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:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

033. Full Sail Session Black

I saw this one a few weeks ago at my local Spec's Liquor Store in NW Houston, and I must admit that it was the odd packaging that attracted me to Session Premium Black Lager. This has a decidedly old-school look with a simple cardboard box with very simple printing (two colors on white). Plus, you can tell something is different because the box was a bit shorter than usual.

The simple packaging at Spec's Liquor
caught my eye.
It turns out these are 11-ounce "stubby" bottles. Yup, 11 ounces.  A bit odd, but interesting. Also, they didn't have this in six-packs or singles, so I had to take another leap of faith and commit to an entire half-case. Since it was only $12.75 for the 12-pack, I decided a buck a beer wasn't too risky. I've only had a few beers so bad that I couldn't finish them eventually.

Short on size, but not on taste!
Fortunately, that was not the case with with this dark brew. I found that I rather enjoyed it.

The stubby bottles were a bit different, but I was going to a party that weekend and brought a few with me and I found that they fit in my small cooler more easily than do longnecks. Except for these being glass, this size would definitely be better for bringing to the beach or poolside.

This pours very dark and there are strong aromas of malt coming from the bottle. Head and lace are okay -- not remarkable, but not bad. The head was actually whiter than I expected, considering how dark it is. This is a very filling beer, not quite the "liquid bread" of a stout, but strong, nevertheless. I would definitely prefer this in the Autumn, rather than in the hotter-than-heck days of a South Texas Summer.

It has a hint of sweetness to it that was not unpleasant. The malt is definitely the star here, overpowering the hops when it was served ice cold. As my second (or was it third?) bottle warmed up, the hops were released and I found it to be more balanced than when served at glacial temperatures. Letting it reach room temperature did not yield any improvements.

All in all, this is a solid beer that I definitely enjoyed drinking as a nightcap while reading a Sax Rohmer novel (I've read all his Fu Manchu books, so now I'm hitting some other 90-year-old hardcovers that have been in my collection for about 20 years).

I will most certainly revisit this beer in the fall.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:

Type: Black Lager
Color: Dark
Aroma: Malty
Hops: Very understated, but present at warmer temperatures
Malt: Strong but not overpowering
Head: Strong and cream with hints of coffee color
Lace: Reasonable - last about what I expected
Carbonation: Light/Medium
Temprature Sweet Spot: 38-44 degrees
ABV: 5.4%
My Summer Rating: 6 out of 10
My Autumn Rating: I'll let you know when it cools off!

Other Reviews Worth a Sip:
The guys over at Beer Advocate seem to like it fairly well