Monday, February 28, 2011

Beer Style of the Week - Pale Ales

Each week we examine a particular beer style and then recommend the beers that best fit that style’s profile. Week one of fifty two – Pale Ale

Pale Ale

Pale ale is a classic British style ale. Not really pale but lighter in color than Porters or Brown Ales. The style calls for an earthy medium to full malt body with a dark golden to deep copper color. The head should produce a good-sized rocky off-white to beige head. Well hopped, though not overly so, with a combination of two or more of East Kent Goldings, British First Gold, Fuggles, or Challenger hops. The malt should be brewed from pale English Two row barley. A lightly sweet caramel sweetness and a bit of a fruity taste is the norm. A taste of biscuits is quite common to the style. Some pale ales allow for a mineral and/or herbal taste to edge through the flavor profile, though preferably in the background. The United States brewers have taken liberties and developed quite a few different takes on the style. These are not “classic pale ales” and should be noted as such. Five good original classic examples are Young’s Special London Ale, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, Fuller’s London Pride, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and arguably,Bass Ale.

There are several well-crafted Pale Ales brewed in New England, which respect and adhere to at least, the original style profile.

Samuel Adams Pale Ale – Boston, MA 12oz brown bottle. Freshness date on label.

It pours a shiny brass color with a thin to medium-sized white head and a fair amount of sticky lace.

A blend of doughy malt and citrusy hop aromas fade rather quickly.

Lightly roasted biscuity malt with a light caramel sweetness provides a good foundation for the generously applied hops.

Citrusy tartness and a mild metallic tang mix with a light tea-like after taste.

This Pale Ale is dry from start to finish. It could have had a little more sweetness, but still enjoyable.

Cisco Brewing - Whale’s Tale Pale Ale – Nantucket, MA 22.9oz dark brown bottle. No freshness date.

It pours a hazy orangey amber with a big lasting off-white head on top.

It smells a lot like cut fruit and macerated berries. A light hay-like aroma is present in the background.

A slight cidery, astringent tartness arrives in the sprightly effervescent bubbles. A bit like Sahti with that distinct juniper branch bitterness. As it sits for a while, tastes of ripe green apple and citrus lemon vie for attention. A light bread flavor followed by dry malty taste is noticed.

The 5.8%abv is well hidden, that is until the effects begin to kick in.

It does improve as it warms, but so do lots of other craft beers.

Tremont Ale – Brewed by Shipyard Brewing – Maine

12oz bottle. Freshness date etched on left side of label.

It pours a bright copper color with a white head that fades to a constant thin rim. Some sticky and trailing laces remain.

A floral and resinous hop smell rises strong at first pour and lasts halfway through the glass. A background smell of biscuity malt lasts throughout.

A somewhat grassy and biscuity malt reveals some caramel sweetness as it warms.

A harsh, sharp-edged citrus bitterness mingles with a taste of tea with lemon. I recommend this beer as a session beer, or a good beer to drink while watching sports.

Geary’s Pale Ale – Portland, ME – 4.5% abv

12oz dark brown bottle. No freshness date. Poured into a standard pint glass.

It pours an orange-hued amber with a light beige fluffy head, with some trailing and spotty lace. An earthy aroma, with caramel malt, slight fruitiness, resinous hops. Edgy bitterness, slightly fruity with some caramel sweetness. As in the aroma, the hops have a resinous bite. A dose of West Coast hops lend a bit more of a piney bitterness than your typical Pale Ale. Medium to light bodied with spritely effervescence. Fairly good impression of an English Pale ale with a bit more edgy bitterness!

Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale – Berkshire Brewing – S. Deerfield, MA – 5.3% abv

On draft. No freshness date. Poured into standard pint glass.

It pours a dull gold with a cascading, then fast fading white head. Plenty of lace sticks to the glass. The aroma of fresh cut hay and mild hops lasts a fair amount of time. The biscuity malt is lightly roasted and provides a nice body for the mildly citrus and metallic bitterness to dwell in. A faint flavor of apples, a touch of sweetness, and a hint of sunflower seeds make for a nice, if mildly flavored ale.

Thomas Hooker American Pale Ale – Brookfield, CT – 5.4% abv

12 oz. brown bottle. No freshness date noticed. Served in a Samuel Adams Lager glass.

The color is an orange-hued amber with a thin white head, along with some sticky and trailing lacing. Earthy dry malt, hay, and grass aroma with a hint of resinous herbal hoppiness.

The taste is fairly balanced between hops and malt. Dry and crisp at first drink, then some caramel sweetness an herbal tastes break through. A sprightly effervescence dissipates quickly and evolves nicely into harmonious blend of Pale Ale goodness. A very close cousin to an English Pale ale if there is one.

West Coast Pale Ales are a distinctively different animal. The hop bitterness is more upfront as they tend to use west coast hop varieties such as Cascade, Willamette, and Chinook with a higher alpha bitterness rating. West Coast Pale Ales tend to have a piney or resinous bitterness not found in the English style. Prime examples are; Sierra Nevada, Anchor Liberty Ale, and Stone Pale Ale.

Belgian Pales Ales are in a league of their own and will be profiled in a future Beer Style of the Week profile.

Next week: Pilsners and Pils-style Lagers.

Quote: “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” - Shakespeare 'Twelfth Night'

Ithaca Ground Break - American-Style Saison

12 oz brown bottle. Best before date etched on label.
Poured into an Allagash goblet.
The color is a cloudy honey amber color with a thinnish white head and some trailing lacing.
A big whiff of clovey Brett yeast is realized before the pour is complete. Smells of sweet malt and lemon zest are in perfect harmony. A faint smell of orange liquor is noticed.
A flavors are spot on for the style (although the Saison/Farmhouse styles tend to vary). I like this one...a lot!
Spicy hops, citrusy fruits, lemon zest meld nicely in a loving caramel malt body. Honey sweetness and a light alcoholic warmth are so inviting.
Goes down so liquid and smooth with just a bit of an edgy raspiness.
Nice with spicy Indian or Thai food!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How many beer selections is enough? Let's find out!

Sunset Grill & Tap

130 Brighton St Allston, MA

My first visit to Sunset Grill and Tap was nearly five years ago, but time had allowed only for a quick beer (it was by the way, a hard-to-find world-class Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier on tap!) Nice comfy atmosphere! The beer tap selection was jaw-droppingly astounding! The food menu, vast and varied. I vowed to return. A while back, my sons treated me to late lunch and later I returned the favor. Once, as a favor to a friend in the beer distribution business, fellow beer researcher, Larry and I delivered a load of great kegs to the Sunset. Seeing all the behind-the-scenes beer tap apparatuses in action was like being in a Disney Fantasy Beer Adventure Land! Hmmm. Good idea! The beer selection is just as exciting and overwhelming as the times before. Talk about sensory overload!

The Sunset appears small from the exterior and when you first enter. It expands from there with a little foyer at the entrance with 2 seating arrangements upstairs in either direction, additional space downstairs and a L-shaped bar with a row of raised seating at a set of long tables parallel to the bar. At first glance you notice about 5 taps located on top of the bar, but upon closer examination to the right, the full arsenal of taps come into view, all lined up like toy soldiers at attention. Over a hundred of them! A little intimidating actually. So many beers, so little time, or so little kidney and liver tolerance!

The tap selection reveals an impressive lineup of many different beer styles. Ales, Ambers, Barley Wines, Bitters/ESB Bocks, Browns, Doubles, Triples, Quads, Lambics, Cask, Kolsch, IPAs, Steam, Double IPAs, Lagers, Pales, Pils, Porters, Marzens, Stouts, Scotch Ales, Hefeweizens, Wits, Seasonals and Saisons! Not enough to entice you in? There are also Ciders, Perries and root beer on tap! How do they keep all the tap lines clean? How do they rotate the stock? The bottle selection is equally impressive! 380? WOW!

The vibe of the bar is hip, yet familiar. I haven’t visited during busy weekend nights, when the BU or BC student bodies flock in to retreat from their studies, so I'll need to update this review at some point.

The bar staff, “Beertenders” as they refer to themselves, are knowledgeable, friendly and prompt. The first beer I tried, Jever Pilsner from Germany was fresh and mighty tasty! They have a "Just Tapped" and $ Beer Deals $ printed on the beer menus. Great idea!

Not so thrilling is the use of “nitro” taps for some of the beers. We avoid those.

My my! Can't make up my mind! Hop Rod Rye on tap is SO good, but so is St. Bernardus 12! Wait! Oooo! Lost Abbey Brandy Barrel Angel Share!! It’s craziness!!!

The lunch and dinner menus are extensive as well. It’s sort of an expanded Tex-Mex/BBQ menu. The Brontosaurus Texas-style ribs are amazing! The place is known for their Quesadillas and they did not disappoint. It’s probably a better idea to just link you to the website;

Hungry? Thirsty? Who’s in?

Quote: “The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer”.- 2200 BC Egyptian inscription

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tasting and rating beer with the Flying Disc Crowd

The Ice Bowl - Cedar Creek Disc Golf Course - Cohasset, MA

On the night before most major sporting events you will find the serious competitor studying film, or meditating in a Zen-like trance inside a hyperbaric chamber, or maybe receiving a deep tissue massage, or working out, or nibbling on a specially formulated mix of nutritious supplements (or by injecting massive quantities of steroids if you are Roger -Rocket Booster-Clemens or Alex-Aroid- Roidriguez). All of these athletes adhere to a routine of readying the mind and body for the rigors of tomorrow’s anticipated sporting event.

On the other hand we have the Total-Mind-and-Body Immersion training activities specifically created for the Night before a Regional Flying Disc Golf Tournament. Each focused competitor comes with his or her own unique training formula. Some prefer lagers. Some prefer ales. While others opt for high levels of training formulas such as potent Belgian Trappist Ales, Baltic Porters, Imperial Stouts, or other beers of the extreme potency. Some of the competitors find that a special blend of “herbs” in addition to beer is key for optimal mental focus.

There are three or four annual Golf Disc Tournaments at Cedar Creek and each tourney requires an equal amount of concerted preparation on the eve of the event. Such preparations were in abundance for the 2011 Ice Bowl this past February 13th, except this year the event organizers added a slight twist. They decided to assemble a semi-organized Beer Tasting and Rating Seminar, sponsored by yours truly.

The logic behind a Beer Rating Session was, “Why just guzzle down loads of beer preparing for the Ice Bowl when we can, carefully examine the beer and take notes about the Visuals, Aroma, Taste and Drinkability of the beer before we guzzle it down?” Makes sense!

The criteria for the tasting/rating were that the competitors would select an everyday beer that they enjoy regularly and then my son, Ben and I would select a beer of a similar style, but of a notably different or even superior quality. We supplied the tasters with a simple rating sheet that included the name of the brewery, the beer style, the alcohol by volume level and a 1-5 Rating of Appearance, Aroma, Taste, Mouthfeel, and Drinkability. Purposely left out, were the typical descriptives used by beer judges at competitions. This would force the tasters to dig a little deeper into their creative minds to come up with their own unique descriptions on each beer. Al, one of the top-rated competitors in the disc golf tournament chose Newcastle Brown Ale as his beer. Not a bad beer, but easy to trump, IMHO. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale should do the trick. Ben, a three-time champ at the course chose Samuel Adams Nobel Pils. Not so easy to compare to, let alone beat. PJ chose Ommagang Rare Vos, Belgian-style Brown Ale (but this beer was chosen as one of “the closest to pin” rewards for the next day’s tournament, thus it was out of play). So, somehow we chose to go a sort of diagonal route and selected a Brooklyn Local 1. What? A Strong Saison? Yes, that’s right; I lost focus and allowed the tasting to meander off course. At this point it was decided to simplify the tasting and just taste and rate the Local 1 without thought of comparisons. Hey, it’s our beer-drinking thing! It was the natural course of events. Folks had been eyeing it. Why fight it? Next up was Saint Martin’s Brune, a Strong (8% alcohol by volume (ABV) Dark Ale from Belgium. The last beer rated was Green Flash West Coast IPA, a fairly potent (7.3% ABV) India Pale Ale via San Diego, CA.

In the only head-to-head competition, Newcastle vs. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown, the Nut Brown was a near unanimous winner with Al (surprise) giving Newcastle the tie. A lot of love was given up to the Nut Brown. Most commented that it was more flavorful, or maltier. The words “earthy, more carbonate, nutty and caramel flavors” was used to describe it.

Next was the Brooklyn Local 1. Pleasurable smell, slightly sweet, wine-like, strong, citrusy, and effervescent, along with “Strong-Consumer Beware” was noted.

The St. Martin Brune received these comments: “Caramel Color, Strong but Smooth, semi- sweet, malty, and I like it”

The tasters had this to say about Green Flash West Coast IPA; “Transparent with caramel tints, Strong hoppy scents, hoppy and floral taste, Dry, but smooth strong aftertaste, and delicious!”

In all fairness to the results, several rating forms went missing, while another got soaked in beer and was illegible.

Anyway, with the “official” tasting complete, we could all kick back and enjoy more beer. With beer-concentration out the window, it was agreed that course designer and owner, Mark’s chili paired extremely well with whatever beer we chose to drink. An impromptu band was formed, music played, witty banter exchanged, and more beer was consumed. The impeding tournament a minor concern.

The following morning was clear and cloudless as the bright sun reflected harshly against the snow-covered ground (yes, it was a bit painful). Wind gusts at around 25-30 mph and temperature hovering at 20°F. The snow was over a foot deep and crusty in places and soft in others, making for some uncertain footing. Perfect conditions and weather for the Ice Bowl!

Ahhh! Tee time at 11:00am, group photo, collect your discs, grab a little of the dog that bit you and we’re ready to compete at a “high” level.

Quote: “Boughs have their fruit and blossoms

At all times of year

Rivers are running over

With red beer and brown beer”. - William Butler Yeats

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beer, Prohibition and the Valentine’s Day Massacre

And other, long-term drawbacks of a zealot Temperance Society

The Volstead Act - Prohibition (1919 – 1932)

How many times have you turned the channel on your TV only to see some old movie portraying the roaring twenties with the Feds, G-Men or the Chicago Police busting up the gangsters, or worse, busting up barrels of innocent beer with axes? It’s enough to make you jump up from the couch and scream, “Stop the madness, you dirty rats!!! You’re making a terrible mistake!!!!” Sadly, those mugs probably had no idea they would be affecting the beer-drinking enjoyment of their children and their children’s children for decades upon decades after Prohibition was lifted. How’s that you say? Glad you asked, wiseguy!

The U.S. Brewing industry was totally shut down along with the rest of the alcohol-producing industries. Brewing was forced underground and the illegal distribution of suspect beer and booze was controlled mainly by the mob and a fistful of backwoods moonshiners. The small, “Local” neighborhood brewer of quality ale was driven out of business. Prohibition brought about some violent times. In Chicago alone, 700 deaths (getting whacked) were related to mob violence. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, spearheaded by the notorious gangster, Al Capone occurred during the heat of prohibition on February 14, 1929. Public outcry was fast and forceful. Enough was enough! It was the beginning of the end for the Volstead Act. The U.S. lost over $34.5 billion dollars in tax revenue in addition to hugely increased law enforcement costs. The “great experiment” had gone terribly wrong.

It is understood that cheap, poorly made beer, (though it has always been brewed by some undesirable elements throughout history) didn’t start to flood the American market in earnest until directly after prohibition. This horrible trend continued to fester through World War II and well beyond and on into today.

During Prohibition, decent folks were sneaking off to speakeasies for a taste of a near beer–like potion laced with grain alcohol. This was sometimes a gastric if not fatal mistake. During and soon after the prohibition was repealed, the any of the remaining small craft brewers who managed to survive by making soda or near beer were driven out of business for good by brewing giants. The mega-swill brewers benefited in more ways than one by the thirteen plus years of prohibition. Number one, people under the legal drinking age when prohibition began, never experienced the pleasure of a real beer. Number two, in thirteen plus years of being deprived, beer drinkers had forgotten or had become complacent about beer quality and were simply satisfied that any beer was available. Number three, Beer could now be mass-produced using cheap grains such as rice, corn or other grain adjuncts. The amount of hops pitched into a brew vat was cut in half and the quality of the hops was an inferior grade. Time-honored brewing methods were thrown out the window in favor of speed and quantity. Mass production, slick marketing and transporting massive quantities of “suds” to every corner of the country was the new game in town. Cheaply made beer began to infiltrate the well-established European craft brew market as well. Hey, profit margins don’t lie. One by one, small, local brewers on both sides of the Atlantic lost out to the massive brewing giants. If situation wasn’t bleak enough, canned beer became available in 1935. This new “convenience” for the beer drinking public created an enormous production advantage for the mass-mega swill brewers. Most small brewers didn’t have the capital to invest in the canning machinery or the space to operate it and thus lost out on a valuable market share. The perfect storm was brewing, so to speak.

Then there’s advertising. It’s no wonder so many unsuspecting individuals are lured into drinking inferior beer – we’re bombarded by endless idiotic advertising campaigns telling us we are not worthy of love or friendship if we don’t drink their particular brand of beer. We all know who these companies are and we all know what their objective is (to brain wash us into buying their crappy products). Lord only knows why those ads are so effective!

It’s been a long hard road for small quality brewers to gain market share. It’s been an uphill battle that many of us beer lovers can’t take lightly. Now granted, there are people walking around without taste buds that actually prefer bland, stale and flavorless beer to a well-made craft brew, and that’s fine, but we the beer-loving people have been hosed for years. And we’re not going to take it anymore!

So let’s keep up the good fight, be brave, and turn your friends and family on to real craft brewed beer. Rest assured, the arrogant Goliath Breweries who were giving so much momentum by the prohibition will come down in size. And we will be rewarded with a wonderful variety of beautifully crafted lagers and ales. The craft movement is in full swing and continues to get better. So raise a glass to real beer and the brewers who create them.


“He was a wise man who invented beer” - Plato

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Otter Creek - Stovepipe Porter

Otter Creek - Porter - Middlebury, VT. 4.4%abv
12 oz brown bottle. Freshness Lot Date (which I don't understand) is stamped on the bottle.
It pours a dark cola mahogany with a medium-sized beige head and a fair amount of sticky lace.
A smoky smell permeates the air upon first pouring. A dry malty smell begins to develop and sticks around for a while. A light citrusy aroma is noticed early, but it fades rather quickly.
The malt is toasty and smoky. A light sweetness does very little to counter the strong smokiness (not that it’s a bad thing). Strong coffee and a mild dark chocolate taste
A tea-like bitterness, along with an edgy citrus taste provides a dry sharpness. The taste is raw and wild. Lots of flavors for a low abv porter. Goes well with grilled sausage and peppers.