Hazy Holidays To You!

     Over the Christmas/New Year period there were a number of beers that passed my lips and I thought I should at least mention some of them here. These aren’t in-depth reviews since I didn’t take any notes and my memory is blurring around the edges. These are more sweeping impressions than anything. There were a few beers that I would like to slap the Beer of the Blog moniker on, but honestly given the haste in which this entry was compiled, lack of review intentions upon consumption, and maybe a touch of over consumption I need to revisit a chosen few when I can get a hold of them for more proper exploration.

 After the beer reviews are a few quick blurbs on some of the places I went and thought y’all should know about.

Cheers,
-John

On to the beers…

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen (5.4% ABV bottle) -Rauchbier- Brauerei Heller-Trum, Germany
Grade: A
     Not just a mouthful to say… I got this at Porter’s Pub on a semi-dare from my friend Dicky-Mo who had asked if I’d ever had a “real” rauchbier [smoked beer]. I thought I had, but oh was I wrong. The initial pour hit me in the face with a heavy smoked meat aroma. Not a nice little waft of campfire, but a heady beef-jerky smell that had me a little scared. The first mouthful was disturbing. So much smoke I couldn’t distinguish anything else. After a few more sips it came into a nice balance of the smoke, mild bitterness, and some nut and coffee hints. As I worked through the complexities it became a very pleasant experience that helped to enhance the richness of the cheese plate I’d ordered. Definitely a beer made for rich, hearty food pairing. I can’t imagine just grabbing one of these and drinking it off, but it’s still an excellent beer.

Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2% ABV bottle) -American Strong Ale- Stone Brewing Company, CA
Grade: A+

     I know I’m on kind of a Stone Brewing kick lately. What can I do? They make tasty beer and Beachmont Liquors keeps hooking me up with fresh supplies. Hadn’t had Arrogant Bastard in a while so when I saw it on the shelf I figured it would ease the pain of Beachmont not having any more Vertical Epic 06.06.06 for me to stockpile. If “Arrogant Bastard” isn’t enough of a tip off this is a robust and in-your-face kind of beer. Lots of malt and lots of hops with a piney tang, but it’s all balanced out so that nothing out weighs anything else. Voluptuous is very fitting description for the Bastard even if it may be questionable in gender agreement. This is big, round, and smooth in all the right places with plenty of spice; like a pin-up girl in a bottle. Woof!

Lancaster Brewing Company Milk Stout (5.3% ABV bottle) -Milk/Sweet Stout- Lancaster Brewing Company, PA
Grade: B-
     I bought this because my girl, Jules, was making chili for the fam’ and the recipe called for a bottle of stout so I grabbed a sixer of this. I’d never had anything from Lancaster Brewing and this isn’t a bad intro. A bit on the thin side but it has a decent mix of bitterness, a touch of sweetness, and undertones of chocolate and coffee. I could see myself reaching for this again.

Lindemans Framboise (4% ABV bottle) -Lambic/Fruit- Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium
Grade: B+

     As a rule I’m not a lambic drinker, but I hadn’t had one in years when I saw this on the menu at Ocean and thought it’d be a nice change of pace before the food started arriving. It was sweet not cloying, very fizzy, with a surprisingly dry finish. Granted it looks a bit girlie with its fruit punch color, but it was refreshing and absolutely perfect at that moment. I love the art nouveau look of their labels to boot.

Vertical Epic 06.06.06 (8.66% ABV bottle) -Belgian Strong Dark Ale- Stone Brewing Company, CA
Grade: A-
     This was a great beer; the problem is the specifics are blurry. I cracked this open for the Pats-Giants game figuring that a special game called for a special beer and all I had was the Vertical Epic or Stone’s 11th Anniversary. The Epic seemed fitting. Unfortunately, because it was so good I drank half of the 22oz bottle by the time the first quarter ended and decided I should save the rest for the coming victory. So I needed something to drink in the mean time which left the bottle of the 11th Anniversary. Fast forward to the fourth quarter and the Anniversary was gone so I went back to the Epic. These are both high octane beers; mix that with the excitement of the game and the subtleties of the Epic got lost. What I do recall was that this was a full bodied beer as one expects from Stone. There was some alcohol slickness, but not too much as this went done smooth. My first sips made me think “herbal”, but not in a medicinal way. Unfortunately, I’ve only got one bottle of the 06.06.06 left which I want to keep to age and Beachmont has sold out of their stock since last I was there. Alas, this Epic taunts me like memories of a drunken one night stand.

Weyerbacher Old Heathen Imperial Stout (8% ABV bottle) -Russian Imperial Stout- Weyerbacher Brewing Company, PA
Grade: A
     I will be honest, by the time I got this at Which Brew it was pretty late in the evening, but I do recall it being tasty. [Actually this and the eggnog martini (bad choice of the night) are the only drinks I remember at Which Brew.] It poured into the glass thick and dark like an imperial should. There were groans from my friends at the table, cowering at the sight of its blackness. It was heavy and yummy with some sweetness and thick on the tongue.

Yuengling Traditional Lager (4.9% ABV bottle & tap) -American Amber/Red Lager- Yuengling Brewery, PA
Grade: B+
     Yuengling Traditional Lager holds a nostalgic place in my heart which is probably why I rate it higher than it might actually merit. When I’m back visiting family and the local bars of PA & NJ Yuengling Lager is my go-to beer.

Yuengling Black & Tan (? ABV bottle) -Black & Tan- Yuengling Brewery, PA
Grade: C+
     I can’t quite stick my neck out for Yuengling’s Black & Tan like I do the Trad Lager. Probably has something to do with the fact that when I’m drinking a dark beer (of which there was much during this holiday season) I expect a certain amount of mystery and/or a different flavor than something run of the mill because most of the dark beers I drink are pretty heavy duty. This stuff tastes a lot like plain old Yuengling, but with a slightly metallic bitterness. I think I’ll stick with the original.

Where’d You Go?

Ocean– Easton PA
     Ocean is a surprisingly up-scale tapas joint downtown that has become a regular stop when I’m back in the area. The decor is very modern and very slick. It looks more Manhattan than Easton, but the atmosphere isn’t as stuffy as one would expect. Great food and great drink selection including a number of very tasty beers. Try the crab cakes.

Porter’s Pub– Easton PA
     Porter’s has been around forever and was really the area’s first beer bar way before it was hip to be one. They’ve got a big selection of beers (60?) given the size of the place. Most is in bottle with 8 or 10 taps. I’ve read reviews from people getting down on Porter’s because of their limited tap selection and that their choices tend to be well established craft brews that aren’t experimental enough. Those people are obviously not locals. The fact that Porter’s has survived for this long with what were until maybe 10 years ago very niche brews is amazing. I’m grateful it made it long enough for me to appreciate what they have which honestly is nothing to sneeze at. This is a great little place as long as you can get a seat. I love the atmosphere and decor -old school English pub- but when this place is crowded forget about it. Jules and I got on board with their mug program finally after all these years.

Shruty’s Pub– Easton PA
     This isn’t a beer bar or chic eatery, but I figured I’d give it a plug since my cousin Amy is one of the owners and Shruty’s always a destination when I’m in the area. The food is pretty good as far as pub grub goes (the wings & the soups are always top notch) and you can never go wrong with Yuengling on draft. It’s a good local that I’d probably end up at even if I didn’t have the family connection.

Which Brew– Easton PA
     Two blocks down the street from Porter’s Which Brew is a great compliment to the traditional feel of Porter’s. Plus, if they don’t have a beer at Porter’s there’s a good chance it’s at Which Brew. There’s a big selection here, but it rotates through pretty quickly so what was there one week might be gone the next. Creatures of habit will be dismayed while experimenters will revel. Atmosphere is cavern/crypt like with lots of nooks, exposed brick, and ghoulish knick-knacks that caters to a younger crowd that wants a quasi dive/rock bar look and surly service, but with good beer and no risk of being knifed in the bathroom. Staff is very knowledgeable and even put up with our group’s Laurel & Hardy act thanks to a misprint on their holiday Mad Elf special.

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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-
Grade: A- BREW OF THE BLOG!
  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.