Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

049. Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

Halloween is a time for scares... and I got the biggest scare of my life this past Saturday night when I realized that I had missed my deadline for this week! I know I've been late before and had to come back to fill in details and photos(in fact, I'm still missing a few pics here and there), but this is the first time I've actually missed the deadline.

I was out in the country for a barbecue and memorial on Saturday (waaaaay out in Bellville) then went up to Spring for a costume party and games with friends. Between all that, I just wasn't able to sit down and write about what I was drinking that day (the week before had been filled with drinking some of the Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest I squirreled away before it went out of production). 

BTW: The barbecue was a lot of fun, but I spent the day drinking Shiner Oktoberfest, and since it's not a "beer that is new to me," it's really not eligible for one of my reviews (although after I hit 50 reviews I think I'll go back and start reviewing some of my old favorites next year). For now, though, I'm sticking to new beers only.
First Impressions
So here I sit, the day after Halloween and I'm finally sitting down to enjoy a glass of beer that's new to me. This week (or, technically, last week) I'm popping the top on Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat. I was honestly hoping to find something a little scarier for Halloween, but I've already done most of those recently so now I guess it's time to move into the Autumnal beers for the harvest season.

My first impression was pretty lackluster, which unfortunately puts it in the same range as the other Shock Top beer I reviewed back in June. I've had pumpkin ales before, and I really don't much care for them. But I always break out my bottle opener with the highest of hopes in mind (despite the creepy Midnight Syndicate music I'm listening to as I write this review). I wasn't expecting the pumpkin to be overpowering, but I expected it to be present and detectable. As it was, though, sniffing the freshly opened bottle, I found there to be almost no aroma at all. 

Fortunately, I read the directions on the label before pouring it into my cool skull glass:

Pour down side of glass until 1/2 inch is left in bottle, swirl, and pour remaining brew to properly blend spice and release the aroma and flavor.

I followed the directions and still wasn't impressed. The aroma just wasn't there, and like that equine-riding horror from Sleepy Hollow, I couldn't find a head worth writing home about. At best I got a quarter-inch lightly brownish white head that faded into the night very quickly, leaving so little evidence that even Mulder would agree it wasn't there.

However, I know that most spiced beers and ales don't come alive when they're cold, so I waited for it to warm up a bit and -- sure enough -- when the beer warmed to over 50 degrees, I could finally smell the spices, but really didn't get much improvement in taste (Oh, I took a taste when it was cold and it was just so mediocre that it's not worth commenting further on -- let this warm up a bit before you imbibe).

Letting Things Heat Up a Bit
I drank one bottle of this while it was fairly cold and it really didn't do much for me. The alcohol was there, but the flavors and spices weren't. They just seemed to trapped, unable to break out to the surface. So I let it warm up significantly more for the second glass, and finally around 58 degrees this beer came alive.

Now, we're not talking Dr. Frankenstein yelling "IT'S ALIVE!" But more of a subdued realization that this beer has some life in it after all. At the warmer temperatures the spices were more pronounced and I finally found the pumpkin they were talking about. All in all, it finally became a fairly decent seasonal beer.

A few comments about color and other things: It's a cloudy, medium-to-strong carbonated orange color. It looks pleasingly appetizing and I like the way it sat in my mouth, leaving a nice wheat beer finish without overpowering me with the spices.  That being said, though, it's just good, not great. I kept waiting for the curtain to slide away to reveal something interesting or unique. But that never happened.

What I wound up with was a nice solid seasonal wheat beer that I would be happy to drink at a party, but would never make a special trip to the liquor store to find (which I did do for Hex Ourtoberfest). I also drank it with some roasted chicken and didn't care for the pairing at all. There was a little fat in the chicken and this beer did not blend well with that. It actually made both the food and the beer taste weird and uninviting. To be honest, I can't really imagine what I would eat with this, unless it was some type of vegetable platter... and even then I couldn't imagine it pairing well with any dipping sauces.

Fortunately, man does not live by food alone (yeah, I'm paraphrasing), so for tonight, this beer stands on its own. Proud, but not to proud, to help bring the year to an end with a celebration of harvest, family and friends.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Belgian Wheat (spiced)
Color: Dullish cloudy orange
Aroma: Dead at cold temps, but warmth and stirring release nutmeg, spices and a faint hint of pumpkin
Hops: Hiding beneath the beadcovers like a scared child until things warm up; after that they 're okay but not too domiant
Malt: Lurking in the shadows, waiting to play with the spices
Head: Quarter-inch, mostly thick white, but fades quickly
Lace: Like the invisible man, I couldn't see it
Carbonation: Strong/Medium
Mouthfeel:  Pretty good, but mostly the spices remain
Temprature Sweet Spot: Above Ice Cold -- the spices don't come alive until it warms over 50 degrees, but it LIVES when it's around 58 degrees
ABV: 5.2%
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
This fellow seemed to have the same reaction I did: it was okay, but not brilliant.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

048. Samuel Adams Octoberfest

On tap at the Movie Tavern! There is a hint of Autumn in the air and ghosts dance on the edge of my peripheral vision. This makes it the perfect time to embrace the chills of the season and went to The Movie Tavern to see Paranormal Activity 4. I love the Movie Tavern. A movie and a beer? Toss in the fried pickles and I'm in heaven. Well... considering the movie on tap, that might not be the best analogy. But I'm most certainly not in hell. I'VE GOT BEER! I've been enjoying this beer for about two weeks now and have really been enjoying it. I'm not sure, but I think I've had about three six packs and it's becoming one of my signature Brews of the Season.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

046. Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest

There's something about autumn that puts me more in mind of magic. Not just Halloween with witches riding brooms and devil-cats caterwauling in the night as tribute to their dark master. No, there's something about the lengthening shadows and longer nights that make the supernatural seem more likely, somehow.

With that spirit in mind, I almost want to crack open an old copy of Shakespeare and join the witches in their cant:

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Instead, I got out my trusty beer glass and readied to pour my own brew this October's eve.

Diving into the Bottle
The aroma almost put a spell on me the second I opened the bottle. I was greeted with an alluring scent of pepper riding atop sweet malt with some caramel sashaying around for good measure. It was like there was a secret lingering beneath the bottle cap, waiting to be told with my tongue. I quickly poured the glass and it was obvious about halfway through that I was being too gentle -- the hazy light brown (almost a cross between dun and chestnut, if you know your horses) brew was not offering up much of a head. I quickly switched to a very aggressive pour, almost slamming it into the glass and not coming anywhere near the edges. This rough treatment got me the results I was looking for -- more than two fingers of biscuity brown head that looked firm and inviting.

Now that the beer was safely in the glass, I took a good look at the color. It's brownish-golden with a faint haze in it. Note the order of those colors. It's not like a golden-brown wood where the primary color is being warmed, as though by the sun. No, this is more like a dull gold that has been tainted with a duller brown. There's nothing wrong with the color, but it's just not remarkable or particularly enticing.

The taste, however, more than makes up for this in many ways. Pepper and spices were almost dancing on my tongue, carried by sweet roasted malt that had a depth and body that I usually only experience in much darker beers. I started it cold (about 45) and really enjoyed it there, but around 50 degrees the hops came out to dance beneath the harvest moon. They also brought some toffee notes along to join them in the bonfire's glow. At this temperature range, I really found the hops to provide a welcome bitterness to counter the very sweet start. Along with the hops I found a few more aromatic notes and a surprising hint of smoke. In fact, the smokey finish made me wonder if that wasn't the "pepper" smell I detected at the start of the beer.

From the Label:
A performance in every bottle
The Ancient Ritual of brewing a distinctly rich and flavorful beer is nothing short of magic. Our mysterious mix of time-honored ingredients, chaotic chemistry, humble patience, and blind faith age into the secret brew we share in the rousing company of good spirits.

Some closing thoughts
I bought this at World Market strictly because it fit my theme for the month: Halloween. They were selling it as singles for, I believe, $1.99. I just expected this to be a novelty brew, so the steep price tag (not outrageous, but still a trifle steep for a 12-ounce bottle) didn't phase me. Now that this is one of my new favorites, I'm hoping to find it in a six-pack so I can stock up before it goes out of production for the year.

According to Magic Hat's Website, this is only available from Aug. - October 15. I went to the Spec's Liquor store downtown earlier today and did not see it (it was before I drank this wonderful beer, so I didn't ask anyone if they had it). I'll check my local stores next week and see if I can't grab a few six-packs to get me through the cold winter months ahead.

I'll keep you posted!

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Ale (Red Ale)
Color: Dullish golden brown
Aroma: Pepper, malt, caramel and a distant whiff of smoke
Hops: Mild and wonderfully balanced
Malt: Proudly in the forefront, bringing sweetness and smoke
Head: Hit or miss -- either non-existant (conservative pour) or bold and solid (aggressive pour)
Lace: Strong, well definied and lingered longer than expected
Carbonation: Medium
Mouthfeel:  Really good -- a nice combination of sweet, hops and smoke
Temprature Sweet Spot: All temps were good, but over 50 was best
ABV: 5.4%
My Rating: 9 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
The guys at the Beer Advocate did not agree with me, but "The Bros" did. Whereas the Bros. gave it a 90 and an excellent rating, the hop-heads there didn't fall under its charms, giving it only an average rating. check them out (and scroll down to find my review -- I discuss this beer in slightly different terms there, but still rave about it).

Another bit of interesting info about Magic Hat can be found over at this very cool blog by Lonnie Best:

Beer TV: 

A few miles down the road, this fella in Louisiana wasn't as impressed as I was, but he still gave it a B+.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Beer Talk: Wychwood's Web Site...

I seldom mention marketing in my reviews because, to be honest, it doesn't influence my purchasing decisions very much. I usually go to stores and pick up new things that look interesting to me (or hat have been recommended by someone I know). I also don't look at brewery Web sites until after I've tasted the beer and have made my initial (and sometimes complete) impressions.

But I really think that Wychwood Brewery has a really cool Web site.

As you may recall from a few weeks ago, Wychwood makes one of my favorite beers: 044. Wychwood Hobgoblin Dark English Ale.

One thing I love about the Website is that it's got a lot of humor that is very appropriate for their branding. For example, there is a splash screen that required you to enter your birth date before letting you log in. I entered my birthday and it responded with this reply before redirecting me to the cool Website (actually, it asks if you want to go to the full Flash site or to a light site -- both of them are pretty cool, but the full site is much more fun):

Hmmmm. Tough old meat, but the wolves aren't choosy!

I like that bit of humor, which is carried through elsewhere in the site.

I also like the solid design that actually conveys information in a fun and attractive way. For example, there are animated books in the site so you can flip between the pages to read about beer stats, legends, history, and so on.

This screenshot from the Website demonstrates the fun ways in which they share info about their beers.

I also like the fun animation they have running across the top of the site. It features their Hobgoblin sharpening his axe as various other creatures pop in and out around him.

This is just a bit of fun, but coupled with a looped soundtrack (a very unobtrusive sound of wind blowing), it has a nice element of fun that makes this site a pleasure to visit. If you have a few minutes to kill, I strongly suggest visiting them:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

045. Devil's Backbone Belgian Style Ale

We're still a week out from October, but I'm already seeing signs that Hallow's Eve is not far away. TV Channels are advertising horror-themed blocks of shows, commercials for costumes have started to air (dang it, why didn't they have those cool Spider-Man mask & web shooter combos when I was a kid?). Couple all that with milder temperatures (only going to hit the upper 80s for the next week, and might even dip into the low 80s!), and you'll find me with the urge to catch up on all things Halloween.

So, in addition to me digging out my old H.P. Lovecraft paperbacks and catching up on season two of The Walking Dead, you'll find me sipping brews that are appropriate for the season (and I'll be doing it all through October). This week, I don't feel bad about stretching the theme a slight amount. You see, Real Ale's Devil's Backbone Belgian Style Ale isn't named after the horned one, but rather the "scenic ridge that runs between Blanco and Wimberly" Texas (as it says on the label.).

More from the Pour
Opening the bottle delivered one of the better aromas I've encountered in a while. There were hops and alcohol present (the latter is not surprising when you consider the ABV is 8.1%, but I did not know this at the time). But there the first thing that really caught my interest was the hint of spices (various aromatics and a hint of pepper). I really liked what I smelled, but was leery of the possibility of being assaulted by hops. Cautious, I soldiered on.

The color in my mug was a bit of a surprise. Even though this was labeled as a Belgian Style Ale, I was expecting something darker than the clear yellow liquid that poured out. It's definitely one of the lightest, brightest beers I've seen in a while. I think what was really surprising was that, in spite of rather strong carbonation (it started heavy but quickly settled down to a consistent medium), it stayed remarkably clear and never got cloudy.

The head was also remarkable. I did a moderate pour and was greeted with a solid two-finger head that was pure white. Later I did a fairly aggressive pour (had three bottles tonight while chilling, reading and writing) and got a huge three-finger head. Honestly, it looked like I could sculpt a statue of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

In the open mug the aroma was stronger, but not different. Still, the presence of the hops and alcohol made me worry about the possibility of overpowering bitterness...

Fortunately, my fears were (mostly) unfounded. My first glass registered in at about 48 degrees (after it's photographed) and the spices and pepper were prominent over the hops. Oh, the hops were there, lurking below the surface like some kind of zombie mermaid, but they weren't at the top gobbling up the kids on bikini beach. I haven't mentioned it before, but there's also a faint sweetness to the aroma, and it's definitely present in the taste with sweet sugary malt playing with the spices (pepper, nutmeg, a few others suitable for autumn).

The Sweet Spot
This beer definitely has a sweet spot dictated by temperature. Served too cold (under 50 degrees) it's lifeless and the spices don't come alive (it's sort of like a vampire in torpor -- if you get the vague gaming reference; for the rest of you, think hibernation). The bitterness definitely hides from the cowers away from the forefront (kinda like Frankenstein faced with a mob carrying torches), but you can tell it's there waiting to unleash its fury.

The sweet spot for this brew is from 50-6 degrees, more or less. It's like Frankie tossing daisies into the water with that cute kid (right before he kills her -- hey, if you don't know what I'm talking about, do yourself a favor and watch the original 1931 film, Frankenstein).  For this beer, the killing temperature is over 60 degrees. I actually found this to be undrinkable at that temp and put it back into the refrigerator to chill back down so I could finish it. Over 60 degrees, this beer is like The Monster running amok and smashing everything in its path. Heck, it's more like Godzilla smashing Tokyo -- the hops get so strong that nothing can stand in their way. The other spices hitch a ride (kinda like those little munchers falling off the Cloverfield monster), but it's the big hops smacking us around and destroying things. They are just too strong and I don't care for them when this warms up (I shudder to think what would happen if I let this hit 70 degrees).

As My Mug Runs Dry
I've mixed thoughts of this brew. There are parts of it (at the right temperature) that I like very much. It's actually quite smooth when you consider the high alcohol content. I think if the malt were stronger this could be one of my favorite beers. But, then again, it wouldn't be true to its Belgian roots, would it? Abby Ale doesn't usually feature such strong malts, and I think that's what I'm craving as the shadows linger long on the ground in the mid-day sun, umber paints the sky and the colours seem to go outside the lines and out of space. The spices are welcome hints of the Harvest Feast to come (whispers, really, of the solstice waiting in this epoch of a year, 2012).

But they are not enough.

I need something more from this ale, and it's just not there. I like it well enough and would not spurn it at the winter dance if it were offered to me in a lace-festooned chalice at the solstice dance. But nor would I seek it out from among the wallflowers meekly waiting to kiss the lips of their acne-faced prince. In short, I like it -- but not enough. It's good, and I wouldn't refuse it, but I won't seek it out again, either.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Type: Tripel Belgian Ale
Color: Clear Yellow
Aroma: Spices and aromatic hops with hints of citrus and pepper
Hops: Strong and provide a chaser that lingers without being too strong to enjoy
Malt: Hiding under the sheets from the scary monsters
Head: Two fingers of strong white, never went completely away
Lace: Very strong, as expected
Carbonation: Medium/Heavy
Mouthfeel:  Really good considering the light color and strong hops
Temprature Sweet Spot: 50 - 56 degrees
ABV: 8.1%
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10

NOTE: I actually considered creating a new category for this beer (and, retroactively, a few others): Okay.  I still might do it to fill that void between Good and Bad. Even though I've already got six categories, I considered adding a seventh so there would be a mid-ground between Horrible and Favorite. I still might do it, but not tonight. Not while the moonlight shines so bright and autumn is waiting just around the corner...

I hydrated and even took an aspirin before going to bed, but this beer still left me feeling a little sluggish the next day. Nothing bad, but it definitely had a kick to it that, I suppose, was in line with its high alcohol content. I advise a little caution if you plan on drinking a lot of this in a single evening.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

044. Wychwood Hobgoblin Dark English Ale

I wouldn't call it a chill, exactly, that has been moving through the air of late. No, certainly not a chill. But the dog days of summer seem to have settled down for a cat nap (so to speak) and although I doubt we've seen the last of temperatures in the upper 90s (history suggests that the beasts of summer will bark one last heat wave upon us before the end of the year), there is definitely something autumnal in the air.

The sun shadows linger longer on the walks as the days wane and the pine needles seem more eager to join gravity and air for their dance to the ground. So, although I wouldn't call it a chill, I would say that autumn has arrived to Houston and we are heading into the Witching month of October.

So, to celebrate the turning of the season, I'm going to devote the month of October to a single theme: Halloween and Autumn. Since there are only four Saturdays in October this year, I decided to go trick or treating a little early and dive into my theme a little early. Think of this as my...

Happy Hour With Hobgoblins
My first beer of this Halloween season is very appropriately named: Hobgoblin Dark English Ale. This brew is an import from the fog-shrouded shores of Olde England, appropriately crafted (probably in a deep cavern haunted by the souls of many a wayward drunkard) Wychwood Brewery.

Popping the top of this 1 pint 9 oz. bottle was like opening a cupboard in a Hogwarts cooking classroom: it delivered many faintly enticing aromas ranging from chocolate, toffee, malt and a hint of something exotic that I couldn't quite place.  After the exciting aroma, I was very disappointed by the pour. I started with a safe pour, but then got very aggressive near the end, but to no avail: I just couldn't get a good head out of the bottle I poured. The lace turned out to be equally disappointing. Perhaps it was trying too hard to fit into the Halloween theme because, like a ghost, I just couldn't see it.

The flavor, though, was something else. After the almost-sad pour I approached my glass with diminished expectations -- only to be wonderfully surprised! Like Sabrina the Teenage Witch popping in with a plate of cookies, I was gifted with a wonderfully malty ale that brought sweet notes of chocolate, toffee and a delightful undercurrent of exotic hops. This is just the sort of thing that could keep me warm while riding my broom on a moonless night.

My first glass was served around 45 degrees and I really like the way the cold mellowed out the hops and brought the sweet flavors to the forefront. Since this was an English Ale, I suspected I would need to drink it tepid to really enjoy it, but that was certainly not the case. As a cold beer this was refreshing, sweet and chock-full of malty goodness. It was something I really enjoyed.

How Sweet It Is
Of course, I'm never satisfied with one sip (and since this was a tall bottle, that certainly wasn't a problem). So I let it warm up a bit to find out what it would be like if I left it too close to the alter flames during the summoning ritual. It turns out that a few minutes of heat was not a bad thing. Letting it warm up to 60 degrees awoke the hops that had been slumbering beneath the thin foam like a certain creature from a certain darkish lagoon. However, if I let the ice caps melt completely and drink it at 70 degrees or warmer, then the hops run amok and the malt cowers like a Divorce Lawyer in a cellar during the zombie apocalypse (okay, even I admit that one was very stretched...).

For this beer, a nice chill will serve it well.

From the Label:
A strong, dark ale brewed by the UK‟s largest producer of organic ales. Full bodied and well balanced with a chocolate, toffee malt flavor.  Moderate  bitterness and a distinctive fruity character with a ruby red glow.
I bought this ale because it looked to be a nice dark ale (which is the sort of thing I like when the blazing summer sun wanes and gives way to the gentle warmth of autumn. And because it had a cool picture of a hobgoblin on the label. It turns out that this Hobgoblin is likely to hang around well past Hallow's Eve and become a permanent part of my winter larder. I'm surprised to say that I'm adding this British Import to my favorite's list, even though I've no idea how it will pair with food (if I run some food-matching tests, I'll let you know).

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Dark Ale
Color: Cloudy Dark Brown
Aroma: Enticing, malty, chocolaty with faint exotic under-notes
Hops: Understated at cold temperatures, but they come alive when it warms to the "sweet spot"
Malt: Delicious -- definitely the star
Head: A fingernail of thin brown, biscuity foam
Lace: None to speak of
Carbonation: Medium
Mouthfeel:  A nice biscuit-like lingering sensation that plays well with the carbonation
Temprature Sweet Spot: Under 55 degrees
Temperature Hops Spot: Hops come alive between 60 - 65 degrees
ABV: 5.2% in bottle, 4.5% in cask
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

By The Way
These guys have a really cool Website. I discuss it over in my mid-week update, Mitchell's Beer Talk. Check it out.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

043. Fischer Tradition Amber

Heading off to Dallas for a romantic weekend, I chose to pack a few beers for a birthday party (Shiner Black & St. Arnold Summer Pils), but I also brought along a few for me to review while chilling at the family’s ranch Friday night (we hit Dallas tomorrow).

The first top to pop was one that’s been in my beer fridge since the start of summer: Fischer Traditional Amber. I'm not quite sure if this is French or German beer (or both), as the info on the Web is a bit confusing on this point. But I’m pretty sure I picked this up at the HEB in The Woodlands, but it’s possible it came from a Spec’s Liquor in NW Houston. I honestly don’t recall, but I doubt it cost more than $5 for the 1 pint 6 ounce bottle.

In the spirit of full disclosure here at “the Wild Side” (where I only review beers that are new to me), there is a chance I’ve had this before. The bottle looks very familiar… but then again, it’s so simple that it resembles many other beers with a flip top (that cool wire contraption that holds the top in place so it is re-sealable. Perfect for when you’re in the mood to sip and don’t want to finish a beer in one sitting.

Of course, that’s not the case tonight. This is a perfect size for relaxing after driving 2.5 hours.

Popping the Top
I love flip-top Euro Beers. I have fond memories of drinking Grolsch when I was in college. Back in the 1980s, by the way, they had ceramic tops, not cheesy plastic like they have today. Yeah, I’m a grouchy old man fond for the days of yore.

Popping this top rewarded me with a pleasant pop of carbonation and a strong malty aroma with a nice strain of yeast riding sidecar. I really liked it, despite the absence of hops or other aromatics.

Pouring the beer into a Mason jar glass revealed a nice brownish amber color and a moderate pour yielded the best head I’ve had in months (at least on a beer). The head was durable and provided an impressive lace that lingered even as I took my first sip and was rewarded with a nice taste of yeasty malty goodness.

I think the lack of prominent hops is the one area where some drinkers will get bitchy and dump on this beer. I would agree that I would prefer the hops to bring a little more to the party, but their absence allows the malt to take center stage and I think the faint bitterness I detected at warmer temperatures probably came from the yeast. This isn’t bad and the hops-whore haters need to chill out a bit: this is a solid beer worthy of some respect.

The Sweet Spot
Without the hops (which tend to breath at warmer temperatures), I’m not surprised that this beer is better served cold. The carbonation borders on being fizzy, but in a pleasant way delivering a very pleasant mouthfeel that stays with you after each sip. I enjoyed the malt and think this would be a good contender for an Autumn beer

Non-Kosher Side Note: I had a bacon sandwich with this, and the beer did not pair as badly with the salty bacon as I expected. It’s as though the salt brought some very welcome tang to the experience. And, as everyone who knows me will say, I’m a fan of the tang.

In Closing
This is one of the first French (if it is French) Beers I’ve had in a long time that I really enjoyed. It wasn’t perfect, but it was smooth and solid and I really enjoyed it. The tiny label lists the brewer as Biere D’Alsace and that they've been doing this since 1821. Dang, that’s almost 200 years. I guess it’s fair to say that they know what they’re doing, as I would definitely drink this again.

Thoughts from the Bottom of the Glass:
Type: Dark Larger
Color: Amber Brown
Aroma: Sweet malt
Hops: Not much to speak of
Malt: Strong and pleasing
Head: 2-fingers white, durable
Lace: Strong and foamy
Carbonation: Medium
Mouthfeel: Pleasant, good lingering results
Temperature Sweet Spot: Coldish (around 38-48 degrees)
ABV: 6%
My Rating: 7.5 of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip
The guys over at Beer Advocate and I couldn't disagree on this one more. They generally hated it, as you can see for yourself:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

042. Alamo Golden Ale

Since I'm heading up north next weekend to drink beer with my brother-in-law in Dallas, this week I decided it would be appropriate for me to imbibe of a local brew. Fortunately, there are a lot of mighty fine beers to be had here in Texas. This week I chose an ale from someone I've never heard of before: The Alamo Beer Company from San Antonio. Now, if you follow that link you won't find much of a Website: just a single page with some info that leads me to believe that this is their first beer released to the general public, which could explain why it's being distributed by the fine folks the Real Ale Brewing Co. in Blanco, Texas (that's kinda Central Texas, sorta betwixt San Antonio and Austin -- if you hit Kerrville you've gone too far west). My ale of choice was Alamo Golden Ale.

I picked it up earlier today whilst shopping up north (not as far north as Dallas is from Houston, but still a fair drive up to The Woodlands) and I mosied into the HEB at Kukendahl and Lake Woodlands Pkwy to take another stroll through their outstanding beer department. I do not know who runs that department (maybe I should try to get an interview with him... something to think about), but he is obviously a beer enthusiast. He keeps the common stuff along the back wall (Coors, Bud, Miller -- and this being Texas, 12-packs of Shiner), but there is an entire long cooler dedicated to cold goodness of local beers (Saint Arnold, Karbach, No Label, Southern Star and more) and a wide assortment of other goodies (including the German Konig Pilsner that I reviewed a few weeks back). Outside of a Spec's Liquor Store, it has one the best selection of bottle beers that I've found in the Houston area. Other contenders would include Central Market and Whole Foods.

I paid about $7.50 for the six-pack, which is about right for a craft beer in The Woodlands. I suspect you may be able to find it for a little less depending on where you buy it.

At First It Left Me Cold...
I loved the "frontier-style" packaging: simple & effective.
First, a note about the packaging. I really liked the simple brown cardboard six-pack case. It was appropriate for a beer bearing the name of our state shrine, The Alamo. I also appreciated its tagline: "Brewed with a Fiercely Independent Spirit." I also like the simple label: red & black on a basic orange background. Simple but stylish.

Popping the top I was met with an aroma that was nothing much to write about, to be honest. I detected a hint of yeast and some hops, but not much more. The pour was equally lackluster. I poured two bottles into my big mug (it's purely for artistic reasons -- a half-full mug just doesn't look impressive. That's my main motivation for pouring two beers... oh, the things I sacrifice for the sake of my art. Sigh, my wife doesn't believe me, either). I was rewarded with almost no aroma and had to pour aggressively to get even a one-finger head sitting atop a cloudy yellow ale. Honestly, it looked more like pee than "golden ale." I was not very impressed, as you can probably tell.

I then took the beer's temperature and it was 51 degrees Fahrenheit. Considering the beer had only been in the refrigerator for about two hours, that wasn't too bad. I took my first sip and got a good mouthful feeling -- it seemed heartier than I had expected -- but the flavors just weren't there. And there was no lace at all, either.

This seemed odd to me because I've enjoyed beers by Real Brewing Co. before. I can't swear they make any of my favorites, but they've never given me a dud, either. So I took a few sips as the beer warmed up, and then Alamo Golden Ale mustered up and delivered a good flavor and a pleasant drinking experience.

But Now I Will Remember THIS Alamo!
This is not a beer to be served cold (I bought a six-pack -- if the "ice cold" beer delivers a different experience, I'll report it later:  LATER: Had the last one "ice cold on Sunday night -- don't bother; it's much better at my Temperature Sweet Spot described below). The cold beer was uninteresting and did not deserve to be remembered.

But as it warmed up to around 60 - 64 degrees (which is still nice and cool), it came alive. The hops became apparent, providing a nice bitterness on my tongue with a hint of mountain aromatics (some might call it grassiness, but I don't). The hops were pleasantly counterbalanced by the malt (the label immodestly calls it an "Almost velvety finish," and they're right). And that yeasty taste I'd mentioned transformed into a medium to support the other complex flavors.

At this warmer temperature, this is a completely different ale. I even poured a third bottle (again, only as a sacrifice to my art and not a commentary on a long work week). This bottle was about 59 degrees when I popped the top and it delivered a nice aroma of aromatic hops, smooth malt and pleasant bready yeast. The head was also more impressive: two fingers of white, but it still faded quickly leaving behind a faint lace that also faded quickly. But quick is better than none.

Summing It Up
This is a great golden ale, and as you know, I don't love golden ales. This is smooth, aromatic with a strong carbonation that delivers a nice mouthfeel and is one of the highest-rated beers I've tried in ages. By most reckoning it should be a solid contender for being one of my favorites, but there's just a little something off with it that keeps it from achieving the hallowed ranks of my Favorites List (that thing in the upper-right-corner). Perhaps it's the narrow Temperature Sweet Spot (get it up to 68 and I don't much care for the bitterness that takes over the other flavors), or perhaps it's just that it's lighter than my usual fare (which ain't too bad for these dog days of summer). Nevertheless, this is a great beer and I will definitely remember THIS Alamo and I might even pick up a six-pack to share with my brother-in-law next weekend.

From the label:
Brewed with a fiercely independent spirit. Alamo golden ale, the brain child of Eugene Simor, is a full-bodied, refreshingly lither style ale with a smooth velvety finish.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Type: Golden Ale
Color: Cloudy Yellow
Aroma: Simple, yeasty, clear
Hops: Understated
Malt: Smooth and balanced
Head: One or two fingers white, faded quickly
Lace: None to speak of
Carbonation: Medium/Heavy
Mouthfeel:  One of the best things about this beer. heartier than expected.
Temprature Sweet Spot: 60 - 64 degrees
ABV: 5.1%
My Rating: 8 out of 10

NOTE 9/11/2012: The Alcohol content wasn't available online, so I sent Eugene an email and he reports that the ABV is 5.1%. 

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The Beer Advocate guys were somewhat impressed with this Golden Ale. Check it out:

A bit of fun with Eugene
I decided to look into the company a little more and a few minutes of google searching found this fun little video:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

041. JB Dunkelweizen

I'm not a huge fan of wheat beers. Although I've had a few that I've enjoyed over the years, in general they fall short for me. They seem to lack depth -- as though the wheat takes over the sweetness of malt and plays up the yeast and other earthy/fruity flavors at the expense of anything else. I find this to be particularly true at warmer temperatures.

Although these are generalities, I find them all to be true with JosephsBrau's Dunkelweizen Amber Unfiltered Wheat Beer.

Color: To come

Aroma: A hint of banana and brown sugar hiding under the wheat and hops. The caramel is probably coming from roasted malt, but I'm not sure.

Taste Impressions
The wheat is definitely the star, but it shares the stage with aromatic hops and a chorus of sweet malt and fruit flavors ably putting a "best foot forward" in the rear. In short, I get the "Weizen" (the wheat), but not the "Dunkel" (dark German beer).

I had high hopes for this, but they just didn't deliver. There's nothing particularly wrong with this beer (in fact, if you're just trying to introduce some friends to a new style and want something non-threatening, then this might just be what you're looking for. But if you're looking for an impressive Dunkelweizen (dark German Wheat beer), they you should probably look elsewhere.

My score: 4 out of 10
ABV: 5.2%

Saturday, August 25, 2012

040. Shiner Prickly Pear

I was visiting my wife's cousin last weekend and found a surprise in her refrigerator: A new variety of Shiner beer that I had never seen before: Shiner Ryes & Shine. It was an interesting brew and I'm definitely going to write more about it in the near future. What caught my eye was the statement at the bottom of the bottle's label: Brewer's Pride Craft Brew No. 2.

What the heck? I had missed No. 1? No way, I thought. Unfortunately, the universe replied, "Way..."

The beer came as part of a Family Reunion six pack. This is what Shiner calls its sampler pack. It's also the only place I know to regularly get their Kosmos beer. So when I was at Wal-Mart in Tomball, Texas tonight, I decided to look for a Family Reunion pack so I could pick up a bottle of Ryes & Shine for this week's review.

Alas, I was to be denied... and rewarded. They didn't have Craft Brew No. 2, but they did have Craft Brew No. 3: Shiner Prickly Pear.

I don't only drink beer...
A pretty good fruit beer.
Although I probably am a beer snob, that's not all I drink. I love a good margarita with my Tex-Mex food, and seldom turn down a glass of red wine (whites okay, but I prefer more hearty flavors). I've even spent many a night in the desert drinking wine coolers and there was that one night I helped down a pitcher of cosmopolitans during that Sex & The City marathon (the less said of that the better). So, even though I do quaff the occasional fruity beverage, I'm almost never a fan of fruit infused or flavored beers.In fact, to this day I still have nightmares about the Belgian Cherry Ale I drank one night back in college (shudder).

So, to be fair, I wasn't expecting much from this beer when I popped the top of the 12 oz. bottle and got a super-strong noseful of fruity aroma. To be honest, it smelled more like Kool-Aid than prickly pear. Now, even though I'm from El Paso and have eaten more than my fair share of prickly pear (even picked some fresh off the plant, but usually I ate it in candy or preserves), I'm not all that familiar with the different types of prickly pear, nor am I a big fan. As it's presented here, I would say that the flavor of prickly pear in this beer is a cross between a peach and a sweet grapefruit. It's pleasant with hints of citrus tartness.

Thinking now about my prejudices toward this beer, I'm actually surprised that I'm giving it such high marks. I think that, as far as fruit beers go, this one is really good.

The aroma was strong and a medium pour delivered a very lackluster head (as you can clearly see in my photo): Barely one finger and that faded pretty fast. I added a second bottle to the mug and gave it an aggressive pour (right into the middle of the mug) and actually did generate a healthy caramel-colored head of almost three fingers. But this faded very quickly, leaving more lace than I had expected... it hung around a decent amount of time but soon vanished without a trace.

The carbonation was extremely light, but the color was a wonderful crystal-clear honey color -- a delicate golden brown that was very inviting. The color was a pleasant surprise -- I guess I was expecting something with a pink hue, to be honest.

The flavor was crisp and fruity sweet, especially in my early sips when it was ice cold. The fruit stole the show, dominating the hops and malt in a very unpleasant way, making it seem very one-note. As it warmed, though, the hops began to come through and tame the dominant fruit and helped it find some measure of balance. As it warmed above 50 degrees, I was finally able to taste the hops, malt and it developed a good mouthfeel that I enjoyed.

From the Label: This small batch brew is the third our Limited Edition Brewer’s Pride Craft Brew Series. A combination of Citra and U.S. Golding hops gives this refreshing lager its citrus flavor and floral aroma. The brew’s signature tartness comes from the fruit of the prickly pear, a cactus native to our brewery’s landscape that’s hearty, rugged and unmistakably unique —qualities we surely appreciate.

Final Thoughts
I didn't eat food with this beer, so I'm simply speculating here, but I think this would be a good match with a sweet pork barbecue. This is one of the better fruit beers I've tasted (I would expect nothing else from the Little Brewery in Shiner), but I'm not a fan of them and this one didn't win me over to the cause. It's kind of like me and oatmeal cookies. To me, the best oatmeal cookie on planet earth would probably still come in second to an average chocolate chip cookie. It's just a matter of preference.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Type: Fruit Infused Beer
Color: Crisp, clear light brown
Aroma: Fruity -- almost like Kool-Aid with an undercurrent of hops
Hops: Cowering in fear beneath the fruit
Malt: Slightly bready undertaste
Head: Light brown, quickly fades
Lace: Medium
Carbonation: Light
Temprature Sweet Spot: Fruity: Below 45; for more hops bitterness drink at above 50
ABV: 4.9%
My Rating: 6 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:

The Beer Advocate guys were pretty positive about this beer, but all agreed that the fruit was so strong that it dominated the beer. After that, it was simply a matter of whether they liked being dominated in this way:

Another good review:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

039. Adelbert's Naked Nun Ale

I won't lie -- I bought it because of the name. I mean, who could resist a simple little bottle bearing the name Nake Nun Ale brewed with spices? There's just something so indecently wicked about the name that I just had to give it a shot (or in this case, a wine glass, as my other glass needed to be washed and I was feeling lazy tonight).

If I recall correctly, I picked this single bottle up at the downtown Spec's Liquor here in Houston about a month ago. I think I paid about $3 for it, but it could have been as much as $4. But, considering how bad my memory is these days, it also could have been as low as $2. Not bad for a craft brewery just a few hundred miles up the road from me (they're in Texas state capital, Austin).

Taste free association
A spicy concoction brewed in Austin.
Spicy. Definitely pepper. Probably coriander. Yeasty. Citrus -- possibly lemon (but maybe the light color is influencing me) or maybe orange? Tart on the tongue. Hops or something else? Fourth deep sip gave me a "pucker" reaction -- but not in a bad way. Kinds of reminds me of a citrusy malt beverage "wine cooler," but with strong undercurrents of ale.

This is one of the cloudiest ales I've ever had. I honestly cannot see light through it -- just a hazy glow like a tequila sunrise gone wrong. Fortunately, the taste is crisper than the appearance, which actually took on the look of bathwater after bathing a muddy and adventurous 5-year-old -- kinda like Dennis the Menace after a day of ripping up Mr. Wilson's flowerbeds.

From the Label:
Named to mark the time in Colombia Del was robbed including his clothes and underwear while hiking down from the Cerro de Monserrate. After he alerted some local Nuns while hiding behind some sheep, they were kind enough to give him a blanket and bus fare to get home.
Refreshing, soft, and well balanced ale with hints of orange peel and coriander. Pair with light foods such as mussels, salmon, and chicken.

Although the label is very simple (as you can see from the photo), it has some additional info that would be nice to find on other craft beers: It has the brewed on date. In this case, it was bottled 03/02/12 Batch 001 Bottle #0693. I would love seeing this info on other bottles, particularly the date. It's just a little more info, but the sort of thing that means a lot when I'm paying about $3-$4 a bottle -- and a "stubby" bottle, at that. After last week's four-pack of 1 pint 9 oz. cans, this week's shorty of only 11 ounces seems a bit fey by comparison. Still, to be fair, this isn't the sort of beer you want to chug-a-lug. I suspect, as it says on the label, that this pairs well with lighter foods. On the other hand, I'd love to taste this next to a spicy taco and see what happens.

One final thought: This was an ale of subtle nuances. At colder temps (around 34 - 38) the yeast was stronger, but so were the spices. In the mid 40s I found it to be refreshing but it seemed not quite right. Once we got nearer 50 degrees, though, the spices, hops and other flavors seemed to come into their own and quit jostling for attention and fell into step and formed a nice cadence as it marched down my throat. HOWEVER (note the all caps), although I liked what the flavors did when it got warmer, there was a nice smoothness when I drank it colder. Although I preferred the slightly warmer fare, I strongly suggest you try it colder and then let it warm up so you can find your own sweet spot.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Type: Belgian Wit Ale
Color: Cloudy dishwater yellow/brown
Aroma: Strong-n-spicy
Hops: Medium strength with nice floral notes
Malt: Okay, but overpowered by the yeast
Head: Very thick and white
Lace: Almost none
Carbonation: Heavy
Temprature Sweet Spot: Above 48 degrees
ABV: 5.8%
My Summer Rating: 7 out of 10
My Normal Rating: 6 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:

The Beer Advocate guys were very positive about this Texas brew, giving it generally solid marks all around:
BTW: I added a shorter review of this beer over at that site. Click on the link above for another, slightly different set of rating criteria.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

038. Konig Pilsner

In the past I've often told a joke that is sure to yield at least a few chuckles from people (and a few hearty guffaws from military-minded guys): "I'm of German-Irish decent, so sometimes I get the almost-irresistible urge to invade a country and take their beer."

A four-pack of imported goodness.
A slight exaggeration, but most true. I am of German and Irish decent and I do enjoy trying foreign beers, particularly the German and Irish varieties. For some reason I just expect more from them. And they usually don't let me down.

Unfortunately, that's not the case with this week's offering: König Pilsener (or as we say here stateside, Konig Pilsner). Now don't get me wrong, this is a pretty good beer for a pilsner, but I was just expecting more because it comes from a really reputable brewery in Germany that was established in 1516 (at least that's what I think the German can is telling me).

A Man And A Can
I'd had a hard week and I wanted to kick back with more than one beer tonight while I caught up on the second season of The Walking Dead, so I opened the 4-pack and got out a can. It was the light, thin aluminium that you would expect from an import (gotta save moolah on shipping, you know). Opening the can didn't release much aroma so I wound up taking my first good sniff from the glass (you know the one -- it's in the photo). And then I took another sniff... and another...

To be honest, I didn't find much of an aroma. I actually had to let the beer breath a little in order to get the faint hint of hops, malt and a tantalizing hint of citrus.

This is a good, solid pilsner, but it's unremarkable. I think I picked this up in The Woodlands (a nearby upscale Master Community), but I don't recall for sure. Or I could have gotten it downtown at Spec's Liquor.  I recall paying under $10 for a 4-pack of tall cans: 1 pint 9 ounces (or 500 ml for you Euro types). It was tightly wrapped in plastic (kind of reminded me of Laura Palmer).

Whatever the case, it was one of the clearest yellows of any beer I've ever seen. (UPDATE: After doing some post-review reading, I read that several people described this as "straw colored." That's a pretty interesting description that does an admirable job of evoking the high-altitude florals that are a subtle undercurrent in the aroma and taste of this beer.

The taste, you see, was very understated. It was clear and crisp -- without a doubt it's one of the crispest beers I've had in ages. There was also a clarity to the flavor; the slightly grassy hops were in perfect balance with the pleasantly robust malts. I think the individual flavors were good, but there was so much harmony that no single note rose above and laid claim to this beer. In short, it was pleasant and unremarkable.

Now, I don't want to make this a bad thing. I really don't have anything bad to say about this beer. Aroma, color, lace... everything is good. But there's nothing great. If this beer were in the German army, he'd make it to Captain in a respectable amount of time but never have hope of advancing in rank.

This is just a good pilsner that I would enjoy drinking in the summer. Something I wouldn't ever consider refusing, but nothing I'd ever go out of my way to order. It's just average.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Type: Pilsner
Color: Clear yellow
Aroma: Almost none - a tease of floral hops and a rumor of citrus
Hops: Hiding like a girly-man
Malt: I think it's hiding with the hops, but in balance with the hops
Head: White, light and leaves quickly
Lace: Surprising good considering the alcohol content
Carbonation: Light
Temprature Sweet Spot: Serve it cold (under 40 degrees)
Temperature Bitter Spot: Let it warm above 55 degrees and you'll get more hops
ABV: 4.9%
My Rating: 5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
It looks like the fine fellas over at seem to agree with me. Some guys say this is just what a pilsner should be, but others don't really get it. In short, the average reviews come out dead-set in the middle like I did. Not bad at all, but not great in any single way. All in all, they seem to think it's just good.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

037. Karbach Sympathy For The Lager

One of the great things about living in the fourth largest city in the United States is that there's a lot of stuff to do here. Festivals, museums, the Rodeo... and of course, there are several micro and craft breweries in town or nearby. When the weather cools down, I'm going to do a few tours and -- of course -- I'll share the photos and fun with you.

In the meantime, though, it's just too danged hot to go moseying around town. Which is why I'm kicking back right now with a tall mug of a new (to me, at least) Houstonian beer: Karbach Brewing Co.'s Sympathy for the Lager.

As you know (and has become apparent to me), my tastes tend to run lighter when it's warmer (and right now it's just downright hot). That's why I'm happy to say that this local lager doesn't lag in delivering light libations. In other (non-alliterative) words: This stuff ain't too shabby.

Pour me another one (and another)...
As you can see from the photo, I broke out the big mug tonight. I poured one 12-ounce can (yup, it's sold in aluminum, which I guess makes it A-OK for your cooler to reach the beach) into the mug and it looked kinda empty... so I poured in another can. Why not? I'm staying home tonight.

The aroma from the can was mostly malt, but when I took another sniff from the mug I got a faint whiff of hops. The first thing I noticed was the color: this is very brown and simple looking. There's something solid and workmanlike about the color. It just looks like BEER.  I do see a hint of yellow in it, which helps make it more inviting.

The head came alive under a moderately aggressive pour; it was a very thick white that reminded me of a fresh muffin. The muffin notion was further advanced by the hint of yeast that sat atop the hops. But it was definitely the sweet malt that carried the day.

The 4.9% alcohol content and lighter, slightly sweet taste (yeah, there are some hops hiding there, but they're not as harsh as the bitch-slapping kind loved by the hops whores) definitely make this something I can enjoy on these hot Summer Nights.

WHERE TO BUY: I bought this at a Kroger's in NW Houston for $7.99 a six-pack.

Kroger's had a nice selection of
Karbach Beers

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover 
(but DO judge a beer by its can)
45's were cool. The very first one I ever bought
was Bonnie Tyler's "It's a Heartache."
I really like the packaging on this can, even though it's just three colors: black & white & red (but not all over). Its got a simple classic design of alternating red and "open" areas that let the can's silver show through: the name appears in a big black disc that is reminiscent of an old vinyl record (it's got a hole in the middle of the black disc).

There is also a graphic element on the side of the can that is instantly familiar to anyone of a certain age that still recalls 45 RPM records. Yup, this is "old school" stuff to you young'uns. That graphic element is the adapter used to play 45's on your regular stereo record player.

All this music reference is apropriate, of course, because the brew's name is a riff on the uber-classic Rolling Stone's song, Sympathy for the Devil. And this killer can even has a really good parody of the song's lyrics on its side.

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a beer of damn fine taste
I've been around for a long, long time
Many brewers have ruined my name

I've watched now for several decades
As my character has been disgraced
But now the boys down on Karbach Street
Have gone and made me first rate

Full of fine malt and German hops
My taste is both clean and bold
And though my flavor always stands up
I'm best when enjoyed cold

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Show some sympathy
Enjoy my taste

This is a nice beer from a local brewery (heck, from any brewery) and I would definitely drink this any time the heat gets so hot that the Devil himself would feel at home.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Type: Lager
Color: Cloudy yellow/brown
Aroma: Mostly malt
Hops: Understated
Malt: Full bodied, nice presence in the mouth
Head: Thick like a white muffin
Lace: Medium/Heavy
Carbonation: Medium/Heavy
Temprature Sweet Spot: Drink cold (38-40 degrees)
ABV: 4.9%
My Summer Rating: 7 out of 10
My Normal Rating: 6 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:

The Rate Beer guys seemed to detect more pepper than I did. Maybe it's released at a greater temperature? I dunno:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

036. JB Hoffbrau Bock

After the success I had with JB's Summer Brew last week, I decided to (virtually) visit California again and try one of their non-seasonal offerings. So, once again in The Woodlands, I went by Trader Joe's and picked up a six pack of JB's Hofbrau Bock. As you may recall, JB's is available only at Trader Joe's (but check out my note at the end of this review for some more info about how that plays out here in Texas).

If you pay attention to the blog labels (check out the right-hand column), you'll see I've tagged this as a "Bock" beer. Not much of a surprise, considering that "Bock" is part of the name. But there's a sub-title to this heady brew: "Golden Bock Beer." And, as sub-titles go, this one is quite apt.

JB's Hofbrau Bock is a bit lighter than many other bock's I've tried (specifically, one of my all-time faves, Shiner Bock). I'm not saying it's better than the other bocks, but it is lighter with a few brighter notes. To be honest, this is surprising when you consider that this has an ABV of 7%.

From the Label:
"Hofbrau" in German means "the brew of royalty." Trader Joe's Hof Brau Bock is a fine example of the regal brewing traditions still found in Germany today. This outstanding bock is golden in color, very rich and moderately hopped. Beer Stats: 7% Alcohol By Volume, 22 International Bitterness Units. Brewed with three types of imported malts, Hallertau aroma hops and lager yeasts.
I drank my first glass ice cold in my favorite flute glass, and the aroma definitely delivers the malt mentioned in the label (which, by the way, I read after I drank half the glass -- I don't like marketing blurbs to influence my initial reactions). The malt was there, but so were faint hints of hops and alcohol.

The color was a pleasing golden yellow (a bit cloudier than I expected, considering the light carbonation). The lace and head were disappointing but serviceable. A little aggression in your pour will yield a nice head that will scamper away leaving little lace to mark its passing, but it does release that pleasing aroma, so I guess it's all good.

Warming Up To It
Served ice cold, this is very smooth and the malt is definitely in charge, and even has hints of sweetness. As it warms up, though, the alcohol overtakes the malt, leaving the hops in the back seat. After a glass or two (or three), the alcohol bitterness builds upon itself to create an almost "pucker" response in my mouth. But with the pucker comes the alcohol, and it delivers a nice malty buzz after a few glasses. The alcohol does sneak up on you, so this is definitely not something to sip on if you plan to go near your car.

All in all, this is a pretty good beer. It's got the full body of a bock, but it also brings some bright notes that makes this a good beer to use as a transition from Summer to Fall. I'm definitely going to revisit this one in a few months when the temperatures finally start to cool off. In the meantime, though, I do have six of these and I don't see any reason to let them take up valuable refrigerator space until then.

Finally, if you're really into strong hops (and ya'll know I'm not), I suggest you give this beer a sip at around 55 degrees. The alcohol and hops really come alive at that point and, even though hops still won't be the star, I think you'll like it.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Type: Bock
Color: Clear golden brown
Aroma: Malty with hints of yeast and hops
Hops: Understated
Malt: Hiding behind the sugar
Head: White, medium thickness, but fades quickly
Lace: Surprising light considering the alcohol content
Carbonation: Light/Medium
Temprature Sweet Spot: Serve it cold (under 40 degrees)
ABV: 7%
My Rating: 7 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:

After finishing my review, I went out and read what other people are saying about this, and I was shocked. The reviewers at The Beer Advocate seem to each have tasted a different beer. The reviews use a variety of descriptions that I just didn't find applicable: flowery, sweet, spices, nutmeg, cinnamon, and so on. About the only thing we all agreed on was that the hops weren't the star and that it got bitter the more you drank. Check it out for yourself:

While doing my post-review reading, I came across this interesting article about Texas Beer Laws. It seems that stores cannot have exclusive distribution agreements with brewers. Verrrrry interesting. Check it out here:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

035. JB Summer Brew

Where the heck is this review? Hmmmm. Obviously I need to buy another six-pack and stay sober enough long enough to write down what I thought of it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

034. Simpler Times Lager

For those of you who ain't from around here, The Woodlands is an upscale, Master Planning Community northwest of Houston. It's a bit snooty: no visible power or communication lines, no signs sticking above the treeline, and so on. It's a very nice place and I work there occasionally (I ain't saying I live in The Hood, but NW Houston is typical suburbia). But I work up there about twice a week, so after I'm done "taking what they're giving 'cause I'm working for a living," I poke around some of the stores up there to see what I can find.

There's a new place to poke around: Trader Joe's. I'm told by a cousin that they're a big deal in California. Nice to know -- they're practically unheard of hereabouts. I won't comment much on their food (I bought a chicken wrap and a refrigerated meal of Tandoori Chicken -- both of which were very good, but their organic 2% milk was very mediocre when compared to Borden's), but I will say that had a decent beer selection. Not great (the HEB grocery store across the street blows them out of the water with variety and price), but decent. They did have one or two brews that I hadn't seen before.

Strange Brew
One of the strange brew's I picked up was an old-fashioned looking can called Simper Times Lager. This is made by Minhas Craft Brewery in Wisconsin (they also have a location in Calgary). The can has a nice old fashioned look to it, so I grabbed a six pack and tossed it in my trusty beer fridge.

I popped a top last night and took a whiff. I was almost assaulted by the sweet smell that came out of the can. A medium pour was yielding almost no head, so I got really aggressive (poured it straight into the glass, not using the sides at all) for the last third of the can -- that finally coaxed the head and aromas out.

Considering that this has a hefty Alcohol By Volume rating of 6.2%, I was expecting the hops to show up with more aggression than they did. Instead, they were hiding behind the malt and creamy flavors like frightened schoolgirls. There was a surprising taste mixed in with the sweetness, and after a few sips I realized that it reminded me of Cream Soda. So much so, in fact, that several times I looked at the can to see if I had mistakenly picked up a shandy or some sort of cream soda flavored malt beverage.

Nope. They said this was beer... and so it. Just not a very good one.  I really tried to give this a fair shake, letting it warm up a bit to see if the hops might crawl out from under their covers and quit hiding from the sugary bogyman dominating the glass, but they never put in an appearance.

All in all, this was one of the most disappointing beers I've had in a long time -- it actually broke the success streak I'd been having lately exploring a variety of summer brews (I've found a lot that I'll be writing up soon). I might even do a Summer Brew Round Up at the end of the season.

I really hate writing bad reviews -- not because I'm a sweet guy, but because I prefer directing people to things that are good, rather than warning them away from things that are mediocre or bad. In this case, though, I've got no choice. Although I'm sure there are a few people out there who might like this, I'm definitely not one of them.

However, I am going to take the remaining five cans to a party tonight at my friends Len's & Crystal's house and see if anyone there likes it. I'm particularly interested in finding out if any of the women there will give it a taste. Most of them are wine drinkers, so perhaps they will enjoy the sweetness? We'll see, and I'll keep you posted!

Party People Poo-Poo New Brew
I handed out tasting cups to a few of my
fellow party people to see what they thought of it.

MONDAY UPDATE: I brought this to the party and the guests had already gone through their first bottle of wine; it was a sweet Moscato. The mood was light and their taste buds were primed for sweetness when I took out a can of Simpler Times and poured a bunch of tasting cups for everyone. I just told them that this was a beer I didn't much care for, but I thought that wine drinkers might enjoy its sweetness. They were all game, and here's what they said.

Heather: Drinks beer sometimes, but not often. She was very surprised at how sweet this was and said it tasted weak. Needless to say, she was flabbergasted when I told her the alcohol content was 6.2%. She said she would drink it again (and finished her cup), but would "rather just drink Bud than this." I asked her if she thought the taste reminded her of something and she said yes, but she couldn't place it. When I suggested Cream Soda, her eyes lit up and she fervently agreed that it did remind her of that.

Kim: Doesn't like beer, but said this wasn't too bad. She said it was drinkable, but didn't actually finish her cup of 2-3 ounces. She heard me and Heather talking about the ABV and, when we explained that normal beers usually have between 5% - 5.5%, she was also surprised at how hearty this was.

Len: Really doesn't like beer and took only about two sips before declaring it "pretty bad" and handing the cup back to me. He did mention that it was surprisingly sweet and unlike any beer he'd had before.

I don't recall if Crystal took a sip or not, but I do recall that my wife just made a funny face when she sniffed it (she never drinks beer and seldom drinks wine, but will indulge in a frozen Margarita or frozen Daiquri every now and then).

Final Thoughts from the Party People: They didn't care for it, but the wine drinkers didn't dislike it as much as I did.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: American Lager
Color: Cloudy Yellow
Aroma: Super Sweet
Hops: Very understated
Malt: Hiding behind the sugar
Head: White, thin but can be obtained with an aggressive pour
Lace: Okay
Carbonation: Medium/Heavy
Temprature Sweet Spot: I couldn't find one
ABV: 6.2%
My Rating: 2 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The guys over at Beer Advocate seemed to be split on this: some liked it, but most hated it. Good or bad, at least it got people talking: