2010 was quite a good beer year. With it came some exceptional stuff like the brews from Element Brewing Company in Central MA and White Birch in Southern NH. Of course there were numerous special releases like the Life and Limb and Bitches’ Brew. I am going to really put myself out there right now and remark on an exceptional beer. I may go so far as to say that this is the beer of 2010. Building up to it like this, I am sure that some names are coming to mind right now and that those names likely include some of the more limited releases. Like I said, I am going to put myself out there and I am going to say that Sierra Nevada Celebration ale is indeed the beer of 2010. There are many reasons why I am willing to go so far as to make such a statement. I’ll even concede to some personal bias but, obviously, the main reason has to do with the quality of the brew. Celebration Ale is always good, but it seemed like this year’s batch was unusually good. Perhaps the hops enjoyed a better growing season? I found this year’s batch quite hoppy (as usual) but unusually fresh tasting. I also just happen to have a particular affinity for the style. I know that there are a lot of hop heads out there and this beer is good enough to satisfy those who love hops without being so over bearing that someone other than a hop enthusiast couldn’t enjoy it. The addition of more malt to bring it to an amber color and give it more body than a typical IPA also lends itself to the creation of a bold beer that remains somewhat approachable. In short, it just doesn’t let you down. Read More about Beer of 2010?
It seems to me that the average beer consumer is decidedly more experienced than other consumers of alcoholic beverages. I’d like to think that beer enthusiasts possess a sense of adventure that drives them to try as many new beers as possible. Logic tells me that this level of experience is also supported by the simple fact that beer lends itself, due to accessibility, variety, ease of consumption and price, to easy experimentation. One does not really consider drinking a quick bottle of wine at the bar on the way home from work. The liver stamina required to support the exploration of multiple wines or liquors isn’t available to many of us, not to mention that it is likely to be prohibitively expensive. Certainly there are ways to explore and enjoy wine, such as visiting a beautiful wine region like Sonoma County. I am mainly referring to more of the daily approach to consuming – purchasing from your favorite purveyor of libations. Beer, in its glorious variety, is readily available at stores and bars and there is little to stand in the way of simply having a beer. This means that enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike can quite easily discover the world of beer. From that, I have interesting conversations about beer with people almost every day. Read More about Beers we can’t get.
I think everyone has heard me gripe about the beer industry and its rush to change the seasons so I’ll keep it short this time. If you haven’t seen the new seasonal packages yet you will. Pumpkin beers and Oktoberfest beers are pouring in. When is Oktoberfest? September 18th – October 3rd. When is the first day of fall? September 23rd. When did the first pumpkin beer hit stores in a rush to curtail our already short New England summer (an industry move rivaled only by fashion)? July 28th. Ok – enough. We all know that beer companies are in a never ending rush to get the next season started. I suppose that a well made beer of any style is enjoyable at any time of year so get ready to enjoy some fresh brews. Read More about What season is it?
Nothing quite inspires a good session like a hot day. Whether it’s post lawn mowing or just enjoying the afternoon the thirst provoked by the hot sun needs to be satisfied and beer can really hit the spot. With beer shelves packed, top to bottom, with tasty libations how do you really choose what to treat your taste buds with when thirst and volume are diving the urge? More importantly, how do you choose when the shelves are packed, top to bottom, with today’s best offerings of high abv, intensely flavored brew? Flavor is so important and your sunny afternoon just will not be as satisfying as it could be without a beer that meets your standards. Complicating matters, it is not just your standards that must be met, but the importance of not sipping yourself into a stupor when blue skies and summer temperatures are beckoning you to continue sipping throughout the evening. Read More about Session Time…
Hops are the female flower clusters of a hop species, and are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor. Hops are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine. Hops were cultivated on a continuing basis around the 8th or 9th century AD in Bohemian gardens in the Hallertau district of Bavaria and other parts of Europe. However, the first documented use of hops in beer as a bittering agent is from the eleventh century. Read More about What are Hops and why are they so delicious?
Okay, so it is a bit late to still be toasting 2010 and I am well aware that the play on words is lame at best, but the New Year has brought with it some delectable new beers which I will remain excited about for some time. There has been a slight rearrangement in the beer aisle – shifting the countries around a bit. We always need more space for Belgian beers and American brewing is stronger everyday. It is Scandinavia, however, that is flowing onto the scene. For many years the Scandinavian offerings here were quite limited but the potential was clear even with the lone representation being Sinebrychoff Porter. This porter is incredible. At one time there were vintage stamped bottles on the shelf from 1997 – a testament to age-ability and quality (also quite amusing to see a vintage sticker next to a ‘best before’ date). Sinebrychoff remains the only Finish beer on the shelf for the time being, but is now backed up by highly delicious offerings from its Scandinavian neighbors: Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Read More about Happy New Beer!
It has turned into the holiday season quite suddenly, as usual. As if there is a time of year or season during which I do not think about beer the holidays have got me thinking about beer and how enjoyable sharing a glass of something new, or a special aged bottle from the cellar with friends and family can be. It is a great time of year to drink something special. Amazing Christmas offerings from world class breweries make up a long list of options as well as any overlooked category from your regular drinking line up. Tasting beers or lining up a few drinks with a friend or relative you haven’t seen in a while is a highly enjoyable and affordable source of entertainment that can be hosted at home. I particularly enjoy getting into styles that I do not frequent throughout the year (and some that I do); Christmas beers, Imperial Stouts and Barleywines. The latter two on this list may have some of you wondering how a self-proclaimed beer lover could ignore such remarkable styles throughout the year. Well they are certainly not ignored, I am more pointing towards styles that are well suited to aging and this is the time of year when I dip into the cellar to crack what has been developing over the last 6 months to several years. Comparing vintages of repeating classics such as Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Anchor Christmas, and Sierra Bigfoot always makes for a fine evening or afternoon. There are also numerous collector-level brews to consider adding to your cellar like Alesmith Speedway Stout or Stone Vertical Epic and if you are feeling adventurous there is a selection of numerous vintages of English strong ale from JW Lees and Gales available. Getting into the cellar is often a momentous event well suited for the celebratory season we are in. I also quite enjoy the exploration of overlooked styles and new seasonal offerings. For me the most overlooked style is weizenbock. Generally speaking I am not a fan of Weiss or Hefeweizen, however there is no denying the unparalleled quality of a beer like Schneider Aventinus. A revisit keeps me in touch with the breadth of brewing and aware of my ever changing palate. As for seasonal brews, the Belgian brewers have this season locked up. As much as I love American brewing, the Belgian Christmas beers are simply the best winter brews around. I look forward to the annual release of warming, yeasty beers that show off complexity, refinement and extreme deliciousness. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale and De Ranke Pere Noel are two of my favorites, but I also enjoy the glass packs that combine your beer of choice with the brewery’s glass specifically designed for drinking their beer. There is so much out there, but as long as you have what you like best in your favorite glass and have someone to share it with, you are all set for a great holiday season.
The cold has approached quite abruptly and with this seasonal change the right beer is needed to provide both warmth and refreshment. I would love to go on to claim that a well crafted Oktoberfest Lager would fit the season perfectly, but since the wonderful world of beer seems to wish it was like fashionable clothing O-fest brews are already in short supply and winter beers are not long from the shelves. Something like Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest is delightful when coming in from the coolness of fall to warm up also goes hand in hand with the need for refreshment. Although there is still some available I will completely shift styles and focus on what might be attainable for more than the rest of this week – Harvest Ales. Unlike many trends in beer which I find ridiculous, the growing popularity of the harvest style I am thrilled with. I hope that more breweries will become excited about these brews and that consumers will reward their efforts with repeated consumption. To be clear I am addressing the beer that is derived from the fresh harvest of the necessary ingredients. The most prominent of these ingredients is hops and usually that is the driving flavor of a harvest ale. Many breweries take this opportunity to make a ‘wet hop’ IPA, where the newly harvested hops are added in immediately with no drying in between. Being one who remains obsessed with the delicious flavor of hops I find harvest time quickly becoming my favorite beer season. Sadly my passion digresses from O-fest brews as breweries consistently push them back into the summer when the beer and the season just do not match up as well. I find IPAs to be more of a summer style than a winter style, but harvest ales are generally coming out as IPAs with a heartier malt balance and many pour a more rich amber than their lighter IPA counterparts. Sierra Nevada likely has the most recognizable harvest ale and it is indeed deserving of recognition. Founder’s makes one of the best harvest ales I have had, but MA is far enough from their operation that supplies are still pretty sparse. Back to the balance of warming and refreshment though… The boldness of many of these harvest ales brings a certain warmth to you on a crisp fall day but I am often also thirsty on a day like that. After mingling with the unholy rain of leaves that will only hide itself after hours of encouragement from me I find that some refreshment is called for. Hop driven beers are mouth watering and, as such, refreshing. The full bodied, full flavored, quenching freshness makes harvest ales a perfect compliment to the fall.
Home draught systems are generally sought after by most beer drinkers. In-home pouring (or in garage / basement pouring for most of us homesteaders) is more and more popular and many advantages are apparent; one empty instead of 164 empties, adjustable serving size, less $ per beer, being cooler than your friends and having lots of beer where you used to never have enough. I have to ask which is better though, bottles or barrels? Obviously the answer is both, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. An answer like that doesn’t give me much to say here does it? Read More about Keg or Bottle?
The flood gates are open and O-fest and Pumpkin brews are pouring in. Clearly I was not quite ready for this a few weeks ago, but after a week off to enjoy the heat and sun of the last week of August I return eager to embrace my favorite beer season. Really all weather produces a fine environment for beer drinking and I will surely explain why every season. With the sun still high in the sky, but cool nights following I find this time of year a most excellent climate for drinking delicious lagers. It is around now that I start thinking about my wood pile and working outside to build thirst. Oktoberfest lagers are coming in from almost every German and American brewery and there is almost not enough time to try them all before the winter beers replace them on the shelves. I have not totally warmed up to the Pumpkin beer thing but many of them are well made and interesting to try. I know many people who wait all year for these special brews and find the flavor irresistible. I do appreciate the additional character that is added to the beer without the typical dramatic increase in sweetness we find in most fruit beers. I oppose the spicy ones that have been built upon a beer of little substance and attempt to add excellence to an otherwise plain ale with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and clove – it’s not a pie. The best offerings exemplify a pumpkin flavor fused into a real beer that would likely be tasty on its own. The best choice, if you ask me, is Fisherman’s Pumpkin Stout. Weyerbacher and Southern Tier have some pretty serious Pumpkin brews as well. I digress… Oktoberfest is where my excitement is. I mentioned some great choices in my last post and there are many more worth a look. Few American companies actually make an ale and try to past it off as Oktoberfest, but this is a farce. I enjoy the smooth, rich flavored yet still thirst quenching aspect of a well made O-fest lager. On a cool evening they just hit the spot.