Saturday, June 30, 2012

032. Saint Arnold Summer Pils

When it comes to summer (beer) lovin', I'm having a blast. I've been beating the heat with a variety of lighter-than-usual brews this season (and it's barely July!). This week's foray into lighter fare is from local brewery, Saint Arnold and their solstice offering is Saint Arnold's Summer Pils.

This is actually a two-part review -- not that it will take me two weeks to write it, but it took me two weeks to sample it. My wife and I took some friends to a local theater production of the play, Noises Off! about two weeks ago. It's one of our favorite plays and we had front-row seats for a fantastic performance (plus, I drank a Shiner Bock during the first intermission, which never hurts my mood). After the play, we went to dinner at Katz's Deli where I had their killer pastrami sandwich -- and my first taste of Saint Arnold's Summer Pils -- on tap -- to wash it down.

I had two glasses with a leisurely dinner (fret not, my wife is used to driving me home after I "conduct research" for my blog) and I so enjoyed the beer that I decided to pick up a six-pack the next time I was at the store.

My first glass at Katz's Deli.
Tap vs. Bottle
I don't think I've ever really had a beer on tap that was significantly worse than the bottle. The one exception is that Guinness from the bottom of the keg is remarkably darker and more bitter than the middle of the keg (the "sweet zone") and it's not quite as good from the top of the keg.

In fact, except for Guinness (which can be wonderful, but is unpredictable), tap is usually much better. I think this is not an exception -- perhaps it was the food, the mood or the company, but those two glasses of Summer Pils were exceptionally refreshing that afternoon. I really enjoyed them.

The bottles are not bad at all, but they seem to lack some of the freshness I got from it being on tap. Although fresher, by the time it got to my table there was no head to speak of. It wasn't flat, but the light carbonation had mostly cleared up and I was left with a stunningly clear beverage which kissed the lip of the glass with the seduction of a faint lace. I don't think they served me a chilled mug, but it's so darned humid here that the glass was covered with condensation by the time I got it.

Given the choice, though, I would choose tap over bottle.

My first six-pack
Having enjoyed my dinner, I promptly picked up a six-pack of the Summer Pils during my weekly grocery shopping trip. I think it was about $7 or $8 at my local Randall's. Now, I had seen this beer many times before, but had never picked it up. Perhaps, like Cartman, I don't like hippies, so its tie-dyed label was a bit of a turn off. Okay, if not a turn off, certainly not an enticement. I will say that seeing Saint Arnold bedecked in cheap sunglasses was a bit of retro fun.

From the label: "As Bishop of Metz, Saint Arnold spent his life warning of the dangers of drinking water and extolling the virtues of ale. During his funeral, his pallbearers stopped to slake their thirst, but regretfully, there was just one mug of ale to share among them. Then a miracle came to pass ... that one mug never ran dry and all of the thirsty mourners in the entire gathering were satisfied."

This is definitely the way I picture my own wake, some day. Of course, knowing my wife (who seldom reads my blog), she'll charge for the beer! :-)

The Pour
Popping the top did not reward me with a strong aroma. It was a bit meek, or considering that this is named after a Saint, perhaps we should say "humble," instead?  Nevertheless, this has a simple aroma of aromatics -- I sense distant fields and wildflowers with just the faintest tease of citrus. I definitely get an alpine "Sound of Music" opening scene in my head when I take a deep breath of this. As it warms, the hops come alive with the songs that they've sung for a thousand years.

The Saint Arnold website suggests drinking this at 36 degrees, and I don't agree. If you let it go above 42/45 degrees, the hops come alive in your mouth and add a needed-layer to it. But don't let it get much warmer than that. This beer has a relatively low ABV (Alcohol By Volume), so it's not surprising that it has a weak head and lace. I had to use a very aggressive pour to get a good head out of this. For me, an "aggressive pour" means that I just dumped it straight into the bottom of the glass. I let it smack the bottom to elicit the biggest head I could get.

I like this a lot, and it will definitely become a staple of my summer refrigerator. It doesn't have the full body I'd require for it to become one of my all-time favorites, but it's definitely a solid contender for the dog days of summer with its aromatics, light malt and faint hops.

From their site:A true bohemian-style pilsner. Crisp and refreshing, this beer is perfect for a hot summer day. Saint Arnold Summer Pils has a delicate, sweet malt taste complemented by an abundant hop aroma and flavor. This beer is brewed with fine German malt, and a copious quantity of "noble" hops imported from the Czech Republic. Saint Arnold Summer Pils is best consumed at 36° Fahrenheit

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Crisp golden yellow
Aroma: Humble, with hints of aromatics and citrus
Hops: Faint, but they make an appearance
Head: Ethereal -- almost not there
Lace: Light, but okay when it did show up
Carbonation: Light
Temprature Sweet Spot: 36-45 degrees
ABV: 4.9%
My Summer Rating: 8 out of 10
My Normal Rating: 7 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The guys over at Beer Advocate seem to like it as a summer brew:

The Rate Beer guys seem to care for it less:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

BJ's Restaurant Steakhouse Quick Hits

First time here at BJs Brewhouse and I'm going to sample some brews. I actually wrote these mini reviews while at the restaurant (gotta love smartphone technology). Got a few funny looks from other patrons because I was taking photos of my food and drinks, but when we told our waitress, Laura (who did a great job, by the way), she thought beer blogging was cool. Anyway, everything written in regular type was written that night, whereas everything in italics was added later at home on the computer.

Click to see full-sized,
or go to their site to read more.
My first choice was not an easy one, as there were 9 custom beers on the menu, nicely arranged in order from light-to-dark. There were so many tempting beers to choose from, but I decided to go in the middle of the pack and start with a full pint of Irish Red.

While waiting for the beer to arrive, my wife and I perused the menu and were surprised at the variety they offered. Our server said they were famous for their gourmet pizzas, but we weren't in the mood for that right then. We'd had Italian recently, so decided to venture into new territory. I actually went far astray and ordered the Jambalaya. I typically don't order this out, as I find that it too often has mediocre ingredients and that the shrimp isn't cleaned very well. Also, in most restaurants, they wimp out on the spice and I wind up adding so much Tabasco that it dominates all the other flavors. But I was feeling adventurous that night and took a risk. My wife ordered a pasta/chicken/broccoli dish -- she and I do not have the same taste in food or drink when it comes to spice or beer. She doesn't like much spice and hates the taste of beer (although she does like the way it smells).

Our meals ordered, I sat back to enjoy my first beer of the evening. At only $5.25 a glass, this could be a very hazy but enjoyable evening out.

Jeremiah Red Irish style ale
Beautiful how are not too much lace (but what there is clings impressively to the glass). Nice sharp to tang with wonderful undercurrents of citrus. When it got a little warmer it's a rid of a wonderfully with my jambalaya.
My score: 7.5 out of 10.

I'm very glad I started with a full pint (actually, it was probably closer to 14 ounces), but I was really there to sample, not drink. So I asked the waitress and had a sampler -- which, by the way, gives you a lot more beer for your money! I could mix and match any beers I wanted, so I took the bottom three from the menu (those at the dark en), and then skipped up one to the Piranha Pale Ale. I skipped up because the Jeremiah Red was in the fourth slot from the bottom and the fifth slot was the new Hopstorm IPA. As you will recall, I don't love IPAs.  

Did a taster of four beers for $6.95.

They brought out my sampler in this cool
little wire rack. My wife insisted I get a photo of it.
Piranha Pale Ale
Not bad. The hops weren't overpowering - a decent lace! The citrus notes are good and come out when the beer warms. Surprisingly strong lace... wonder what the ABV is? A good summer beer. I should have kept some back to see if it was better at a warmer temperature.
My score: 6 out of 10

Nutty Brwnette
Wow, this is a good brown ale. They were not lying about the addition of the hops. This is a really good English-style brown ale that was a nice tang. I think it will be better warm I am holding some back to drink in a few minutes. I let it sit for about 10 minutes before returning to the bottom third of the glass. I was right, the hops came alive at a warmer temperature -- I think its sweet spot is around 50-55 degrees.
My score: 6.5ish
When it's warmer I raised it to 7

P.M. Porter
Silky smooth like I am being wrapped in a blanket of malty goodness. This would be the perfect beer to curl up beneath a warm blanket with and watch Godzilla movies on a cold winter's night. I will revisit this beer in the fall and winter. Stunning lace and an incredibly smooth malty finish. This really reminds me of Murphy's Ale and has nice undercurrents of yeast playing hide-n-seek with the malt.
My winter score: 8.5
My summer score is 7

Tatonka. Stout
This could be a worthy companion to Guinness, as it is strong enough to be confused with dark matter. This is very similar to P.M. Porter, but it has a slightly stronger signature of hops. Another winner for a cold winter's night. Of course, I would rather snuggle up with my sexy wife, but why can't I have both?
My Score: 8.0

I really like everything tonight. I SHALL RETURN!

Jambalaya, me oh my-o!

The food definitely warrants another mention, as my jambalaya was actually spicy enough that I did not need to add hot sauce to it! This is such a rare occasion that it really warrants mentioning. I grew up in El Paso where my spice tastes are considered to be medium.Out here in South Texas, I'm considered to be the King of Heat!

I had a great time (did I mention this was my early  birthday dinner?). The atmosphere was relaxed, I enjoyed five new beers, and my wife and I had a great time.  

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING: I didn't include any of these beers in my numbered reviews because you cannot buy these beers in bottles or (at least in Texas) take any home with you. For that reason, I decided to keep these separate from my "normal" reviews.

Friday, June 15, 2012

031. Shock Top Belgian White

It's been a long time since I made a just-before-midnight beer run. The fact is, I usually have enough beer around the house to have more than a few drinks, if that's my intent. But last week I only had singles in the house, and all of them were slated for future reviews. Since I didn't feel like reviewing a lot of beers that night, I decided to take a run over to my local CVS Pharmacy.

It was 11:45 p.m. on a Thursday night (in Texas, the weeknight cutoff for beer sales is midnight) and I was sorely disappointed that they didn't have any of my usual beers on hand. In fact, their it was like Old Mother Hubbard was living through Prohibition -- they were out of almost anything. No Shiner Bock, no Hop House Amber Ale -- in fact, almost nothing. The only thing they had that I would consider drinking was a 12-pack of Heineken Light... and something new. A 12-pack of something called Shock Top Belgian White.

Time was running out -- I didn't have time to go anywhere else, so I decided to take the gamble and buy the Shock Top, in spite of the fact that I'm not usually thrilled with Belgian Whites, nor do I like a lot of citrus and spices (the packaging says it has citrus peels and coriander). My rationale was simple: I tend to like lighter beers in the summer, and it was too late to go anywhere else.

The Pour
The aroma is pure citrus -- so much so that I could almost mistake it for an orange lemonade drink. It has a lot more citrus than I usually like, plus the spices were very pronounced in the odor. After pouring more than one bottle, I saw that a few of them actually had citrus peels or other small debris floating in them. I'm not squeamish, though (I know a few guys who can't stand anything but the purest of beers), so I just drank it. It added a little flavor, which was not unpleasant.

This pours as a very cloudy yellow. To be honest, it is not very attractive. It does have a thick and pretty head, though. It is thick and white and it leaves a nice lace, but it fades quickly. Far more quickly than I expected.

The Sip
I did not love the first sip. It was too much like a Mike's Hard Lemonade gone awry. But I give it a little time and, as it warmed up between 45 - 50 degrees, I found the citrus notes came alive and found balance with the malt underflavors. In some ways, it reminds me of a citrus wine cooler poured into a decent Belgian white. This isn't a bad thing (and I hope this doesn't sound weird and off putting) because the flavors actually began to work for me. I don't love it, but I definitely liked it and can picture this as a beer that some of my lighter friends) that is to say, those who like beers that are lighter than I prefer) might enjoy at a picnic or a summer party.

After Report
I actually finished the 12-pack in a reasonable time (had two while grilling one night and the light flavors went well with the stifling heat next to the fire). That it's not still sitting in my refrigerator says good things about the fact I enjoyed it. I didn't love it -- and don't think I would consider picking it up in the fall or winter -- but I might actually buy it again.

While working on my after-taste write-up (I never read about beers before or during my review), I found they have some of the funniest danged commercials I've ever seen! Here's one, but I suggest you go to YouTube and hunt around for others. They are laugh-out-loud funny.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Very, very cloudy yellow
Aroma: Lots of citrus
Hops: Faint, but present
Head: White & strong, but not as thick as expected
Lace: Strong: More than expected, but faded quickly
Carbonation: Medium/strong
Temprature Sweet Spot: 45 - 50 degrees
ABV: 5%
My Summer Rating: 6.75 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
These guys over at Rate Beer can't seem to get past the fact that it's not a standard Belgian White, plus some of them just seemed to be pissy about Anheuser-Busch products in general (not that I blame them, but I think we need to keep an open mind, especially when one of the Big Guys actually does try something new).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

030. Shift Pale Lager

Very strong citrus -- with a hint of vanilla? Don't love the mouth. Lighter than expected. More to come.

 Lace is much stronger than I expected considering how to thin head is. I was drinking out of a plastic cup and it clung to the side with a determination surprised me. Sweet Spot I first drank it at about 55 degrees and could definitely taste a hint of aromatic hops. These were tastier than I expected considering how light the beer is.

 This would make a really good summer beer. Colder is a bit sweeter.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Color: Very light
Aroma: Lots of citrus
Hops: Faint, but present
Head: White & strong, but not as thick as expected
Lace: Strong: More than expected
Carbonation: Medium
Temprature Sweet Spot: 45 - 50 degrees (it really doesn't matter)
ABV: 5%
My Rating: 7 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The fine fellows over at the Beer Advocate like this a lot more than I do:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

029. St. Arnold Santo

This is probably one of the most difficult reviews I've written since I started. You see, it's equally easy to write about something that you love or about something you hate. Strong emotions make for easy prose. But this beer -- Santos by Houston's own Saint Arnold Brewing Company -- is almost completely average in every way possible.

That is to say, it's completely unremarkable and, therefore, unmemorable.

This is unfortunate because, reading the info from the Website, it sounds like this is a beer I should like:

From Their Website:

Santo is a black Kölsch, which technically doesn’t exist as a style, but this is as close as we can come to describing it. Essentially it is brewed using a Kölsch recipe with the addition of Munich and black malt. It is light bodied and floral yet with a distinct dark malt flavor. Our goal was to create a dark yet refreshing beer that would pair perfectly with a plate of enchiladas.
The label artwork is by Houston artist Carlos Hernandez who is known for his Day of the Dead Rock Star series of paintings and prints.

Light hops and a dark malt with a hint of florals? Sounds like a yummy balance of the things I enjoy without being overpowered by so many of the hops that can easily take over craft beers. But, alas, the execution is so balanced that there's really nothing there for me to enjoy. Nothing dances on my tongue -- like the skull-faced dude in the label art, it just lies there on my tongue like something dead.

Specific Points
I bought a six pack of this beer in NW Houston at Randall's for about $7.  Opening the first bottle, I found the aroma to be very weak. I only detected a few hints of an earthy malt with a few distant undertones of citrus and, perhaps, the faint whiff of chocolate. The hops were almost not present.  As for things also missing, the head was not willing to stand up and be counted: I did a medium-aggressive pour to get a decent head on it and it worked... to a degree. The head that did appear was substantial and thick. But it faded quickly leaving almost no lace.

The color was most impressive, though, It was a crystal clear chocolate brown. Well, to be fair, it was a bit cloudy while the carbonation bubbled, but that went away fairly quickly and the resultant color was very clear and crisp.

The flavor in my mouth was acceptable -- it had a nice body to it. Also, the malt does make for a pleasant taste that doesn't leave a bready flavor in my mouth. Considering how mellow the hops are, that really is quite an accomplishment. My hat is off to the brewers for accomplishing that.

But that's really all I can say about it. It just doesn't get any better or worse than that. It's just so average that, even after drinking a whole six pack of it (paired with different foods and served at different temperatures), it just doesn't impress me.  I don't hate it, but I don't love it. I wouldn't necessarily turn it down, but I certainly would't order it or drink it if something else were offered.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Color: Dark, clear chocolate brown
Aroma: Weak to medium: Malt, faint citrus, possible earthy tones
Hops: So weak they are the malt's bitches
Head: White and thick, but faded quickly
Lace: Faint and weak
Carbonation: Medium
Temperature Sweet Spot: 45 - 60 degrees (it really doesn't matter)
ABV: 4.7%
My Rating: 5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The fine fellows over at the Beer Advocate like this a lot more than I do: