some low-fat eggnog for her).

This will definitely be part of my holiday staples list from now on. In fact, the reason I'm listing it here is so I won't forget it next year!

I give this a 9 out of 10 stars.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas - A few of my favorite songs

Here's just a few of my favorite songs that I like to enjoy this time of year. I hop you all enjoy them, too.

The Pogues, "Fairytale of New York"

I'm aware that there are other versions of the songs listed below, but these are my favorite versions.

Dolly Parton, "Hard Candy Christmas"

Barry Manilow & K.T. Oslin, "Baby It's Cold Outside"

Jill Sobule, "Merry Christmas from the Family"

Robert Downey, Jr., "River"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

012. Once in a (Winter's) Blue Moon...

I was at a Christmas party earlier tonight, and the hosts served up some delightful libations (along with an awesome array of finger foods): Thanks, Lynn and Root!

One of the beverages on hand was Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale. Now, I've had the regular Blue Moon beer before, and found it to be very drinkable, particularly in the summer), but this is the first I've had of their end-of-year concoction. And I must say, I was very pleased with it.

This Winter's Ale has a very bright, crisp flavor with a hint of caramel, roasted malt and just the right amount of sweetness to make this just the right drink for this, the first night of Winter (yup, I'm writing this on the solstice). The label says it has a "touch of wheat," and I think they're right... it's just a touch. And a nice one, at that.

The color was a very attractive copper color with a tolerable head (I had to be a bit aggressive to get it to form, but when it did it was good). It dissipated at a reasonable speed and has a decent lace.

Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale

Available November-January
  • An abbey ale crafted with roasted malts, hint of Belgian sugar, and a touch of wheat.
  • Rich caramel and toffee notes.
  • Pair with hearty stews and chocolate deserts.

Alcohol content: 5.6%

I was eating this with fairly salty food, and it went very well with meatballs, Thai-inspired chicken, and a variety of crackers and cheeses. It was good enough that I drank three of them at the party, and then on my way home I picked up another six-pack at Wal-Mart for $7.49 (it was a pleasant surprise to see that they had it in stock, as I was in the store doing some last minute Christmas shopping).

This was a very drinkable beer (it must bee, I've had five so far tonight -- spread out over the past six hours), and one of the better "drinking" beers I've had this winter's season. By that, I mean it's one I can sip and not get too much alcohol, nor does it really try too hard, like some of the more floral and spiced ales I've had of late.  This is a respectable Winter's Ale that deserves to be under a few Christmas trees this year.

For taste, I give it a 6: For drinkability, I give it an 8, which gives us an overall rating of 7 out of 10.


By the way, I love Blue Moon's commercial. I think it's very artistic and I really like the effects they use in it. If you haven't had a chance to see it, check it out their Website.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

011. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas Ale!

Ah, the season is coming, the cat is getting fat (we don't have a goose), and the chilly weather makes me want to sip the bounty of seasonal brews that have hit the stores.

I'm going to be hitting a bunch in short order here (to try to get them in before Christmas, and to catch up on some overdue posts before the end of the year). So, please forgive me if my usual musings meander toward the pith side for a few weeks.

This Friday night finds me with a pair of 12-ounce bottles of Breckenridge Brewery's Christmas Ale. I picked up a six pack before Thanksgiving and have been sipping on it ever since (stuffed it in my stocking at Spec's NW on FM 1960 in Houston for about $8 or $9). Since I'm down to my last two bottles, it's time for the write up.

Before I dive in, though, I'd like to mention the cool, retro label. It's printed on an uncoated paper designed to make it feel old-fashioned. It definitely works, as the main label is almost entirely red and green, printed over a faint canary yellow that gives it a pleasant, charming sense of nostalgia. There's snow on the letters, a wreath around the word "ALE," and it just makes you think of times gone by. There's even a simple crest cast directly into the bottle itself. As far as packaging goes, I give them a solid 10 points.

The first thing I noticed when I popped the top (or should I say, "unwrapped the bottle top"?) was a strong aroma. I must admit, I'm having a hard time placing it because the hops are a bit overpowering, plus there is a strong under-scent of some type of fruit (the guy at this blog said he thought it was raisins, but I'm not so sure). Whatever it is, it is definitely strong.

When poured, the color is wonderful, dark brown with copper undercurrents: It's beautiful to look at. The head is rather weak, though. I hardly got any at all when I poured it (even an aggressive pour doesn't do the job). The head quickly settled to a thin film that did leave a generous lace along the sides of the glass.

This beer has 7.4% ABV, and that alcohol makes itself known from the first sip. It just hits the mouth and says, "Ho, ho, ho, here I come." Then it's the hops I notice -- they're too strong for my liking. As with most other strong ABV beers and ales, they just tend to overdo the hops when they raise the alcohol.

Christmas Ale
The chill of a Colorado high-country winter calls for a beer with extra flavor and warming characteristics. Here it is. Breck Brew's Christmas Ale. At over 7% alcohol, with a sturdy texture and rich flavors of caramel and chocolate, our holiday seasonal is the fermented equivalent of a good fire.

The ultimate winter warmer.

From their Website.

Alcohol content: 7.4%

The other flavors are present; I get a nice hint of caramel and of dark chocolate (I got the chocolate on my own, and the fact that it's dark chocolate from their Website). But mostly, it's those hops and the malt I taste. Maybe a hint more spice would make it more to my liking... I'm not sure.

As far as Winter beers go, this is a pretty good one. The alcohol will make it a nice way to take off the chill of the night... as long as its not too cold. All in all, I give it a respectable 6.5 out of 10.

PS: As I popped the top on the second bottle tonight, I decided to go for a SUPER aggressive pour: I just dumped it right into the bottom of the glass. I was surprised that I did, at last, get a respectable head on it (no less than 5 inches!). It receded rapidly, though, as I expected, and tasted a little flat. Of course, that's entirely my fault for pouring it like that, but I just wanted to see what kind of head I would get.

Draft Magazine has a short review online, if you're interested:

Friday, November 26, 2010

010. This Joker is double wild!

I love the Christmas season, and all the surrounding holidays that accompany it. Food, friends, food, fun... and of course, beer!  The cooler weather puts in the mood to cozy up in my La-Z-Boy recliner, toss a blanket over my feet, and sit back watching Christmas video classics like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Beyond Tomorrow and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (original animated version only, please!). And in my hand, of course, will by one of the festive libations of the season.

These include dark beers, ales, wines, and other flavorful, hearty beverages that defy description, such as  Two Jokers Double-Wit the Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Missouri. The bottle tactfully avoids using the words "beer" or "ale" to describe itself, and instead refers to it as a "Malt Beverage." Even in the descriptive text (see box below), notice that it uses the word "ale" to describe the type of beverage this is based on, but when it actually refers to itself as a "brew."

I've no idea why they do this (I suppose I could drop them an e-mail and ask...), but I suspect it has something to do with some old laws on the books that require "beer" to include just specific ingredients. As you can see from the text below, this beer definitely goes outside the norm of hops, barley, water and yeast.

Two Jokers Double-Wit
They say there are two sides to every story, and that’s certainly true of Two Jokers Double-Wit. On the one hand, it’s a revival of the classic Belgian “wit,” or “white” ale, with lactic fermentation providing a refreshing tartness. On the other hand, it’s a modern, uniquely American brew; big, flavorful, and spiced with cardamom, coriander, orange peel, lavender, and grains of paradise.

Alcohol content: 8%

The first thing that attracted me to it on the shelf at the Spec's Liquor store in NW Houston (FM 1960 & Cutton Rd.) was the bottle. It was impressive, what with the cork and the cool copper wire holding on the cap. You gotta admit, it's an impressive little bottle. Next was the label, which kinda reminded me of a Menorah, which of course put me in mind of the holiday season (I suspect the blue and gold colors also contributed to those thoughts). The mention of spices on the label was the next thing that attracted me. Whereas I don't usually like spiced beers in the summer or Spring, add a nip to the air and suddenly I'm craving comfort and quiet.

BTW: Houston is in the sub-tropics, so it don't snow here, it stays pretty green. But we do get a damp chill in the air in November (at least we usually do; as I write this on the Monday before Thanksgiving, I have the AC on because we've had very warm weather this month).

But, back to the brew.

The spices mentioned on the label made me think it was a Christmas Ale, so I picked it up (it cost between $7 - $10 for the 1 pint, 9.4 fluid ounce bottle). It was a bit steep, but since it was a seasonal beer in a large bottle, I decided to pay a little more.  Imagine my surprise when I got home and did a little research at the Boulevard Brewing Co.'s Website and discovered that I had gotten the wrong season: This beer was released back in May for the Summer!

Needless to say, I'm glad it took a while for it to mosey over here from Kansas City. Despite its light taste, I would not have enjoyed this brew during the dog days of summer. It's too spicy and has too much citrus for me to enjoy during that time of year (yes, I know that it may seem odd that my tastes change so much based on the weather and the seasons, but they do). 

At last, on to the beer itself

I liked it... a lot. As advertised, it has a nice orange flavor to it, and the spices really come out in a pleasant harmony. There wasn't a single flavor that overpowered the others, particularly when I drank it ice cold. That changed as it warmed; the citrus took over as I let the glass warm until it was in a chilled state. It was still a very good drink, but I definitely preferred it when it was very cold. I did take a sip when it was almost room temperature, but I didn't really like it, as it became more bitter. I am pondering the notion, however, of warming up a glass to see if a hot glass might assume the properties of wine. Because the citrus got stronger the warmer it got, I'm thinking this might be worth exploring.

The color was a pleasant wheat-infused yellow/gold with a cloudy body. The aroma (when ice cold) carried more spices than orange and was very enticing. The head was utterly amazing; it was HUGE, and it actually grew while in the glass! No kidding, it got bigger as it sat there during my photo shoot.

Two-Jokers Double-Wit is a very solid brew that I would be happy to add to my Christmas holiday pantry. It was a bit pricey and has limited availability, but I will definitely be checking out other beers from this great little craft brewery. By the way, remember that label I mentioned? There's a good scan of it at this Website: Go take a look at it and decide if you see a glass of beer or two jokers.

My score: 8 out of 10

Friday, November 5, 2010

009. I like the Ug Pug

The other night I was at my local Randall's grocery store and decided it was another night for some "comfort food." That is to say, I wanted another six pack of Shiner Black. This time they weren't out... they had one sixer left. And they wanted $8 for it! That is more than a bit outrageous. Yes, it's worth it... but no, that's not what I pay for it (the decent price is about $1 a bottle when you buy half a case).  So I went shopping for something else.

I was definitely in the mood for something dark and hefty, so that instantly discounted Foster's and Heineken. I was quickly running out of options (since Randall's was taken over by Safeway, their beer offers have definitely gotten more banal and mainstream). But I did see one new face looking out at me... and what an ugly face it was. It was the face of Rahr & Sons' Ugly Pug Black Lager.

A good friend of mine happens to have a pug named Dexter, and the mug on this mutt on the label definitely reminded me of him. So, I decided to pay the $8 for a six pack of something new, dark, and (hopefully) not-too-ugly.

Having a six pack to play with, I decided to drink it as I would any other beer. That is to say, I poured it into a glass, took a sniff and drank it while watching TV. I didn't spend time photographing it or make more than the most cursory of observations. I did notice that I liked it and that it had a mild head coupled with a deep, dark robust flavor that really let the malt come through. In other words, I enjoyed it while catching up on my daily dose of Law & Order.

I also noticed that slightly chalky taste I sometimes get in micro brews. It's not bad, necessarily, but it is there. It's not as bad as some of the other brews I've had, though, and I definitely don't count it as a major negative to my enjoyment of this beer.

My second and third impressions (when I can, I tend to enjoy two bottles in a sitting, which runs about an hour, or the amount of time it takes to discover the crime and bring the perp to trial) were similar, but I did take more time to savor the beer, observe the head (there was almost none) and ponder what I was drinking. I also got a bit daring on the photo: note how I swapped the glass and bottle in this one (haven't done that for a while, so revel in my rebel attitude while it lasts). This particular photo does do justice to the dark, rich color of this beer. It's not the blackest beer I've ever seen, but it certainly likes to swallow up the light that tries to pass through it. I suspect that may have something to do with the hint of chocolate I detect in the beer (they mention coffee, but to be honest, I don't get that flavor from it).

Rahr & Sons: Ugly Pug
Ugly Pug is a schwarzbier, or black lager. But the real story is its name - Fritz Rahr saw his mother-in-law’s pug, Oscar, lounging on a chair and he shouted, “What an ugly pug!” Everyone laughed. You’re right, they were brewing a test batch that night. Unlike most dark beers that are often described as “heavy” or “chewy”, Rahr’s Ugly Pug has a surprisingly light body. Reviewers have been vocal about how happy they are to have a dark beer that’s easy to drink on even the hottest Texas summer days. We’ve even heard people refer to Pug as “nirvana in a bottle” because it combines their three favorite flavors, coffee, hints of chocolate, and of course BEER!

From their Website.
Alcohol content: 4.5%

Despite the short head, I really like this black lager (although it does have a decent lace). It's has a strong taste of malt and just the right amount of hops for a faint, bitter under-taste. I really like this beer and it is only the second one that I've tried so far that could find its way into my regular beer drinking habits. I can't picture it taking the place of Shiner Black, but I could definitely picture a cold winter where a three dog night would be a pleasant thing if this Ugly Pug was the dog in question.

I'm giving it 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 29, 2010

008. I Believe in Magic!

I don't love IPAs, but since its still hot out (we've been setting heat records, even in late October), I decided to try a pale ale. You know, keep it on the light side. This time I picked up an entire six-pack of Magic Hat #9 Not Quite Pale Ale at Spec's Liquor Store on Veteran's Memorial in NW Houston (don't recall the price, but I don't remember sticker shock so it can't be too bad).

Now, for those of you (like me) who are not well versed in the finer points between an India Pale Ale and a plain ole Pale Ale, read on for this well phrased bit of knowledge from John Linn at his Beer of the Week Blog:

"Let's clarify something about pale ales really quickly. Pale ales are traditionally light- to medium-bodied beers that strike a balance between sweet maltiness and bitter hopiness. They're usually, but not always, lighter in color, and definitely not as strong as their freewheeling siblings, India pale ales. But as hop heads continue to push the envelope of bitter, floral hops in their beer, it's becoming harder and harder to tell some pale ales from and IPA. The malts are getting shot through the roof, and big hops are added to compensate."

With more than a single bottle to sample, I was able to really take this one for a test drive on my taste buds, so to speak. And I must say that I was a very pleasantly surprised with this one.  It was surprisingly smooth and still had a nice robust flavor. No, not as robust as a dark beer, but very robust when compared with with most other IPAs and pale ales. And, although the hops were present, they weren't bitter or overpowering, which (as you'll read in a few of my future blogs, has been a problem for me of late).

This beer is a perfect bridge between summer and fall. It had a nice aggressive head on it. It also has a very nice lace that lingers for a while. After a few minutes the thing that stays with me is just how smooth it is when it's served cold. It's delicious and I really like it.

Magic Hat #9 Pale Ale
Brewed in Vermont, this ale is, "A beer cloaked in secrecy. An ale whose mysterious and unusual palate will swirl across your tongue and ask more questions than it answers. A sort of dry, crisp, refreshing, not-quite pale ale. #9 is really impossible to describe because there's never been anything else quite like it."

From their Website.
Alcohol content: 5.1%

I give this a 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 22, 2010

007. Decadent Imperial IPA

Decadent Imperial IPA is one of the worst beers I've ever tasted, which is really too bad because it has one of the coolest bottles I've ever seen. At least for a beer/ale. It's got a bitchin' skeleton dude on the label and a really cool red "candle wax" dripping over the top. I had high hopes for this one.

And then I tasted it. OMG.

The first thing that I noticed was how sweet it was. It has a nice sweet bite to it, along with a super strong "pucker factor." Very sour-ball, if you get my meaning. But then it was followed by a severe YUCK. Man, I haven't tasted anything this bad since Gubna (You remember that one, eh? It was my Beer Zero).

I'm beginning to wonder if high alcohol content and bad taste just go together. This one has a 10% ABV (that's Alcohol By Volume, for those of you keeping score).

In the "If you can't say something nice..." department, I will say that it has a spectacular color (this photo does not do justice to the glowing amber color) and a wonderful head (with accompanying lace). Visually, it's one of the most sexy brews I've had the pleasure to put to my lips. Alas, that's where it failed to deliver.

Decadent Imperial IPA

I've no idea why they call it "Imperial" IPA. That's like calling it Imperial Imperial Pale Ale. What? It was so Imperial that they had to say it twice?

It's made by Ska Brewing Co. (which, of course, makes me think of the song "Jamaca Ska" from the Back to the Beach movie (thanks for YouTube for making everying available:

I suspect some people might like this beer, but I hope for all our sake that they're not allowed out in public without supervision.

My rating for flavor: -1 out of 10
My rating for appearance of the bottle: 8 out of 10

PS: The whole Annette Funicello vibe got me wanting to have a pajama party where we played Beach Blanket Bingo.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

006. Pike's IPA

As I've said before, I don't love Imperial Pale Ales. There are a few exceptions, of course, but as a rule, these are just "okay." Pike India Pale Ale did nothing to change my long-standing opinion.

It was okay. It was comfortably smooth, has that chalky taste that I often find in IPAs, and a decent alcohol content. The color was a clear golden (a hint of cloudiness, but not too much). The lace was okay, but there was no head to speak of. I was very disappointed in that regard.

Pike IPA:
Flavor Profile Powerful malt backbone is balanced with aromatic herbal hop character.

History: Highly hopped to retain freshness on the voyages from England to India.

According to this guy, this has a 6.3% Alcohol By Volume
And the official Pike Website has the same info:

There's nothing wrong with this ale, and I would certainly drink it if offered a pint at a pub. But I wouldn't order it again. I drank it cold, but as it warmed, it did release more barley flavor (which is not always the best thing, for me).
On a scale of 1-10, I give it a 4.5

Keep in mind, this is my rating. If you love IPAs (and I don't), you'll probably rate this higher.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

005. Blondes DO have more fun!

It's been a long week and I was in the mood for something soothing... something familiar. So I went to the Randall's near my house at FM 1960 and Champion Forest in NW Houston to pick u a six of my favorite beer:  I did my shopping and wandered over to the beer aisle, only to discover they did not have Shiner Black in stock!

Oh, the humanity!

They had Shiner's seasonal Oktoberfest Beer in stock, but it's not one of my favorites. It's okay... as that style of beer goes, but I was in the mood for something more robust. So, I looked around and was more than a bit bored by what I saw. There were a few things on the shelf that would be "new to me," but nothing leaped out at me. So, I decided that since it's still hotter'n heck out there, that I would go for something light. And still... nothing really impressed me.

Yeah, they had Shiner Blonde and some other brews that would certainly do in a pinch. But still, nothing looked great to me. So, after far too much analysis, I grabbed a six pack of something new, with the idea that I could drink two or three tonight while I played Ticket to Ride online, and then I could write up the review in a day or two when I felt like it.

So, I wound up bringing home a strange blonde (and a blonde beer is the only kind that won't have my dear wife reaching for her shotgun): Rahr & Sons Munich-Style Helles Lager: Rahr's Blonde. And, since I brought home six blondes, I'm guessing she'd be really mad if they were the other kind! At least that was the original plan.

When I got it home, after dinner and waiting for online players to join my game, I decided to have a few. And I found that, as far as writing this blog, I was "Rahring to go." (I imagine that pun sounds a lot better in my head than it looks here on the screen.).

With a six-pack to drink from, tonight's "sip on the wild side" is more than me just dipping my toes into things... so to speak. I've had four of them (don't panic on behalf of my liver -- it's been about two hours), and I must say that this beer is living up to my first impressions: It's pretty good for a lighter beer.

When I first tasted it, I was surprised at just how much of a citrus tang I got from it. Really surprised. It was much more than I expected from a "Munich-Style Helles Beer" (and yes, as an English major in college, I'm pleased to see that they properly hyphenated the compound modifier in that description). Over time (i.e. four of them), it contributes to a definite "pucker" sensation. Also, there's a hint of that chalky feeling on my tongue that is not entirely unpleasant (again, I am aware that I really need to find a better term for that).

Rahr & Sons: Rahr's Blonde
Blonde Lager was the first beer to come out of Rahr & Sons Brewing Company. It is a medium-bodied traditional Munich Helles-style pale lager that features a rounded maltiness without being too heavy. And like every proud Texan, it has a good head, is pleasant – but not overly sweet.

From their Website.
Alcohol content: 4.8%

One thing about the beer that surprised me was that it actually inspired me to write the review tonight.I was fully expecting to put it off for a day or two, but its tangy flavor and sweet dance on my tongue got me to sit down and tap out a few words on it while it was fresh in my mind.

Here are some details: When poured quickly, it has a fast, aggressive head. A slow pour delivers a very gentle head. It has a great nose in the bottle, but it seems to fade quickly after it's poured. It also has a very prominent, long-lasting lace (the foam pattern left on the glass). All in all, this is a very solid beer for a blonde, and I think I could grow to like her.

The beer shelf at Randall's

At $8.99 a six pack, I don't think she'll be coming home with me every night (although I suspect with a little comparison shopping I could get her for a few dollars less), but this is definitely a beer that will be coming home with me again in the future.

I give her a 7 out of 10.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sake it to me!

Tonight was a fun occasion -- my friend Russell had a birthday party at Osaka, which is a vey nice sushi restaurant off Studemont & Westheimer here in Houston, Texas. I had been there once before -- with Russell -- to celebrate the end of the previous semester. We had great sushi and drank much sake, then retired to his place to watch anime and vent about work.

Tonight was similar, in that we had great sushi and drank much sake, but instead of venting, we were reminiscing with friends and former colleagues that I hadn’t seen in years. Plus, we got to meet a lot of new, great people (many from Japan and other locations Far East). It was a wonderful night, and I heartily recommend Osaka for their fantastic sushi and amazing service. I have only been there twice, but each time was something special.

In a small way, Russell was one of my inspirations in starting this beer blog. He is currently doing a lot of sake reviews and his diligence in destroying his liver has definitely prodded me to join him… at least in intent, if not in actual brew. For, although I do enjoy sake (and I still owe you a tale about how I was at a taiko drum festival and discovered just how influential temperature can be when it comes to partaking of a beverage), it’s not my first drink of choice. I definitely prefer beer (hardly a shock, is it?).

But enough of this tangent: back to the party.

Between bites of my spicy tuna roll, I talked beer with an old workmate of mine by the name of Michael. Like me, he appreciates a good beer (although, based on some of his recommendations, I suspect he likes the light as much as I like the dark). He reminded me of a few great beer gardens in town, and I agreed that some night in the future we would venture forth and sample some of what the city has to offer on tap.

But our conversation raised a point that some of you might be wondering about: “Why would it take you so long to drink 52 new beers?”

That’s a fair question that Michael asked me, and I gave him a fair answer: “Although I could drink that much in a weekend or two, I like to savor them and then it takes me time to write them up.”

Right now, for example, I’ve got my notes on two beers typed in. I just need to review them, edit the photos, and schedule them for publication. After that, I’ve got a third one that needs to be re-tasted.

Yup, I’ve got to have a do-over on Moylan’s Kilt Lifter. You see, I drank it one night and generally recall liking it, but I didn’t write down my notes right afterwards, thinking, “Oh, I’ll remember it tomorrow.” Well, tomorrow became a week later, and no, I could not remember it. At least not in enough detail to write about it. So that beer will be getting another shot at my taste buds. I don’t think of that as cheating, just as making good on a mistake.

And you know, after thinking about all of the mistakes I’ve made after drinking beer in the past, this one ain’t all that bad.

Friday, August 20, 2010

004. Hail Julius!

Julius Echter by Wurzburger Hoffbrau

This time, I decided to travel back to the fatherland of beer. Bavaria. Now, I've had a lot of German beers and, for the most part, I think I have enjoyed more of them then I have disliked. But since I tend to like heavier beers, that's not really very surprising.

Unfortunately this also causes of a bit of problem. I don't think I've tried most of the german beers out there, but I have tried most of the popular ones. So the other day when i was in Spec's Liquor Store on Veterans Memorial Rd. in NW Houston, I found myself passing over many old, familiar faces (like Warsteiner and a variety of pilsners whose names elude me at the moment). After all, the purpose of this adventure is to try things that are new to me.

I was feeling a little recession-conscious, so I decided to limit myself to about a $20 budget. That meant picking out four bottles in the range of five bucks each. Fortunately, the beers in this range tend to be oversized pints, so I don't feel like I'm sacrificing too much for quality over quantity, if you know what I mean. After all, if it's good, I usually lament the fact that I'd like at least a second glass to finish my evening's libations.

One of the prizes I brought home from my trek to Spec's was a German Hefe-Weiss (yup, that's how it's spelled on the bottle). Now, I like some heffweisen beers, but I don't always love them. Often the wheat is overpowering and can have a bitter flavors of i don't like. These are probably the lambic styles, but I'm not sure. Some day I will figure out the differences between weissbier, witbier and lambic, but that day is not today.

So, for me this beer was a bit of a gample. On the one hand, I've had my share of heffweisens that I didn't care for, but on the other hand, there are some really great ones out there. All in all, I didn't feel like i was taking too big of a gamble off when i pick this one up: Julius Echter Hefe-Weiss.

The very first thing I noticed was that it had a medium smell. But I instantly forgot about that When I poured it. This thing has the most amazing head I have ever seen. Back in high school I was known as the master of the slow pour. No, really. I was really good at pouring a beer with just the right amount of head, and my skills have not diminished with age. I gave his to slow steady, pour... which did absolutely nothing to slow this thing down. I think the head was at least 6 inches.  And this is in an 8-inch glass! I honestly thought it was going to overflow. It didn't --but it came close.

Julius Echter Hefe-WeissA golden heffweisen with just a hint of wheat. A very mild color, a hint of yeast in both smell and taste. This is a nice, solid beer with a BIG head. I found the flavor got a little brighter as it warmed up a bit, but I left a few sips to reach oo temperature and found those to be a little bitter. So I recommend that you pour it cold or chilled.

Alcohol content: 4.9%
(according to this guy (who also happens to be from Houston, Texas)

NOTE: I took this photo less than a minute after I poured it. The head was really pronounced and very dense. 

I let it sit for a minute or two to let it go down, but it was slow going. I finally took a nice frothy sip and enjoyed the head dissipate and savored it on my tongue and in my nose. It is a pleasant experience. It had a nice hoppy smell and a nice grainy aromatic, but was not too strong (this was important to me, because too much wheat smell or flavor can really turn me off). I was predisposed to like it even before I took a sip.

And it did not disappoint. This is definitely one of the better heffweisen beers that I've had in a nice, long time. It was pleasant, not overpowering, with just the right balance between wheet and hops. There is a very slight citrus acid to it, which makes for a faint bite (heck, I'd call it more of a "love nip" than a bite). I enjoyed it and would definitely drink this again.

As for pairing it with food... I'm not really sure how to go. Of course, it would work with a hamburger or a steak and salad combo. Probably not the potato, though, because that might be too starchy to match well with this. Perhaps a pasta might work as another side. I think of this as more of a summer or autumn beer than a winter brew. At least for me, anyway. I suspect others (those who like lighter beers) would enjoy this on a cold night, but for me this is definitely something to sip during the heat of summer.

I give it a 6.5 out of 10, and I would not hesitate to buy this again if I were in the mood for a wheat beer.

Friday, August 13, 2010

003 Oh, Danny Boy, your Red Ale is calling...

My grandfather had a bit of an Irish brogue, "inherited" from his father, who immigrated from Dublin at the age of 17. From that side of the family, I'm not too far removed from the Emerald Isle (if climb the other branches of the family tree, though, my kith and kin have been here in the US (and its territories) since 1792).

I've often wondered if that kinship to the Old World is where my brothers and I developed a taste for the beer and whiskey. I doubt there's anything genetic to it, but I do think there's a little something to it.

Tonight's beer is an Irish style red ale by Moylan's: the aptly named Danny's Irish Style Red Ale. For me, the first sip was a bit of heaven. By far, this is the best brew I've had so far on my Sip on the Wild Side travels, and this is absolutely something that will wind up in my refrigerator again in the future. In fact, if there was ever a reason for there to be a tear in my beer, it would be because I only bought one bottle of this at the Central Market near the Galleria in Houston. Right now, I would love to have a second bottle to send me to bed.

Okay, I must admit, I'm not 100% sure why it's called a "Red Ale," because the color is actually a light caramel/brown without much of a hint of red. But I really don't mind (it must be a brewing thing, and as I said, I'm not an expert on brewing) because the flavor is so smooth and refined. I don't know if it was aged more than typical beers, but it tastes like it. Or maybe it's the ingredients, like the barley, that intercede and stop it just at that instant before the strong flavor is about to turn bitter on the tongue. It almost gets there, and then just pulls it back to leave a faintly sweet aftertaste. There's something else there, too... something smooth. I don't want to call it "chalky" because that would give it a bad connotation (and I almost didn't write that because I didn't want that image to scare you away). But there is definitely a smooth, somewhat faintly smokey flavor (a remnant of when the barley was roasted?).

Moylan's Irish Style Red Ale
A rich ale recipe from the Homeland, Paddy’s Irish Red Ale is malty sweetness in liquid form. A low hop profile dances above the massive barley character, creating an invigorating aroma and caramel character that will compliment most foods. Hearty and luscious, this brew is what keeps those Irish Eyes A’ Smilin’!


Alcohol content: 6.5%

NOTE: This actually has a very nice head on it. Please excuse my photo; next time I'll set up the camera and backdrop before I pour!

 This beer might be a bit heavy for the faint hearted, but if you enjoy dark ales that have some heft to them, then you'll enjoy this brew as much as I do. So far, this is the best I've had so far, and I give it 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 6, 2010

002. Hola, Cerveza Caguama

When I was in college -- out in the West Texas town of El Paso -- I was known to drink a beer or two on occasion. You know, after class. after a test... days that ended in "Y," that sort of thing. Since I was on the border, we drank a lot of Tecate, Bohemia, and of course Corona. Back then we called it "piss beer." So called because, at 25¢ a bottle, you could get piss drunk for the cost of some pocket change. Oh yeah, and the color. A nice light yellow color, with a hint of gold.

Now, we called it by this derogatory name before  Corona hit it big in the US. When I started college, it was just a cheap beer that you drank on the border, and it was very near the bottom of the list when it came to price and reputation. I don't mean to say that it was a bad beer, but it was mostly consumed by Mexican laborers and broke college students. If I had to equate it to an American beer, I would say think Pearl or Busch Beer. Yeah, it was that kind of cheap thing; it was okay to get a cheap drunk on with the guys, but definitely not with a date who you were trying to impress.

Then, suddenly, that all changed. I think it was in 1985 or 1986 that, suddenly (and inexplicably) Corona was cool!.The brewery started running ads in college newspapers, sponsoring booths at college events, and everyone started drinking it. Suddenly, the price went up from a quarter a bottle to a full dollar a bottle. And even higher when you left the Tex/Mex border! Mexican beer was all the rage on campuses across the USA, and Spring Break would never be quite the same.

I'm talking about Corona now because it has a color and weight that is very similar to the beer I tried tonight: Cerveza Caguama, a light and tasty import from El Salvador.  It has a light and crisp flavor with a hint of lime (or some type of citrus). The color is a very bright and light -- the gold is very vivid, especially when the light hits it.

This is a light beer that is perfect for the heat of summer. And it's something I would drink again (and at only $1.99 for a 32 oz. bottle, I can definitely afford it). I picked this up at the Kroger's in NW Houston, and I suspect not for the last time, particularly in the summer. I find that as the thermometer heads up toward the century mark, my tastes tend to call for lighter, less-filling fare. And this definitely fits the bill in that department.

It's not quite as smooth as a Heineken, it's not as smooth as Shiner Blonde, but it definitely has what I'm looking for in a summer beer. I tried it with an Arby's Roast Beef sandwich and it was a tolerable pairing, but it definitely wouldn't be my first choice. This beer screams out to be matched with tequila chicken or lightly seasoned chicken fajitas. I personally don't care much for lime in my beers, but I suspect most people would like this with a nice shot of lime, and possibly a little salt. Combined, those two might make up for the slight after taste that lingered after I drank it. I'm not sure what the alcohol content is, but after 32 oz. I could tell that I'd had a beer, so I'm guessing it's in the range of 4.5% - 5% alcohol.

On a scale of 1-10, I'd give this a 6.5 in general, and a 7.5 in the category of "Summer Beers" (that is to say, when compared only to the other, lighter brews that I tend to drink when it's really hot).

Legend has it the fishermen of Central America sought the Great Loggerhead Turtle in warm tropical waters. It was tribal belief that this powerful turtle also known as the "Caguama," symbolized good fortune for the fisherman's village. It is our hope that you too will experience the good fortune of the Caguama when you experience this award-winning Latin beer.

From their Website:
Update: 09-22-12 Bought this tonight to drink with spicy Chinese food. My original evaluation hold up. A good summer beer worthy of a 7.5 rating. BTW: my buddy Len commented that this beer has a very strong (but not unpleasant) aroma.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

001. WTF? A hint of chocolate

This beer definitely has a sense of humor. Its label calls it "A Malty, Robust, Jobless Recovery Ale." The "flavor text" on the side of the bottle has a bit of amusing musings about 2010. It definitely sets the mood for what I was about to partake of. A strong, whimsical beer with a sharp taste, but a surprisingly light after taste. This is definitely not an everyday beer, but when coupled with a salty food, it's a solid beer worth enjoying. Although I think I would enjoy it more on a dark winter's night than now, in the heat of summer.

So, in summary, I did enjoy this beer. Wilco Tango Foxtrot by Lagunitas Brewery in California is something I would drink again, but on a colder night when the heavier taste and stronger alcohol content (7.83%) would lend itself to a cozy cuddle and a good night's sleep. As it is, in the heat of a Houston summer, it's a bit heavy for me right now.

I'd give this a 6 out of 10 (and would probably up that to a 7 on a colder night).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Beer Zero: "Gubna Imperial IPA"

My goal is to try at least 52 new beers this year. "New" being the operative word. That means, of course, something I haven't had before. Or at least don’t remember having before (my wife has pointed out that, on occasion, my memory is not 100% accurate on such things – at least I think she did). I don’t think this goal will be all that difficult, but it won’t be super easy, either. You see, I’ve had quite a few different beers in my life, from the mainstream to the microbrew, I’ve raised many a glass of hoppy goodness to my lips. So, even though I may write about other beers (some of my tried-and-true favorites deserve a holla back), I won’t count those toward my total number.

Which brings us to my first review, and the “one that started it all.” No, not the first beer I ever drank (to be honest, I have no idea what that might be… although I suspect it might have been a Budweiser). No, I mean the beer that gave me the idea of trying one new beer a week for one year. So, pull a stool up to the bar and I’ll tell you how it happened.

A few weeks ago I was shopping with my wife at the HEB at Hwy 249 and Louetta in Houston, and – as I’m wont to do – I took a stroll down the beer aisle. It was a long aisle full of the usual refrigerated suspects:Bud, Corona, and lots of mainstream stuff I don’t drink. Plus all the good stuff, like Shiner, Sam Adams, St. Arnold, and so on. But I also saw a few things that were unusual for a grocery store: Arrogant Bastard, Fat Tire, and Woodchuck Cider. And then I saw a few that I didn’t recognize.

Now, I’m not a beer expert, but the beer manager at the local liquor store knows me and has been pointing me to unusual brews for the past few years, so I’ve definitely seen a few of the more unusual offerings out there. And some unusual prices. I’ve seen singles the size of wine bottles that sell for $20, and even small singles for $8 (and no, I’m not talking strip-club prices). But I’d never seen a 4-pack of cans for $14.99. And ugly cans, at that. They were simply silver with a single coat of maroon. The can was obviously intended to look retro and low-brow, but a price that comes in at $3.50 a can says something else entirely.

The beer (which is a total mystery to you if you skipped the title of this post) is Gubna by Oskar Blues Brewery. The can proudly declares that it’s brewed in Colorado USA, and near that, it also proudly declares that it has 10% alcohol. I did a double take. Yup, that’s what it said: twice the typical allotment of alcohol than other beers, and more than even some of my favorite darks, like Guinness. Almost as in celebration of this proclaimed alcohol content, it bears a simple word across the top of the can that amused me to no end: “Disestablishmentarian.” And, as though speaking to your liver should it dare to quaff such a strong brew, on the back of the can it asks, “Does Your CANscience Bother You? Tell The Truth!”

The beer shelf at HEB in Houston, Texas

To be honest, my “CANscience” would not have bothered me as much as my wife had I bought a 4-pack of beer for $15! Especially when I could buy a 12-pack of Shiner Black for about four bucks less. So, I walked on, picked up my Shiner and put it in the shopping cart. But I couldn’t help but be curious about the exotic, expensive beer. So, this being the digital age, I went back and took a photo of it so I could look it up later. And look it up I did, at
Emphasizing that complexity of character can arise from simple elements, this ale is made with 3 malts and 1 hop. Its light amber color and slightly spicy malt character are derived from the use of German Dark Munich Malt and Rye Malt respectively. North American 2-row barley combines with the other grains to lay the foundation for the hop onslaught to come. Summit hops are used exclusively in the boil for bitterness, flavor and aroma but it doesn’t end there. Post-fermentation dry hopping allows the 10% ABV monstrosity to gently coax the citrus rind and grapefruit aroma to join the 100 IBUs already present. This beer will greet you with a pungent citrus blast, provide a spicy yet round middle and finish with a brisk, clean bitterness.

Needless to say, I was intrigued… Intrigued enough to actually buy the beer two weeks later. The rationale used to justify the indulgence was simple: my birthday was a few weeks away and I actually prefer beer to cake. So, since beer is liquid bread, I decided that it would be worthy investment to celebrate the turning of the year. And my wife fully endorsed it, so the brewski is totally guilt free!

So (finally), on to the beer itself.

I don’t like it.

Oh, I don’t hate it, but it’s definitely not one of my favorite beers. And to be fair, I’m not usually a fan of Imperial IPAs (that’s India Pale Ale for you laymen). So, as an IPA, this is a strong and worthy contender. It’s just that, as I said, I don’t much care for IPAs. And this one is particularly bitter. I’m not sure if it’s the hops or the rye malt (as I said before, I’m not a beer expert, just a thirsty fan), but something gives it a strong after taste and a citrus bite (not sure I’d call it grapefruit, but there’s something definitely fruity about it).

Now, I had an experience with sake once (I’ll tell you later) that demonstrated to me just how much temperature can affect the taste of an alcoholic beverage. Based on that experience, I decided to sample Gubna at a few different temperatures. I thought about getting a thermometer for the test, but then realized I’m a lazy guy typing on a computer while drinking a beer. I’ll leave the temperature stuff to the scientists and engineers. Nevertheless, I did note that the bitterness was most pronounced when the beer was ice cold. It lessened when it reached what I would call “chilled” temperature (in other words, colder than room temperature, but warmer than an ice-cold beer). It got a little smoother as it reached room temperature, but then other flavors came out that weren’t entirely pleasant.

SUMMARY: 3 stars (out of 10)

A good IPA if you like IPAs, but I don’t. Bitter, bitter, bitter… especially when served ice cold. I suggest drinking it chilled, but not cold, and think it might go well with something salty.

By the way, just in case the name of this beer is puzzling you, you need to say this phrase (from the back of the can) out loud in your best, overly dramatic Cockney accent: "Give the GUBNA a Harrumph. Harrumph."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I want to invade your country and steal your beer

I like beer.

There's nothing profound in that statement, and it's certainly not a cry for help (my only drinking problem is that, too often, my glass is empty). It's just that there's something wonderful about that foamy goodness... the aroma of hops and grain and that gentle, warm feeling you get from a frosty mug. Something that appeals to me -- resonates with something deep inside me. Maybe it's because my ancestors came from Ireland and Germany, but I doubt it (even though, on occasion, I cite my ancestry with a pair of clichés and tell people that "The blood of my forebears makes me want to invade your country to steal their beer").

But I'm kidding. Mostly.

So, obviously this blog is about beer. Specifically, the beer I’m drinking. That would include my favorites (like Shiner Black and Guinness), a few I don’t like (Bud Light, Coors), but mostly I’ll be looking at the exotics and imports that I test from time to time. It’s the exotics that appeal to me, as I get older. Even though my old staples are there to get me through a hot summer’s day or a cold winter’s night, I find that as I get older I enjoy stepping out on the wild side, so to speak.

Now, I’m not a food or beer critic. I’ve had no formal training (even though I’ve passed the bar on hundreds of occasions). But I do know what I like, and that’s what I’m going to write about: The exotics and my experiments in different beers, ales, lagers, meads, ciders, and anything else that I think tastes good in a stein.

My birthday is this weekend, and two of the gifts I got were some unusual beers (total cost, about $45). Rather than just drink ‘em up, though, this year I’ve decided to document my experiences here, and further, I’ve decided that this year (my 46th), I’m going to try to average one new beer per week. Yup, that’s 52 new or exotic beers in one year. Hardly a monumental goal, but one I think I’ll enjoy attempting.

So, pull up a chair and pop a top, my friends… the first round is on me.