Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lagunitas DayTime


4.2
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1157) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 20, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 7/23/14 and cost $3.20 ($0.27 per ounce).

Appearance: Pale lager-like white gold hue over a mostly clear body. Spastic effervescence clearly visible. Pours to a three-finger, white, fluffy head that retains and laces extremely well.

Smell: Huge dank resin and tropical fruit juice concentrate. Very sweet and inviting.

Taste: There seems to be a formula to the “Session IPA,” yet some breweries hit it out of the park and others strike out. Lagunitas DayTime is definitely is one of the former as it has both great taste and complexity – qualities you don’t tend to get in a small brew like this.

Many session IPAs tend to taste like hoppy water, but this one has a genuine malt foundation to it. Light, pilsner-like malts with just a hint of smokiness or bready character. The hops are quite prominent to say the least. A strong spicy sensation at first with herbal characteristics. They transition to something earthier, like pine needles through the middle and finish with a classic lemony citrusy flavor on the finish. Usually, this type of palette would grow old quick, but in this case it works perfectly.

Drinkability: This beer does exactly what it’s supposed to do: deliver big flavor while still being refreshing and sessionable. The mouthfeel is thin and crisp, but always smooth going down and leaves nary an aftertaste (maybe a hint of lemon peel). At 4.65% ABV it’s definitely in the session-able range for most people, though considering how good it tastes and easy it drinks, I doubt many people will have a problem throwing back a few of these (if only it came in cans!). 
Grade: 9/10

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

White Birch Small Batch Ale: Sour Brown


4.5
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 10/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1156) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 19, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 4/17/14 and cost $5 ($0.42 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark blood red/brownish hue. Initially pours to a two-finger, tan, foamy head, but it mostly evaporates and leaves little lacing on the glass.

Smell: Classic sour nose from the bacteria, but with distinct brown ale sweetness.

Taste: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m more impressed when new breweries can make an awesome sour than by their imperial IPA or stout. I’ve tried most of White Birch’s lineup and found it to be pretty good across the board, but their sours have been nothing short of fantastic. I think the Small Batch Sour Brown might be the best of them. It’s a robust brown ale at the core and it really comes through in the taste. It’s a delicious combination of genuine brown ale and the allure of sour.

The sour flavor is, not surprisingly, the first thing I notice about the palette. It’s not quite as intense as some others, though it is far from being described as mildly sour. Slight vinegar notes, though the acidity really comes through. The rich brown ale brew is in no way obscured. I get notes of chocolate, brown sugar, vanilla and maybe a hint of coffee all through the middle. Additional sourness on the backend with a slight berry or fruity-like addition to the palette. Adding black currants to this would make it a masterpiece.

Drinkability: Sours are like a cold swimming pool: abrasive at first but once you get used to it you’re fine. That’s especially true here. White Birch Small Batch Ale Sour Brown starts out as sipper, but halfway through the glass I was able to drink it in bigger gulps. The mouthfeel is calm and smooth, though it finishes almost a little too clean. The 6% ABV is perfect: light enough to keep it tame, but strong enough so as not to slug it down like juice. 
Grade: 10/10

Monday, August 18, 2014

Saranac High Peaks Single Malt Scotch Ale


4
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1155) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 18, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 4/20/14.

Appearance: Beautiful copper/amber hue over a clear body with plenty of carbonation visible. Pours to a small, off-white, soapy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Sweet nose of berries, stone fruit and confectionery toppings.

Taste: I first tried Saranac High Peaks Single Malt Scotch Ale at the 2014 TAP New York beer fest and thought it was one of the best I had tried all weekend. That was about four months ago, so I was eager to sit down at home and try it from the bottle on a clean palate. Though it’s not a bad beer at all, it’s nearly as impressive as I remember it being. It doesn’t seem to have any Scotch whisky and/or barrel character, but rather drinks as a solid Scotch Ale or maybe even a “barleywine lite.”

Right away the palette of this beer introduces a refined sweetness. Caramel and toffee seem to be the prominent flavors with subtle notes of cherry, strawberry and fig lurking in the background. Not much in the way of smokiness as found in most Scotch Ales, though there is just the faintest hint of vanilla or wood from the barrel. The alcohol is also quite tame, imparting just a slight rum-like flavor. Overall, it’s a delectable brew to be sure, albeit not an outstanding one.

Drinkability: I drank this beer quite warm and was surprised by how comfortable it was in the mouth. Despite the 9% ABV weight, there’s little to no heat; nor does Saranac High Peaks Single Malt Scotch Ale have any kind of hefty, obese character to it. The mouthfeel is calm, soft and smooth with a relatively clean finish – not sticky/cloying aftertaste. 
Grade: 8/10

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale (2014 re-review)


3.6
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1154) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 17, 2014
I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a goblet. It appears to have been bottled in September of 2013 and cost $5.04 ($0.45 per ounce).

Appearance: A washed out pinkish-red hue over an opaque body. Pours to an average-sized, white, foamy head which retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Light fruit notes, especially berries. Nothing particularly distinctive.

Taste: Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale is a rather unique brew by the Kiuchi Brewery of Japan. It seems to have a simple recipe of just two-row with red rice and flaked barley used as adjuncts. The only hop is Chinook. This of course makes it difficult to classify, style-wise, though it’s also a challenge to describe and critique the flavor since it’s not something I or more beer drinkers are used to. I do enjoy the originality for sure. There’s a light fruit flavor throughout this palette, similar to strawberry or pomegranate, though I would not consider it “juicy” per se. I’ve no idea what red rice tastes like, and my only frame of reference for rice in beer would be Budweiser. Thankfully, this tastes nothing like that. It’s an interesting brew to say the least, and I find absolutely no off-flavors nor technical flaws even though this bottle may be about a year old. The hops are nowhere to be found, but since the overall palette is still plenty delectable, it’s forgivable.

Drinkability: I was rather surprised to see the 7% ABV on the bottle label, as this beer doesn’t have the robustness nor the body of such a strong brew (seems more like 5% to me). However, the deliver is pleasant: the mouthfeel is well-carbonated, but not fizzy, with a smooth texture and easy quaffability. Not much in the aftertaste, either, which is also fine by me. 
Grade: 7/10

Here's me and Henry's video review from 2010:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stone Double Bastard Ale (2010 vintage)


4.3
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1153) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 16, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was dated as a 2010 release and cost $6.99 ($0.32 per ounce).

Appearance: An ugly rusty brown/brick red hue over a completely opaque body. Pours to a three-finger, ivory, frothy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Extremely sweet aroma of confectionery flavors and some alcohol.

Taste: I’ve never been a big fan of Stone’s “Bastard” series, as I tend to find them too abrasive for their own good (except Oaked Arrogant Bastard, which is perfectly balanced). Double Bastard tends to be the beefiest of them all, not surprisingly. I set this bottle aside in the basement nearly four years ago and had forgotten about until recently. With some age on it, this beer has become quite different from the hop bomb I remember. It’s very sweet, but not cloying, and is now well-balanced since the hops have faded.

If I were drinking this blind I could confuse it for a strong English-style barleywine. Huge confectionery notes are present right off the rip: toffee, caramel, peanut brittle, and butterscotch. Additional complexity through the middle with notes of red and black cherries. The hops still maintain some bitterness, but are not nearly as dry and astringent as they are fresh. Slight earthy/smoky/piney flavors through the middle with just a touch of bitterness. It finishes as it starts, but with some warming (and complementary) alcohol flavor and sensation. Overall, it’s a delectable beer, though not quite a mind-blower.

Drinkability: One of the reasons I’m not a fan of fresh Double Bastard is because it’s difficult to drink it in anything bigger than a tiny sip. With four years of age under its belt, it’s a different world. The mouthfeel is thick, calm, soft and smooth. The alcohol is subtle and leaves a gentle warming sensation. There’s a residual aftertaste of malty sweetness and minor dry bitterness, but it’s easily tolerable. Even at 11.2% ABV, this is no longer a beastly brew and I can handle the entire 22oz bomber myself. 
Grade: 9/10
Check out my 2010 review here:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lawson's Finest Liquids Knockout Blonde Ale


3.7
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1152) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 15, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $8.04 ($0.37 per ounce).

Appearance: Bright, lemon yellow hue over a hazy body. Large sediment particles can be seen floating in suspension. Pours to a large, white, foamy head which retains and laces well.

Smell: Clean lemony scent plus some spicy/herbal character as well.

Taste: The golden ale/blonde ale style is probably my least favorite in all of Beerdom. It’s a deliberately bland style, so it’s difficult to find one that’s interesting and flavorful. And while Lawson’s Finest Liquids Knockout Blonde Ale isn’t exactly a masterpiece, I will say it’s probably the best blonde ale I’ve ever had.

This doesn’t truly seem to conform to the “blonde ale” style, anyway. There’s a strong hop presence here (“copious amounts” of Columbus and Centennial hops, according to the label). Much like the appearance and aroma, there’s a lemony citrus zestiness to be found. Not juicy or tart like lemon fruit, but drier and spicier like lemon peel. There’s an underlying herbal flavor as well (green tea), not quite as intense as Mosaic hops, but strong enough to notice. The malt component is, not surprisingly, mild and nondescript. Reminds me of a pale wheat ale (another boring style I dislike). Still, there’s nothing off-putting about this palette whatsoever. The hops definitely make it an interesting brew.

Drinkability: At 5% ABV, Lawson’s Finest Liquids Knockout Blonde Ale is caught in the middle of two worlds. It’s got plenty of body and flavor for a relatively “strong” beer, but at the same time it’s just a bit too heavy for what it’s going for. A tad too bitter to be truly refreshing, even though it finishes clean. I could see this recipe being reworked well as a session IPA or a true pale ale. But as an easy-drinking blonde it’s perfect for the summer. 
Grade: 7/10

Thursday, August 14, 2014

White Birch Small Batch: Ned the Red


4.2
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1151) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 14, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It was bottled on 5/1/14 and cost $5 ($0.42 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful shade of ruby red or maroon. Pours to a thin layer of yellowish, soapy foam which fizzles away quickly like a soda and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Strong aroma of wild yeast and a general funky/earthy character.

Taste: When a new brewery makes an awesome stout or IPA that’s impressive, but what’s even more impressive is when they make a great sour ale. Working with wild yeast and bacteria is a science and an art, which shouldn’t be trifled with by amateurs. Fortunately, White Birch’s “Ned the Red” – part of their Small Batch Ale series – drinks like a sour made by seasoned veterans.

Despite the red color, this beer is not actually made with any fruit. It’s probably brewed in the Flanders Red style, though it might be more accurately classified as an American wild ale. The flavor components are classic for the style: intense tartness right away with candy-like sourness immediately thereafter. In fact, those are pretty much the only two flavors here, but damn if they aren’t delicious. A closer inspection reveals hints of vinegar, red wine, and wood from the barrel. Was this aged in red wine barrels? Neither the bottle nor the website provides that information. Regardless, it’s a tasty sour done right.

Drinkability: Sours tend to be pretty big beers, and at 6.5% ABV, Ned the Red is somewhere between light and medium-bodied (for a sour). The mouthfeel is a bit tepid, calm, and smooth. I would not describe it as flat or slick, though. The sour and tart components to the palette are quite intense, so drinking this in more than a sip at a time is challenging. Though in this case I think sipping and savoring it is the right way to approach it. 
Grade: 9/10

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sebago Hop Swap


4.4
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1150) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 13, 2014
I poured a 12oz bottle into a goblet. It appears to have been bottled on 5/11/14 and cost $3 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Golden/light orange hue over a hazy body. Pours to a small, white, soapy head which mostly dissipates, but does leave plenty of lacing on the glass.

Smell: Dank resiny earthy character, plus some herbs and a touch of orange citrus.

Taste: There’s definitely a “je na sais quois” character to a lot of IPAs coming out of the New England states. They’ve got a little of everything: tropical fruit; spices; and pine. Though there’s still sub-genres even within this niche style. Sebago Brewing Company’s 2014 Hop Swap is a good example of what I mean since it tends to lean more toward the traditional “East Coast style” IPA with a rustic, earthy approach, but still has that New England-style character.

The malt bill to this beer is quite interesting as it uses two English specialty malts in addition to “flaked barley” (Two-row is the base malt). It’s not particularly sweet, but there’s enough malty backbone to give the palette a consistency instead of being simply carbonated hop water. As for the hops, well, there’s plenty of those. Dank, resiny pine flavor is prominent from start to finish as well as a strong - but not overbearing – bitterness. A crisp hop bite at the crest of the swig followed by slight herbal/earthy (green tea, tree bark) flavor on the back end. Slightly dry in the aftertaste, but it fades quickly. Overall, a very delicious taste that’s consistently fun and enjoyable to drink.

Drinkability: Sebago Hop Swap has the robustness of a hefty brew, but the body itself does not. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but always crisp and leaves no cloying aftertaste. It’s got a ton of flavor for 6.7% ABV, maybe even a little more than you’d expect. 
Grade: 9/10

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine IPA


4.4
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1149) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 12, 2014
I poured a 22oz bottle into a mug. It was bottled on 7/17/14 and cost $9.04 ($0.41 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark golden hue over a very hazy body. Pours to a large, white, foamy head which laces and retains well.

Smell: Pungent aroma of tropical fruit juices, citrus, and an herbal scent.

Taste: It’s been a while since I’ve had a beer from Lawson’s Finest Liquids, though I definitely remember the “New England-style IPA” character that comes with their IPAs. Sip of Sunshine definitely revived my memory as soon as it hit my lips. A strong taste of hop flavor and strong bitterness with accompanying herbal spiciness.

The malt base is strong, but simple. Kind of a standard amber/caramel/honey malt character that’s not especially sweet or distinctive. The hops are the star of the show, of course. I’m guessing Mosaic hops are used here as there’s both a tropical/ stone fruit flavor as well as slight garlic/onion sensation on the back end. The palette is a bit repetitive, which is fine since it’s so enjoyable. This what I expect in a DIPA, and this brew definitely satisfies.

Drinkability: For a big, 8% ABV beer, Sip of Sunshine IPA is actually remarkably drinkable. The mouthfeel is soft, calm, and comfortable with a finish to match. Virtually no alcohol presence, despite the strong body. There’s no dry or cloying aftertaste, it’s actually quite clean (but I would not consider it refreshing). 
Grade: 9/10

Monday, August 11, 2014

Maine Beer King Titus


4.5
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1148) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 11, 2014
I poured a 500ml bottle into a tulip glass. I was bottled on 7/22/14 and cost $6 ($0.36 per ounce).

Appearance: Opaque midnight black body. Pours to a huge, dark tan, frothy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Fairly typical porter aroma of dark malt with significant sweetness. A hint of dairy.

Taste: There’s a certain je na sais quois quality to the Robust Porter style, and Maine Beer Company’s “King Titus” not only has that quality, but seems to exemplify it. I’ve had many beers in the style before, but this just might the best. It’s got everything a great porter should have: plenty of dark malt character and sweetness with some roasted barley flavor along with significant, but restrained, hop bitterness.

Right away there’s a deep sensation of dark malty wort; milk chocolate, oats, a hint of black cherry. The flaked oats are quite noticeable here, and probably account for the milk chocolate flavors, and give it a light sweetness that’s not cloying. Hops are quite strong as well. A dry bitterness that rides shotgun from beginning to end, but really makes itself known right on the finish. A delicious combination of slight herbal/earthy hop flavor and bittersweet chocolate and roasted malt. In fact, it’s probably a little overly-hopped for the style, but Maine Beer seems to like their brews that way. The result is a versatile palette that works great as a standalone beverage, with a savory meal, or with (or as) dessert.

Drinkability: As delicious as the taste is here, what really seals the deal is the drinkability. The mouthfeel is thick, but not sticky or cloying. There’s calmness to the body, though it’s in no way flat. The silky smooth texture makes it almost ridiculously easy to get down. At 7.5% ABV it’s the best of both worlds: the robustness of a big, beefy brew but without any obese, boozy qualities. 
Grade: 10/10

Top 10 beers that aren't in cans but should be

Last week’s blog about the best canned beers to bring to Saratoga got me thinking – what bottled beers would I most like to drink from a can? So I decided to put together yet another Top 10 list to generate discussion.
I’ll admit that this list is something of a pipe dream. Some of these beers probably never will be canned in our lifetimes for several reasons:
  • Certain breweries’ commitment to traditional brewing techniques (i.e. certain breweries’ curmudgeonly nature and refusal to change).
  • The brewery would make less profit on a six-pack of cans rather than a standalone large bottle or four-pack of bottles.
  • The brewery would have to spend a lot of money to install a canning line.

But times change, and successful businesses adapt to market trends and consumer demands;  so let’s hope these breweries will heed the call for evolution.
As per usual, the standard rules apply when I compile a Top 10 list:
  • Only one entry per brewery.
  • Only beers I’ve actually had qualify for the list (it is a subjective, personal list, after all).
  • The beer must be sold in the Capital Region and be readily accessible (or reasonably so).
  • Macros are eligible.
  • Ties are allowed if they’re of the same style.
Special criteria for this list:
  • Because of the portability and durability of cans, I am placing a bit more emphasis on drinkability than I normally would. Most of the beers on this list would be nearly as enjoyable when drank from the can as they would be when poured into a glass. So I’m not simply listing the greatest bottled beers on the market.
  • People who aren’t beer enthusiasts seem to find craft beer in a can more appealing for whatever reason. Some of the beers listed are included specifically for their mainstream appeal.
  • Ideally “every beer ever made” would comprise the entire list, but that’s kind of a lame cop-out.
NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs were taken by me.

10. Lindemans Lambics

lindemanslambics
Hannah Meeker on pinterest.com

I sometimes think of lambics (or other fruity beers) as the beer lover’s equivalent of an alcopop since the fruit flavor dominates the palette so much. And Lindemans line of lambics in particular are often scoffed at as being something of poser lambics among the craft beer world since they use a ton of added sugar and “natural flavors.” But dang it, they just taste so good! Most every non-beer drinker I’ve ever had try a Lindemans lambic has always enjoyed it (some people just don’t like sour and tart flavors, though). Most of these beers are very low in alcohol, somewhere between 2.5 and 4% ABV. Imagine having the ability to take cans of them to the beach, or the park or any other outdoorsy social setting. It’s something your wine drinking friends would probably enjoy as well.

9. New England Brewing’s Imperial Stout Trooper
 Imperial Stout Trooper
This would seem to be an easy addition to this list. Oskar Blues’ Ten Fidy shows that you can indeed put a big imperial stout in a can without issue (it’s probably the best beer available in cans around here, IMO). New England Brewing already cans several beers in their regular rotation like Gandhi-Bot, Sea Hag, and 668: The Neighbor of the Beast; so why not can this beer as well? I’d think that Star Wars-spoofing label would look equally as funny wrapped around a 12oz can as on a 500ml bottle.

8. Dogfish Head Festina Pêche
source: brewchief.com
brewchief.com
Sour beers are definitely en vogue these days, yet there are hardly any available in cans. That’s odd, because low gravity beers of the Gose and Berliner Weisse styles would seem ideal for the can presentation. A refreshing fruity wheat beer with a sour/tart edge to it like Festina Pêche would be exactly the kind of beer to slurp from a can while doing something outdoorsy in the warmer months.

7. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
photo by  John Setzler on flickr.com
John Setzler on flickr.com
There are a few reasons to include this beer on the list: it’s delicious; it’s super smooth; it’s only 5% ABV and fairly sessionable; it’s versatile; and it’s a great example of an authentic English ale. However, I’m including it for the fact that it would be the craft beer response to Newcastle Brown Ale which tries to pass itself off as craft even though it’s made by Heineken. Imagine if the average “Newkie” drinker was to pick this up – wouldn’t they be amazed at the difference? I’m not saying Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale could realistically compete with Newcastle, but it’d be nice to have the option.

6. Orval

merchantduvin.com
merchantduvin.com
Of all the beers on this list, Orval is probably the least likely to ever be canned. I include it mostly for geeky fanboy reasons; I mean, how cool would it be to have a Trappist beer in a can? Orval has a clean, refreshing palette with notes of white grape, green apples, and a dry finish. It’s a Belgian Pale Ale fermented with a strain of Brettanomyces yeast that gives it a slight tartness and a funky character. Drinking this from a can would just be a fun thing to do.

5. Jack’s Abby Jabby Brau
 Jack's Abby Jabby Brau 001
There’s certainly no shortage of lagers available in cans, which is why this is the only one I included on the list. While Jack’s Abby bottles plenty of great lagers in a variety of styles, this is the first one I’d want them to can because of its easy drinkability and refreshing, light flavor. I’d say it perfectly embodies the “Premium Lager” style as defined by BJCP Category 1C. This is a beer that does not need any gimmicks, and at 4.5% ABV it’s highly sessionable. Of all the beers on this list, it’s the one that would probably be the easiest for your BMC-swilling friends to drink and enjoy.

4. Stone IPA
source: stonebrew.com
stonebrew.com
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m sure you can name plenty of “better” IPAs to include in place of this one. But the fact remains Stone IPA is one of the originators of the style, one of the most wildly-distributed IPAs, and is also one of the best introductory IPAs. It’s so readily available already; wouldn’t the option of a canned version fit right into the game plan? Stone has always been a cutting-edge brewery, so it’s actually pretty surprising that they haven’t canned any of their brews. As they begin to break ground on satellite breweries in Europe and the East Coast, the time would seem right to begin canning their beers. Greg, Mitch, et al – may I recommend starting with this one?

3. Southern Tier Live or Lagunitas Pale Ale

Pale ales are more suited to the can format than IPAs because they’re not quite as bitter and many are genuinely refreshing. There’s already plenty of great examples of the style available in cans, but these two in particular I’d like to see in cans because of their great taste and high drinkability.Southern Tier Live
I don’t usually consider hoppy beers “refreshing,” because the bitterness tends to dry you out. But in the case of Southern Tier Live, it IS the best of both worlds. A light, crisp mouthfeel that’s refreshing while on the tongue. The aftertaste is remarkably clean which will prevent palate fatigue. At 5.5% ABV it’s quite sessionable, but not a session beer per se.Lagunitas Pale Ale 003
Lagunitas Pale Ale has the robustness of an IPA, but the lighter, easier-drinking body of a pale ale. The mouthfeel is noticeably thin and clean with a smooth finish. It seems so much lighter than its 6.2% ABV weight should be, which makes it dangerously drinkable.

2. Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier or Schneider Weisse Original (Tap 7)
source:  davegalajda on flickr.com
davegalajda on flickr.com
The Germans have no qualms about canning their pilsners and lagers, but I’ve never seen any of their other beers in cans. These are the two best examples of authentic Bavarian-style hefeweizen on the market, and are beers I always recommend to friends when we’re lucky enough to find them on tap. Both are big on flavor, ridiculously easy to drink, and thirst-quenching in the summer (and in the winter for that matter). Therefore, it would seem completely logical to offer these beers in cans since they’re exactly what you’d want to drink in situations where glass isn’t ideal (or allowed).
source:  James Cridland on flickr.com
James Cridland on flickr.com
1. Allagash White
It seems like all of a sudden American craft breweries are churning out quality witbiers these days. For me, they’re on par with the hefeweizen for being the best style of beer to drink in the summer because they’re light-bodied, genuinely refreshing, and still highly flavorful. Allagash White is probably the best American take on the inherently Belgian style on the market today.allgash white 003
This beer has a sweet and spicy mixture of orange citrus and light peppery notes. It’s a clean, refreshing taste across the tongue with hints of lemonade or orange juice, but without any tartness or acidic character. The finish imparts subtle clove or black pepper seasonings. Refreshing and crisp with a clean aftertaste – it’s difficult to not quaff it all down at once. At only 5.1% ABV it’s tempting to throw back several of these in a row.

For all your mainstream friends who have ever found Blue Moon or Shock Top to be at least tolerable, they will likely find Allagash White to be quite impressive. I wish I had cans of this to take to all the places and events it would ideal: the beach; the track; camping; hiking; fishing; pool parties; tailgating; etc.

What beers would you like to see in cans that aren’t currently available?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Maine Beer Zoe


3.9
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1147) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 7, 2014
I poured a 500ml bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 7/22/14 and cost $6 ($0.36 per bottle).

Appearance: Beautiful mahogany/maroon shade. Fairly clear body. Pours to a huge, off-white, frothy head which laces and retains wonderfully.

Smell: Strong hoppy sensation of flowers and a hint of berry or other fruity scents.

Taste: I always say I’m not a fan of amber ales, but there are certain examples of the style that really impress me and Maine Beer Zoe is a great example of what I mean. As is typical of the brewery, the hops are prominent here, though the malt base is a bit more vital to the palette of this beer than of their IPAs. I’d prefer it to be more balanced, but what’s here is delectable indeed.

Assertive bitterness from beginning to end, with a taste of flowers, pine, and a hint of tea or herbal sensation (due to the Simcoe, Columbus and Centennial hops, respectively). The brewery’s website list seven different malts, though the actual palette is not quite as complex as you’d think. Marris Otter gives is a touch of English character, with slight cherry flavor. There’s a light confectionery sweetness hiding in the background that’s noticeable if you look for it. Otherwise, the hops carry the load and impart tasty bitterness and give it a slightly astringent, resin-like taste on the back end. What’s here is enjoyable to be sure, though a more truly balanced brew would be amazing I’ll bet.

Drinkability: “Zoe” would seem to be a hefty beer at 7.2% ABV, however, it drinks like something smaller and more mainstream. The mouthfeel itself is soft, smooth and creamy – not quite as crisp as most ambers. The hops do linger and leave a minor dry bitterness on the tongue, but it’s easily tolerable. I could see this being quite versatile when it comes to food pairings. 
Grade: 8/10

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Maine Beer Mean Old Tom


3.9
   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1146) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 6, 2014
I poured a 500ml bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 7/15/14 and cost $6 ($0.36 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark black body, completely opaque, no sediment or carbonation visible. Pours to a large, brown, frothy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Slightly mild, but with notes of coffee and dark chocolate.

Taste: Maine Beer Company is known for their hoppy beers, so I was quite eager to try a malt-forward beer by them: Mean Old Tom; a stout aged on natural vanilla beans. From the description and recipe I was expecting a big, bold stout, but what I got was a rather nominal brew that happens to have some sweet components to it. Not that there’s anything wrong with how this turned out, since the result is still a more-than-solid brew.

This beer is brewed with a fairly standard malt bill with the addition of some flaked oats, though I wouldn’t classify it as an oatmeal stout per se. It’s lightly sweet up front, with an almost cola-like taste. Through the middle there’s some coffee and roasted malt flavor and bitterness with a sweet vanilla taste on the back end. It creates for a milk chocolate flavor, but it’s entirely too mild. A bit of an oatmeal sweetness can be found lurking in the background, as well as an English-like mineral quality I’ve never found in any other beers from this brewery. I’d imagine an imperialized version of this brew would be intense and amazing, but what’s here is nice and satisfying.

Drinkability: Getting through a glass of Mean Old Tom was no challenge whatsoever. The mouthfeel is thinner than you’d expect, though it’s smooth going down and finishes clean. It probably should be a bit bigger in body than it is at 6.5% ABV, as this drinks like a lighter pub-style stout. Works fine as a liquid dessert or a standalone beverage. 
Grade: 8/10

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Maine Beer Weez


4.5
   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1145) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 5, 2014
I poured a 500ml bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 7/1/14 and cost $6 ($0.36 per ounce).

Appearance: Opaque ink black body. Sediment chunks can be seen once the bottom of the bottle is poured. Forms a very large, dark tan, foamy head which laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Pungent nose of coffee, roasted barley and dank, resiny hops.

Taste: Maine Beer Company produces a strong IPA called “Another One” which uses the exact same hops and schedule as Weez. The obvious difference being this is a black IPA or black ale or whatever you want to call it. Weez is as equally good of a beer, in my opinion, even though the taste is so much different. This brewery is known for making hop-centric beers, yet there’s genuine maltiness to be found here. A strong presence of coffee, roasted barley and burnt toast lays a strong foundation for the forthcoming hops. What’s odd is that in this beer, these hops create for a darker, more earthy character rather than the lighter, cleaner, brighter fruitiness of “Another One.” Dank resiny bitterness complements the dark malt and coffee flavor perfectly (the herbal spice rack notes are also present, but are subtle this time). Not quite as sticky as some beers of the genre, though the hops are still strong and quite bitter. Overall, it’s a complex, robust, and delicious palette.

Drinkability: The 7.2% ABV on the label might lead one to believe that this is going to be a strong, hefty beer to approach with caution. However, after one swig it’s clear that Maine Beer Company’s “Weez” is remarkably light on its toe. The mouthfeel is calm and soft with a velvety texture and finish to match. There is residual bitterness on the tongue, but it’s quite pleasant and never cloying or drying. No alcohol presence whatsoever. A versatile brew that works as a standalone beverage, with a savory meal, or as a liquid dessert. 
Grade: 10/10

Monday, August 4, 2014

Maine Beer Peeper Ale


4
   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1144) - Albany, New York, USA - AUG 4, 2014
I poured a 500ml bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 7/22/14 and cost $5 ($0.30 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful glowing golden hue over a clear body with visible bubbles. Pours to a large, bright white, frothy head which retains and laces quite well.

Smell: A sweet citrusy aroma, almost candy-like. Hints of pine.

Taste: Peeper Ale is probably the mildest beer made by the Maine Beer Company, and that’s really saying something considering this is quite a bold pale ale. Like most beers in their repertoire, this is a hop-forward brew with a classic citrusy flavor and strong bitterness. Orange is definitely the predominate hop character due to the Amarillo hops, though there’s some underlying pine and a hint of tea-like taste from the Cascade and Centennial hops, respectfully. The Magnum hops impart strong bitterness, especially around the apex of the swig. I’d probably criticize this beer for not having a strong enough malt backbone as there isn’t much in the way of distinctive grain flavor. I wouldn’t say the palette is radically skewed towards the hops, but a little more balance couldn’t hurt.

Drinkability: Of all the beers in their portfolio, Peeper Ale is Maine Beer Company’s lightest, though you would never consider it light in any way (unless 5.5% ABV is your definition of light). The delivery process is nice: a medium to full body with a mouthfeel to match. The finish is smooth, though there’s definite lingering bitterness and a drying sensation. This is not a beer I would consider refreshing, but that’s okay because it’s probably not supposed to be, anyway. 
Grade: 8/10

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

I realize this blog is about three weeks overdue. I’m sure you’re all very disappointed in my tardiness (sorry about that). However, there’s four more weeks of racing at Saratoga Race Course, so there’s still plenty of time to enjoy the annual August equine tradition (and gamble on said tradition). You’ll notice this year’s list is quite different from last year’s, as many of these beers weren’t available in cans and/or in the Capital District at the time (or I just hadn’t drank them yet). A few have carried over from 2013.
NOTE: Saratoga Race Course allows patrons to bring in their own beverages, including alcohol, just as long as it’s not in a glass container. That’s why this list is limited to canned beers.
As per usual, the standard rules apply when I compile a Top 10 list:
  • Only one entry per brewery.
  • Only beers I’ve actually had qualify for the list (it is a subjective, personal list, after all).
  • The beer must be sold in the Capital Region and be readily accessible (or reasonably so). Out-of-season seasonals that may or may not be leftover don’t count.
  • Macros are eligible.
Rules specific to this list:
  • Situational drinkability is the primary criteria. While there are plenty of fantastic imperial stouts and IPAs that come in cans, I wouldn’t want to drink a 10% ABV, 92 IBU beer outside on a hot summer day. I want something that is relatively refreshing, has genuine flavor, and I can drink several of them over an afternoon without getting bored.
  • The beer must be nearly as enjoyable when drank from the can as it would be poured into a glass.
  • It doesn’t have to be cheap, but I there is a “bang for the buck” factor I take into consideration.


Honorable mention: Sixpoint Radsixpointrad
About two months ago, I wrote When is a beer not a beer? in which I defined the types of alcoholic beverages I consider to be beer. I said I don’t consider a shandy or radler to truly be “beer,” but more of an alcopop or beer cocktail or whatever you’d like to call it. Sixpoint Rad clearly markets itself as an old fashioned radler as it’s a wheat beer base brew blended with real grapefruit juice. As a radler it works really well – if you like tart, unsweetened grapefruit juice, that is. It’s fermented with a hefeweizen yeast strain to give it some banana aroma and flavor, plus it’s really refreshing and sessionable at only 3.25% ABV.
10. Brooklyn Summer AleBrooklyn-cans
Usually, beers with the word “Summer Ale” in the name bore me. They tend to be overtly bland or have an excessive, almost arbitrary use of spices in them (I’m looking at you, Samuel Adams Summer Ale). Brooklyn’s is different, thankfully. Kind of a cross between an English-style pale ale and a blonde ale. There’s a decent malty backbone, coupled with citrusy hops, but all are restrained. I also get a fruity sweetness, which is quite pleasant and makes it really refreshing. Easily sessionable at 4.5% ABV, plus you can buy it at most supermarkets.
9. Bitburger Premium PilsBitburger Premium Pils 004
If you’ve gotta have a lager at the race course, this is the one I’d recommend most. This definitely embodies the German-style pilsner style in pretty much all aspects. It’s not a particularly complex palette, but what’s here is definitely satisfying and tasty. Plenty of pale maltiness with a slight cracker-like flavor. The Noble hops are quite prominent as well, especially on the finish as they create for an herbal spiciness and a dry bitterness. A dash of lemon can be found lurking in the background as well. At only 4.8% ABV, Bitburger Premium Pils is a beer I could consider sessioning. It’s refreshing while in the mouth and finishes mostly clean. It’s only $1.99 per 16oz can.
8. Upstate Brewing Common Sense
photo by Greg McShea
photo by Greg McShea
This beer has components of brown ale, amber ale and cream ale styles, though it’d be incorrect to place it in any of those categories. There’s some nuttiness akin to a brown ale, some bitterness and maltiness akin to an amber ale (as well as the color), and a slight flaked maize character of a cream ale. Faint traces of caramel and toffee throughout the first half with noticeable (but restrained) bitterness at the peak of the swig. There’s some corn detectable on the finish, but it’s nothing off-putting as is often the case in an adjunct lager. It actually works quite well in this recipe. While not highly robust, “Common Sense” has enough flavor to more than satisfy. The mouthfeel reminds me of a pub-style cask ale with a creamy texture and smooth finish. It’s actually a bit refreshing while in the mouth and the aftertaste is quite clean, making it highly quaffable and somewhat sessionable at 5.3% ABV.
7. Butternuts Heinnieweisseheinnieweisse
This is supposed to be a Bavarian-style hefeweizen, and it does have the basic banana and clove components to the aroma and taste. But the thing about this beer is that it’s almost like a banana candy flavor with a sugary sweetness. Heinnieweisse goes down with the smoothness of water. The clean finish and mild palette certainly help make it a good refresher on a hot day. At 4.9% ABV it’s not too heavy, it’s competitively priced, and you’re supporting a [somewhat] local brewery.
6. Blanche de BruxellesBlanche De Bruxelles
Authentic Belgian witbiers are among my favorite styles when it comes to summer beer choices. The problem is, so few of them are canned, so Blanche de Bruxelles earns its spot on this list practically by default (if only Ommegang Witte or Allagash White were canned!). Mild up front with strong lemonpeel and orange notes through the middle. Nothing juicy per se – closer to lemonade without the tartness. There’s a spiciness on the finish that starts off subtle and becomes a bit more prominent as the beer warms. Still, it’s as refreshing as water to a marathon runner. The comfortable mouthfeel and smooth finish make it quaffable. At 4.5% ABV it’s an ideal beer for picnics, camping, and other warm weather activities.
5. Anderson Valley Summer Solstice
anvalsummersolstice
The palette reminds me a bit of an Oktoberfest as there’s distinct caramel, toffee and nutty flavors. The can indicates there’s “natural flavor” added, which might account for the vanilla and cinnamon that appear on the back end (they do seem a little artificial, though). There’s no cloying aftertaste, which makes it refreshing and drinker-friendly. There’s a lot of taste considering it’s only 5% ABV, and you could definitely session this in hot weather.
4. Evil Twin Bikini BeerEvil Twin Bikini Beer 001
What sets Evil Twin Bikini Beer it apart from most so-called session IPAs is you can’t dispute its sessionability since it’s only 2.7% ABV, yet it has the flavor and body of something almost twice its size. Hops play a major role here, from beginning to end in terms of both flavor and bitterness. Up front there’s a light citrusy component of lemon or orange peel, with an underlying dry bitterness. I get notes of green tea through the middle, but a strong herbal sensation on the finish. A mixture of basil or pesto or oregano – yet it’s still quite mild overall. This is one of the few hop-centric session beers that’s not ridiculously one dimensional. While the mouthfeel is thin, it’s consistently carbonated and has absolutely no watery texture or consistency whatsoever. It’s refreshing while in the mouth, and would be ideal for warm weather situations.
3. Founders All Day IPAAlldayIPA
Everyone’s making a “Session IPA” these days, but “All Day IPA” was one of the originators. What’s nice is you get genuine hop taste here, not just bitterness. There’s an interesting combination of tropical fruit flavor, along with a hint of garlic and some pine. The bitterness isn’t too strong, but it certainly is noticeable (42 IBUs). The mouthfeel is on the thinner side with a smooth finish and relatively clean aftertaste. At 4.7% ABV, this is one of the few beers of the style you can actually session without getting bored or overwhelmed.
2. Westbrook Gose
photo by Jonathan Boncek
photo by Jonathan Boncek
The palette is simplistic and repetitive in that there’s pretty much only two flavors here: a tartness with a slight lemony taste, and a sourness like candy. Nothing in the way of genuine malt or hop character, though those traits aren’t meant to stand out anyway. The salt presence accentuates the tartness – there’s no astringency like that of sea water. It’s remarkably delicious and never fatigues your palate. It’s nice to see low ABV beers that are truly refreshing like Westbrook Gose come in cans, as this is the kind of beer you can enjoy straight from the container without missing out on much (if any) of the experience. This is a very easy beer to drink as the mouthfeel is thin and crisp, but never becomes flat. The tartness and sourness are not challenging to get past (especially when enjoyed cold). At only 4% ABV this is an ideal liquid refresher beer for a hot Saratoga day.
1. Stillwater Classique
photo by Jonathan Boncek
photo by Jonathan Boncek
A lot of breweries are doing ale styles as lagers, but this is just the opposite. According to my sources, it was modeled after the old “National Bohemian” adjunct lager recipe, but fermented with saison yeast. That makes it difficult to classify, style-wise. Saison? Cream Ale? Specialty Grain? Premium Lager? Blonde Ale? Beers like this prove that styles really don’t matter anymore.
There’s a strong lemony presence from beginning to end, though some of that has to do with the hops I’m sure. Citrusy sweetness and tartness are present right away, immediately followed by a classic saison-like flavor of crushed black pepper seasoning. Mild bitterness towards the end, though it’s more of an herbal-like seasoning. No corn presence in the taste, which is fine by me.
Classique is ridiculously easy to drink as the mouthfeel is thin and crisp, but never watery. It’s genuinely refreshing while in the mouth and leaves just a slightly dry aftertaste. Plus it’s only 4.5% ABV, but has the flavor of a much stronger beer.
What beers have you brought to Saratoga?