Beer and Pavement

My Last Twelve Beers

Posted in Beer, MoL by Zac on December 15, 2011

No, this is not a list of the twelve worst beers I’ve had this year. I won’t do that. What I will do is put together a cheap post, a list of my last twelve beers as a way to fill some space. Think of it as the twelve beers of this Christmas or something. Some of these I’ve had and might have reviewed somewhere, but I thought I’d look back and see what I’ve enjoyed recently*. Of course, most of these happened on Sunday at a beer geek holiday party, but they still count…

Parabola Russian imperial stout by Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Sycamore, a favorite place to get a beer and a fine meal was hosting a Firestone Walker beer dinner. I didn’t get tickets, but I was able to score a seat for my daughter and I. We ate pork belly sliders, their special salad (soft boiled egg, bacon, etc.), smoked trout belly, and their famous Parmesan fries. I washed all that down with this beer. At 13%, it was the only beer I could safely drink in order to get my kid home in time for bed. It’s a huge and intense flavor experience, but it’s plenty drinkable now and should be out of this world in a year or two.

Fuego del Otono by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales – We had guests over for dinner. My wife makes this pumpkin soup where she bakes it inside a Long Island cheese pumpkin and we scoop out pulp with the broth and melted Gruyere. Somehow the brown ale I chose to pair was not going to make the cut. So, I quickly chilled this Jolly Pumpkin. The nuttiness, spices, and slight tartness played well with the soup.

Double Bastard by Stone Brewing Company – This one was served before dinner for a couple of bastards (myself included). I’ve always had an interest in drinks named “bastard” ever since I had my first Miserable Bastard at the bar around the corner from my college apartment. I like to pretend when I drink this beer that it’s what the regular Arrogant Bastard used to taste like before we all became acclimated to such big beers.

Firestone 15 (XV) Anniversary Ale byFirestone Walker Brewing Company – I was lucky enough to get a nice sample of this beer which should age nicely. I still have several bottles in my possession at the moment, but one is promised to a friend. This means that I either have one to sell or trade or I’ll drink it over the holiday with friends and age another for the future. Either way, I feel pretty lucky to have any and to have tasted it already. Did I mention that it’s pretty incredible already?

N’Ice Chouffe by Brasserie d’Achouffe (Duvel Moortgat) – After a while, I feel all these great Belgian beers – seasonal or not – begin to all taste the same. Of course they don’t really and of course this is not a bad thing. My underdeveloped tongue for Belgian beers just struggles to differentiate. This one was nice. I don’t remember anything that set it apart particularly. Plus, it was in the midst of a decent haul for a Sunday afternoon.

4 Calling Birds by The Bruery – I love The Bruery. This one was interesting. Unlike the one above, it stuck out as a Belgian style beer. However, I sensed a lot more clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, you know, Christmas spices. Still, it didn’t quite stand up to the actual Belgian beer. Had I consumed it alone, I might think differently. Of course, I’d drink this over 97% of the holiday beers out there. So, there’s that. (On a side note, this holiday get-together included a Yankee Swap. I walked off with a Cuir from The Bruery. I can’t wait for the perfect occasion to crack this baby open.)

Wytchmaker Rye IPA by Jester King Craft Brewery – I was very excited to try this beer as I have been reading for months about all the cool beers they’re brewing. It didn’t disappoint. Some couldn’t get past the rye, but I thought the rye was almost an afterthought as the tartness and hoppy bitterness shared center stage. I have to find a way to try more of these beers.

Doodle Dubbel by Doodle Brewing – So, the great thing about craft beer – like punk rock 25-30 years ago –  is that anyone can brew beer. The  bad thing about craft beer – also like punk rock – is that anyone can brew beer. I’ll just leave it at that.

Harvest wheat wine (2009 vintage) by Boulevard Brewing Co. – This beer came out two year ago. I hated it two years ago, but I still had an unopened bottle. So, I cellared it. Time passed by and I couldn’t find the appropriate time to pull it out of the cellar until the holiday party happened. I was considering contributions and noticed that the best by date was 10/10. I figured we might as well open it now. There’s no shame in pouring a beer down the drain…but we didn’t have to. In fact, this beer mellowed a ton and was well worth the wait. Sweet and smooth, nothing like I remembered it. It makes me rethink my dislike of the wheat wine altogether.

Sailing Santa IPA by Saint Arnold Brewing Company – Meh.

Winter Ale by Petrus – OK.

Rumpkin by Avery Brewing Company – I don’t know about a pumpkin ale, but this tasted more like a huge barley wine. I didn’t really sense much pumpkin at all. It’s so malty and sweet. I wish I was able to get my hands on some for aging purposes. Oh well. Can’t win them all. Still, I got to try some and it’s a nice barley wine – forget the pumpkin angle.

*Honestly, since I started this post, I’ve had a couple of other beers. One was the Shmaltz/Terrapin collab Reunion ’11. It was better than I remembered. There are moments when it’s spicy and others when the chocolate hits. It’s a very nice beer that I wouldn’t turn down. The other was one of my 90 Minute IPA‘s I have lying around, but I want to say more about it in another post. So, it will have to wait.

Top 5: Xmas Beers

Posted in Beer, Top 5 by Zac on December 12, 2011

OK. So, I don’t actually like seasonal beers. The only exception are those beers that happen to always come out at certain times of the year, but aren’t necessarily tied to the season. There are other exceptions, but I find fall and winter seasonals to be particularly dreadful as it becomes the time of year to overload mediocre brews with spices. This is something homebrewers do, not quality craft brewers.

Still, there are a few holiday ales which I like to try every year. I typically only drink holiday ales that are available here in Missouri. So, the list is a bit limited that way as well. Here are five of the better holiday ales I enjoy…

5. Avery Old Jubilation – Sweet, malty old ales should be on every brewery’s holiday lineup. This one is a favorite and almost criminally available everywhere, sitting beside their spiced brethren. The Christmas-y and seemingly pedestrian presentation make me think 1995 micro-brewed concoction of frankincense and myrrh.

4. Boulevard Nutcracker Ale / Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale – I couldn’t decide between these two as they are the same beers in my mind (not really even close). Sure, Celebration is…well… more celebrated, but they are very similar beers. Instead of coming with spice, they hit you with hops, lots of them… Actually, the point is that that both beers contain a surprising amount of hoppiness in two rather different beers. Are you confused yet? I am. The hoppiness contained in the winter warmer and IPA are of the crisp variety, how I’ve been liking my hops as of late.

3. Mikkeller Red White / Santa’s Little Helper / To From / Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas – Some of these are better than others, but it’s the fact that Mikkeller puts out a full lineup of holiday ales that strikes me. All are uniquely Mikkeller and all are worth the holiday bonus you may fork over for some. I’m particularly interested in the Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas, an IPA brewed with ginger and pine needles, as it’s new to me this year.

2. Samichlaus – This beer has an enormous reputation in these parts, almost as large as its 14% ABV. The rep is much deserved and the beer is a Christmastime necessity. I don’t know that it actually has anything to do with Christmas other than the fact that it sounds like “Santa Claus,” but it’s a giant lager with which you should not trifle.

1. Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza – JP is one of those breweries at the top of my favorites list that just does it for me every time. Sure, they’re all variations of the same beer, but they’re all delicious.Tartness galore as always but this time in the form or a Belgian strong dark ale. I would have even accepted spice, but JP didn’t stoop to those levels and kept it on the real. In other words, it’s your typical Jolly Pumpkin but in super-awesome Christmas form.

Special Mention: Stone/Nøgne Ø/Jolly Pumpkin Special Holiday Ale – From what I understand, this beer has long been retired. All three breweries can be found in this beer. It’s a bit of a mangled mess, but it was my mangled mess at one time. I’ve had versions bottled by the first two breweries and each brought with them something different. I feel like the JP version has been around, possibly passing my lips at a tasting, but I have no proof and could be totally mistaken.

Session #58 – A Christmas Carol

Posted in Beer, The Session by Zac on December 2, 2011

This month’s session idea comes to us from Ed Hardy at Beersay and here’s what he had to…er…say:

The idea for me was based loosely around the visits of three ghosts to Ebenezer Scrooge, but relayed in a post about the beers of Christmas past, present and future.

What did you drink during Christmas holidays of old, have you plans for anything exciting this year and is there something you’d really like to do one day, perhaps when the kids have flown the nest?

So, we’re going all holiday up in this joint. I do love a good holiday ale loaded with frankincense and myrrh. Or something like that.

Xmas Past
For a beery memory to share, I’m going to go all the way back to last year. It’s not as much about what beer I drank, but rather about the silliness that resulted in my consumption. After a beer or two and a glass of homemade egg nog, we sat down for Xmas Eve dinner with friends and family. My wife makes the greatest Polish feast imaginable every Xmas Eve. It is easily my favorite meal of the year. I prefer to celebrate said meal with a nice beer. For last year’s feast, I chose Mikkeller’s Santa’s Little Helper.

Then, things got a bit weird…

For whatever reason, our guests that evening were not into drinking beer with this particular dinner. So, I had the entire 750 mL bottle to myself. You can probably imagine what happened after that. And if you imagined that I would go outside intent on knocking the snow off our satellite dish with snow balls only to eventually turn to climbing onto the roof in order to clear the snow by hand, then you would be correct.

Xmas Present
I’m not exactly sure how to handle this one as it is only December 2nd, meaning that this Xmas actually qualifies as Xmas Future, but whatever. I’ll at least tell you my plan. The start of our season usually happens on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6). Friends throw a big party with a giant, flaming bowl of mulled wine. It’s good stuff, but I always show up with some seasonal beers. Other than the Mikkeller (again), I currently have a Jolly Pumpkin Noel Calabaza, but I think I’ll take a sixer of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, assuming there’s more in the stores.

After that, my beer club has a Holiday Party/Yankee Swap/Ugly Sweater Contest planned. I’ll bring something nice to drink (possibly the Allagash Odyssey I scored at last year’s party), possibly a Boulevard gift set for the swap, and I don’t know about the sweater.

As far as our own Xmas festivities, I’ll take it easy this year on Xmas Eve. There will be no drunken roof climbing this year. I always enjoy a bomber all to myself on Xmas Day. Other than that, it will be typical beer consumption for me.

Xmas Future
I have lots of ideas for future Xmas. Let’s list them, since that’s kinda my thing this month:

  • Xmas Homebrew – I want to brew a special Xmas brew on Xmas Day one of these years. Of course, it will probably have to be something that isn’t necessarily Xmas-y as it will take time for fermentation and such to occur. Ideally, I’d like to brew something big that can be enjoyed during the following Xmas as a way to start a tradition.
  • Travel – One of the best Xmas celebrations I ever had was the year we visited family in California. I’d love to do a beer-themed Xmas trip one of these years. Maybe Colorado, San Diego, Asheville, Portland, Chicago, or even Belgium would all be great trips. Someday, someday…
  • Neighborhood Tasting – I’ve always wanted to do a tasting with my neighbors. They all like to imbibe and have a good time. I’m the resident beer nerd. They’re always asking me about craft and homebrewed beer. I always thought it would be cool to have them all chip in and I’ll buy a load of beer for a tasting. There’s a neighborhood party and progressive dinner, a beer at each stop would be ideal.
  • Beer Gifts – My wife always gets me cool and unique gifts for Xmas, but one of these years I’m going to get her to give the gift of beer. I’m thinking glassware, all-grain equipment, a beer trip, or some membership to a special mail-order club or something. Even a stockpile of beer books would be cool.
  • Sharing Craft Beer with My Daughter -My three-year-old is obviously not ready for beer, but I’ve given her tiny tastes here and there. I look forward to the day I can sit down and share a beer with her on special occasions. The day we crack open a special beer I’ve been cellaring could be a lot of fun. Here in Missouri, it’s legal to serve your kid alcohol within your home. I’m not talking about getting plastered. I’m talking about sipping on a great beer and enjoying the aromas and flavors within. It will be a valuable experience where  I can teach her about good craft beer. By the time her peers are all doing keg stands, she won’t want to take part unless it’s good beer.

Well, those are my Xmas beer thoughts for the past, present, and future. Be sure to check out the other posts in the Session over at Beersay. Also, have yourself a happy holidays and all that. Cheers!

Thanks

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Live, Records by Zac on November 24, 2011

I’m thankful for a lot. However, I won’t go into all that here. This blog is about craft beer and indie rock. So, I won’t go into my thankfulness for my health, family, home, etc. Those all go without saying. No, this post pays homage to the little extras that provide a little spice to life, the things for which I obsess over and blog about incessantly.

10. Improved Missouri Distribution – Since I’ve moved here and eventually became a beer enthusiast, the distribution in this state has increased dramatically. I don’t even think I can name all the breweries we’ve added in that time. Off the top of my head, I can think of Firestone Walker, Lagunitas, Stone, Founders, Ska, Jolly Pumpkin, Stillwater, and a bunch more I probably didn’t realize weren’t already available here. We currently get nearly all the important Michigan and Colorado breweries. Our west coast selections improve monthly. It’s a great time to be a beer geek in Missouri.

9. Two Clubs, Two Cities – It’s tough trying to see bands in a town such as Columbia. We’re not really gib enough for a lot of acts, but we do have options. Two clubs here are just the right size for most indie bands. There’s Mojo’s with it’s barn-like qualities and the Blue Note with its old-school dancehall/porno theater feel. And when bands don’t want to stop here, it’s not a huge deal to drive two hours in either direction to see them in St. Louis or Kansas City. This year alone, among others, I’ve seen Sebadoh (Mojo’s), Yo La Tengo (Blue Note), Beirut (St. Louis), and Wild Flag (Kansas City) in four different places. That’s not bad for an old man.

8. The Ohio Pipeline – Even though Missouri’s distribution is improving, there are still many breweries we do not get. I could do some online trading or simply buy online, but that gets expensive. Luckily, for every brewery we don’t get here, there’s a better than average chance they do get it in Ohio. Between my siblings (one who works at a Whole Foods) and my mom (who drives here once a month to see me her only grandchild), I have a steady flow of out-of-market beers to keep myself satisfied.

7. Insound – I’ve complained before that there’s no decent record store here. Thankfully, Insound is always a click away. At one point, they shipping so many records to me that the UPS lady asked my wife if I was a DJ. Hardly. No, I’m just a man with a problem, an addiction, an addiction to vinyl.

6. Glassware – A beer out of the wrong glass or even out of a bottle is just not the same as one served in the proper glass. Over the years, I have collected several different glasses in which I can enjoy some of the finest beers in the world as well as some tasty homebrew. I have various stemmed glasses for various styles of beer. I have enough conical pint glasses to serve a decent-sized party. There’s even the set of taster glasses for those who just want a small taste of a big beer. Over time and many bottles of beer, I’ve found the tulip to be the best, most versatile glass. The stem gives me something to hold onto if I don’t want to warm my beer. The bowl presents an option to make my beer warmer. The lip allows aromas to flow. Quite simply, it is the perfect beer glass.

5. The Nineties Are Still Alive – In case you haven’t figured it out, I am a child of the nineties and my musical tastes reflect as much. My favorites continue to be nineties mainstays and most of the new music sound so 20 years ago. The two best albums might be by Wild Flag and Stephen Malkmus, ambassadors for the decade. New, younger bands such as Yuck and BOAT have ’90’s written all over them despite their youth. It’s the decade that will never die. Spin and I will make sure of that.

4. My Bottle Opener – For whatever reason, I like to hold onto the bottle caps from the beers I drink. In the past, I’ve turned some into refrigerator magnets, but most just go into a drawer. Still, it’s a luxury to have an opener that opens caps without bending them. My opener does that. It’s fashioned from an old railroad spike. It’s heavy and rustic looking. My bottle opener is a conversation piece before we ever crack open a bottle.

3. 180 Gram Vinyl – I love to listen to vinyl, but I worry that it may warp or that the record won’t stand the test of time. However, with hefty 180 gram vinyl records, I don’t worry about that. One can feel the weight of a 180 gram vinyl record the way one should feel the resulting music from the grooves within. The record is so tactile anyway, it’s nice to feel some heft as you lift a disc to rest on your turntable.

2. Mikkeller, Stillwater, Jolly Pumpkin – I love breweries that push limits and don’t taste like any other brewery. These three do what they do at the highest level and often alone. Mikkeller, Stillwater, and Jolly Pumpkin are the kinds of breweries that keep my attention firmly set on craft beer. They’re always good and even when they’re not, they’re at least interesting.

1. This Blog and Its Readership – Seriously. This blog has really taken off since the Freshly Pressed moment last winter, but the continual participation and contributions from my readership have really moved me to post as often as I can. In fact, I’ve looked forward to finishing a post a day throughout November because I know that you all will respond in kind and often add to the discussion in a way that makes me think and motivates me to write again.

Thank you faithful readers and have a happy Thanksgiving.

Top 5 Go-To Breweries

Posted in Beer, Top 5 by Zac on November 21, 2011

The Beer and Whiskey Bros. provide me with a lot of ideas for beer posts here. This week’s top-5 was inspired by a post on go-to and no-go breweries. I will abstain from calling out the no-go breweries and just give you my top-5 go-to breweries, breweries that I’ll buy whenever I see their product on the shelf, in the cooler, or on tap.

5. Schlafly/Boulevard – These are the two big breweries in Missouri, Aside from that one brewery. Bothe breweries provide us with entry good beers from which to choose. Of special note are Schlafly’s bourbon barrel beers and Boulevard’s Smokestack series. Both breweries also offer nice (A)IPA’s as well as some seasonal favorites.

4. Founders – I’m not sure any brewery gets the intense flavor of every style of beer better than Founders. Their IPA’s are straight bitter with a citrus nose. The stouts and porters are blacker than night and easily some of the best in the business. The only thing I’ve found that Founders doesn’t do well is subtlety. And is that so bad?

3. Jolly Pumpkin – I pretty much always have a JP in the cellar. Whenever they put out a new brew, I am sure to grab one, despite their somewhat steep prices. A Jolly Pumpkin beer tastes like no other as they employ a wild fermentation with all their beers. Even their ESB’s and stouts are funky. We don’t get a ton of JP here, but whenever I can, I grab one.

2. Stone – This was the brewery (specifically Ruination IPA) that turned me on to craft beer. I consider them the Founders of the west (or vice versa), but they can do subtlety. At least when I pick up a Stone beer, I know every time that it will be enjoyable. This was a major get for our market this last year. Now, we have some of the best IPA’s, stouts, and barley wines available for very little money.

1. Mikkeller – Like Jolly Pumpkin, I pay an extra premium for these beers. The trouble is that we only get a few of their brews at a time. Then, one has to decide if $12 for 12 oz. is worth it. Often, the answer is yes. And they do every style imaginable, plus a few they made up. Even if I don’t like a Mikkeller beer, I will at least find it interesting.

A Few Beers I’ve Enjoyed Over the Last Week+

Posted in Beer by Zac on November 13, 2011

For whatever reason, I’ve backed off of straight beer review posts. Still, I do drink a fair amount of beer and thought I’d share a few from the past week.

Founders Backwoods Bastard – I might as well have skipped the beer and gone with something stronger. The beer is super boozy, malty sweet, oaked to hell, and flat. At 10%, I could get more bang for my buck with something stronger like whiskey, bourbon, or scotch. Either way, it just made me sleepy. I’ll have to save the other three bottles to see how this beer mellows.

Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam – I swear that Jolly Pumpkin just brews variations of its popular Bam Bier and there’s nothing wrong with that. I opened this beer and stepped away to retrieve a glass only to find that the bottle had exploded all over the counter. I often don’t get a chance to enjoy the full 750 mL of a Jolly Pumpkin as this happens a lot. Still, the activity doesn’t take away from the beer, if anything, it only adds to it. Present is that Jolly Pumpkin funk and what turns out to be a rather cloudy beer. Surprisingly, the beer is rather flat after the initial onslaught of beer on my countertop. The sourness in this version of the Bam series is not as sharp as the original, but plenty enjoyable.

Boulevard Saison-Brett (2011) – Apparently, there’s more of this beer lying around as a fellow beer enthusiast showed up at a gathering with a bottle. The sharpness missing in the beer above comes tenfold in this beer – as expected. This is a bucket list beer and I’m thankful it graces our shelves once a year.

Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project Hedgerow Bitter – I’ve had a couple of Pretty Things beers in the past. This brewery gets a lot of attention, mostly due to their lack available, queer brewery name, and unique artwork. However, my experience with the brewery has been somewhat disappointing. This beer came through, however. As an English Pale Ale, my expectations were already lowered, but this is a pretty solid beer. The bitterness is most dominant and welcomed. I don’t know whether the lowered expectations or just the fact that this is a really good beer. Either way, Hedgerow Bitter was thoroughly enjoyed Friday night.

Barley Legal Collaboration #1 – I hang out with these guys who brew every Sunday. Often, the recipes and ingredients are their own, but they like to help folks brew their beers (my Simcoe-Dependency was brewed there) as well as collaborate with whoever is interested. Recently, we gathered to brew this beer. I wanted it to have a molasses feel without getting too heavy. So, I contributed brown sugar and molasses. The results are a pretty amazing old ale-like beer. It’s super boozy and sweet with a surprising hop bitterness. It’s one of the more complex homebrews I’ve had and really worth the efforts of the entire group.

Schlafly No. 20 Volume 3 – Citrus Witbier – I had this beer a couple of times this weekend. The first was in the midst of a tasting that involved many of the other beers on this list. So, this little witbier didn’t stand up. The nose was citrusy and included the proper amount of funk. However, the results on the tongue were lost among all the other beers sampled. I gave the beer a second chance as I watched my Buckeyes stick a fork in this miserable season with a loss at Purdue. Alone, the beer is a solid witbier. The missing flavors from the night before were there when the beer was enjoyed alone. This beer would be perfect for a fish recipe I tried a while back.

Ska Euphoria Pale Ale – I had a moment to kill at a favorite water hole. This seasonal was on tap. I had purchased a full sixer last year and sort of struggled to get through it. It wasn’t that the beer was bad, I just grow tired of the same beer over and over. Anyway, I thought I’d have a glass on tap now for my annual indulgence. This beer is the dry, bitter APA I’ve been craving as of late. So, I may have to reconsider my aversion to the six-pack.

Founders Breakfast Stout – I don’t actually like coffee stouts. However, this one is different. The trouble with most coffee stouts is that the base stout is thin and relatively unremarkable so as to showcase the coffee flavors. Founders takes another route and brews a solid imperial stout with loads of coffee. The flavorful beer balances flavors of coffee, roasted malt, molasses, and a touch of bourbon. I will, however, need to be sure to drink these beers quickly as coffee fades much in the same way hops do in IPA’s.

He’Brew Genesis 15:15 – Lord have mercy! What a conglomeration of flavors and booze. This is a whole lotta beer at 15% ABV and including multiple fruits aged in barrels…You can only imagine all that comes with this beer. I had a snifter of the stuff at a bar and will hang on to a bomber to see how well it ages.

Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel – Someone had one of these when I was done drinking for the evening. The discussion surrounding it had me intrigued. I looked to buy the beer in a store a few days later, but couldn’t justify $18 for a four-pack I wasn’t even sure what I would be getting. Luckily, I found a bottle at a bar and took the plunge. This is the quad of all quads. Deep, dark, rich, complex, reeking of raisins and fig. And it’s huge at 11% ABV, but you don’t notice the booze which can be dangerous.

There have been other beers, but this is what I’ve had lately. You can follow me on Untappd. I don’t leave much insight there, mostly just keeping a list. What have you been drinking? Have you had any of the above beers? Tell me what you’d like in the comments.

Top 5: Session Beers

Posted in Beer, Top 5 by Zac on October 31, 2011

I’m starting over with this Monday top-5 list feature. Instead of five random things, I’m going to do an actual top-5 list based on some theme or topic. Some will be beer focused; others will be primarily about music. There might even be room for something else, but every list will make sense.

Argue with me in the comments. However, be aware that these lists are based on my opinions and feelings at that very moment and could change tomorrow.

For this week’s list, I’m listing my top-5 session beers. A session beer, according to Beer Advocate, is a beer that registers at no higher than 5% ABV. This post isn’t intended to question the validity of this definition or to argue the finer points of a session beer. My intention is basically to list five beers that could be enjoyed throughout a period of time with drinking buddies. The idea that there is a huge difference between a 4% and 5% beer is ludicrous and somewhat arbitrary. For the purpose of my list, I’m drawing the line at 5%.

5. Schlafly Kölsch – Honestly, there were some hoppy pilsners and sweet bocks I wanted to include in this list so as to represent all the decent lager alternatives that are out there, but all my favorites don’t meet the 5% standard I set above. So, I’ll go with a Missouri beer in Schlafly’s Kölsch, the closest an ale can get to being summary and lager-like. The beer is a pleasantly crisp, clean drink during the hot Missouri summers.

4.  Stone Leviatation Ale – If you want the hops and malt presence of an American IPA/DIPA without drinking yourself under the table, Levitation is the way to go. The bitterness and floral aroma we hopheads crave is there only in a much lighter package. I’m not one who likes to limit a beer to a style, but this one still manages to adhere to the boundaries for an amber without boring me to sleep. This is seriously one of the best hoppy beers you can drink while standing.

3. Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere – It’s no secret that I love oddball breweries who tinker with style and fermentation processes to create lovely beers. Jolly Pumpkin is one of my favorite breweries and Bam Biere is a go-to whenever I can find it on tap. Even a 750 mL bottle won’t put me under when a beer like this measures at 4.5% ABV. It’s a dry, earthy Saison that also features a pleasant amount of bitterness. This is a fine example of a beer that can be low in alcohol and big on flavor.

2.  The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse – I love what The Bruery does. Aside from Dogfish Head, I’m not sure another brewery makes beer that is more ideal for the dinner table than The Bruery. This beer is an example of the under-brewed style of Berliner Weisse.  The Bruery adds lactobacillus and brettanomyces to the beer to attain a certain tartness, but it seems that this may be a departure from more traditional brewing methods of this style. Either way, it’s a beautiful beer and something one can enjoy all day long.

1. New Glarus Wisconsin Red – It’s funny to me to include a “Wisconsin Red” to the list after what transpired this weekend, but I would be an idiot not to include this beer on my list. In fact, Wisconsin Red has a permanent spot on my all-time-favorites list. From the first time I tasted it, I knew that I would always have to have a bottle of this nearly perfect beer in my cellar. Whenever someone heads to Wisconsin, I always ask them to bring me back a bottle. The tartness of the cherries is nailed without the overwhelming presence of cough syrup. It’s light and flavorful, pairs well with all kinds of food…I could go on and on about Wisconsin Red, but I’ll stop there. Maybe I’ll do a proper review when I finally open the bottle I have.

What are the session beers you like most? If you have an issue with my arbitrary definition of a session beer, let me have in the comments.

On a programming note, look for reviews of Eleanor Friedberger watching the World Series, Sebadoh battling me on the Twittersphere, and a post a day for the month of November.

For more on session beers, follow The Session Beer Project.

On Pumpkin Beers

Posted in Beer by Zac on September 21, 2011

The pumpkin beer is a strange, strange thing. Either people crave it, always in-search of the perfect pumpkin beer, or they hate them, preferring to drink a Märzen or even stouts and porters during autumn months. I used to belong to the former group. I don’t know that I ever loved pumpkin ales, but I was certainly always on the lookout for the perfect one.

There have been a few pumpkin ales that have satisfied my needs over the years. Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale tastes and looks like it is boozier than it really is. There’s not a load of heat, but it has the thin, alcohol-y feel and almost no head of a high ABV brew. The Dogfish Head Punkin is another I’ve enjoyed. This is a malty take on the fall classic. Finally, Southern Tier’s Pumpking is the bready, vanilla-dominated version many a beer geek crave.

Interestingly, for me, all three of these beers feature more of a pumpkin flavor than a cinna-nutmeg bomb that tastes like pumpkin pie in a glass. The spices are typically too heavy in pumpkin ales, making them just another failed homebrew experiment with spice[1]. I like that these three beers generally steer away from spice and actually showcase the pumpkin.

That said, even the pumpkin ales I’ve liked eventually grow old[2]. After a while, I feel like I’m drinking vegetables. In fact, I had sworn off this season’s offerings in favor of other autumnal beers. Bottles of liquid pumpkin pie or vegetable just don’t do it for me[3].

Now, there was once a completely different pumpkin ale that got me thinking there could be potential for the style. Of course, it’s the highest rated pumpkin ale on RateBeer and it happens to come from one of my favorite breweries, Jolly Pumpkin. JP’s La Parcela didn’t blow me away, but it did help me question what could be done with a pumpkin ale under the correct brewer-ship. The idea of a pumpkin beer that is a bit sour and features other flavors outside of nutmeg and cinnamon really intrigued me. However, this was not a fantastic beer for me.

So, the search continued…

And like I said, I thought I had sworn off pumpkin ales. That’s when New Belgium’s Kick hit the store shelves. Kick was the new sour pumpkin ale put out on NB’s Lips of Faith Series…

Lips of Faith is one of the better brands of beers put out by a large craft brewer. Like Boulevard, New Belgium uses less-challenging flagship beers to fund forays into Belgian-styles or even Belgo-American fusions[4]. I am a huge fan of the series. Although I don’t like a ton of NB beers, Lips of Faith brews are always interesting and often quite good. You know what I think of La Folie and that’s just the beginning as far as this series is concerned.

Kick is actually a collaboration with Seattle’s Elysian Brewery. Elysian[5] brought the pumpkin and New Belgium brought the sour in the form of cranberry[6]. The result is a pleasantly subtle experience with just a touch of tartness. I get more cranberry from this beer than I get pumpkin. In fact, this beer is subtle in every aspect, but the tartness is its clear strength.

So, the pumpkin beer I’ve now decided is okay to drink is the one that doesn’t really taste that much like pumpkin. What’s the point? Why drink a pumpkin beer that doesn’t really taste of gourd? Well, maybe I don’t actually like pumpkin beers.

And what does pumpkin add to a beer? Sweetness? Mostly, I think it has to do with the incessant spicing  home brewers do to their beers[7]. The pumpkin ale is an opportunity to spice your beer like a pumpkin pie. For my money, the addition of chocolate[8] (La Parcela) or cranberry (Kick) is far more interesting than anything associated with pumpkin pie.

This brings up another point that’s been alluded to in describing Kick: subtlety. I want to give this topic its due, but I would be remiss not putting the idea out there that subtlety is maybe just a nice way of saying “flavorless” or “bland.” I don’t think that’s the case with Kick, but it’s a topic to discuss down the road.

Anyway, my search for the great pumpkin ale has ended with Kick. It’s not exactly where I thought I’d end or the beer others would suspect, but it’s a nice fall beer nonetheless.

Notes:
1What is it with home brewers and spices? They skimp on hops, but spice the hell out of every pumpkin or winter warmer they brew. And since most craft brewers started out as home brewers, this despicable practice carries on.
2Sometimes quite literally. I bought two sixers one year of Schlafly’s version and quickly wished I hadn’t. I think I actually tossed a couple of bottles and used a couple more for pumpkin beer bread.
3Apparently, they do it for some. The displays this year for Schlafly’s Pumpkin ale are huge and the biggest event at Flat Branch (brewpub here in Columbia) is the pumpkin beer release.
4Some breweries don’t go Belgo-American and typically brew big, extreme beers on the flagship’s profit margins.
5Elysian and I have quite a history. I was once in a bind in Seattle (long story). A friend took me to Elysian to sort things out. That day, I discovered that beers could feature citrus flavors without a lime jammed down their necks. That was like 14 years ago(!).
6This is where I imagine the Wonder Twins go into brewing and take the form of their most important ingredients. “Form of two-row!” “Form of Centennial!”
7See. I hate spice in my beer.
8Particularly chocolate from my friend, Alan. He also supplies Northern Brewer with their cocoa nibs.

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