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.