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).