Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Quick Sip 002. Shiner Ryes & Shine Rye Lager

Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat. I drank this waaaay back in March or May for the first time. It was sold only in the Shiner Variety Pack and I had it at my wife's cousin's house (thanks for the great time, Dawn & Josh). I then went out and then bought a Family Six-Pack for the express purpose of getting another bottle of this. Their Family Reunion pack is a sampler of six different beers. One of them is frequently part of their Brewer's Pride series that includes small batches of their experimental beers.

Okay, since I'm drinking and being honest, I will tell the bitter truth. I actually rearranged the six pack so I got TWO bottles of this. Yes, I'm evil. I know it. Alas, repentance isn't something I'm into right now. At least not while drinking.

Popping the top gets you a strong scent of hops and a strong grain that I can only guess is the rye. I'm guessing because I don't drink a lot of rye-based beverages. In fact, most of my experience with rye is limited to the deliciously dark bread I use to make a turkey sandwich.

I was pleased that the flavor was smoother than the hops and strong aroma would lead me to expect. It also had more malt than I expected. There is definitely a tang to this lager, but it is not bitch-slap in the face strong. It's got a presence, but not too bad.

From the Label: This Small Batch Brew is the second in our Limited Edition Brewer's Pride Craft Brew Series. It's a medium-bodied, dark brown lager brewed with rye malt and chocolate rye from Germany, caramel malt and three hop varieties. The result is a rich, roasted dry finish with a touch of sweetness and hops, which honors our old-world brewing traditions. Prosit!
This beer has a lot to offer to those seeking something new and different. I can't see it becoming a favorite, but with its creamy texture, strong (but not overpowering) addition of rye, I could definitely see myself sitting back with some of these at my next family reunion.

My Score: 6.5 out of 10

Friday, November 8, 2013

055. Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale

Two weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Brigadoon Brewery at the Texas Renaissance Festival near Plantersville, Texas. Renn Fest is one of my favorite things to do to ring the the autumn season because it gives me a great excuse to go out, sample lots of beers (or just drink plenty of my old favorites) and watch great entertainment like Ded Bob or Iris & Rose.

While I was there, one of the brewers starting talking about his love of mixing beers. This is something I've had little experience with. Sure, I've had a few Black & Tans in my younger days, and sure, I'm familiar with how vintners take different wines and blend them together to create a perfect wine. But I've never really given much thought to blending beers to create something new.

That's why this week's beer choice was a pleasant surprise: Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale is, according to the label, a blended beer:

We blend young and old beers to make this mildy tart sour ale. Light bodied with a lactic/sour nose and a bit of sweet and sour in the finish. Very refreshing!

I've never had a Flemish Sour Ale before, so I didn't have any preconceptions about what to expect. Other than it being "sour," of course. Popping the top released a strong scent of pepper with other spices hiding below. I then detected subtle scents of citrus and other aromas that I couldn't quickly place.

My first sip was a pleasant surprise. Based on the dark color and peppery smell, I expected something harsh like an IPA. Instead, I got a wonderful taste of summer that reminded me instantly of a Shandy (that is, a mildly alcoholic beverage popular in England during the summer -- think a lemony soft drink/wine cooler hybrid).  This has a wonderful, tangy bite of lemon citrus (with maybe some grapefruit lurking in the lower levels) that instantly made me long for the hazy, lazy days of summer.

Even though this is a Belgium import, this would be welcome in the cooler of anyone inner tubing down the Guadalupe River in July. In fact, except for the dark color, this really reminds me more of a Mexican import than an Euro beer. My hat definitely goes off to the monks on blending this excellent concoction of new and old beers.

At about $5 - $7 for an 11 oz. bottle (if memory serves me right; I bought this a while back and can't find my receipt), I don't think this will become a staple of my summer drinking, but I would definitely be willing to invest in a few bottles for the next summer solstice. This is a great, light-tasting beer with a really pleasing taste of lemon. I'd really enjoy the opportunity of discovering which foods pair best with its tangy goodness.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Flemish Sour Ale
Color: Deep Copper/brown
Aroma: Pepper with hints of spices & citrus
Hops: Milder than I expected
Malt: Mild and in balance with the hops
Head: Thick and creamy, but fades quickly
Lace: Nice, but fades quickly
Carbonation: Light
Mouthfeel:  Crisp and refreshing
Temperature Sweet Spot: Around 55 degrees F.
ABV: 5.5%
My Summer Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
The guys over at Beer Advocate seemed to like this, for the most part. No one really came out against it (one or two bemoaned that it wasn't sour enough), but few praised it outright. Most of them seemed to have the same idea I did: This was a pleasant change of pace from the usual fare. I was surprised that so many of them detected raisins in the scent/taste. I didn't get that at all. But then again, that's what makes reading beer reviews so much fun -- someone will have a different take on things than you did.  Here's what they had to say:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quick Sip 001. Two-Hearted IPA

I am not going to write for reviews tonight (and probably again tomorrow). I am drinking a few beers and watching some TV, so I am just going to write some very fast impression.

Two Hearted Ale IPA by Bells Beer 
 Fair disclosure here: I think this has been in the refrigerator for a while now. Honestly, it might be a year old. I think my brother Pat sent this to me, because I don't usually buy IPAs. My first impression was that it had an odd older. Not an aroma, but an odor. It is probably just subliminal suggestion from the label, but I thought it smelled fishy. Maybe if salt I'm smelling. There are definitely strong hops in this one. And the usual bitterness that I am not a fan of. I think I'm smiling spices and pepper which are not ubpleasant.

From their Website: Bell's Two Hearted Ale is defined by its intense hop aroma and malt balance. Hopped exclusively with the Centennial hop varietal from the Pacific Northwest, massive additions in the kettle and again in the fermenter lend their characteristic grapefruit and pine resin aromas. A significant malt body balances this hop presence; together with the signature fruity aromas of Bell's house yeast, this leads to a remarkably drinkable American-style India Pale Ale.

There might even be a hint of citrus buried under the terms of hops. I suspect that fans of IPAs will think that this does not go far enough. But I think it goes too far. My first sips leave me very unimpressed.
My score: 4 out of 10

Sunday, September 29, 2013

054. 1st Street Ale


I'm a little under the weather at the moment, so I'm not drinking much right now. But I was craving a beer tonight. A new beer tonight. So, when I needed a bag of ice, I mosied over to the Spec's Liquor on Cutton Drive in NW Houston and picked up a 6-pack of a local brew that I've never tried before: No Label Brewing Company's 1st Street Ale for about $8.50.

I'm drinking just one tonight, and am going to give you first impressions. I plan to drink another bottle bottle tomorrow (or Monday) and finish a proper review.

First Sip
Popping the top of a cold bottle released a pleasant aroma.I think there are hints of citrus and hops, but I'm a little congested, so I'm not 100% sure. There might even be a trace of pine, but I won't swear to it.I drank this straight from the bottle, so I've no idea how it pours (but there was always a thin head in the bottle, so I have high hopes for it when I get around to pouring it). My first sip brought to mind one word: CRISP.

It has a pleasant bitterness of hops on the tongue that was excited by what seems to be medium carbonation. The first few sips were nice, but after about two-thirds of the bottle, it developed a taste that stayed with me on my tongue in an enjoyable way.

I don't think this is a remarkable ale, but as something to wash down the dog days of summer, I think it's a welcome to any cooler. It's a pleasant ale and I'm looking forward to my next bottle.

From the Website:This Blonde Ale is dedicated to the city of Katy, Texas. Because Katy was known for its rice farming, we decided to brew this beer with a touch of rice, giving it a smooth, clean, and crisp finish. Perfect for all occasions. Come try it at one of our tasting or look for it at shelf near you. 

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Ale
Color: ???
Aroma: Citrus, hops and pine?
Hops: Tart on the tongue
Malt: ???
Head: ???
Lace: ???
Carbonation: Light
Mouthfeel:  Crisp and refreshing
Temperature Sweet Spot: ???
ABV: ???
My Summer Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
To come...

Friday, September 6, 2013

053. Full Sail Amber Ale

There's an almost journeyman quality to Full Sail Amber ale. It's a very good amber -- with everything you expect from an amber -- but nothing that knocks my socks off. Then again, I don't know that I go to an amber (or a bock, for that matter) when I need to remove my footwear.

I drink an amber ale when I want a good, serviceable beer that's not too dark for the summer and not too light and breezy for the winter. In other words, it's a good mid-year beer that has the right combination of flavor and light-on-the-tongue attributes that make it a great way to relax in the evening while watching TV.

But enough dilly dallying, here's the specifics.

The aroma really isn't much to write about. It's not very strong, but it has a nice hint of floral hops and just a hint of citrus that seems to be riding on the malt. The color is spectacular. I really don't think my photo is doing a good job of catching just how amazing the amber/copper color looks. It is brilliant, and so clear that I was able to use the glass (once I brushed away the condensation) as a magnifying glass. Okay, so the text on my monitor looked backwards... but it was big and easy to read.

The lace was incredible. It actually left distinct lace rings to show how much I drank between each sip.

The flavor is another story. It's not remarkable. But it's so danged solid that there's nothing to complain about. The malt comes to the forefront, but not in a dominating way (NOTE: The more I drink, the more I think the malt is "taking charge of my mouth," if you know what I mean). The mouthfeel is silky and pleasant -- no chalky aftertaste. The more I drank, the more of a bready quality I noticed (that is to say, I was aware of the yeast).

I think this is a really solid amber ale and, although it will not make my Favorites List, it would make a list of everyday beers that I would enjoy drinking. In fact, I may just start a list like that. Let's face it, sometimes I just want a beer that doesn't challenge me or get up in my face. I want an old-reliable brew that I can kick back with, watch some television or sip while I play online Ticket to Ride.

This is a beer that I could enjoy drinking almost any day of the year.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Amber Ale
Color: A brilliant, clear amber/copper
Aroma: Faint floral notes from the hops with a tease of citrus riding on the malt
Hops: Tame and in balance with the malt
Malt: Present and strong, but not bitchy about it
Head: Gorgeous 2-finger head
Lace: 17th Century French nuns couldn't make better lace
Carbonation: Light
Mouthfeel:  Crisp and pleasing with the faintest hint of hops bitterness -- just enough to tell you they were there, but without being in-your-face about it
Temperature Sweet Spot: The hops and aroma come alive around 50-53 degrees.
ABV: 6%
My Summer Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
The guys over at Beer Advocate were almost schizophrenic over this ale. Some guys hated it and others loved it. Some said it had no head, others praised the head. I've honestly never seen a beer garner such diverse reactions before. It makes me really question their quality control.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

052. Blue Moon Rounder Belgian Style Pale Ale

Good habits are the easiest to break. I think anyone who's ever dropped a few pounds, given up smoking or just make the time to take your dog for a walk every night (even in a light rain after a long day at work) can probably attest to that fact.

Blogging about beer was the habit I broke recently... and I'm trying to get back into it.

As I noted earlier, I got very busy at the end of last year, then I got pretty darn sick (a chest infection that came and went -- mostly came -- from Jan. 1 thru March), and then of course work hit again. The short version is, after a combination of factors, I fell out of the habit of doing something I love: Drinking new beers and writing about them.

So here I am, trying to get back on the wagon, so to speak. I'm going to try resuming my weekly odyssey down the beer aisles and let you know what brave new brews I discover.


My first foray into new waters hails from familiar folks at Blue Moon Brewing Company. If you check past reviews, you'll see that I'm a fan of their Winter Abbey Ale (and although I haven't yet reviewed it, I'm also a fan of their Belgian White). So, I have to admit I came into this with high hopes and expectations.

Also, as things warm up here in Houston, I'm also a fan of pale, lighter beers. In other words, when the heat is on I prefer to cool things down with a lighter, paler beverage. And this one definitely delivered.

I like this beer. The aroma was the first thing I noticed when I opened the twist top. Hints of floral and citrus -- the label states that these are hibiscus and orange peel. I'm no gourmet, but I'll take them at their word. I also detected a hint of pepper that was also pleasing.

My first drink was straight from the dark brown bottle while watching a TV show. I was munching on some salty snacks at the time and it really complemented my gnosh. I'm not gonna lie -- in four days I finished the six pack while chilling in the evening or after doing some chores around the house. Tonight I went back to the Kroger's in NW Houston and bought a second six-pack so I could review it. Even at about $8 a six pack, it's totally worth it.

I opted for a whole six-pack, rather than
picking it up in the sampler.

This time I poured it into a glass and photographed it, making sure I lit it to catch the delightful amber brown color. As you can see in the photo, though, when I poured it at a cold temperature I didn't get much head. Even with a moderate pour, which means I start off letting it hit the side of the glass and then finish by letting the liquid slam down the middle of the glass in an effort to agitate it into releasing the carbonation, there just wasn't much there. The head did improve when I poured my second glass at a warmer temperature and with a much more aggressive pour (just dumped it right into the middle of the glass). In this case it delivered a lot of head with a nice, clingy lace.

First Bottle - Cold
Despite the cold temperature, the beer released a lot of aroma. The florals and citrus dominated, but the other aromas were there and carried through to the tongue to deliver a nice, gentle balance of flavors. I enjoyed the presence of the hops, but they didn't dominate. I found everything to be working together without a single flavor note taking over. If I had to pick, though, I'd say that the malt is a little stronger than the other ingredients. But it's more like it's leading the parade -- that is to say, although it's a little bit more out front, it's still in the same band uniform as all the other flavors so it really doesn't stand out too much.

Second Bottle - Warmer
I don't have my beer thermometer handy (I'm wondering if my wife swiped it for candy making?), but I'm guessing this beer is well over 50 degrees when it makes its transformation from mild, balanced beer to a more aggressive brew. At a warmer temp, the spices and hops stop being bottoms and decide to switch-hit to become tops. They make the beer have a stronger flavor that overpowers the malt. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not the beer I met a few minutes ago. Still, the stronger flavors give it more presence to stand up to salty snacks like chips and dip. Although different, I still like it.

A few words from Blue Moon
This beer is part of Blue Moon Brewery's Expressionist Collection. According to their Website, this means:
"For this collection, our brewmasters found inspiration in the rich heritage of classic beer styles, but, of course, they added their own twists along the way."
For some reason, this beer doesn't have any info at their Website, so this is from the label:
"In the 1940s, Belgian-Style Pale Ales grew in popularity and were ordered by the round due to their balanced taste.  Our brewmaster's expression of this sessionable ale is crafted with hibiscus and orange peel for a hint of spiciness and touch of wheat for a smoother, rounder taste."

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Belgian Pale Ale
Color: Crisp, clear amber
Aroma: Wonderful balance of hops and malt with breeze of floral notes and a whisper of spicey citrus
Hops: Servicable and aromatic
Malt: Enjoying a playdate with the hibiscus and orange
Head: An enigma; it looks like it wants to come out to play, but is too shy (see notes above)
Lace: If you can get it to a head, then it has a nice presence. But otherwise, it vanishes like a thief in the night
Carbonation: Light
Mouthfeel:  Pretty good, but mostly the spices remain
Temperature Sweet Spot: An odd problem; I like it best cold (under 40 degrees), but the head and spices awaken around 52 degrees.
ABV: 5.6%
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
The guys over at Beer Advocate weren't impressed with this beer. They liked it, but didn't really think it was worth being in a special "Expressionist Collection:"

I'm not going to disagree with them... much. I think those guys are suffering from a bit of sour grapes syndrome. That is to say, they came in expecting too much. There's nothing bad about this beer, as you might guess from the fact that I'm now on my second six-pack in less than two weeks. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Been sick...

Dang it, but the epidemic of "ick" that went around this year hit me hard. I caught bronchitis and still have a lingering cough. I have one steadfast rule -- I don't drink when I'm sick (past experience tells me it will just lengthen my recovery time). Fortunately, I'm recovering now and will be back on schedule later this month.

I've got a whole slew of cool beers lined up to review and I'm really looking forward to getting back in the swim of things.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

051. Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale

Inasmuch as tomorrow is Veteran's Day, I thought I'd break from the dark shadows of Halloween and the bounty of harvest beers, but still enjoy something dark as the earth spins ever nearer toward the solstice. In a bit of a stretch, I decided to honor those who have served by tipping back a glass with an ale inspired by the words from our National Anthem, "by the rockets red glare..."

That much justification aside, I'm now sitting here sipping Bear Republic's Red Rocket Ale. As I said, the patriotic theme is a bit of a stretch, but my enjoyment of this ale is not. This is particularly enjoyable because I was very concerned that I wouldn't like it because of the description from the label:

Red Rocket Ale is a bastardized Scottish style red ale packed with distinctive flavors an an aggressive hop character riveled by none. This unfiltered, bottle-conditioned, amber colored ale breaks all style molds.
Keep refrigerated, beer is perishable, real ale is alive, yeast is good, serve at 45-50 degrees F.
I was very concerned that this ale would be dominated by hops, much like a powerful IPA is. This fear was reinforced when I took a whiff after popping the top on the bottle. All I smelled were hops and alcohol (a quick glance at the label revealed it has an ABV of 6.8% -- pretty heady stuff). But I was pleasantly surprised once I actually took a sip.

At 50 degrees F, it was quite smooth and poured a beautiful dark red that was remarkably clear considering the yeast comment on the label. The head was light brown and barely one-finger thick -- it and the lace were not really very memorable.

The taste, however, was quite memorable. The hops were there and they did dominate the malt more than I care for, but there were other flavors at play below the surface. I almost never use the word "pine" to describe beer, but that word does apply here. Also, and this is odd because these two flavors don't go together well, but a hint of mint mixed in with a citrus nip that I would best describe as orange. When it's all done, the mouthful is surprisingly dry. I say surprising because I'm not used to getting a light caramel aftertaste in such a dry ale. After it settled in my mouth for a minute, I was finally aware of the malt. It's there as a supporting character doing an important-but-underappreciated role in the t

Finishing off the bottle
I only picked up one bottle of this, which is a shame because I'd like to run some more tests on it (he he heh -- yup, it's all int the name of science). As it is, I tested this at 48 and 50 degrees, and found that it definitely does taste better in that range. At least to me. However, I think hops-happy drinkers might prefer the tanginess that comes alive when this ale is between 55-59 degrees. It develops a bit more "bite" at that point, which I know hops heads would like.

I think this is a really pleasant ale and I'm very glad I used it to toast my friends who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines (I don't mention the Coast Guard because I don't have any personal friends who served there). And I thank them and everyone before and after them who served. I wouldn't be here today if not for them... none of us would.

This particular beer, as good as it is, is a bit too dry and piney for my taste. I wouldn't turn it down in a bar or with good company, but it's not one I would seek out on its own. It's very good, but not great.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Red Ale
Color: Rich red, crystal clear
Aroma: Hops and alcohol
Hops: Strong but not too overpowering; piney and aromatic
Malt: Lurking below the surface
Head: Quarter-inch, mostly thick light brown, but fades quickly
Lace: Almost none
Carbonation: Low
Mouthfeel:  Very dry and a little chalky
Temeprature Sweet Spot: 45-50 degrees F (for more hops flavor, let it warm to 55-59)
ABV: 6.8%
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
The fellers over at Beer Advocate enjoyed this more than I did, but they tend to prefer hops-heavy beers over there:

Happy New Year!

Well, those pesky Mayans were proved wrong and the world did not end in 2012 (neither at the solstice nor the start of our calendar year).

I need to apologize a bit for my absence of late. Around Halloween things really got crazy and I started missing my blog-post dates. And like any good habit, once you miss it more than once, it's dangerously easy to start missing it a lot.

But now that the crazy holiday season has finally wound up (don't get me wrong -- we had fun, but we were hopping from one party to event to gathering for almost 10 weeks straight!), I can get back to the serious business of drinking some new beers.

First I'm going to go back and fill in a few old reviews that I started but had not finished, then I'll move on to the new material for the new year.

Talk to ya soon!