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.
It is about the time of year when I start to hear the frustration and sometimes disgust from many customers about the curtailing of the summer beer season. Oktoberfest brews are available as of now. Although I resist ordering them at first (as I am doing now) I am soon forced into it so that I can have the variety that is available before they sell out. Crazy, right? To think that I have to order O-fest supplies when August has barely begun to make sure inventory is complete for the season burns me up. Summer is but 1/3 over. Consumers are rightfully frustrated by retail seasons being far from real seasons, but it is not retailers at fault – it is suppliers. As much I love Oktoberfest beers (my favorite seasonal indeed) I hate the premature end of summer in the beer world. Competition for draft lines and many consumers’ distaste for purchasing a beer named October after October has passed have driven suppliers to madness in the summer. This year summer seasonals were released before the first day of Spring and as we find ourselves finally enjoying the heat of the summer they are stripped away from us. As ludicrous as I find retail seasons to be I have to admit that in my opinion summer beers pale in comparison to Oktoberfest beers (no pun intended). I much prefer the hardy lager when the weather is cooler and fall is in the air but at least the quality is there, besting many summer styles. So, forget about the name and the implication that summer is coming to a close. Autumn isn’t here until September 22nd even though the beer with its namesake is. Just enjoy the brew while you can because this season will also be closed before its time. Long time favorites are Berkshire Brewing, Victory, Hofbrau and Ayinger. Soon to be on the shelves.
I’d like to point out how great a quality Pilsner can be. I will use the term Pilsner loosely here to describe a style. Pilsner, properly defined, is a pale lager created in the 1800’s in Pilsen, Bohemia. This beer uses bottom fermenting yeast and is cold fermented, as it would have been in caves long ago. So, Pilsners as I talk about them, mimic this style but come from all over the world and may employ different ingredients. Saaz hops are the traditional hop for Pilsner brews, but others are used today. Enough about that, I wish to proclaim pilsners an excellent style, too often overlooked by myself and others who demand mass flavor and extreme excellence from our beer. Now is the time to give this style a try. We finally have the heat of the summer and the thirst that comes with New England humidity. I find pilsners to be highly refreshing and satisfying on the flavor front. There is no comparison to be made to your favorite IPA, but the refreshment easily makes up for a subdued flavor profile and light body. What I have realized is that good pilsners are clean beers that strive for perfection. There is nothing to hide defects in the brewing as the beer is too light. A blemish or poor ingredient choice will be the dominant flavor in such a beer so good breweries are sure to avoid this. Most of us are familiar with the American pilsner farce, brewed with corn or rice and mass marketed. I would like little or nothing to do with these. At the top of my list is Victory Prima Pils. The floral notes and the crisp finish with plenty of hops (relatively speaking of course) make for a wonderful session, especially on a hot afternoon. Post yard work, what could be better? Yard work getting you down? You can grab a pilsner before you’re done and not worry about an extreme abv halting your progress or making your mower leave patches of tall grass everywhere. I also highly recommend Lagunitas Pils, Oskar Blues Yella Pils and Troegs Sunshine Pils. I also enjoy the more traditional Czechvar, Starobrno, and Staropramen. The style has plenty to offer and can represent great quality. I find pilsner a welcome respite from the power of my usual favorite IPAs and Stouts as well as from the heat.
The birthday of our great nation has passed and the celebration of independence from tyranny and taxation without representation is 233 years old. Taxes are a necessity that we all share distaste for and when they get out of control we are driven to protest and dumping chests of tea into the harbor. I would never suggest that we pour the nectar that is our beer anywhere other than into a glass, but the feelings of revolt must be alive in many of us at this point. The lovely state of Massachusetts has raised sales tax 25% to 6.25% and has lifted the exemption for alcoholic beverages. Get ready to see that sales tax at the register every time you pick up your favorite brew anywhere in MA after August 1st. It is important to note that tax on alcohol already exists in MA. Alcohol has always been taxed in MA, in the form of excise tax. This tax is largely overlooked as it is embedded in the prices, which are generally high relative to other states, and not otherwise seen by consumers. We are soon to be double taxed on alcohol! I propose revolt in the form of buying. Okay, I certainly would prefer if that buying happened at Colonial Spirits, but no matter where you go get ready to stock up on your favorite beers and make it happen before August 1st. Towards the end of July Colonial Spirits will have plenty of sales to help you beat the tax man and help you stock up on what you want. Great new stuff is here like Dogfish Theobroma and Stone 13th Anniversary and Smuttynose Baltic Porter. Get these, and more, while it’s 6.25 % cheaper!
Variety 12 Packs seem to be increasing in popularity these days and I often wonder how breweries decide what to include. My favorite variety packs come from Ipswich, Victory and Brooklyn. These are all great breweries, but really, it is the particular styles included that draw me to these packages. I tend to think that the inclusion of a Hefe or wheat brew in a variety pack is the kiss of death. I say that not to be negative about Hefe/Wheat/Weiss brew but in observation of that fact that many of us who enjoy pale ales or IPAs do not tend towards the Weiss world. Is it the contrast of styles that makes a package less tempting? Troegs makes excellent stuff all around and we move through the 6-packs with regularity. Their variety pack includes favorites like Hop Back Amber and a Pale ale that makes for a great food beer or a great session, so it should be flying off of the shelf. I suspect that the disparity between heavy hops and wheat leaves many folks not wanting to buy the mix, even though the 12 are cheaper than 2 6’s. I mentioned Victory as one of my favorites. That package includes Pilsner, Hop Devil and Golden Monkey Tripel. That is certainly a range of flavors. I am just enamored with all of their stuff, as many are, so flavor contrast is less of an issue in this case. Ipswich and Brooklyn, however, have really hit the mark with their variety packs. I think that what makes these two great is the 4 brew combo representing different brews indeed, but none of which truly contrast with each other. I know that Brooklyn includes their Lager which is an entirely different brew from ale, but Brooklyn Lager is a sturdy representation of the style with almost as much body as a pale ale. Try out any of the many variety packs at Colonial Spirits the next time you need a few different flavors at a favorable price.
An increasing number of legitimate brews are becoming available in cans. The newest addition to Colonial Spirits is Brooklyn lager in a 16oz can (6-packs $11.69+dep). Also recently added is Butternuts with canned Hefe, Pale and IPA. Admittedly there isn’t a huge can selection but I commend the effort and love the thought of canned beer. That may sound a bit crazy to some but it really is an excellent vessel for beer. It may not be the best to drink from but that is why breweries make really cool glasses and give them out at tastings. I’ll guess that most of you would advocate for draught brew. A glass from a keg is the best right? I generally think so. Note that a keg is simply a giant can. Cans offer complete protection from light, ale and beer’s worst enemy, as well as convenience. Portability can be critical at times – I am thinking about hiking, the beach the movie theater. It mostly boils down to quality though. Cans travel well and store better. Cans are easy to keep cool and don’t shatter when the log you are splitting falls on them. The abovementioned Brooklyn cans are great for yard work as the extra 4oz yields valuable extra minutes before you have to go inside for another. Check out Oskar Blues as well. From this CO brewery you can get a nice pale ale, a strong scotch ale, a pilsner and even some pricey offerings that will surprise you (Imperial Stout and Imperial IPA). Hopefully we will see more on the shelves soon.
Ever since I was encouraged by a fellow beer enthusiast to hurry up and try Lagunitas Hop Stoopid this brewery has been on my mind (and in my fridge). I have always been a casual advocate of their brews, but now I feel compelled to turn as many people onto them as possible. That said, this is certainly a hop driven brewery so those less addicted than I may not be as into the selection. I’ll first mention the Czech Style Pils – perfect for the heat, crisp and very clean. The newest addition to their lineup is a Pale Ale. It is hoppy, but not over the top. There is more, much more, but rather than write about each brew I would rather say why it is that I am enthralled with the brewery as of late. Basically I think that Lagunitas is a fine representation of American Ale. Admittedly I can articulate it as such after reading the label on the 2009 Correction Ale. Consider where they excel, however; IPA, Pale and Stout brews, which are all quite American at this point. American brewing grew from the bastardization of traditional styles from England, Germany, Belgium and other places. Now American brewing is its own beast bringing intensity, creativity and quality to any and all styles. So, Lagunitas is a great American brewery focused on rich, hoppy brews that fill your glass with flavor and showcase some of what we do best in brewing. They also have an entire series dedicated to Frank Zappa, so they got that going for them… which is nice.
There is often something new from Lagunitas so you can stay entertained with this brewery for a while.
I like barley based drinks. Ale and Beer are undoubtedly my favorite, but I do enjoy my whiskeys. So what’s up with beer? All kinds of things, really, but I am thinking about drinking it right now. The sun is high in the sky, it is past noon and I am thirsty. More so, it is the flavor that I seek. Hops are on my mind and, with any luck, will soon be on my palate.
I am basically prepared to drink almost any ale or beer at almost any time. My preferences change with the weather, though. Ask me what I am into right now… IPA. IPAs are good all throughout the year however the spring green and warm days usually get me particularly driven towards the piney fresh scent and rich bitterness of a fine IPA. Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest ale in the 24oz bottle just arrived and, if you are lucky, the Torpedo is sometimes available. FYI, Sierra Torpedo was dramatically oversold by the brewery. A strong marketing effort left demand high and supply low. Naturally I think that it all should have been sent to Colonial Spirits and we could be enjoying it in abundance right now. Other classic favorites I am currently enjoying are Victory Hop Devil and Smuttynose IPA. Newer treats are Green Flash West Coast IPA and Lagunitas Hop Stoopid.
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