Sunday, November 30, 2014

Quick Sip 014. Left Hand Brewing Company Oktoberfest

This is the last of my Octoberfest beers -- I found a single bottle of this hiding in my "review me!" shelf in the beer refrigerator. I remember buying it at World Market for about $8 a six-pack. They had a few good looking beers for sale, but I must admit, it was the label that drew me to this one. It features a blue lion (or some kind of big cat) in front of the blue and white Munich flag, and it just caught my eye.

I generally like Marzen Lagers, so it wasn't much of a stretch to predict that I would like this one -- and I did. A lot. This is probably my second-favorite Octoberfest beer of the season (the first being Karbachtoberfest, which I reviewed a while back).

OKTOBERFEST MÄRZEN LAGERTOASTY MALT FLAVORS DOMINATE UP FRONT AND NOBLE HOPS LEAD TO A SPICY AND SUPERBLY CLEAN LAGER FINISH.This is no festivus for the restuvus – on the contrary – we start brewing in the Spring and it takes a full two months to reach lagered perfection. Biscuity, malty goodness dominates upfront while the noble pedigree hops lend a properly spicy, dry finish. Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi. Time to roast your chicken and upend your stein before the air gets crisp, the leaves flame and fall and the skies fade to black. Auf geht's!-- From their Website:

The aroma is mostly of malt with a hint of yeast and the aromatics of Muich hops. Fortunately, it's not too sweet nor grassy smelling. And the same can be said of the crisp, clean taste. Mostly malt, some hint of bready yeast, and just notes of hops. The carbonation is medium, but the head dissipated faster than I expected, as did the lace. The color is a gorgeous copper brown, and when it warms to a chilly room temperature, other flavors come alive, giving it more depth than you would expect.

I paired this with a pumpkin bread and it was delicious, with no alcohol taste to indicate that this packs an ABV of 6.6%.

My score: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Quick Sip 013. Artigianale Italian Red Ale

The first time I saw beer in a wine bottle, I was surprised. I grew up in Texas, and even though we're known for liking things big, when I first started drinking beer all those years ago things seldom got bigger than a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor.

Nowadays, though, a 750 ml bottle of wine is fairly common. So when I saw this bottle of Artigianale Italian Red Ale back at the start of summer, I wasn't surprised, but I do recall noting the low price. It was probably around $3 or $4 at my local Spec's Liquor Store in NW Houston. It's been sitting in my refrigerator ever since, waiting for the night when I would finally pop the top and see what's brewing in Italy.

I think I'll stick to their wine.

This is not a horrible beer, but it's not that great, either. The aroma has a little fruit and yeast and maybe a hint of aromatic mountain hops. But not much else. It pours a very hazy copper brown and a moderate pour delivered almost no head. An aggressive pour finally got a 2-finger head that dissipated quickly to a thin ring that deposited more lace than I expected.

My first sips of cold beer were very off-putting. I was not impressed. However, as it warmed up to 48 degrees, the unpleasant bitterness went away (BTW: It is important to note that the bitterness was probably alcohol and not hops -- as I said, this is not a hoppy beer).  The warmer it got, the more nuance I detected, so I actually set it aside and took a break to let it warm up over 50 degrees to see if it would come alive and exceed my already low expectations.

It turns out that 55 degrees is the sweet spot for this beer. And how sweet it is. More nuanced flavors did come to the forefront as the beer warmed up, but it also awoke the sugars and a taste of yeasty caramel. The bitterness retreated and a strong sweetness came forth. It's not bad -- not like some of the overly spiced holiday beers I sometimes encounter -- but it is sweet without relying on malt. So, if you like sweeter beers but don't like malt, this might be something you'll like.

The sweetness did serve to hide the 7.8% ABV alcohol taste that was present at the lower temperatures, but it really wasn't enough to compensate for what was -- in general -- an unremarkable import.

My Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

065. Karbach Krunkin Pumpkin

Thanksgiving is this week, and I'm still trotting out the pumpkin beers from my vault: Karbach Krunkin Pumpkin. At least this one mentions turkey day on the label, so I guess i can save my guilt for seconds on Thursday. I picked this ale up a while back -- it came in a 22 oz bottle that is commonly called a "bomber" at my local Spec's Liquor store. This was the last bottle they had.

Speaking of which, I do think this would be a decent beer to share with guests at a big meal, as I believe it is better consumed in small glasses, rather than downing the entire bottle, as I'm doing tonight. It's just too sweet and spicy for my taste.

First Pour
Popping the top is like breaking the seal on the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The moment you do, aromas start swirling out of the bottle, almost spinning around the top seeking release. And they are pleasing. Spice, malt, a hint of hops, an undercurrent of yeast and the promise of pumpkin pie. The pie is definitely a portent of the sweetness to come.

The pour yielded a respectable one-finger head that was surprising consistent as it sat atop a rich chocolate brown ale that could stand next to a Guinness without being embarrassed -- yup, it's that dark. The first sip was pretty cold, and it was almost cloyingly sweet with a generous amount of pumpkin flowing through. It was good, but I could tell right away that this was not nuanced enough to be from Karbach Brewing Co., so I would need to let it warm up a bit so the other flavors could come alive.

So wait I did, and was rewarded for my patience. Even a few degrees allowed some of the dormant flavors to awaken and swarm forth, delivering more spice and subtlety as the brew warmed above 50 degrees. I began detecting pepper, pumpkin spice and hops -- in other words, the flavors promised by the pleasing noseful I got when I opened the bottle.
1.  Take pale, Munic and crystal malts and mash for 90 minutes.2.  Lauter with sugar pumpkins baked for 60 minutes at 420 degrees and boil wort for 70 minutes.3.  Add hops at beginning and end of boil and add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice at very end of the boil.4.  Ferment with yeast, cold condition and bottle.*Best served chilled in goblet-style glass to goblins, ghouls or naughty nurses at your favorite Halloween party or uptight in-laws at Thanksgiving dinner.*-- From the label
If you like more bitter flavors, drink this warm and you will find a nice counterbalance to the sweetness. Well... probably not enough for the true hops whores out there. If you love IPAs, then this is not the beer for you.

Fortunately, this is a limited release and kind of hard to get, so there is no chance it will become part of your everyday larder. But, as a once-in-a-while fall treat, this is a treasure that even  Indy could enjoy.

Closing Thoughts
This is a really good pumpkin ale; in fact, it is probably the best one I've ever had. That being said, I don't love pumpkin ales all that much. But if they were all this good, I would consider trying more of them. This is a dark ale suited for winter. I think it would pair will with turkey or other food, but is probably way too sweet to pair with dessert.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Pumpkin Ale
Color: Rich chocolate brown
Aroma: Spices, pumpkin, hops, yeast & sweet malt
Hops: Present, but not as pronounced as expected
Malt: A sweet foundation
Head: One-finger head that shrinks to a thin ring that never quite fades completely
Lace: Almost none.
Bitterness: Not really -- this is a fairly sweet ale
Carbonation: Medium to light
Mouthfeel:  Refreshing, but the yeast does get a little cloying after drinking a lot
Temeprature Sweet Spot: 50 - 55 degrees
ABV: 8.5%
My Rating: 7 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
Mostly positive reviews at Beer Advocate. A few didn't get it, but those that did really enjoyed it a lot.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Quick Sip 012. Saint Arnold Boiler Room

Sometimes there's a reason something is on sale. I was at a Spec's Liquor Store in NW Houston and they had a large bottle of Saint Arnold Boiler Room beer that was marked about half off; it was only $4.99 for a 22 oz. bottle.

I usually like the stuff produced by one of our local breweries, so I grabbed it on the run. I should have spent more time reading the label because this is a wheat beer. As I said a while back, I'm trying to cut out wheat beers because I turn bright red when I drink them. So far I don't have any other symptoms, but why push my luck -- allergies tend to get worse over time with exposure, not better.

When I first sipped this ice cold beer, I had a MAJOR pucker reaction and was about to give it a scathing review. Fortunately, I let it warm up and was pleasantly surprised at the results.

But let's back up a bit.

The color was wheat yellow with a very generous two-finger head. Not as much lace as I would expect, though. When it was cold, I would have described this as a medium to heavy. When it was warm, though, it was almost gone. Still, the sour flavor compensated for the lack of bubbles, so nothing much was lost.  The aroma was mildly citrus with hints of aromatic hops.

COLD - 35-45 degrees
This was horrible. It tasted like drinking a beer-flavored Sour Patch Kids candy. Honestly, it was just sourness for the sake of sourness. I really don't have much good to say about it at this temperature.

WARM - 60-65 degrees
It's still sour, but it's actually drinkable. There are actually nuances to the beer that were completely hidden at the lower temperatures. The nose, as you would expect, also came alive, revealing the hint of malt and bringing even more citrus to the forefront. However, and this could be due to the length of time the beer sat out warming, the aroma was much less pronounced.

The sour aspects were much less annoying because the other flavors emerged in the warmer beer.

"Boiler Room is a light bodied but surprisingly flavorful sour wheat beer. The sourness is created by souring the wort prior to boiling and fermentation (unlike Belgian-style sours which sour during fermentation and have active bacteria in them when packaged). The nose of the beer has a light Hersbrucker hop note and a distinct funkiness. The taste is sweet malt quickly going into a tart body and finish. The sour and malt flavors balance well all the way through creating a very refreshing beverage, akin to drinking a tart lemonade or limeade. For a beer with just over 3.5%, it creates a big experience for the palate.

Traditionally this beer is enjoyed either straight or with raspberry or woodruff syrup to sweeten it (and turn it red or green, respectively).

Our Boiler Room is pure, with no additives or preservatives. In order to maintain the freshest flavor possible, we do not pasteurize our beer. Many of its subtle flavors are delicate and would not stand up to the heat of pasteurization. We recommend that this product be stored cold to avoid any degradation in flavor.

--From their Website

Even if this were not a wheat beer, it would not make it back into my beer fridge. I'm just not a fan of sours, and even if this is a decent sour, I'm just not the person they brewed this for. Nevertheless, if you ARE a fan of sours, then give this a try. Just make sure you let it warm up a bit before you sip.

My rating -- Cold: 3 out of 10
My rating -- Warm: 6 out of 10

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Quick Sip 011. Spaten Oktoberfest

Bready malt wafts to those nose when you pop the top on this seasonal classic. It's followed by a delicious taste that perfectly suits the Marzen style beer. It's refreshingly light but strong. That should be an oxymoron, but it really works. I appreciate the lack of hoppiness (not always, but this time I definitely don't miss the overt bitterness that hops bring).

The Spaten website lists this as the first Oktoberfest beer, and while I've no idea if that's true, but I'm in love with it and would happily enjoy it all year round. However, ignore their website's claim that says this is golden -- it's pure brown. A nice chocolate/caramel brown that definitely hints at the richness and nuances of the flavor it holds.

Bread and yeast are at the forefront, along with a sweet malt. I detect some faint spices and a hint of pepper. I drank it ice cold on an ice cold night, which kept the head to a minimum and pretty much killed the lace. At a warmer temp it reveals more spices, but oddly enough, that's not what I wanted tonight. Tonight, it's time for a cheesy holiday movie and a sweet Marzen.

The guys at Beer Advocate really don't like this, but that's not surprising since they seem to be mostly hops whores over there -- drinking beer for the bitterness of hops as though it's some macho rite of passage to find the most bitter fluid on the planet. I like hops, but I'm not standing on a street corner peddling my taste buds to every bitter brew that comes along. You need to bring me some sweet stuff before I invite you back to my room to stay for the weekend.

My score: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Quick Sip 010. Blue Moon Gingerbread Spiced Ale

Wow. This actually smells like gingerbread. It is amazing. The spice is so present. I was concerned that this was going to be overpowering, but it wasn't. This has the right balance of beer and flavor: the hops are not overpowering, but actually blended with the malt.

And this paired SO WELL with the key lime pie we had for dessert.

Once again, thanks to Lynn & Root for another great evening with Blue Moon beer.

My rating: 7.5 out of 10

Saturday, November 1, 2014

064.Fort Bend Brewing Co. Texas Farmhouse Ale

The doorbell rang last night to tell me that Halloween was gone and November was already here. Okay, it didn't ring all that much -- I was sitting by the door with the candy, handing out goodies to about 128 trick-or-treaters. But those details don't change a thing; I'm not even finished reviewing all the great Octoberfest beers in my fridge and already it's time to say hello to the great end-of-year seasonals coming out.

Well, dang it, I ain't ready to go, yet. So I'm going to hold on to the harvest season a little longer by reviewing a new Texas brewery and a new harvest beer: Texas Farmhouse Ale by the Fort Bend Brewing Co.

Now, this is the second Farmhouse Ale I've reviewed this year (the first being review number 061 back in June: Blue Moon Short Straw Farmhouse Red Ale ), and although they do compare favorably to one one another, I still prefer the smoothness of the Blue Moon ale. Nevertheless, this is definitely a worthy contender if ever the two were to duke it out in the barnyard to see who is cock of the walk.

But enough Green Acres homilies.

First (& Second) Pour
This ale has a very spicy nose. I detected a lot of spices and citrus. The label lists Pear and Banana, and I might be tempted to agree with the pear notes, but not the banana. The hops are pleasing on the nose and not as strong as I expected.

The pour was very disappointing. The first glass had almost no head at all from a conservative pour. A second bottle poured later yielded a decent 1-finger head from a very aggressive pour, but all but a flat beer will give you that. And that's the surprising thing: I was expecting low carbonation, but that's not what I found. It's actually got some tiny bubbles dancing around inside it. They actually helped make the sour aftertaste pleasing, but I'm ahead of myself.

When I took a sip of the hazy brownish/yellowish brew, I was delighted to find about what I expect in a farmhouse ale: a slightly sour seasonal that has aromatic hops with a hint of refreshing bitterness. A Flemish Sour definitely comes to mind when I drink this. And I admit that's a category I'm not all that familiar with, so more research -- and thus more bottles of beer -- will be required!

"Our Belgian-style Farmhouse is a full-flavored, golden ale with wonderful aromatic hints of fruit and spice. An initial scent of banana, pepper and herb are blended with flavors of crisp fruit and mild citrus with a sweet, lingering backbone. The full mouthfeel finishes pleasingly tart and ever-so slightly dry."
Unfiltered; Banana, Pepper, Citrus, Pear – all from Belgian Yeast

-- From the label
A few notes from their Website: 
Malt: Pils, Munich, Wheat, Crystal 10
Hops: GR Perle, Hallertauer
Yeast: Belgian Yeast
ABV: 5.4%
IBUs: 24
SRM: 6

Closing Thoughts
This is a decent farmhouse ale. It has the right hints of citrus, pepper and other notes to make it a pleasant way to kill an evening as the harvest moon rises above in the starry, starry night. As it uses a what malt, I probably won't be buying this again (longtime readers will remember that wheat beer turns my face red, so I've stopped drinking it because I don't want it to contribute to me developing a wheat allergy). However, I'm not worried enough that I'm going to gift the remaining four bottles to family and friends.

Oh, and that brings up an odd thing about this beer. The packaging. As you'll see in the photo above, this beer does not come in a cardboard six-pack, but rather with a plastic holder that slips around the necks of the bottles. I don't care if this is "green" or cheaper. This is dangerous. Whenever I picked it up from the top, the bottles would clink together VERY LOUDLY. And I had to cradle the bottles by their bottoms because the whole thing felt so precarious. Even the checkout lady at Spec's agreed and said no one in the store likes bottles packaged that way.

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass:
Type: Farmhouse Ale
Color: Hazy Brownish Yellow
Aroma: Spices, pepper, hops
Hops: Nicely bitter and not as strong as expected
Malt: Provides a foundation of sweetness for the sour to play off of
Head: Depends on your pour: Aggressive pour gets a 1-finger head, a soft pour gets almost nothing
Lace: Surprisingly strong for such a weak head
Bitterness: Present, but plays well with the sour notes
Carbonation: Medium, tiny, tiny bubbles that contribute to the haziness
Mouthfeel:  Dry with sour finish
Temeprature Sweet Spot: 55-ish degrees
ABV: 5.4%
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Other Reviews Worth A Sip:
Beer Advocate and Rate Beer were not overly kind to this beer. Some didn't care for the aroma at all, even describing it as sulfur and rotten eggs. Since this is the most extreme negative review, I'm thinking it's him, not the beer. The aroma has some sour notes, but nothing like that.