Sunday, August 2, 2015

Not Your Father's Root Beer


3.8
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1420) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 2, 2015
It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while a beer will just explode in popularity and everyone has to have it. This happened with Heady Topper a few years ago (and it maintains its high demand today). For 2015, “Not Your Father’s Root Beer” by Small Town Brewery is the must-have beer for zymurgy enthusiasts and laymen alike. That’s due to the fact the beverage is made by a major beverage producer and distributed by Pabst. In fact, whether this truly qualifies as a beer and not an alcopop is subject for debate. Assuming that this meets the criteria of dictionary-defined “beer”, I’d say it’s one of the most unique and interesting brews I’ve ever had.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a mug. I couldn’t decipher the freshness code. It cost $4.75 ($0.40 per ounce).

Appearance: Soda-like complexion of dark black with ruby red highlights. Pours to a small, tan, soapy head which fizzles away quickly and completely leaving no lacing.

Smell: Nearly identical to non-alcoholic root beer soda pop. Huge vanilla and wintergreen notes along with some general spice character.

Taste: Whether this is truly a beer I do not know. However, I am amazed that this tastes exactly like the soda you can buy at any store (and maybe better than most). Up front there’s a strong vanilla flavor coupled with a spice I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s actually reminiscent of that found in a pumpkin beer – possibly nutmeg, ginger or cinnamon (or a combination of them all). It changes on a dime on the second half to pretty intense wintergreen/spearmint flavor. It actually opens the sinuses it’s so potent. If I were drinking this blind I’d assume it was merely a craft soda as there is no alcohol presence whatsoever, nor is there any malt or hop character. That makes me wonder whether this can be considered a beer and not an alcopop. Regardless, it’s quite delectable and fun to drink.

Drinkability: I was disappointed that Not Your Father’s Root Beer went flat so quickly. It might actually be better to drink this straight from the bottle rather than pouring it out. The mouthfeel is a bit tepid and slightly slick. It leaves an aftertaste of vanilla and mint, but it’s not terribly cloying. It doesn’t seem to be 5.9% ABV, but I will say it sits with a little more weight than an ordinary soda. This would make for a fun novelty dessert beverage (drop some ice cream in for a float).

RATING: 8/10

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Two Roads No Limits Hefeweizen (2015 re-review)

3.9
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1419) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 1, 2015
When it comes to beer, I’ll readily admit that my personal preferences change over time and my actual palate evolves and becomes more honed. So when a beer I didn’t enjoy at first tastes good later I’m happy to give it a re-review. Case in point: Two Roads No Limits Hefeweizen. This was a surprisingly bland beer when I first tried it a year ago. However, after visiting the brewery and sampling their entire lineup (literally) I re-discovered this beer and realized how good it actually was. This is a solid, to-spec, classic German-style hefeweizen. It may not re-invent the style, but it’s one of the best American offerings that’s widely available. 


I poured a 16oz can into a weizen glass. It was canned on 2/23/15 and cost $3.30 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: Extremely hazy shade of caramel gold/orange (last time it was more of a pale yellow and clearer). Pours to a large, white, foamy head which retains well but doesn’t leave much lacing (I think it might be this glass).

Smell: Banana bread, light clove, a hint of lemon rind and cinnamon.

Taste: Last time I drank this beer I found it be surprisingly mild. It was to-spec, but all the components were just way too weak for my preference. This time around it’s still very much to-spec as far as traditional German hefeweizen goes, but the palette is much more robust. This is even more impressive considering the can I drank for this review was over five months old at the time.

You want a hefe, you get it here: Light banana bread sweetness up front with just a bit of a lemon citrus tang. I also notice a bit of a caramel candy flavor, though it’s quite subtle. Not much in the way of bitterness (not that there should be), though it does seem to change on a dime and become quite lively with a nice clove-like spicy flavor. There’s also a floral character in the background from beginning to end which is a nice bonus.

Drinkability: Two Roads No Limits Hefeweizen is very refreshing at all times. The mouthfeel is very soft and smooth, though it’s still plenty carbonated to give it some energy. At only 5% ABV it’s arguably a session beer, especially due to the fact it comes not only in cans but pint-sized cans!

RATING: 8/10 

Friday, July 31, 2015

If everyone hates season creep, why is it so prevalent?

So I was at my favorite beer store - Westmere Beverage - the other day, and as soon as I walked in I saw this display:

pumking


It didn't come as a complete surprise; it's not like this is the first time I've seen pumpkin beers for sale in the summer.... or Christmas beers at Halloween... or summer beers around Valentine's Day. And every season, just like clockwork, all my fellow beer lovers on Facebook, Twitter and other social media post a picture like the one above lamenting about the fact that the beer is out of season. And now I'm noticing people are griping directly to the retailers. For example, here's a comment thread on Oliver's Brew Crew's Facebook page in response to a video showing off their newly-arrived pumpkin beers on display:

CaptureCapture2

As you can see, people have mixed reactions: some love it, some hate it. Though it appears that the people who are okay with this are happy about the arrival of Southern Tier's Pumking, Rumking and Warlock - not so much pumpkin beers in general. I agree that those are indeed delicious beers; that being said, I'm really not in the mood to drink a 9% ABV pumpkin beer when it's nearly 90 degrees out (or, for that matter, an imperial stout or big Belgian quad, etc.). I am one of those people whose drinking moods vary according to season. I always thought people like me were the majority of [craft] beer drinkers. So why doesn't the market cater to us?

The thing I've never understood about season creep, specifically when it comes to pumpkin beers, is that pumpkins are traditionally harvested in the fall or late summer at the earliest (I used to grow my own). So where are the breweries getting the pumpkins to make their beer? The answer is rather obvious, though, isn't it? Modern technology enables crops to grow faster and thus harvest earlier. Also the fact that when it comes to beer, the vast majority of breweries aren't using fresh pumpkin in the brew - they're using pumpkin puree, extract, or some type of artificial flavoring. Southern Tier used to have a YouTube video that showed the brewing of Pumking where you could clearly see the pumpkin puree being used, but it looks like that video has been replaced by this one:

Notice that they said they use "pumpkin" in the brew, not pumpkin puree. I don't know why they don't admit this; after all, there's nothing inherently wrong or bad or unethical about using a puree instead of fresh fruit (whether it's unethical to try to pass off puree as fresh is another story, though). When it comes to fruit in beer, the consensus seems to be that fresh fruit is superior to puree, and puree is superior to extract or artificial flavoring. As a homebrewer I've found the opposite is often true (I've made award-winning brews using a flavoring syrup instead of actual fruit). However, as a beer drinker I swear I can taste the difference between "real" and "fake" and real always tastes better. I have a feeling the majority of beer drinkers probably feel the same way.

But getting back to the topic at hand: why do seasonal beers keep arriving a full season early? With the exception of people that rush out and buy pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers in August and summer beers when there's still snow on the ground, it stands to reason that early seasonals will sit and wait until their audience is ready for them. By that time, the beer is rather old and very likely to have been exposed to poor handling; heat and oxidation. It's not just a psychosomatic affect that pumpkin beer tastes better in July, it's just a matter of Zymurgy 101! It tastes better because it's fresher.

Over to you, dear readers:
  1. Does it annoy you to see seasonal beers released so early, or do you just accept it as a normal industry practice by now?
  2. Do your preferences in styles vary according to season and the weather? If so, why do you think that is? If not, why not?
  3. Do you find that when the appropriate time for drinking a seasonal beer rolls around you notice the beer doesn't taste as good because it's old? Or does it not phase you?
  4. Is there anything we can do to convince breweries to stop releasing seasonal offerings so early?
  5. Do you think the majority of beer drinkers hate season creep, are indifferent to it, or embrace it?
  6. Is it unethical for breweries to use puree and not make the distinction on the labeling and marketing? Or should consumers be smart enough to know that most products aren't made with fresh fruit?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin


3.4
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1419) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 30, 2015
I’m no stranger to peppers and capsaicin. I’ve grown jalapenos, habaneros and Trinidad Scorpion peppers. The thing is, peppers and beer only work when the pepper is as subtle as possible; but in the case of Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin the pepper is quite prominent to say the least. This is definitely a beer for those that can handle the heat.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $3.85 ($0.32 per ounce).

Appearance: Mostly clear shade of orange proper. Pours to a fairly large, ivory foamy head which retains and laces quite well for a pepper brew.

Smell: Nearly identical to classic Sculpin. Fairly potent citrusy aroma though the habanero is noticeable as well (and diminishes it a bit, unfortunately).

Taste: There’s really two separate palettes to this beer. The first half of every swig drinks like regular Sculpin: classic San Diego-style citrus and floral hops with a pretty strong bitterness. The second half is all habanero: intense heat at first followed by the familiar earthy pepper flavor (very soil-like). The hops are strong enough to provide a barrier or at least prepare the mouth for the pepper, but not strong enough (nor the pepper weak enough) to relegate it to a background spice. It’s a bit contrasting though it is interesting. I do get used to it by drinking more, though I don’t especially enjoy it any more.

Drinkability: Much like the taste, the actual drinkability of this beer could go either way. I have drank hotter, more intense beers than this, though a good pepper beer is derived from the taste – not just the Scoville units. The Sculpin character makes it drink like an IPA with a medium body and some crispness; though the habanero sets my throat on fire and it lingers for a little while. The 7% ABV is kind of a moot feature since I can only drink about half a bottle. Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin pretty much requires some kind of food to offset the heat (though nothing spicy I’d say).

RATING: 6/10

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

He'Brew Wishbone Session Double IPA

3.6
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1418) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 29, 2015
Since I wasn’t born yesterday, I know that Shmaltz is being completely sarcastic by calling their He’Brew Wishbone a “Session Double IPA.” Though only 8% it drinks and feels like something much bigger as it’s very sweet, very dank and quite boozy. A classic East Coast-style imperial IPA.

I poured a 12oz bottle into my Shmaltz snifter. It was bottled on 5/11/15 and cost $4.55 ($0.38 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark gold to copper color with slight haziness. Pours to a one-finger, white, foamy head which laces and retains pretty well.

Smell: Intense malty sweetness is the first thing I smell, followed by a lemony and pine resin scent.

Taste: There’s a difference, I think, between a double IPA and an imperial IPA. Most will say it’s due to the alcohol content, but I go more by palette. DIPAs tend to be juicy and citrusy, whereas IIPAs tend to be dank, piney and resiny with considerable malt character. That’s exactly what I get here. Much like the aroma, the first thing I notice is not the hops but the strong malty base. Plenty of the amber malts create for a caramel and peanut brittle flavor. The hops are strong, but because they’re of the dank/resiny family they create for a different kind of bitterness that lands like a thud on the tongue. I get a bit of a yellow lollipop flavor as well, which I’ve never been a fan of. This is an interesting beer to have since it’s so different from the norm.

Drinkability: What also separates a DIPA from an IIPA is the delivery. He’Brew Wishbone Session Double IPA has a noticeably thick viscosity. So much so that it almost has a syrupy quality to it. The beer sticks to the tongue and teeth and leaves a lingering aftertaste. Though the texture is soft and smooth, there’s an alcohol presence that cannot be ignored. At 8% ABV it’s not completely unexpected, though I could do without it.

RATING: 7/10

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ballast Point Fathom


4
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1417) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 28, 2015
Ballast Point is becoming one of my favorite and most-respected breweries since they’re willing to try anything and they’re really good at what they do. Fathom is their newest brew (at least around here): yet another IPL, but it’s one of the most well-rounded and thorough IPLs I’ve had. 


I poured a 12oz can into a mug. It was canned on 5/22/15 and cost $3.80 ($0.32 per ounce).

Appearance: Deep golden color with a mostly clear body; carbonation visible. Pours to a two-finger, beige, soapy head which mostly dissipates but leaves some lacing.

Smell: Intense piney/resin scent. Earthy with a touch of spice as well as a minor citrus note.

Taste: If I were drinking this blind I’d probably assume it’s an East Coast-style IPA since it has all the makings of a traditional entry of the style. The hops are prominent here (obviously), but in the way Atlantic breweries traditionally made them with an earthy/sticky/resiny/dank pine flavor. There’s a strong bitterness here, but it’s balanced out well by a surprisingly sweet malt presence. Notes of caramel and a bit of butterscotch or lollipop are noticeable. A bit of a dry spicy sensation at the apex with a quick bite hoppy bite as it finishes. Perhaps there’s features to this reminiscent of a strong doppelbock, though I appreciate the San Diego devotion to hops.

Drinkability: Ballast Point Fathom tastes and drinks like an ale despite being a lager. The mouthfeel is quite full-bodied with a fairly calm, slightly viscous texture. The hops linger on the tongue and leave a resiny aftertaste. At 7% ABV there’s actually a noticeable alcohol presence in the form of flavor and warmth, though it’s easily tolerable.

RATING: 8/10

Monday, July 27, 2015

Am I The Only One Not Enamored With Growlers?

iphone 306
If you’re even remotely familiar with the craft beer scene in the last few years, no doubt you’re aware of the existence of “growlers”: large glass containers used for short-term storage and transportation of draught beer. It’s an interesting hybrid of packaged beer and fresh beer to say the least. Growler stations have been so popular even supermarkets and gas stations have begun installing a few lines. It’s great to see craft beer going mainstream.

That being said, I can’t help but scratch my head at the mass appeal of growlers. It’s not that I’m against their existence or judging people that use and enjoy them; just that I don’t understand how and why they become so popular, for the following reasons:

The standard size growler is 64oz (they also come in 32oz and 16oz, but they’re less common) – that’s a half gallon, or the equivalent of four 16oz pints or five and a third 12oz bottles. That’s a lot of beer, actually. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that growlers are intended for group settings where they’ll be shared: parties, picnics, camping trips, etc. But since you get less than a six-pack’s worth of beer in the standard growler fill, why not just buy an actual six-pack? I don’t know of any beers that are less expensive via growler than they are via six-pack. In fact, there seems to be a certain cache to the growler-fill that’s lost on packaged beer. I’ve seen growler prices go as high as $30 or $40 for premium, high gravity brews that are reasonably priced if you get them in 12oz or 22oz containers. I suppose there’s a freshness quality to growlers, since kegs are much more likely to not have sat around a distributor’s warehouse for months, but is that really worth paying a premium for? Seeing as how popular growlers are, I guess it is for some people.

A growler has a short shelf life, especially compared with bottles and cans that are sealed at the brewery. Theoretically, a bottle or can should stay carbonated indefinitely (whether or not it’ll still taste good is another story). There are some fancy plastic caps you can buy which form a better seal than the usual metal caps, but they won’t stay bubbly forever. So a growler is a bit of ticking time bomb – you need to drink it fast before it goes flat. Now, if you’re going straight from the beer store to the party that won’t be a problem, but what about when you’re just bringing a growler home for casual consumption? For a single person like me, trying to drink 64oz in a few days is a challenge. Even for a married couple or a few roommates living together, 64oz might be a lot. I can’t help but wonder how much beer is wasted due to going flat in growlers. Is there any empirical data on this?

westmere growler station
The growler station at Westmere Beverage. (Photo credit: facebook.com/westmerebeverage)

Most of the taps at a typical growler station feature beers that are available in bottles and cans. However, some do offer tap-only releases from small breweries that only keg their beers anyway. I can certainly understand the appeal of getting a growler fill of a beer where that’s the only way to enjoy it at home. That being said, if you’re buying a growler at anywhere other than the brewery itself, it’s a bit of a gamble as to how much you’ll enjoy it if you’ve never had it before. Additionally, if it’s from a local brewery, why not avoid the middleman and just get the growler filled there? Even better – why not just go to their taproom (assuming they have one) and sample their entire lineup via a flight or drink a full pint?

In my experience, growlers are like clothes and books: they accumulate around my house and I can’t bring myself to simply throw them away. I often try to give them away but no one ever seems to want a free growler (I’ll even put this theory to test: the growlers in the picture below are free for the taking – if anyone wants them let me know. I’ll be curious to see if anyone takes me up on my offer). That leads me to believe that the majority of people buy a brand new growler instead of re-using an old one. I’m no tree hugger, but that doesn’t seem environmentally sound to me.

Additionally, how are you supposed to dispose of old glass growlers?  They don’t have a deposit on them like bottles and cans, so there’s no financial incentive to recycle them. I guess everyone tosses them in the trash, which is a shame because those containers are so much more practical than the typical one-time-only-use product that ends up in the garbage (or a recycling bin if your community offers that service, though many don’t accept glass).

growlers 002
Growlers are like clothes hangars: they just seem to multiply on their own.

Lastly, do I need to point out the fragility of glass growlers and how, if they break, can be extremely dangerous?

CROWLERS

Recently, my beer store of choice – Westmere Beverage – became the first bottle shop in the area to offer the new “crowler.” What is a crowler? It’s the same concept as a growler – draught beer dispensed to go, but in a 32oz can. This is an interesting concept since we all know cans are inherently superior to bottles at protecting beer from light and oxygen, so surely a crowler is superior to a growler, right? But there’s a catch: crowlers are intended for single usage. There’s no way to remove the lid and re-fill it, so once it’s empty you’re left with no choice but to throw it away or recycle it.

westmere crowler
Jeremy Hosier of Westmere Beverage unveiling the new crowler machine. (Photo credit: troyrecord.com)

I’ll be curious to see how popular the crowler becomes; both locally and nationally. But, it won’t be the first container to challenge the growler’s status quo, another device known as The Beer Bag was launched a few years ago. It’s a plastic pouch with a recloseable cap; essentially just a soft growler (there’s one in the picture with my growler collection). I believe these were actually created and marketed by The Ruck in Troy. But from what I can tell, they seem to have stopped selling Beer Bags. The domain name expired and the Facebook page has not been updated in over a year. Additionally, the product is listed as sold out on The Ruck’s merchandise page. I’m not sure if these bags came in different sizes, though the one I have appears to be identical to the one in the link listed above, but it is nowhere near 64oz. It’s closer to 22oz (I tested it by filling an empty bomber with water and then poured it into the Beer Bag). I don’t think I’ve ever actually used it, though. Has anyone? If so please let me know in the comments.

THE PROBLEM WITH CROWLERS AND BEER BAGS

Clearly, crowlers and Beer Bags have a leg-up on growlers. The fact they’re not made from glass means they can go where glass can’t (Saratoga Race Course, for example). But it raises a question I’ve yet to hear anyone answer: what are you going to use to drink the beer? If you’re using a crowler or a Beer Bag at a place where glass is forbidden, this means you can’t bring pint glasses to pour the beer into. That means you’re stuck with using plastic cups like the classic red Solo cup usually associated with Beer Pong (not that there’s anything wrong with a good game of Beer Pong). That means more garbage, but it also means you’re drinking beer from a damn plastic cup! Have you ever drank craft beer from a Solo cup? It just doesn’t taste the same. The thing about glass is that it’s neutral-tasting, which is why it’s been the most popular drinking vessel for a long time. Plastic and ceramic glasses all have a bit of a taste to them that can be at best distracting and at worse render the beer undrinkable. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m above drinking beer out of plastic cups.

But Chad, you’ll drink beer straight from the can! It tastes like metal that way!

No, it doesn’t, actually. Aluminum cans have a thin plastic coating so that the beer never actually touches the metal. Also, I don’t actually taste metal when I drink from the can. I’m not sure if the lid is coated as well or if aluminum has a neutral taste or if I’m just used to it, but I never taste anything other than the beer when I drink from the can. However, all things being equal I’ll always prefer to drink beer from a glass.

Like I said in the beginning, I didn’t intend for this blog to poo-poo growlers and people who use and like them. Just that I’m asking for insight: can those of you who like growlers please explain to me why, when and how often you use them? I’d love to know. Thanks!

Arcadia Whitsun

2.8
   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 5/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (1416) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 27, 2015
I’ve never been a fan of pale wheat ales because they tend to be pretty bland and boring. That’s understandable for a fairly light beer with a simple palette. But in the case of Arcadia Whitsun it’s a beer that should rather complex considering its ingredients and potency. This is disappointing. 


I poured a 12oz can into a weizen glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.70 ($0.23 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark orange hue; very cloudy but carbonation can be seen rising quickly within. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which quickly and completely evaporates without any lacing.

Smell: Very mild orange juice smell. No yeast esters or spices.

Taste: There’s a difference between bad and boring and this beer is a good example of the latter. There’s nothing inherently off about this palette, but there’s an obvious lack of appeal. This tastes like a homebrew extract kit: direct, simple and a bit twangy. I do not pick up on the coriander supposedly contained within but I do get some orange flavor on the back end. Though it’s actually a bit of a juicy flavor rather than orangepeel spice. This beer is not particularly sweet despite the use of honey (which I’m sure was mostly gobbled up by the yeast to boost the ABV and does little for the taste). No hop bitterness or flavor to speak of nor malt distinctiveness for that matter. Shrug.

Drinkability: I was surprised to see 6.2% ABV on the label. This is clearly a summer seasonal – why such a high alcohol content? For that weight, I want way more complexity than what I’m getting here. And the delivery itself is underwhelming: tepid body from beginning to end with a bit of a watery sensation and texture. For such relatively low alcohol, I can actually taste it and feel a warming sensation. This is not my idea of a summer beer.

Score: 4/10

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Victory Kühl Kölsch

3.6
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1415) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 26, 2015
Kölsch is one of those niche styles I’ve been trying to appreciate in recent years, but haven’t really found any that have amazed me. Most tend to taste fine and drink pretty easy, much like Victory Kühl Kölsch.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a pilsner glass. It had an “enjoy by” date of 9/9/15.

Appearance: Pure golden color with near crystal clarity. Slow, fine carbonation can be seen drifting up. Pours to a fairly large, white, frothy head which retains and laces pretty well.

Smell: Light pale malt scent plus mineral water. Perhaps a hint of fruit. Otherwise mild.

Taste: I’ve really come to appreciate the pilsner style, so it’d seem like Kölsch would be right up my alley since they’re quite similar. This beer has a pretty simple recipe of only pilsner and wheat and two Noble hops and the palette certainly conveys this. Light lager-like taste up front with only the faintest bready character. Through the middle I detect a light spicy sensation from the hops, but it is not particularly bitter. The finish is a bit odd with a bit of a biscuit flavor and what seems like very hard water due to a high mineral content. Not much going on here aside from this, but I can dig it.

Drinkability: At only 4.9% ABV, Victory Kühl Kölsch is a relativelys light beer and drinks as such. The mouthfeel is crisp and thin with a very smooth finish. There is some lingering aftertaste of wheat, though. Refreshing while in the mouth, but not especially lively while in it. A fine summertime beer.

Score: 7/10

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Southern Tier Choklat Oranj


4.3
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 18/20
Chad9976 (1414) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 25, 2015
If you know me you know Southern Tier Choklat is one of my all-time favorite beers (maybe tied with Founders KBS for the #1 slot). This year, they released a variation brew, made with orange peel called Choklat Oranj. I’ve had this both on tap and the bottle – I liked the draught version better, but the bottle is still pretty impressive.

I poured a 22oz bottle into the official Southern Tier Choklat snifter. The freshness date was illegible and it cost $9.49 ($0.43 per ounce).

Appearance: Opaque black body; no visible activity inside. Pours to a thumb-width, brown, foamy head which dissipates completely and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Huge milk chocolate and syrup aroma. Very sweet like a gourmet chocolate bar with a high percentage of cocoa. The orangepeel comes through as a more floral/herbal scent than citrusy. Odd.

Taste: Chocolate and orange are two flavors that indeed go together, it’s just that you don’t see them paired up too often (a Black IPA made with Amarillo hops, for example). Regular Choklat is such an excellent beer, would adding orange to it actual improve it? Well, no; but it does make it interesting and unique to say the least. Chocolate is, not surprisingly, the dominate flavor throughout this palette: rich, sweet milk chocolate as opposed to bitter dark chocolate. The orange is noticeable at first, though it’s subtle. It imparts a light spicy taste on the first half and then jumps out on the second half. What’s strange is that the orangepeel comes across as a slightly mint flavor rather than actual orange fruit or juice. There’s a fair amount of bitterness here so as to keep the palette well-balanced. Unfortunately, Southern Tier doesn’t list the specific malts and hops they used in the brew, but I would be curious to know what they are. All in all it’s a delectable brew, but not an improvement over the original.

Drinkability: Drinking a bomber of a 10% ABV beer in the middle of the summer can be challenging. Thankfully, I was able to get through all 22oz of Southern Tier Choklat Oranj without problem. Like any good imperial stout the mouthfeel is noticeably thick, slightly tepid, but in no way oily. There is a minor citrus acid character that’s accentuated by the alcohol. It leaves a bit of a dry aftertaste, but it’s quite tolerable.

NOTE: Per the recommendation on the brewery’s website, I scooped a bit of vanilla ice cream into my goblet to try a float. The beer seemed a bit more orange-flavored as the ice cream offset the chocolate. Eating the ice cream with a spoon out of the glass gave it a bit of a chocolate syrup flavor. A fun little experiment, but I wouldn’t recommend trying this with an entire glass of beer. Score: 9/10

Broken Bow Red Ale

2.6
   AROMA 4/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 5/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 11/20
Chad9976 (1413) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 25, 2015
Irish Red is one of my least favorite styles of beer in the spectrum. The only thing I dislike more is an Irish Red that’s gone bad, much like Broken Bow Red Ale. This is the second beer I’ve had from this brewery that’s been barely drinkable and sour (and not in a good way). 


I poured a 12oz can into a mug. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.45 ($0.20 per ounce).

Appearance: Initially, a rather dark but pretty red/auburn hue. It pours to a massive yellow soapy head and spastic carbonation is visible. Once I get the rest of the can in the glass it becomes extremely cloudy due to sediment.

Smell: A slight lacto tang is the first thing I detect. Eventually, I smell some malt aroma but it’s quite mild.

Taste: Anyone who knows beer knows that lacto only belongs in select styles like Berliner Weisse, Gose, etc. I highly doubt this is an intentionally soured beer so I can take an educated guess and say the sourness is due to either old age or poor sanitization at the brewery. It’s a shame because that tanginess actually kind of works in the beer’s favor. It actually is a bit reminiscent of a Flanders Red rather than an Irish Red. The usual dark malts are here, though they’re fairly mild. I do get a bit of a chocolaty taste on the finish, which would be nice if the lacto didn’t make the beer taste like I’m drinking it from a glass with dish soap still in it (I wasn’t). Perhaps this is nice on tap, but not so much out of the can.

Drinkability: I notice that beers that have intense and clearly visible carbonation tend to be crisp at first but die down quickly (e.g. every adjunct macro lager and malt liquor ever). That’s how Broken Bow Red Ale drinks, too. The mouthfeel is light and bubbly at first, but then becomes rather tepid and muddy. The sourness lingers on the tongue momentarialy, but otherwise finishes clean. Though 5.5% ABV isn’t that strong, there should be a lot more body and complexity than what’s here.

Score: 3/10

Friday, July 24, 2015

Top 10 Best Canned Beers to Bring to Saratoga Race Course (2015 edition)

Our beloved Saratoga Race Course opens for its annual summer session today, and for the third year in a row I’m here to tell you about 10 canned beers I recommend bringing to enjoy there (they let you bring in your own beer just as long as it’s in a can – no glass containers allowed).
Unlike previous years’ lists, I decided to make the eligibility for 2015 a bit more stringent as I’m abiding by the following rules:
iPhone 2014 (810)
Saratoga: the one time and place it's acceptable to drink craft beer straight from the can with a gaudy koozie.
  • No repeat entries from previous years’ lists
  • The beer must be readily available to buy in the Capital Region (e.g. you can walk into a beverage center or supermarket and buy it right now).
  • The beer should be reasonably light (preferably no more than 5% ABV), refreshing, and tasty enough for multiple servings.
  • The beer should be reasonably priced.
  • Only one entry per brewery allowed (not counting “comparable alternatives”).
  • Only one entry per specific/niche style allowed.
  • Macros are eligible.
  • A tie is allowed if two or more beers are extremely similar in style and quality.
  • Only beers I’ve actually had qualify for the list.
  • Ciders and alcopops are not eligible (they’re not beer, after all). However, shandies and radlers are eligible (I’m making an exception this year).
NOTE: All photos were taken by me at Westmere Beverage and Oliver's Brew Crew in Albany. Prices should be more or less the same at both stores.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Nine Pin Cider (6.7% ABV)
iphone 308
I just said cider isn’t eligible for this list, but I think it’s worth mentioning Nine Pin Cider for a few reasons. First of all, I’m no cider expert or connoisseur by any means, but I think they make the best cider I’ve ever had. Secondly, they’re a local company so I absolutely am a homer by plugging them here. Lastly, their cider is now available in slim 12oz cans (and they look great, too!). At 6.7% ABV, I wouldn’t recommend throwing back can after can, but I’m sure one serving will more than satisfy on a hot day at the track.
canned beers 025
When I’m outside in the sun and heat, the last thing I want is an insanely bitter beer and lots of hops to tear up my tongue. The only IPA I could possibly consider as an exception to this is Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin since the juiciness from the grapefruit is actually kind of refreshing for an IPA. But at 7% ABV I'd probably just have one and be content (I never understand the people that keep recommending Heady Topper - why would you want that much booze and hops outside in the sun? That's what session IPAs are for!) Also, I couldn't include it on the real list lest I violate my own "one beer per brewery" rule.

  1. Anderson Valley The Kimmie, The Yink and the Holy Gose Ale (4.2% ABV)Anderson Valley gose
Last year, Westbrook Gose was #2 on this list, but I haven’t seen many other beers of the style in cans. This is a no-frills brew with coriander and sea salt being the only flavoring additives. I don’t quite taste the fruity flavors the brewery mentions on their website, though there is an underlying and consistent lemon character here.  It’s also not quite as sour as most goses, which is fine by me.
COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVE: Sixpoint Jammer.

  1. Avery White Rascal (5.6% ABV)canned beers 007 (2)
Witbier is one of my favorite summer styles (and one of my favorite styles in general). When done right it can be amazingly delicious. When done well it’s still pretty good. Avery White Rascal falls into the latter category. A light wheaty body up front, but not especially sweet. The second half contains most of the flavor in the form of citrusy orangepeel and a light coriander spice. Not much in the way of hop flavor or bitterness. It’s a simple, repetitive palette and the taste never grows old. The mouthfeel is quite soft and smooth; you might even say creamy. It’s refreshing after every swig and leaves a clean aftertaste. I'm not sure I'd session this at 5.6%, though.
COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVE: Westbrook White Thai

  1. Stiegl Radler (4% ABV)
canned beers 011 (2)
Normally, I wouldn't include a radler or a shandy on this list, but Stiegl Radler is by far the best of those styles I've ever had. It's essentially like drinking alcoholic grapefruit soda. In fact, it would be easy to fool someone and tell them this isn’t even alcoholic at all. Certainly there’s no malt or hop presence that I can find. That’s okay, because this is delicious and refreshing and doesn’t carry the douchiness of an alcopop. The mouthfeel is light and crisp and the beer is refreshing every time it crosses the tongue. It leaves a clean aftertaste. I could easily throw back several of these, especially at that price!
  1. Two Roads No Limits Hefeweizen (5% ABV)iphone 305
Much like witbier, I’m baffled that more breweries don’t offer hefeweizens in cans. Truth be told, when I first tried this beer last year I wasn’t too crazy about it. However, I had the opportunity to visit the brewery this Spring and sample their entire lineup and came to appreciate just how good Two Roads’ beers really are. Here, you get the classic hefeweizen taste complete with banana bread aroma and flavor, though this also has a surprising amount of lemon character to it. The mouthfeel is calm and soft, though there’s noticeable carbonation vibration as it rolls across the tongue. I appreciate that it comes in 16oz cans as I could see this being refreshing straight from the container and it's nice to get a full pint for a change.
NOTE 1: The link above is to my original review which I will re-write sometime soon.
NOTE 2: Nearly all of Two Roads brews are available in both bottles and cans, but not all of their canned beers are available in this market. I also thoroughly enjoyed their Ol’ Factory Pils and Lil’ Heaven Session IPA – but you may not be able to find them in the Capital Region so I didn’t include them on this list.
  1. Upstate Brewing X.P.A. (4.6% ABV)iphone 304
This isn't quite a Session IPA, nor is it a standard American Pale Ale, but rather a pale ale where the hops are used more for flavor and aroma than bitterness. Up front there’s a light fruity flavor – apricot and peach especially. Through the middle I get a mild grassy/herbal character, which is a nice transition from beginning to end. It has a perfectly medium body with a fine amount of carbonation. Refreshing while in the mouth and goes down smooth. I’d think this would be a versatile brew: great for tailgating, sessioning, or pairing with traditional American food. Those tired of the Session IPA trend would do well to give this one a try.
  1. Firestone Walker Pivo Pils (5.3% ABV)iphone 303
I drank a lot of pilsners trying to find one to make this list. Most were okay, but none really dazzled me the way this one did. The malt character is classic with a combination of wheat and graham crackers with the Noble hops imparting a strong spicy sensation on the finish. Refreshing while in the mouth, it does leave a bit of a spicy/starchy aftertaste, though it fades rather quickly and is tolerable anyway. Perhaps a bit “big” at 5.3% ABV since that’s a bit too heavy to be considered a session beer by most drinkers. Still, no one is going to have a problem throwing back a few of these.
COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVES: Two Roads Ol’ Factory Pils; Cambridge Remain in Light; Snake River Monarch Pilsner; Konig Pilsener.
  1. Westbrook One Claw (5.5% ABV)Westbrook
Westbrook is fairly new to this area, and everything they've sold has been excellent. "One Claw" is probably my favorite standard American Pale Ale - and that's really saying something. From beginning to end there’s a strong hop flavor; a combination of herbal/earthy notes followed by a tropical fruit juice/citrusy flavor. There’s a spicy bitterness throughout this palette, balanced out well by the use of rye in the malt foundation. Light on the sweetness, but there are faint notes of lemon. I like how the hops re-emerge at the end and create for additional juicy flavor. This is a pale ale I could drink often without becoming bored. It's also nice to see a pale ale that's actually weighted like a pale ale at only 5.5% ABV. Between the flavor and the relatively light body, it's quite tempting to binge on this!
  1. Stillwater Yacht (4.2% ABV)canned beers 026
Light-bodied pale lagers don’t tend to have much flavor, but the taste of this palette jumps out at me immediately. A delicious combination of citrus fruit and peel with a touch of grassy notes in the background. A slight spicy sensation comes through the middle, but still light enough so as not to upstage or distract from the base brew. At only 4.2% ABV, Stillwater Yacht has the same amount of alcohol as all the BMC “lite” brews, yet it has so much more body, character, and actual enjoyability. Refreshing on every swig with a fairly clean aftertaste. This is one of the few session beers that could truly complement a savory meal.
  1. Newburgh Cream Ale (4.2% ABV)Newburgh Cream Ale (2)
Cream ale is a really underappreciated style. Probably because most breweries opt to make a lager-tasting beer as a cream ale. But when you find one that’s really refined, like Newburgh Cream Ale, it’s a special treat. There’s a lot of traditional pale malt flavor plus specialty malt sweetness. Notes of butterscotch and caramel as well as the authentic cereal graininess. Lemony is the most dominate characteristic – not quite citrusy, more of lemonpeel or zest. Maybe even a hint of witbier-like coriander or other spice. And yet, this beer has that “je sais se quois” cream ale distinction. It finishes clean and is refreshing across the tongue. And at only 4.2% ABV it’s got a surprising amount of taste for such a light brew.
  1. Ballast Point Even Keel (3.8% ABV)Ballast Point Even Keel 002
I never get tired of trying a new “Session IPA,” because every brewery takes such a different approach to the style. It’s amazing how many different flavor profiles are capable of being brewed and how some are so vastly superior to others. I think this may be one of the best of this latest trend in brewing innovation because of its delectable taste, complex palette, and easy drinkability.
Hops obviously are at the forefront with a citrusy flavor to start out. It’s slightly dry and spicy (think lemon or orange peel instead of the fruits themselves). Through the middle it becomes a little earthy and herbal – very much in the European pilsner tradition. The malt base is, not surprisingly, light; however it is genuine with an amber/Vienna influence. A slight hop bite as it goes down, but it keeps perfectly with the rest of the body.
At only 3.8% ABV, Ballast Point Even Keel is indeed a light beer, though it still has genuine body to it. The mouthfeel is consistently crisp and well-carbonated, though I’d be lying if I said it didn’t seem a little watery at times. Nevertheless, it is extremely quaffable and refreshing while in the mouth. The hops linger momentarily, but fade eventually. That it comes in cans is the cherry on top since this is exactly what you want in a portable beer.
COMPARABLE ALTERNATIVES: Two Roads Lil’ Heaven Session IPA; Bronx Session IPA; Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA.

So that’s my 2015 list. I still stand by most of my recommendations from 2013 and 2014, though (there are some I regret, in retrospect). If you’re wondering why Beer X didn’t appear on this list maybe it made it in years prior. In fact, I’ll just list all those beers here:

Anderson Valley Summer Solstice
Bitburger Premium Pils
Blanche de Bruxelles
Brooklyn Summer Ale
Bronx Pale Ale
Butternuts Heinnieweisse
Caldera Pale Ale
Evil Twin Bikini Beer
Founders All Day IPA
Genesee Bock
Harpoon UFO White
Magic Hat #9
Narragansett Summer Ale
Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager
Sixpoint Apollo
Sixpoint The Crisp
Sixpoint Rad
Stillwater Classique
Tecate
Trader Joe’s Name Tag Lager
Upstate Brewing Common Sense
Westbrook Gose
Yuengling
Yuengling Light

ICYMI:
Top 10 best canned beers to bring to Saratoga Race Course (2014 edition)
Top 10 best canned beers to bring to Saratoga Race Course (2013 edition)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Baxter Summer Swelter Ale


3.1
   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1412) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 23, 2015
“Interesting” is a term I often use to describe a beer, though it should not misinterpreted as a synonym for “good.” Baxter Summer Swelter Ale is a good example of what I mean: brewed with lemon and lime flavors it has one of the most unique palettes I’ve encountered in a summer seasonal. That being said, it’s still only an average beer at best. 


I poured a 12oz can into a mason jar. It was canned on 3/24/15 and cost $2.80 ($0.23 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark golden color but extremely hazy in complexion. Visible particulates floating in suspension along with carbonation bubbles are visible. Pours to a two-finger, white, soapy head which mostly dissipates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Fairly strong lemon scent along with caramel candy or yellow lollipop. Akin to an herb garden; very earthy though not especially strong-smelling.

Taste: There are certain beers that start off tasting good or even great, but the more I drink the less I like. That law of diminishing returns was happening here. The first swigs were interesting: a lightly sweet, almost candy-like taste up front with a very spicy/herbal flavor on the finish. This beer is made with lemon and lime peels, Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass and all these additives are certainly noticeable. Some swigs remind me of zucchini bread, others are akin to lemon poppy seed muffin. Eventually, I begin to taste some capsaicin-like heat and spice. The contrast between the sweet malt and citrusy spices is interesting, confusing, impressive and a little annoying. I can’t really tell if I like this or not. That’s neither a slam nor an endorsement, but more of a shrug.

Drinkability: Since this is marketing itself as a summer beer it’d better drink like a summer beer. I will say that Baxter Summer Swelter Ale is indeed light-bodied and crisp, though refreshing it is not. The flavors linger on the tongue momentarily, but do eventually fade (though there’s a slight aftertaste of starch). At 4.7% ABV it’s got a lot of flavor for a relatively light weight, though I think most of that is simply from spices. This might be fun to drink with a spicy meal in the summer, but it wouldn’t work as a quaffable refresher.

Score: 5/10

Abita Seersucker Summer Pils

3.6
   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1411) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 23, 2015
I don’t think Abita Seersucker Summer Pils is supposed to be a hardcore traditional German pilsner, though it’s not especially American, either. It’s got all the makings of a good pilsner as far as taste and drinkability go. 


I poured a 12oz can into a pilsner glass. It had a best by date of 9/30/15 and cost $2.50 ($0.21 per ounce).

Appearance: Banana skin yellow color; slightly hazy body but carbonation is visible. Pours to an average sized, white, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Rather muted nose with only faint notes of pilsner malt and a little bit of citrusy hops.

Taste: Pilsners aren’t typically sweet, though there’s nothing inherently wrong with one that is. I found the palette here to be less spicy than your average German-style pils. It seems to opt for lemon-smelling and tasting hops even though they’re from Germany. The base malt is pretty much standard, with a bit of a bready or biscuity character not found in beers of the style. It’s fairly bitter even though it’s only 35 IBUs. It opts for dry lemon zest instead of spicy peppercorn. I notice a remarkable sweetness on the backend reminiscent of caramel, which is interesting for sure.

Drinkability: While Abita Seersucker Summer Pils isn’t the best-tasting beer in the world, I found myself going downing my glass rather quickly. A fairly light body that’s consistently crisp and refreshing with a clean aftertaste. At only 4.8% ABV I could easily make the case for this being a session beer. This will (and does) work well as a summer seasonal.

Score: 7/10

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chatham Go Long

3.7
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1410) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 22, 2015
I haven’t been the biggest fan of Chatham Brewing, which is ironic since they’re a fairly local brewery to me. Their new session IPA – “Go Long” – is a winner, though. While not the best example of the style it is well-balanced and highly drinkable. 


I poured a 12oz can into a mug. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.99 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark hazy shade of copper; no visible carbonation. Pours to a two-finger, white, foamy head which laces and retains well.

Smell: Lovely citrus pith scent with piney notes as well.

Taste: The palette begins with a lot of West Coast notes: grapefruit and orange citrus flavors are noticeable right away. It then transitions to something Eastern immediately with a surprisingly strong amber malt presence and light spicy/piney hop character on the finish. There’s a bit of an English character here with a slight toasty/marmalade flavor that’s quite prominent for a session IPA – reminiscent of an ESB. I do detect a slight off-flavor somewhere on the back end; it’s difficult to describe though it is rather subtle and not too distracting. Otherwise, I find this to be a well-rounded brew that’s rather unique for a SIPA.

Drinkability: Once again I am not entirely sure of the ABV as it’s not listed on the label (wouldn’t that be a selling point of all Session IPAs?!). My sources peg it at 4.5%, which seems rather low as this has the body of something closer to 5 or higher. If it is 4.5 it’s certainly impressive since it’s not paper thin or watery. There’s a light crisp sensation to the mouthfeel, and the hop bite is enough to make itself known though it mostly fades away leaving just a mild starchy aftertaste. A little refreshing while in the mouth, though I wouldn’t consider Chatham Go Long to be a refreshing beer per se. It works as a SIPA, though.

Score: 7/10

Stiegl Radler Grapefruit

3.9
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1409) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 22, 2015
I’m not a huge fan of shandies and radlers since they taste so much like alcopops (flavored malt beverages) that I don’t really consider them to be real, true beer. That’s not usually a problem since most of these beverages I don’t particularly like because they’re overly sweet or just faux-tasting. But in the case of Stiegl Radler I’m torn because it actually is really tasty and fun to drink. I guess I can make an exception for this one. 


I poured a 500ml can into a large mug. A four-pack cost $8.99 ($2.25 per can or $0.13 per ounce). The fresh code was indecipherable (what does 03735 mean?).

Appearance: Nearly identical to lemonade: pale yellow hue with extreme cloudiness. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which evaporates quickly and leaves no lacing. No carbonation visible.

Smell: Akin to real grapefruit, this seems totally authentic. Perhaps a little sweeter than the real fruit, though (it’s made with grapefruit soda, after all, not fresh-squeezed juice).

Taste: I’ve never had grapefruit soda, but from what I can tell, this beer is comprised 40% of lager and 60% of grapefruit soda. It seems closer to a 10/90 ratio since I get next to no lager character or other “beer” flavor here. The grapefruit taste completely dominates the palette, but it’s remarkably tasty and in no way cloying. Light tartness up fruit with real grapefruit taste which becomes stronger throughout the swig. There’s a taste of real juiciness as it finishes and a pleasant dry tart sensation in the finish. It would be easy to fool someone and tell them this isn’t even alcoholic at all. Certainly there’s no malt or hop presence that I can find. That’s okay, because this is delicious and refreshing and doesn’t carry the douchiness of an alcopop.

Drinkability: There must be an export version of Stiegl Radler that we get in the USA since the can mentions a 3.2% alcohol by weight (or 4% alcohol by volume). Most websites indicate a 2% ABV, but this is clearly stronger than that. Although I will say it certainly drinks that easy. The mouthfeel is light and crisp and the beer is refreshing every time it crosses the tongue. It leaves a clean aftertaste. I could easily throw back several of these on a hot summer’s day – especially at this price!

Score: 8/10

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Avery White Rascal


3.7
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1408) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 21, 2015
Witbier is one of my favorite summer styles (and one of my favorite style, period for that matter). When done right it can be amazingly delicious. When done well it’s still pretty good. Avery White Rascal falls into the latter category. A solid, to-spec Belgian White for sure, but not an amazing one. 


I poured a 12oz can into a goblet. It was canned on 6/22/15 and cost $2.95 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Classic pale yellow hue with translucent body. Not carbonation is visible, nor is sediment. Pours to a large, white, pillowy head which laces and retains beautifully.

Smell: A light fruity aroma of bananas and orangepeel with some floral notes. Not quite as pungent as I’d prefer, though.

Taste: There are certain flavor components I expect and want in a witbier and this has them all. A light wheaty body up front, but with not especially sweet (nor tart). The second half contains most of the flavor in the form of citrusy orangepeel and a light coriander spice. Not much in the way of hop flavor or bitterness. It’s a simple, repetitive palette and the taste never grows old; my only complaint is that it’s a little too mild. I’d think a fresh can like this would be bold and peppery, but it’s surprisingly tame. This would make a great starter witbier, though.

Drinkability: A beer like Avery White Rascal is exactly what I want in the warmer months. It’s refreshing after every swig and leaves a clean aftertaste. The mouthfeel is quite soft and smooth – almost creamy, though it also feels a bit watery and under-carbonated. I’d prefer more zesty Belgian effervescence (which is more common in bottle-conditioned brews). It doesn’t seem to quite take full advantage of its 5.6% ABV, as this feels like something in the sub-5% range. I’m sure no one will have a problem putting back a couple of these.

Score: 7/10

Monday, July 20, 2015

Smuttynose Vunderbar!

3.3
   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1407) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 20, 2015
I doubt anyone other than BJCP sticklers will care, but Smuttynose Vunderbar! Seems to be an attempt at a German/Czech pilsner hybrid. The name and marketing clearly indicates a German heritage, but the use of Saaz hops is indicative of a Bohemian (Czech) style. There’s also American malt in here as well. Whatever it is they’re going for, this is only an okay pilsner by my measure. It’s not that I’m a style purist, just that I don’t find a lot to enjoy here. 


I poured a 12oz can into a pilsner glass. It had a best by date of 9/5/15 and cost $2.60 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale gold hue to bright yellow. Cloudy body but fine carbonation is always visible. Pours to an average-sized, white, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Very faint nose with only trace amount of the usual pilsner scent. Virtually odorless, otherwise.

Taste: Pilsners and pale lagers tend to have a certain base taste to them and that’s mostly what I’m getting here. Try as I might, I cannot find a lot of unique characteristics. A light taste of pale malt throughout the majority of the palette with only a bit of spicy hop sensation on the finish. I pick up minor lemonpeel and other spicy character as well, but again – it’s entirely too faint to appreciate. I will say there are absolutely no off-flavors or flaws and what I do taste is fine, I just need so much more.

Drinkability: Pilsner should be light and refreshing and Smuttynose Vunderbar! is both. The mouthfeel is thin, but not watery; though it did seem just a tad under carbonated to me. At 4.9% ABV it’s easily sessionable for more drinkers as it’s refreshing on the palate and finishes clean. A little more flavor and it would be more than just a thirst quencher.

Score: 5/10

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Baxter Pamola Xtra Pale Ale

3.2
   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 13/20
Chad9976 (1406) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 19, 2015
The thing about pale ales and IPAs is that when they age they tend to turn into amber ales which are more malty than hoppy. I’m inclined to believe this is what happened to my can of Baxter Pamola Xtra Pale Ale – not a bad beer, just probably an old specimen. 


I poured a 12oz can into a flared snifter. The freshness date was illegible and it cost $2.95 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Slightly rusty copper/dark golden hue. Fairly clear with noticeable haze and fine carbonation is visible. Pours to a small, off-white, foamy head which never completely dissipates and leaves a fair amount of lacing.

Smell: Sweet caramel maltiness with just a hint of piney hops.

Taste: If I were drinking this beer blind I’d probably assume it was an amber ale as it has all the makings of one: sweet caramel and toffee malt flavors along with some orange marmalade and toast. The hops are reserved (though, they’ve probably just faded from age). There is a bit of a lollipop and butterscotch flavor as well – usually indicative of age and/or diacetyl. Only the faintest trace of earthy hops on the finish. There’s probably a good brew in here somewhere, but it doesn’t know how to get out. Some modifications to the recipe would help I’m sure.

Drinkability: Looking the statistics on the can: 4.9% ABV and 27.5 IBUs, I went into Baxter Pamola Xtra Pale Ale thinking it was a Session pale ale, but if it is, it really doesn’t drink as such. The mouthfeel is rather tepid and slightly slick. It’s not especially refreshing while in the mouth, though I does finish clean. I expected more from this.

Score: 5/10

Cambridge Remain in Light


3.7
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1405) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 19, 2015
There are two prominent styles of pilsner: Czech and German. Though, according to the BJCP there is a third style: Classic American. Beers of this type are allowed to use adjuncts and pretty much any hops they want, but so few breweries actually make them. Cambridge Remain in Light is a good example of what can be done with the style as it has the basic makings of a pilsner, but uses different hops and a bit of rice to change it up a bit. It doesn’t define or re-invent the style, however it does demonstrate what else can be done with it. 


I poured a 12oz can into a pilsner glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.65 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale lemon skin yellow color; mostly clear body with light fogginess but carbonation is always clearly visible. Pours to a large, white, soapy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Spicy European hops are noticeable as it slight graham cracker sweetness; mild overall though.

Taste: A light spicy hop character right away. Not as intense as many Continental pilsners, though it’s not of modern American citrus or pine flavor. A bit of a graham cracker sweetness through the middle followed by a light lemony zest on the finish and sweetness in the aftertaste. The rice adjunct is not nearly as prominent as in macro brews, though it does give the palette a bit of a cereal taste. I like the hop selection (Styrian Goldings; Saaz and Hallertau); though I suspect either this is an old can or they’re used sparingly as this is not quite as intense as other pilsners (nor does it live up to the “hoppy pilsner” hyperbole on the label). This works fine as a standard pale lager or no-frills American pilsner. Approach it as such and you won’t be disappointed.

Drinkability: The name – “Remain in Light” is both a pun and a marketing gimmick. Though I don’t think any beer that comes in at 5% ABV can be considered light by anyone (“sessionable” is another story). This brew does have the light body and crisp mouthfeel you expect in want in a “light” beer (whatever that means). Refreshing while in the mouth and mostly clean aftertaste. It seems to be a little inefficient as it feels closer to a sub-4.5% weight. Can’t the brewery drop it down to that without losing anything?

Score: 7/10