Why Lagers Will Never Be a “Best” Beer

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There are always a typical set of reactions when discussing anything determined to be “best.” Even if the word isn’t always grounded in subjectivity – certainly there are quantifiable examples of what’s best – it does swing the gates wide open for a rush of discussions and arguments of what the word and its context means.

Which, perhaps expected, is what happened with a pair of posts analyzing RateBeer’s best 100 beers in the world and the best new entries of 2015.

Some people were surprised at specific beer choices, while a common question permeated throughout a series of other comments: where are the lagers?

From readers and fellow beer writers to this thread on Reddit, people wanted to know why their beloved bottom-fermenting beverages weren’t represented. The one bock that showed up – a weizenbock – isn’t even a lager.

Is it an intrinsic desire to find flavors that push boundaries? Is it driven by our own food culture? Or maybe, as beer continues to grow and evolve – sometimes literally – it’s part of an effort to simply move away from subtlety.

Why, when it comes to what’s “best,” might we find ourselves numb to nuance?

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Trend Spotting: What Can RateBeer’s Best New Beers of 2015 Tell Us?

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In my previous post about RateBeer’s latest collection of “best” beers, we focused on the overall top 100, as released annually by the beer review site. But new this year, RateBeer has also shared a list of 50 best new beers released in 2015.

This is exciting because it not only gives us a better glimpse into trends and preferences for the subgroup of active reviewers on the website, but it also provides an opportunity to compare with my previous “best of 2015” list compiled from a collection of writers and beer enthusiasts.

Like RateBeer’s overall list analyzed in my last post, this one is a wide collection of rare and hard to find beers. As mentioned in a previous piece about the rising price of beer, expensive and speciality brews cater to “snobconsumers, “for whom the acquisition of scarce goods generate ‘signaling effects’ on consumption, increasing their utility when the good consumed is uncommon and generates status.”

In an age of accumulating badges on Untappd and standing among beer loving peers, a list like this isn’t representative to Average Jane Sixpack, but it’s still useful to look at to get a better grasp on the socio-cultural preferences shown by beer lovers.

So let’s once again get to crunching some numbers.

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Taste Test: The Downside of Labeling?

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Where the taste test happens.

For those of us who are curious about what goes into our beer beyond hops, malt and yeast, labels only tell half the story … or is it the full story?

A while ago, I wrote about the use of natural flavoring in beers, explaining what it means and how it benefits brewers. An important outcome of the use and how flavors are labeled, however, may have the impact of setting expectations for a consumer. “Natural flavoring” as opposed to listing a specific taste or flavor, allows some flexibility for a brewery:

Why the term “natural flavoring?” I’d guess it straddles a fine line between impacting a consumers perception of a product and the legality of what is required to tell a customer. If you put a specific flavor front-and-center on the label – perhaps “lemonade” on Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy – there will be no doubt in a customer’s mind what they’ll be tasting. For a summer-specific beer like that, it makes sense.

So what happens when we are presented with specific labeling and the expectations that come along with them? I held a small (unscientific) experiment this weekend to get a better idea.
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Is This Beer Key to Widmer’s Resurgence? A Taste of Upheaval IPA

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If you’ve kept tabs on the blog lately, you may have caught my recent posts on the Craft Brew Alliance and the variety of reasons I think 2014 will be big for them. That was before the brewing company decided to add 100,000 barrels to production, too.

It’s fitting then that CBA will continue an early push in 2014 for the company and its brands. Last week, Wider Brothers released its newest, year-round beer – an IPA, of course.

In my profile of Widmer, I pointed out the company’s reliance on hop-forward brews, both in the past and future. Feb. 10 marked the release of the new Upheaval IPA, a beer the company proudly proclaims uses two pounds of hops per barrel. In this time of Hop Heads, it seems to bode well for Widmer that their new beer uses more hops per barrel than any other in their lineup.
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You’re Only as Old as You Taste: That Time I Ruined Bottles of Hopslam Because SCIENCE!

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So I’m probably kind of crazy.

I recently celebrated a birthday which concluded an experiment a couple years in the making. As my “special” birthday beer, I drank a Hopslam (yay!) that was two years old (boo!).

The reason? Why not? I’m doing this for you, dear reader.

When it comes to aging beer, I always point people to this handy set of rules supplied by the folks at Dogfish Head, which point out general guidelines for aging beer. The number one guideline they provide appeals to me: “a little experimentation goes a long way.” (Note: generally speaking, higher ABV beers are best for storage, but IPAs are not ideal because of the importance of hop freshness.)

Rudimentary searches online suggested that by aging Hopslam, which is made with honey, I may end up with some kind of mead-like drink, so what the hell?

Let’s put on our lab coats and hope time provides more of a eureka! moment rather than evil, maniacal laughter.
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Why So Serious? Have a Laugh with Clown Shoes Beer

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Piling out of their tiny car, they stumble one after another. Smiling faces with grins from ear to ear. Their faces white, noses red and feet hidden somewhere inside oversized contraptions more suitable to be used as flippers than footwear.

These clowns aren’t here to dance or juggle. They’re here to get you buzzed.

For the first time, I’ve delved into the lineup of Clown Shoes beer, the pun-loving Ipswich, Mass. brewery. Perusing a local Total Wine, I picked up two of their offerings to give them a shot.

But is the joke on me? … Let’s find out if I got the last laugh.
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Here’s a Dirty Little Secret About Russian River Pliny the Elder

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Psst.

Wanna know a secret?

Pliny the Elder isn’t as good as you think it is.

[Pause for audible gasps of shock and horror]

OK. Well, it is good. In fact, it’s kind of amazing. But it’s not for the reasons you might think.

And it’s not necessarily the best IPA or double IPA out there.

[Pause for screams of terror]
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From Taproom to Kitchen: A Taste Test with Hi-Wire Brewing

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Back in September, I made a trip to beer Mecca, Asheville, NC, to visit friends. During my stop, I made sure to check out one of North Carolina’s newer breweries, Hi-Wire Brewing, which opened up over the summer.

As you’d expect from any Asheville business, the place was cozy and friendly … but what about their beers?

Well, it just so happens that Hi-Wire recently began distributing three of their year-round beers to the eastern side of North Carolina. After finding them in my local bottle shop – an IPA, pale ale and brown ale – I decided to do a retroactive taste test.

What I’ve done is taken my initial impressions, as captured on Untappd, and separately taken notes on the bottle versions I bought last week. I was curious to compare and contrast my thoughts.

As I’m sure you know, getting beer straight from the source is always the best way to do things – a la my great Beergrimage of 2013 – but I figured this would be a fun way to offer up a few new NC beers in case you happen to pass through the state.
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My White Whale (or is that orange?): Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

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Some may seek Pliny the Elder, others may yearn for Heady Topper. Me? My white whale has been Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale.

Yes, I know it’s doesn’t exactly receive the otherworldly hype of the other two, but for the gourd-head I am, it’s been a longtime coming to get my hands on this beer, which scores a 94 on Beer Advocate. *raises fist and shakes hand at the Gods of Distribution*

Lucky for me, this beer lives up to the hype.

While not a spice bomb, the smell of Schlafly’s brew is full of aromas you’d expect when pulling a pumpkin pie from the oven – nutmeg, clove and a strong whiff of cinnamon that just rocks. I’d liken it to french toast.

The spice combo carries throughout each sip, leaving an aftertaste of sweet, spiced pie. At 8 percent ABV, there was a bit of a boozy note on my first sip, but that disappeared quickly.

For those who are turned off by the intensity of Pumking, I highly recommend this beer, which comes off as more “natural” compared to its monarch counterpart. I may actually like the smell of Schlafly better than Pumking, but it’s missing the “crusty” flavor that Southern Tier nails so well.

All the same, it’s earned a top-notch rating on the pie slice scale:

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But wait, BONUS PUMPKIN BEER!

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He Said Tripel

I wasn’t sure if this was going to appear in my local bottle shop. San Francisco’s 21st Amendment and Seattle’s Elysian Brewing got together to create a pair of pumpkin-laced brews – one a baltic porter, the other a tripel. Both were brewed with pumpkin and spices.

I wanted to highlight the tripel because while it contains pumpkin ale ingredients, I’d argue it’s more tripel than anything … and that’s OK.

It’s very sweet with noticeable Belgian candi sugar and Trappist ale yeast giving it a little fruity flavor. There’s maybe a touch of spice smell, but I didn’t really get any pumpkin aspects until the very bottom of the glass after it had been sitting for a while and warmed. I actually think this brew may be perfect to drink with a Thanksgiving meal, if you can keep it around long enough.

Best part of this beer, however, is it’s clarity. Here’s looking at you, beer.

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+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

A Taste of Pure Michigan: Arbor Brewing Lineup

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Sure, Founders and Bell’s breweries may get most of the attention for Michigan beer thanks to wide distribution, but there’s plenty more to be had.

That’s something Friend of the Program, Mark Graves, touched on with his Six-Pack Project entry for Michigan. There are about 100 total breweries spread across the Great Lakes State, so there’s something to be had by all.

The Missus recently made a trip to Ann Arbor, where upon her kindness and the suggestion of a local grabbed me a mixed six-pack of Arbor Brewing‘s lineup. Baring the slogan “Mitten Made,” I can’t imagine of a more fitting way to be more “Pure Michigan” for my tastebuds. Let’s take a dive into some of their offerings, which seem to have a uniquely Belgian inspiration.
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