Sunday, September 25, 2011

Beer Style of the week; Oktoberfest-Marzen

Oktoberfest 201th Anniversary 1810-2011

The first Oktoberfest took place on October 18, 1810 in a meadow next to the town gates of Munich, Germany. The original celebration began during the marriage of The Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (later Ludwig I.) to Princess Therese of Saxonia "Sachsen-Hildburghausen". The meadow was christened later in honor of the bride "Theresienwiese" (Meadow of Therese). There were horse races and a celebration of food, beer and life, which lasted five days…seven for some who were unable to find their way out. Beer was tapped in simple huts. This was a special, more potent brew known as a Marzen. It was brewed in March, aged in cool cellars (lagered) and tapped in the fall. While the king, his court and his attendants sat in their tents, the commoners were allowed to party in the open air. The fact that it rained the entire time was a testament to the quality and quantity of the beer. No amount of continuously mud-soaked pants could deter the thirsty revelers and dampen their spirits…so to speak. Today’s Oktoberfest still takes place in Munich on some of the same grounds. The horse racing no longer takes place, although there remains a small local produce and farming exhibition. The event now takes on a more carnival atmosphere with Ferris wheels and roller coasters and a little something for everyone, but there can be no doubt as to the main attraction.

Local brewers, Hacker-Pschorr, Spaten, and Paulaner produce some of the most authentic representations of the style, while Lowenbrau, Augustiner and Ayenger set up tents (Beer Halls) for their particular take on the Oktoberfest style. The Munich Oktoberfest now runs 16 days. In this time 6 million visitors consume 6 million liters of beer and 400,000 of sausages. It is the world’s largest annual public event.

This year the event runs from September 17 – October 3, 2011. If you can’t make it to Munich, you can still enjoy an Oktoberfest beer. And you don’t need to soak your lederhosen to enjoy your Marzen/Oktoberfest beer.

From the land of Origin

Hacker Pschorr Oktoberfest– Munich, Germany – 5.8% ABV

Deep Gold/Amber with orange hues in color with a sweet off-white lasting head and sticky, clingy lace. Lightly caramel sweet aroma with a hint of citrus. Slightly citrus, lightly tea-like and a touch of metallic hop bitterness. Rounded malt and hop balance. Honey and fresh fruit notes. Really velvety smooth. Rich, Bold, Tasty! IMHO, Hacker Pschorr one of the very best representations of the true Oktoberfest beers. Wow!

Spaten Oktoberfest – Spaten-Franziskaner Brau – Munich, Germany – 5.9% ABV

This is one fine example of an Oktoberfest. It pours an orange-hued deep amber with a fast fading beige head. A pleasant malty aroma and fresh bread dough are backed by a mild whiff of hops. The malt is fairly sweet and has a light doughy flavor and hint of toffee. Lime-like citrusy and a light taste of tea offer a mild ballast for the dominant malt quality. A faint flavor of candy apples is detected. The body is a bit buttery and velvety liquid. It’s hard not to take large gulps and then reach for another. In fact, that’s just what I’m going to do now!

Weihenstephaner – Freising, Germany – 5.8% ABV

From the World’s Oldest Brewery.

The color is a cloudy golden amber with a medium-sized snow-white head and lots of sticky and trailing lace.

The smell is certainly German OFest-like. Grassy malt, citrus fruit, pears, minty herbs and a hint of vodka.

Sweet honey maltiness supports a nice blend of citric and spicy hops. A little fresh bread, mellon and hint of mint round things out.

The body is slick, almost buttery and so rounded and smooth.

You really should buy at least two of these beauties because it goes down so easy and delightful.

New England O’Fests

Samuel Adams Octoberfest – Boston Beer Co. – 5.3% ABV

Served in a nonic tumbler.

It pours a deep amber color with a fast-fading off-white head along with some patchy and trailing lacing.

Smells of doughy malt and Milk Duds are backed by a smell of fruit cup an a hint of citrus zest.

The sweet and full malt body borders on a syrupy consistency. Tastes of mixed fruit, sweet malt and mild limes are all very in balance.

It's a nice O-Fest, yet a bit heavier than their German counterparts.

Thomas Hooker Octoberfest Lager – Bloomfield, Connecticut – 6.1% ABV

12 oz brown bottle.

Served in a heavy glass mug.

It pours a deep golden amber color with a fast-fading off-white head along with some patchy trailing lacing.

A strong whiff of wet sweet malt rises up at first pours and lasts for quite awhile. Smells of mixed fruit cup, citrus and cut field hay follow, as does a bit a alcohol fuminess.

This is as bold as an Octoberfest can be without rising into a stronger Lager style range like a Maibock, but I like it as it is.

Flavors of sweet caramel malt, tastes of pears, fresh bread, tea-like, and citrusy hops are finished with a light taste of golden rum.

The body is full and somewhat slick. The flavors come together and blend nicely as it warms.

Newport Storm Regenschauer Oktoberfest – Coastal Extreme Brewing – 5.3% ABV

12oz brown bottle. No freshness date. Bottle code 0.223 (?)

IMHO, this is one of Coastal's better offerings. It pours an Autumn-like honey/amber with orangey hues. The off-white head fades rather fast. A robust sweet malt aroma blends with a bit of hops and mild alcohol fuminess. The malty body is reminiscent of a Vienna/Oktoberfest blend - Velvety smooth, almost oily, and just a tad pasty. A mild citrus, ripe pear taste and light spiciness are in proper proportion to this malty brew. This will go well with Autumn Stew (Squash, apples, chicken stock, spices and a dash of maple syrup)

Others worth a try

Harpoon Octoberfest

Narragansett Fest

Next week; Pumpkins; They're not just for Halloween and pie anymore!

Cheers! And Prost!

Quote” “It takes beer to make thirst worthwhile.” – German Proverb

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Great photos of Oktoberfest 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beer style of the week; Autumn Ale

Week 33

First, to be clear, there is no officially recognized beer style designated as “Autumn” Ale. There are, however groups of ales that successfully, if loosely, convey the spirit of the demi-season bridging summer to fall. Heck, there is even debate about the defined difference between autumn and fall, but let’s forget all that and go with our simplistic explanation. Fall begins later when signs of frost begin and the leaves have fallen (fall) to the ground. You want a more bracing and substantial brew to warm your insides, and more importantly, it give me more styles to write about.

The Autumn Ale might slide a bit into the English Brown Ale style, if you don’t mind an extra dose of hops, a bit more roasted malt and the resulting kick of alcohol. Or, if you prefer to accept another brewer’s interpretation of what kind of ale best conveys the sense of Autumn, maybe a slightly amped up American Amber or Red Ale will fit the bill.

Whatever style the brewer borrows from, the Autumn Ale should have a solid malt body with a deep amber, or auburn to brown ale color, a substantial off-white to beige head, an assertive (not aggressive) hop profile and a bit more robust than the style it’s born from.

You know it’s time to locate your favorite sweater, windbreaker, lawn rake, and college football schedule when the first sightings of Autumn Ale hit the packies.

While Autumn Ale seems to be an American hybrid of some traditional English ale styles, we can find some of those originals still fit nicely into the theme of the season. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale comes immediately to mind as ale to enjoy in Autumn weather, although maybe it lacks a bit of the warming alcoholic kick I thought might be needed to create a new sub style.

Autumn Ales

Sierra Nevada Tumbler – Chico, California – 5.5% ABV12 oz. dark brown bottle. No freshness date. Marvelous dark auburn, brown leathery color with a medium-sized beige head on top. Loads of sticky lacing clings to the glass throughout.The aroma is mostly malt-driven, with dry grain, caramel malt and farina wheat smells. There is a bit of fruit and citrus peel to the hop aroma.The flavors are under-whelming. I expected a strong, sweet malty taste with a solid hop blend for support, but was a little disappointed. It sort of reminds me of a New Castle Ale, except with a bit more of a hop and alcohol kick.The body has an unexpected spritzy effervescence. I would like a little more solid, rich malty body in an autumn ale. Something to stand up to creamy, thick autumn stews, perhaps.

New England Autumns

Geary’s Autumn Ale – D.L. Geary’s Brewing – Portland, Maine – 5.8% ABV

This Autumn Ale is in a class of its own. Sort of a cross breed of Hampshire Special - sans the piney effect, and Pale Ale.It pours a wonderful teak color with a thin tan head. A nice blend of roasted malt and hops make up the initial burst of aroma. The aroma fades rather quickly. The full-bodied toasty malt is lightly sweet, with hints of caramel and dark coffee, and in the Geary's fashion, a little on the raw-edged side. Bitter citrusy hops mingle with a mild metallic tang and a slightly peppery spiciness. The flavors tend to balance towards the end and this brew just glides down the throat in a rich, almost buttery, velvety textured liquid. Oh my!

Long Trail Harvest – Long Trail Brewing Co. Bridgewater Corners, Vermont – 4.6% ABV

12oz brown bottle. Freshness date on label.
It pours a tan/cordovan with a smallish off-white head and some patchy and trailing lace.
The aroma is mostly of sweet malt and brown bread.
It's not as malty as one would expect after reading on the label about all the malts used in the brewing.
There's a light caramel sweetness and a taste of fresh marble rye, along with the essence of brown bread.
A sweet lime-like bitterness is matched by a taste of hard water and faint metallic tang.
This is a flavorful brew despite the fact that it is low in alcohol.
Nice stuff to quell spicy chili.

Pretty Things – St. Boltoph’s Town (Not listed as an Autumn Ale, but a damn good one anyway!) 5.9% ABV22oz brown bottle. Bottled on date stamped on cap top label. (Batch 10)

Served in a standard pint glass. Pours a dark brownish amber mahogany color with a solid 2" beige head and lots of webby lacing. Smells of roasted barley, barn, and resinous and citrusy hops blend nicely together. A whiff mixed fruit soaked in mellow rum floats in the background.

Brown Malty backbone with a touch of toffee. Evenly matched hoppy balance. A light taste of prunes with a hint of tobacco.

This is an amped up Brown Ale. It can easily slide into an Autumn or Fall Ale style profile. There's more malt, hops and alcoholic punch to this wonderfully crafted ale, than you find in your standard English Brown Ale.

Just a lovely ale for a cool evening! Very nice!

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale – Portsmouth, New Hampshire – 6.5% ABV

On Tap served in a standard pint glass

It pours a burnt, orange-hued tan leather color with a medium-sized beige head and a fair amount of webby lacing.

A pleasant aroma of roasty brown malt rises at first pour. A light tea-light follows and lingers throughout. Mild resinous hops and a touch of alcohol fuminess round out the aromas.

The flavors match the smells to near perfection, with the exception being, a hint of a metallic tang noticed in the aftertaste.

This is a very fluid liquidy brew. The alcohol is fairly well disguised, so don’t just sit there enjoying one after the other and thinking to yourself, “man, these are tasty suckers, I can drink these all day long!”

Now, where’d I leave my favorite sweatshirt?

Next week; Oktoberfest (It’s on right now! – Sept 17 – Oct 3)

Quote: “And young and old come forth to play
On a sunshine holiday,
Till the live-long daylight fail;
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale” – John Milton – 1608 - 1674

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Beer style of the week; Gueze/Oud Brown and Flanders Red/American Wild Ale (Sour Funky Ales)

Week 32

Here are a group of beer styles that are growing in popularity by the day. Brewers are pumping out a wide variety of sour, funky or tart ales. Beer Advocate even has an entire evening dedicated to ales that will make you wince, squint and pucker, with their Belgian Beer Fest’s “Night of the Funk”.

Gueze is a complex beer style created in Belgium. Young and old Lambic (unpasteurized part wheat, wild yeast and brewed in bacteria inoculated barrels) are blended together then aged for up to two years. Other ales that fall into the Gueze-like (sour/tart) profile are Flanders Red, Oud Brown and American Wild Ale.

The ABV of these ales are all over the place. Expect anywhere from between 3% - 8.5% ABV.

The flavors in each are tart, acidic and/or sour tasting. Descriptions of the flavors range from vinegar cider, tart white wine, green apples, funk, acidic acid and bile-like. The smells range from musty basement, to rotting citrus, to sweaty gym socks soaked in vinegar, to rancid wine.

Funky Beer Lover: “Sounds good, huh?”

Me: “Not really!”

Funky Beer Lover: “Give it time, it’s an acquired taste.”

Me: “Go squeeze some old gym socks soaked in vinegar into a glass and gulp it down. Let me know when you’ve “acquired” the taste”

Sorry, I just don’t like them! Well, only most of them…the really sour and/or tart ones can be used to lure desperate slugs away from my garden. Gueze, in case you’re still wondering sort of rhymes with, ooze-eh and shoes-eh. Really old oozing shoes-eh!

There are a few Flanders Reds and Browns that actually have some basic, recognizable beer characteristics that can be safely swallowed without an instantaneous eruption of acid reflux. Those are possible to acquire a taste for. I’ve tried throughout my rating beer experience to keep in mind that certain beer styles are purposely brewed with a distinct result in mind, and for that reason it’s difficult for me to rate beers that I simply don’t care for. How can anyone give a poor rating to a beer that captures the style characteristics to perfection? See:

Here are some of the top rated Geueze, Flanders Red and Brown and American Wild Ales

From the land of origin

Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic – Brasserie Cantillon – Brussels, Belgium – 5% ABV

“A” Rating on BeerAdvocate

Oude Geuze De Cam - De Cam Geuzestekerij – Gooik, Belgium – 5.5% ABV

“A” Rating on Beer Advocate

Goudenband Flanders Oud Brune - Brouwerij Liefmans – Oudenaard, Belgium – 8% ABV

“A-“ Rating on BA

Rodenbach Grande Cru Flanders Red – Brouwerji Rodenbach – Roeselare, Belgium – 6% ABV

“A-“ Rating on BA

American Wild Ale

New England

Allagash Interlude – Allagash Brewing – Portland, Maine – 9.5% ABV

“A-“ Rating on BA

Samuel Adams Stony Brook Red – Samuel Adams – Boston, MA – 9% ABV

“B+” Rating on BA

Monomoy Kriek – Cisco Brewing – Nantucket, MA – 6.7% ABV

“A-“ Rating on BA

There you have a sampling of the Funky styles that get high marks from many who like that sort of beer. Please don’t let my opinions on this or any style influence your decisions. Try it! If you like it, great! If you don’t, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Next week, finally, Autumn Ales, followed by Oktoberfest, then Fall Beers.

Cheers and Salut!

Quote: “"An I must drink sour ale, I must, but never have I yielded to a man before, and that without would or mark upon my body. Nor, when I bethink me, will I yield now." – Howard Pyle – The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

Friday, September 9, 2011

When rating beer; Why rate what you hate?

Go to any online beer rating sight such as or and take a closer look at some of the reviews for styles that you don’t particularly care for, or even hate, for that matter.

What you will find are some pretty harsh words and low rating scores for beers that were brewed in strict accordance to the style in which they were intended.

For example, one person rating a De Cam Oud Gueze from Belgium wrote; “Cloudy orange with almost no head. Sour notes and basement aroma, stale and earthy. Very (!) dry and acid-like mouthfeel that made it impossible for me to enjoy it. Disappointing.”

That person gave it a 2 out of a possible 5 rating. Huh? After having described the De Cam Oud Gueze for what it’s supposed to be (a sour beer), he/she slammed it hard. It’s one thing to not appreciate a certain style, but to criticize it when it is, in fact a great representation of the style is just wrong! BTW-I’m not a fan Gueze, but I can’t give a poor rating to a beer that captures the style characteristics to perfection.

Here’s another crazy rant and rating for the very classic Rauchbier Aecht Schlenkerla Urbock; “oh, god. I AM NOT A FAN OF THIS STYLE> I COULD NOT FINISH THIS> Sorry, I do not like it. This is a very strong version of the smoke style. Not even after 5 very hot spice nuclear wings can I get the taste out of my mouth and nose. If you are not a fan of smoke beers, please, stay away.”

Rauchbier is a SMOKED BEER! This guy gave it a one. A one? For being the classic representation of the style, he gives it a one? That’s crazy!

It’s one thing to slam a beer when you feel it doesn’t live up to your expectations of what the style is supposed to represent. Or maybe you can or dole out a low score when a certain beer totally misses the boat, even within its style range. Hell, it’s fine to kick the ass of an Adjunct Lager made by Mass-Mega-Brewers of bland suds, because they brag in their advertising about how great they are, when in fact, they suck.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it is absurd to attack something for being exactly what it should be. Does a vegan get all persnickety when he knowingly bites into a juicy hamburger and screams in horror, “THIS TASTES LIKE MEAT!!!!?” Well, probably. I suppose that’s a bad analogy, but you get the point. If you hate it, don’t rate it! If you feel you MUST comment on your dislike for the style; fine. Just don’t mark it down for being true to the style.

Ok, where did I put that Cranberry Lambic?


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beer style of the week; Rauchbier and other smoked beers

Week 31

Ahhh! What beats a cozy beach fire on a cool late summer’s eve? Sweatshirts standing by, but not needed quite yet. Just sitting on a comfy log, poking the fire with a stick. Mussels and shallots steaming in a pot of buttered beer. Smoked chicken and sausage with peppers and onions slowly grilling off to the side, and the company of family, and friends. To round out the pleasure, some Rauchbier, or other Smoked Beer to cool the fire’s heat and/or warm oneself against the cool sea breeze. Ahhhh!

As beer is considered food, Rauchbier should be considered BBQ.

Rauch (pronounced, rrrrowsch) is a fun German word to say. It feels German in every way. Burping while Bellowing out, “RAUCH!!!!” shows the world that you are a very sophisticated cosmopolitan traveler.

Originating in and around Bamberg, Germany in the 1500’s, the Rauch (Smoke) bier was created by roasting green malt over beech wood fires. Literally all beer must have had some smokiness as kilning ovens used to roast malts weren’t invented until the industrial revolution. That aside, it’s a style that nearly died out as brewers modernized and caved to the trends of the days. Thankfully, a few brewers in Bamberg continued brewing the style using traditional methods. Today, Rauchbier and other smoked lagers, Scotch ales and porters in varying degrees of smokiness are landing in our packies. The smokiness levels descriptions run the gamut from a faint wisp of smoke on the horizon to licking your chimney clean with your tongue.

Smoked beer goes very well with, (drum roll please!) smoked meats and cheeses. Grilled and roasted meats, sausages and root veggies also pair nicely.

Land of Origin

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock – Bamberg, Germany – 6.6% ABV

This pours a rich dark teak color, and despite a rather hard pour, the mostly large bubbly head dissipates, forming a thin beige ring with very little lace. A wonderful smoky malt and slight hop and faint alcohol aroma lasts a fair amount of time, eventually giving way to a pleasant morning after campfire smell. Full bodied and lightly sweet and amply hopped. Robust Maltiness blends well with citrus and spicy hop bitterness. This is an acquired taste that I've acquired while tasting and rating this fantastic brew!

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen – Bamberg, Germany – 5.4% ABV

Closely resembles an Oktoberfest with a deep smoky flavor and aroma. Its smokiness is more pronounced than its Urbock brother as a result of being less hoppy and about 20% less ABV. There is no missing this depth of smoke. Nice Rauchbier to nibble cheese with.

West Coast

Stone’s Smoked Porter – Stone Brewing – Escondido, California – 5.9% ABV

The unusual tar tinted dark brown color requires careful examination. The full smoky (not overly so) malt is the star of the show. The fairly high hops with light a metallic and somewhat grapefruity bitterness deserve some attention as well. Lightly sweet with a dry edged body. A hint of dark chocolate and coffee offer contrasting flavors to offset both the malt sweetness and hop bitterness. A smoky edge is more apparent in the aroma than in flavor. A light hop floral bouquet and sweet malt give way to a comforting smokiness. The beige/tan head dissipates at its own slow pace then lingers as fine lace. Flavors merge, blend and congenially mingle together. Well Done!

Alaskan Smoked Porter – Alaskan Brewing – Juneau, Alaska – 6.5% ABV

It pours a very dark mahogany with a thin beige head and leaves a fair amount of lace. A big smoky, malty aroma rises up and sticks around for a while. A smell of floral hops and hint of pine settle in the background, then fades away. Rich, lightly sweet malt is beautifully balanced by a pleasant smokiness. Espresso, dark chocolate and a bit of caramel sweetness, blend nicely with a wild and raw hop bitterness. A German familiar with his beloved Rauchbier may be disappointed in the lack of a powerful chimney-like smoke, but this lower percentage alder wood smoked malt is more subdued and reliant on the quality of malt and hop characteristics as well.

Weyerbacher Fireside Ale – Easton, Pennsylvania – 7.5% ABV

12oz dark brown bottle. No freshness date.
Served in a nonic tumbler.
Pours a dark amber cola color with an overly enthusiastic beige head, with lots of lacing.
The smell is a unique mix of smoke, macerated berries, dried malt and resinous hops. A light whiff of rose petals and peat moss inch through.
The flavors follow the smell. The tastes are carried within the fizzy effervescence, bursting with flavors which tantalize and tease the taste bud spectrum.
Nice beer for a smoky BBQ!

New England Smoky Brews

Samuel Adams – Rauchbier – Boston, MA - 5.7% ABV

12 oz. brown bottle. Freshness date etched on label.

Served in a tall cylindrical mug. It pours an orange-hued amber with a real fast-fading off-white head and not but a few specks of lacing.

The distant smell of smoke over a dry maltiness. A little citrusy and a bit of metallic hop aroma along with cut hay follows.

The smokiness is at first subdued, but as it warms becomes more influential to the overall taste. Sweet malt and a lightly citrusy hop inch forward. It is very similar the Oktoberfest, except for the smoked barley malt.

This is a very easy-drinking Rauchbier, and one I'm sure will bring more brewers into the mix. Coming soon, Imperial Rauch!

Smuttynose Scotch-style Ale (Big Beer Series) – Portsmouth, New Hampshire – 8.2% ABV

It pours a dark leathery brown with a solid beige head and a fair amount of lacing. The aroma is largely of smoky malt, with some molasses and a bit of hops in the background. The malt is thick, lightly smoky and sweet, and a wee bit chalky for my liking. The hops are sort of lost within malt body. A mild tea-like bitterness doesn’t make a note-worthy impact. This brew lacks a peaty and Scotch-like quality normally associated with the style. The presence of alcohol is barely noticeable, though the results of a pint are undeniable.

Grab a couple different smoky brews and head out to your favorite campsite or beach fire pit and see if your perception or smoked beer doesn’t change drastically.


Quote: “Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.” -Kaiser Wilhelm