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.