Quick Hits: Summer ‘08.1

Just some quick notes on beverages that I have come across during this early part of summer.

Mirassou Pinot Noir
I know this is for the most part a beer blog and I don’t know much about wine, but I had to make note of it. Me and my fiancé split a bottle of this with some grilled steak and summer squash. Nice and velvety body with lots of dark fruit sweetness, but it still managed to finish on the dry side of things. Not very acidic at all, so it’s a very approachable noir. I suppose if you prefer a more biting and peppery red this won’t be for you. If, however, you are looking for an affordable red that’s bright with fruit seek out the Mirassou. Neither of us remember buying it so it must have been a leftover from one of our gatherings. Regardless of origins it was a great pinot noir we’ll be seeking out again.

Nøgne Ø Saison
Late one night whilst playing some Ratchet & Clank on PS2 I needed something to take the edge of and keep me from yelling at the TV so I broke this out. Nice rich body with plenty of Belgian yeast tang. It had big floral notes that made me think of jasmine tea. Good stuff, but seemed a bit robust and citrusy for a saison. Maybe I was just wanting something a bit more subtle. Nonetheless, I did like it and will be picking up another bottle at some point to do a proper review. This is the second brew I’ve had from Nøgne Ø and I’m glad I stumbled upon this Norwegian upstart brewery.

Sebago Boathouse Brown
I haven’t had Sebago since last summer’s BeerAdvocate American Beer Fest and we’ll just my memory of it is hazy non-existent beyond really liking their stylized logo. I was up in Maine for a birthday shindig at a little place called Holly’s Own Deli & Wine Bar and they happened to have Boathouse Brown on tap. Good medium body, slightly cloudy brown color. It was a bit sweeter brown than one might be used to if you are a Newcastle drinker, but it’s still balanced with a little bit of bitterness. There were some notes of what I could only call graham crackers in there that had me back for seconds. I enjoyed it a lot and so it looks like I’ll be forced to find some here in Boston. You should look for some near you if you are in New England. And if you find yourself in Auburn, ME head over to Holly’s; the food is tasty and the staff is very friendly.

Weyerbacher Alpha and Muse
Had these from growlers at a Jack-n-Jill baby shower back in my hometown in Jersey and I’m not sure what to make of either of these. Maybe it was the 2 or 3 cans of Yuengling I’d already knocked back during two embarrassing quoit (for the uninitiated it’s pronounced: kw-ATE) matches, but neither Alpha nor Muse struck me as being as appealing as I’ve found most Weyerbacher brews. Alpha is a one time only release that’s a Belgian Pale Ale hopped with with Amarillo and Cascade. It just tasted odd. The aggressive American hops and the richness of Belgian yeast was a taste combination that I just couldn’t get my mind around. I kept wanting to seperate them so that I could have an IPA or a Belgian Ale, not both at the same time. Muse is Weyerbacher’s farmhouse ale and I definitely thought it was more enjoyable than the Alpha. Still, like the Nøgne Ø Saison, it seemed a bit on the citrusy side. Maybe I’m wrong on what to expect from the style. [I’ve got some other saisons sitting at home wait for an appropriate time to crack them open and do some side by side comparing.] In the end neither beer was bad, but I was glad there was 4 of us splitting the growlers. Meh. It won’t keep me from going back to Weyerbacher.

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Tastes Lame! Less Filling!

Well, I’m trying to get rid of the spare tire and extra chin I’ve picked up over the last couple of years or so and that means I’ve been experimenting with the curse of light beer. It’s not fun. I’m figuring that by May I’ll be down towards my fighting weight again and won’t have to worry so much about my beer-related caloric intake. For the next couple of months there will be light beers populating this list regularly, but there are plenty of people doing the same thing so maybe this’ll help for those of you out there in need.

What I’ve come to realize is that no light beer is going to be all that good. The best tasting is Sam Adams Light (not reviewed here), but at 125 calories you’ll look much hipper drinking Guinness which clocks in at a buck-and-a-quarter as well and is just plain tastier.

The conclusion I’ve come to during this brief time is that if you love beer and refuse to drink the beer flavored water that tends to be light beer your only choice is to cut the quantity you consume. Reduction doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially if you are willing to try new brews. There are plenty out there that you can really sit back and savor over the same amount of time it would normally take you to clang back two or three generic pints.

Anyway, this list covers about two weeks or so.

Beer:

Amstel Light (draft)- Light lager- Amstel Brouwerij B. V., Netherlands
Grade: C+
Is there anybody reading this who hasn’t been subjected to this beer? This is never my beer of preference as it’s usually just the lesser of brewed evils that gets presented. Any sales conference, company party, and most weddings I’ve been at the beer choices are almost always: Bud, Bud Light, Heineken, or Amstel Light. I’ll be chuffed if I’m drinking any of those other three nightmares. This is beer to drink when you have to or when you are young and think that you look sophisticated drinking “imported” beer, but are smart enough to not put up with the always skunky taste of Heineken. Basically Amstel’s inoffensive, functional, and something you can drink without any effort. I’ve had worse (SEE: last two reviews of this entry).

Hoegaarden (draft)- Witbier- Brouwerij van Hoegaarden, Belgium
Grade: A- BREW OF THE BLOG!
This, my friends, is the nectar of the gods. I have absolutely been addicted to this stuff since the first sip 8 years ago. Witbiers are unfiltered beers akin to hefeweizens the difference is witbiers are lighter than hefes and tend more towards a crisp, citrus finish as opposed to the earthy, almost potato-like finish of hefes. I honestly think I could drink this beer at any time of the day, all day long. It’s refreshing and crisp, but there’s plenty of flavor going on with it. This is my favorite beer and I recommend it highly to anyone who drinks beer. Luckily it’s become a relatively popular import and relatively easy to find in liquor stores or bars with a broad range of imports. The only downside is that it seems like as its accessibility has expanded, the more often I’ve run across some weak pints from taps; hard to know if it’s the beer or the bar to blame. Regardless, I’ve never had a bad bottle so maybe give it a try at your local package store if you see a six-pack. It’s bottle fermented so make sure your read the pouring instructions to get the best flavor.

Kirin Light (bottle)- Light lager- Kirin Brewery Company Limited, Japan
Grade: C+
You’ve already heard the light beer spiel. I’m convinced none of it is going to be great, I’m just hoping for decent and that’s exactly what I got with Kirin Light. The flavor is thin and no comparison to Kirin Ichiban, but still more flavor than say any of the mass produced domestic light beers and less emotionally scarring (for me at least) than Amstel. At least now I know what to get with sushi. The only problem is I don’t think I’ve ever been in a bar that carries the light version and it’s a pretty rare animal in liquor stores. Still if you can find it, have a go.

Macau (bottle)- Euro pale lager- Macau Beer Company Limited, China
Grade: C
[See Past Review]

Magic Hat #9 (draft)- Fruit/Vegetable Beer- Magic Hat Brewing Company, USA
Grade: B
I’ve got to be in the right mood for #9, but when I am this is tasty stuff. Yes, that is apricot you taste, but it works because the bitter tang of the apricot is canceled out by the bitterness of the beer. The result is you notice the fruit taste, but it’s not like you’re drinking a beer with cough syrup dumped in as I’ve found many fruit beers tend to taste like. No, this is good stuff built on what would be a solid beer without any of the fruit flavor. It’s definitely something different that’s easy to drink after the first head-scratching sips. Plus, I dig on the funky packaging this company uses. Word of warning, you will on occasion find a bar with a slightly watery batch on tap. Not often enough to be discouraged; but just in case your first pint is seemingly bland try again at another bar or have a go at a bottle.

Michelob Ultra (bottle)- American Macro Lager- Anheuser-Busch, Inc., USA
Grade: D-
For some reason I was convinced this stuff was supposed to taste good and have less calories than any other light beer. I blame the advertising blitz a few years back. The reality is that neither of those things is true. This is piss water with a mild beer-like flavoring and 95 calories a bottle. I had a bottle in a pub and after being disturbed by the lack of beeriness I ordered a pint of Amstel and it tasted -shudder- good. This event should speak volumes as to the quality of Ultra given my early tirade. Don’t waste your money.

Michelob Ultra Amber (bottle)- American Macro Light Lager- Anheuser-Busch, Inc., USA
Grad: F
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse. Basically take its predecessor, make it darker and somewhat visually appealing, but give it a weird bitterness that tries and fool you into thinking it has flavor. True, it does have flavor, but unfortunately it’s worse than the original. It was a bitter metallic aftertaste, like drinking Ultra with pennies in my mouth. Yum. Again, don’t waste your money.

Wine:
(I know far, far less about wine than I do beer so, grain of salt here.)

La CremaSonoma Coast Pinot Noir– 2005, California
Grade: B+
This spicy full body red was paired with Afghani food (Helmand in Cambridge, MA- highly recommended) which was very rich, savory, and spicy in its own right. The combination was great, because the food rounded the sharper edges of the wine to make its flavor bold and velvety with a touch of fruitiness (just like me). This pinot was pretty good on its own before the meal came, but very strong. If aggressive wines frighten you, you might want to pair this up with a robust meal to get the best enjoyment out of it.