Jan/Feb Quick Hits

Lack of Internet at home combined with the seasonal upswing at work have left me little time to update with any length or depth. I still wanted to get some beers up so here’s some brief notes on brews that passed my way lately.  

Export Ale (5.1% ABV bottle)- American Pale Ale- Shipyard Brewing Co., ME
Grade: C-
     I’ve had this beer before. Many times. It’s a chameleon. If it’s the first beer I have in a session, no food, just straight to it, it tastes OK. Not a lot to write home about, except for a bit of butteriness underneath its general beer taste that is intriguing an yet a little off putting. No real hops bitterness. If I drink it after something else or after I’ve eaten, it tastes a bit sour like sweat. Basically unpleasant. And yet I still drink it.

Long Trail Hibernator (6.0% ABV bottle)- Scottish Ale- Long Trail Brewing Company, VT
Grade: C+
     Drinkable, but not exactly enticing. Though it is pretty when poured; a nice ruby-tinged brown. Taste is fairly middling. I don’t see myself grabbing this from the store again when it shows up next winter, but if someone handed me one I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it.

Mayflower Pale Ale (? ABV draft)- American Pale Ale- Mayflower Brewing Company, MA
Grade: C+
     Mayflower is a new brewery to MA so I figured I’d have a got at it. Yep, it’s a pale ale. Not bad, but not great either. We’ll see what else this brewery can bring to the table in the future. Hopefully something with a bit more presence.

Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady Ale (5% draft)- Extra Special/Strong Bitter (ESB)- Stoudt’s Brewing Co., PA
Grade: B-
     I’m not real familiar with ESBs, but this Scarlet Lady didn’t strike me as anything all that fancy. Kind of a standard micro brew ale. Not overly hopped, but not completely bland either. A beer to drink without having to think about it.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel (5.3% ABV bottle)- Dunkelweizen- Brauerei Weihenstephan, GER
Grade: A+
     As if a hefe couldn’t get any better, it’s dunkel (dark) cousin has a touch more malt than the traditional making one of my favorite styles of beer even more drinkable. Love this stuff. Highly recommended!


Bananas for Long Trail Hefeweizen?

Long Trail Hefeweizen (bottle)- American Pale Wheat Ale/Hefeweizen- Long Trail Brewing Company, VT, USA
Grade: B+ 
     The first thing that hits you is the incongruous fruity smell wafting from Long Trail Hefeweizen. As you pour there is the unmistakable smell of ripe bananas which your brain refuses to accept. Alas it is the truth: Long Trail’s hefe just happens to smell a lot like bananas with a tang of lemony citrus and earthy yeast underneath. Of course smell and taste being so closely intertwined the banana is still there in the front when you take your first few sips confusing the taste buds, but that’s not to say it is overpowering. No, it’s just out of the norm so your brain keeps coming back to it, but by the time you are through the first quarter of your beer everything settles down into balance and you will find the notes you expect from an American wheat/hefes: hints of clove, lemony zest, and yeast with a nice bit of crispness at the finish. 
     There’s solid flavor to the Long Trail though it does lack complexity and its mouth feel is a bit on the thin side. Those minor slights aside, this would be a nice session beer (I envision this being my go-to grilling beer come summer), but those slips keep the Long Trail Hefeweizen from the “Duuuude, you’ve gotta try this!” category.
     Overall, I’m thankful I stumbled onto Long Trail’s hefe in the cooler at Woody’s. It won’t steal any thunder from the upper echelon wheat/hefes, but it’s a solid brew that in my ranking I’d put in the second tier just ahead of Blue Moon and Harpoon’s UFO.

Find it, try it.

Cheers! -John

Beware of “Natural Flavors”

Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat (bottle)- Witbier- Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, WI, USA

Grade: D-

It’s been a long time since I drank a beer I had to essentially force myself to finish. Had I taken the extra 30-seconds in the store to read the packaging I would have noticed it says “Natural Flavors” and I would have left this beer in the store. Such a vague tag on any food product rarely implies something good.

     Appearance Standard wheat beer presentation: cloudy dark yellow. Head is off-white and fairly creamy, though not thick and not long for this world.

     Smell- Faux fruit is the first thing that hits you. There’s the normal citrus of a wheat underneath, but it is over-powered by a pungent candy-berry smell; think Trix, Fruit Loops, or Jolly Ranchers. 

     Taste & Mouthfeel- If you concentrate and get past the tacked on flavor there are the underpinnings of a solid wheat beer. It’s a little hoppy and there are nice citrus undercurrents, but not too much of either; a bit of a peppery bite to boot. Unfortunately the fruit additive smell means a fruit additive taste that really overwhelms the tongue. Mouthfeel is good, though: not too thin and not too heavy with just the right amount of carbonation. It finishes crisply with a bit of a dry edge.

     Drinkability If you can get past the extract-enhanced fruit taste this would make a good session beer.  I can’t get past it so I’ll have to foist the remaining two bottles I have onto unsuspecting guests.


     Because the artificially fruity smell/taste is so overpowering I have to wonder if maybe I got a bad six-pack. I’ve tried this beer over two different sessions hoping that the second time around, being prepared for the smell/taste I’d be able to enjoy it and think of the fruitiness as secondary to it. I was wrong, but on the up side I was able to get over the shock and find that without the additional flavor I could see myself returning to this as a very drinkable go-to wheat. More mystifying to me is it seems some people have no problem with the taste and enjoyed the vague berry so much that this beer pulled a couple of awards back when it debuted a few years ago. Leinenkugel has here a solid if unsurprising American wheat beer that ran afoul with the good intention of adding a little something to it to help it stand out from the crowd.

     If you like extract boosted fruit beers and wheat beers maybe this one is for you. If you aren’t into enhanced fruity, then steer clear. I’m hoping I’ll run across some of the other Leinie brews in the Boston area, because I’m willing to give a brewery the benefit of the doubt and judging by their website they’ve got a lot of brews to offer.



Can-can with The Sea Hag

Beer Works Imperial Stout (draft)- Russian imperial stout- Boston Beer Works, MA, USA
Grade: B+
  Woof. A bit of the heavy this is then, eh. I’m a big fan of stouts and especially brewpub imperials. Thus, I’m no stranger to Beer Works and their Imperial Stout has never left me down. It is heavy on the alcohol and has a bit of a slick taste build up on the tongue by the bottom of the glass, but it doesn’t get heavy perse`. Sweet with nice malty flavors balanced with a coffee bite, this is an amazingly rich bevvie made to be savored. It’s hardly work drinking a pint of this down. One pint, (OK, maybe two) of this black gold will do you fine.
Blue Moon (draft)- Witbeer-  Blue Moon Brewing Co, CO, USA 
Grade: B
  Well, spank my ass and call me Charlie, I had no idea Blue Moon was produced by Coors. Well, I guess if Ford can make Jaguars I shouldn’t be shocked by an American mega-brewer putting together something that tastes good enough to not shotgun it down with a grimace. Blue Moon is one of my standard “go-to” pints when I’m out on the town. It’s a witbeer, which means it’s a cloudy, unfiltered, wheat-based brew similar to a hefeweizen, but usually lighter. Notice I said “usually” because in this case Blue Moon runs a bit heavy like a hefeweizen and is far from the lightness that tends to embody classic European witbiers like Hoegaarden. Still, it’s got a good taste that  is a bit outside the norm. There’s some citrus tang going on in there and I’ve always smelt something akin to coconut, especially when out of a bottle when drinking Blue Moon. (Most people just look at me like I’m out of my tree when I mention the coconut thing.) The fact that I see this on so many taps these days regardless of geography all makes sense given the distribution power of Coors. Kind of a drag to think it’s made by a big ol’ corporation, but anything that might keep a person from drinking another Bud Light is fine by me.

Guinness (draft)- Irish dry stout- Guinness Ltd., Ireland 
Grade: A-
 [See Past Review]

Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen (draft)- American pale wheat ale/Hefeweizen- Harpoon Brewery, MA, USA 
Grade: B
  Another of my “go-to” bar pints, UFO is a good if unremarkable domestic hefeweizen. It’s got a generally strong flavor, but lacks in the robust bready body of brews like a Paulaner or Franziskaner. Still, it’s a good middle ground when you aren’t looking for anything exotic, you don’t want the lightness of a lager, and a stout would be too much. There’s enough character to UFO that you feel like you’re actually drinking a beer and not something that you were told was beer though tastes suspiciously like water.

Kingfisher (bottle)- American macro lager- United Breweries- UB Group, India (by way of New York?) 
Grade: B
  Anyone who has been to an Indian restaurant has probably paired up their dinner with Kingfisher. There’s nothing too fancy going on here. Its light, crisp finish is a nice way to cut the richness of Indian dishes and cool the curry kick. There’s a certain bite to Kingfisher that I really like and keeps it among the regular rotation in my own refrigerator.  Looking around the web it seems that even though you will find this in the import section of your liquor store it’s probably brewed somewhere in New York state. Go figure. There are better and worse Indian beers out there, so when in doubt order Kingfisher.
Magic Hat #9 (draft)- Fruit/Vegetable beer- Magic Hat Brewing Company, VT, USA 
Grade: B
 [See Past Review]

Sea Hag IPA (can)- American IPA- New England Brewing Co., CT, USA-
  The art on the can looks like a bad metal band design from 1987: black background, yellow & red lettering, and a stylized Sea Hag reaching over the logo. (Note: There actually was a bad metal band in the 80’s called The Sea Hags. Yes, I still have the cassette.) I hesitated grabbing this because I’m not a huge fan of IPA’s and once had an awful experience with canned microbrew to boot. So put the two together and it made for a tough decision to grab this. I looked at the ominous black can and figured what the hell.
  When I popped the first can it immediately foamed up out over the top and as I slurped away the excess foam and got into the heart it Sea Hag was surprisingly tasty. There was a good amount of hop bite to it but there was a slight sweetness that helped to keep it mellow. I enjoyed this more than any other IPA I’ve had except for the high octane Dogfish Head brews and wouldset it just above Sierra Nevada. For those of you in the New England area, Sea Hag beats Harpoon IPA like a rented mule so find this stuff and give it a try. I’m not a fan of IPA, but this is what I’m going to look for when I want one.

And so it begins…

Guinness (can)- Irish dry stout- Guinness Ltd., Ireland
Grade: A-
     Do I really need to tell anyone anything about this beer that they don’t already know? You either love it or hate it. Very dry and on the bitter side it’s still amazingly smooth to drink. While it’s not my favorite stout, it is as dependable as the sunrise and that first sip is just as refreshing. This is one of the only beers I have downed an entire pint, not chugged mind you, but slowly savoring each mouthful because I simply could not help myself. If you think Guinness is too bitter, but still want to try a traditional Irish stout search out Murphy’s. If I could find that in more bars, that would be my Irish stout of choice as it’s got slightly less metallic bitterness to it and more of a coffee finish.

Sam Adams Hefeweizen (bottle)- American pale wheat ale/hefeweizen- Boston Beer Company, MA- USA
Grade: C-/D+
     This stuff isn’t bad as far as beer goes, but in terms of hefeweizen I wouldn’t even consider it one. That’d be like calling a Segway a motorcycle because it has two wheels. Sam’s hefe has a decent taste, but very little body to it. That is really where a hefe is made or not, in the body where you actually feel like you are drinking something crafted versus something simply made. Harpoon’s UFO, Red Hook’s hefe, and Blue Moon (though technically a witbeer, not a hefe) are better American choices and of course the Germans, Paulaner and Franziskaner, do it the best. Sam Adams does plenty of good beers, but this isn’t a shining example of one of them.

Tell Tale Ale (draft)- Euro dark lager- Boston Beer Works, MA- USA
Grade: B
     If you live in the Boston or Salem area you can usually count on decent brews coming out of the Boston Beer Works. Only downside to brew pubs like this is that who knows when they’ll have a particular brew again thanks to their constantly rotating selections. Tell Tale Ale is an interesting beer, easy drinking, but still plenty of flavor. A little sweet and caramel-touched, which might be too much for some, but I thought was just right. It’s on the dark side of things but it’s far from heavy and scary. Definitely worth a pint next time you’re down by Fenway or the Garden.

Macau (bottle)- Euro pale lager- Macau Beer Company Limited, China
Grade: C
     Not great, but it is fun to drink exotics like this if only for the oddity factor. Macau is crisp with a bit more of a sweet finish than most lagers as is common with Asian beers. It’s very similar to others like Tsingtao and even Singha or Kirin, though not nearly as good the latter two. I would say 2 of these in one sitting is enough because it builds up a slick sticky aftertaste that can get too overpowering. Basically, if you see it around give it a try for the hell of it.