From the Bottle Collection: 2 Days Before Christmas Beer

One Bottle Collection beer for every day before Christmas. Rating system: not actually meant as a “tense” comment. All these beers either don’t exist anymore, or I tasted in the past. Hopefully, if not so hot before, they’re better now. If they do still exist. Or hopefully, if not better they’re as dead as the… Dickens.

Note: the ghosts have varied a bit over the various versions, but even Mr. Magoo’s version the Future was bleak. In the pictures chosen for this series the most visually pleasing ghost was Present.

Ghost of Christmas Present… remember him? Jolly, fun: the kind of guy you’d invite to a party for the season, and the kind of beer you could bring to a festive affair and not be totally laughed out of the room by festive beer geeks. That’s the best a beer gets in this series. Now Ghost of Christmas Past isn’t a great award. You can see from the picture he can be a bit of a grump. Probably from mediocre’ beer. And best not bring a Ghost of Christmas Past Beer to a beer geek festive affair. You’ll be the limp wet noodle of the party. A Ghost of Christmas Future beer? You remember that guy, right? If you want to be laughed at, have to bring most of your offering home and feel like you’ve just attended your own funeral instead of a party, bring a Ghost of Christmas Future beer. Some Ghost of Future Beer might best serve as embalming fluid.

Written by Ken Carman

FX Matt Traditional Season’s Best

I hate apply the “don’t remember much about this beer so it couldn’t have been terrible, or great,” rule, but for the most part I do. Here’s what I do remember, maybe remember: an amber or light brown. Not highly hopped, decent head. A bit light on the body. An ale with light fruity yeast notes, at best. Not a “seasonal” according to today’s standards. But I have to emphasize: “according to today’s standards.” I’m guessing this was marketed as a “between” product: as in between Saranac and Matt’s more “traditional” market base. This was in 1989. Hey, even if this was an attempt at “craft,” for 89 this was about as aggressive as it got except for a few, up and coming, brewers and Anchor. But I’m guessing they were fishing for a wider customer base: trying to lure the old customers into the craft beer market.

I don’t know how well it sold.

At the time Matt Brewing, at the time known as F.X. Matt I believe, had just started to get into competing with craft beer. I only say “with” because, at the time, they were pretty bloody big. Kind of a minor major brewer.

I give them a lot of credit for going with a great trend rather than bucking it with smarmy attitudes and nasty, anti-free enterprise, tactics. Utica Club, Matts: the brewery, with a few exceptions, was brewing mostly Bud/Miller/Coors clones with slight variations. That’s not an insult: pretty much all brewers in America were, especially brewers of their size and bigger. F.X. Matt had just come back from Germany, convinced by a German brewer that Americans should at least try to make beer as good as the Germans.

Thus, on that day, in swaddling bubbles and head, was born unto us Saranac. In my bottle collection alone I have at least 30 styles of beer they brew, or have brewed, and I know they’ve done at least twice that. Some deserve a halo, some a thumbs up, some OK and small, small, handful: at best, a “what the… were you thinking???”

So here’s my problem: except as a conversational item you wouldn’t want to bring a bottle of this to a party of beer geeks; though not “bad” by any means. Times have changed. No Ghost of Christmas Present present can be given. But I can’t give it a Ghost of Christmases Yet to Be, because we have to understand the history, and the risk, the Matt family took back in the 80s. Plus, it wasn’t bad at all: especially for the time.

I hate giving the same “award” fr almost all of this year’s candidates, but what am I to do? I can’t give “excellent” or “stinky” to what I can’t remember all that well. I will say that, unlike Dos Equis: a large mega-brewer about to add a 7th brewing facility. F.X, one brewery in Utica, NY, was taking quite a risk back when regular east coast brewers were mostly avoiding jumping intro the craft market.

So a Ghost of Christmas Past with an extra nod at how good that past was. They have a lot to be proud of and, if you have noticed I focus on them more than others just a tad, well I think their story is one untold… few in brew world know or understand.

And, yes, I do know the folks at Saranac, personally. But if my goal here had was to promote them I would have gone with a Present present. But that wouldn’t be fair. Not that memorable.

Continue reading “From the Bottle Collection: 2 Days Before Christmas Beer”

From the Bottle Collection: 3 Days Before Christmas Beer

One Bottle Collection beer for every day before Christmas. Rating system: not actually meant as a “tense” comment. All these beers either don’t exist anymore, or I tasted in the past. Hopefully, if not so hot before, they’re better now. If they do still exist. Or hopefully, if not better they’re as dead as the… Dickens.

Note: the ghosts have varied a bit over the various versions, but even Mr. Magoo’s version the Future was bleak. In the pictures chosen for this series the most visually pleasing ghost was Present.

Ghost of Christmas Present… remember him? Jolly, fun: the kind of guy you’d invite to a party for the season, and the kind of beer you could bring to a festive affair and not be totally laughed out of the room by festive beer geeks. That’s the best a beer gets in this series. Now Ghost of Christmas Past isn’t a great award. You can see from the picture he can be a bit of a grump. Probably from mediocre’ beer. And best not bring a Ghost of Christmas Past Beer to a beer geek festive affair. You’ll be the limp wet noodle of the party. A Ghost of Christmas Future beer? You remember that guy, right? If you want to be laughed at, have to bring most of your offering home and feel like you’ve just attended your own funeral instead of a party, bring a Ghost of Christmas Future beer. Some Ghost of Future Beer might best serve as embalming fluid.

Written by Ken Carman

Abita Festive Ale

Festive, why?

I used to love Abita Springs. In the early 90s I used to hang out at what was the brewery, now the pub, and have beer handed out to me from the back fridge. As the years went on they moved the brewery, and the bottling operation, and turned the cute downtown Abita Springs facility into a small capacity brewpub. At first the food was good and they had, one year, a high octane “Santa’s Helper” that kept me there way the hell too long. Not quite a barley wine, perhaps a strong, strong ale? If only they had bottled that.

This, however, matches much of Abita’s unremarkable line up since then.

Festive: a totally unremarkable ale that was, perhaps, a weak brown at best. Enough fizz, enough everything for a bland brown ale. And I hated to type it, but it’s true: that goes for most of the product line too. This was the grandfather of all the Emerald/Mississsippi/Louisiana breweries and they gave birth to so many breweries. Did the birthing poop them out, or did moving the main brewery down the road do that? They can do better. Currently they bottle an Abbey Ale that’s not too bad, and a very good 25th Anniversary beer, but still seem way to reluctant to upgrade their regular recipes. I understand: what sells is what sells. But at least try to compete a little more than one or two weak attempts?

The brew world is moving on. At least try to keep up with your kids Grandma Abita!

I think this is all because they have been through a series of brewers during all this time. Their first “child,” McGuires in Pensacola, has pretty much kept up the quality with a few minor glitches now and then. That’s because they had the same brewer for almost 20 years who developed consistency, but not afraid to improve recipes, or create new ones. Abita mostly hasn’t, and when they have the attempts have been mostly weak.

An easy to forget seasonal, just like the Ghost of Christmas Past, but the pleasing memories do remain.

Continue reading “From the Bottle Collection: 3 Days Before Christmas Beer”

Beer Here: Jingle Bells from the Grumpy Troll

Written by Robin Shepard for isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=35421

Tis the season for those who like holiday beers. Brewpubs, which can make small batches of unique flavorful brews, are at the forefront this time of year for using spicy, minty, nutty and chocolate accents in their beers. The Grumpy Troll brewpub in Mount Horeb just tapped a little holiday cheer with its Jingle Bells holiday ale, an altbier made with wild rice.

What is it? Jingle Bells from The Grumpy Troll of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

Style: Wild rice is not a typical ingredient in beer, and wild rice brews are not a style on their own, as the rice is a fermentable grain, much as malt is. For most recipes, it supplements other main ingredients like barley. When wild rice is used, it is usually by smaller craft beer makers looking for local natural ingredients. For most commercial brewers, it’s difficult to get in the quantities needed to keep the price within the range their customers are willing to pay. When done well, wild rice offers a nutty sweetness that complements the caramel tones of malted barley.

While wild rice beers are not common, a handful can be found around the upper Midwest where wild rice is available. Last spring, for instance, Capital Brewery in Middleton made a wild rice doppelbock.

Background: The base beer behind Jingle Bells is a German Altbier, a style known for its deep bronze color, hoppy enough for some balance, and just a hint of fruitiness. But the wild rice that brewmaster Mark Knoebl adds distinguishes it.

Northern Wisconsin-grown wild rice makes up about 10% of the total grist bill in the recipe for Jingle Bells. Because the rice needs to be cooked before it’s added to the mash in the lauter tun, it is prepared the day before the actual brewing starts. Knoebl doesn’t have a cereal cooker in his brewhaus, so he prepares the rice in the brewpub’s kitchen using a 10-gallon stockpot similar to what many homebrewers use.

Once it is cooked to a pregelatinized state, the wild rice is combined with Canadian-grown Pilsner, some German Munich and a small amount of caramel malts. The hops include Northern Brewer and Spalt. Knoebl uses a Düsseldorf Alt yeast and ferments the beer at a warm 62° F. Jingle Bells takes about three weeks to make, and finishes at 6% ABV. The beer sells for $4.50/pint in the brewpub, or $12/growler (refill) for take home.

Jingle Bells is expected to be on tap at the brewpub through the end of the year. Knoebl also just unveiled a new year-round beer, Hop Farm Pale Ale, made with all Wisconsin-grown hops.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: A light maltiness with a hint of spicy complexity.
  • Appearance: Hazy bronze color with a thin, bubbly, off-white head.
  • Texture: Medium and round mouthfeel
  • Taste: A mild, but firm maltiness with a faint fruitiness. But it’s the earthy and nutty background that makes it distinctive.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Spicy with a medium, dry bitterness.

 

Glassware: The Grumpy Troll serves Jingle Bells in the standard bar pint. If you bring home a growler, a footed pilsner glass or the Willy Becher, with inward taper near the lip, will focus the nose, hold the head and show off the beer’s bronze color.

Pairs well with: The light, sweet, nutty tones and the natural image of wild rice make this beer a nice match for sweet meat entrées and side dishes. The brewpub’s beer cheese soup is very good with Jingle Bells. Or try it with an order of the Grumpy Troll’s sweet potato tots.

Rating: Two Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Jingle Bells has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at either BeerAdvocate or RateBeer.

The Verdict: Jingle Bells is a nice seasonal treat. It’s medium-bodied and bears a holiday-themed name that seems just right for December. I liked the depth of the malty tones amid the nutty and earthy sweetness of the wild rice. However, I just didn’t get too excited about this beer. Christmas beers are a tough sell for my palate, and although there’s a hint of spice in the finish, I didn’t come away with the “Oh wow, I hear sleigh bells ringing” feeling.

From the Bottle Collection: 4 Days Before Christmas Beer

One Bottle Collection beer for every day before Christmas. Rating system: not actually meant as a “tense” comment. All these beers either don’t exist anymore, or I tasted in the past. Hopefully, if not so hot before, they’re better now. If they do still exist. Or hopefully, if not better they’re as dead as the… Dickens.

Note: the ghosts have varied a bit over the various versions, but even Mr. Magoo’s version the Future was bleak. In the pictures chosen for this series the most visually pleasing ghost was Present.

Ghost of Christmas Present… remember him? Jolly, fun: the kind of guy you’d invite to a party for the season, and the kind of beer you could bring to a festive affair and not be totally laughed out of the room by festive beer geeks. That’s the best a beer gets in this series. Now Ghost of Christmas Past isn’t a great award. You can see from the picture he can be a bit of a grump. Probably from mediocre’ beer. And best not bring a Ghost of Christmas Past Beer to a beer geek festive affair. You’ll be the limp wet noodle of the party. A Ghost of Christmas Future beer? You remember that guy, right? If you want to be laughed at, have to bring most of your offering home and feel like you’ve just attended your own funeral instead of a party, bring a Ghost of Christmas Future beer. Some Ghost of Future Beer might best serve as embalming fluid.

Written by Ken Carman

1995 -Nache-Beuno?

I honestly don’t remember much special about this beer. South of the border beers tend to be fair to poor, though there are exceptions. It’s from Dos Equis. I find Dos Equis, how should I put it? Oh, “vastly over rated.” Relatively a clean tasting, yet inferior, version of what used to be a classic German Style: Vienna. What made this “Christmas?”

I’ve had decent Vienna. Dos ain’t it. And I’m not even sure what to classify this one as.

Nothing I know of. Unlike other reviews I read: no nose except the slightest hint of corn. Ya gotta “love” what they did to a classic style south the border, and this slight bounce off that classic style: if you love going see a love story at the movies only to find out the mad butcher kills everyone in the middle at the wedding.

“Seasonal?” Not spiced in any sense. There was no sense of a fresh, crisp, almost fresh hop snow like hop taste like Saranac’s Big Moose Ale. A little more malt, perhaps, but nothing that makes it “ho, ho, ho.” Certainly not ABV so high Santa burns his toes while sipping it by the fire quaff… and doesn’t notice. More than anything it’s just a slightly darker amber version of Dos without even much of a darker malt sense, a slight roast. Mouthfeel not that malty. Pours sort of brown. Good carbonation especially in mouthfeel. Clarity good. Nice head that lasts. Moderate, unremarkable malt with no hop taste. Nothing that screams out the season. All in all except to cash in on the season, why the hell did they bother?

Oh, that’s right: to cash in on the season.

Though I have qualms about its supposed seasonal nature, since it’s an OK beer, just another slightly more irritated “so what” bland Ghost of Christmas Past award. Tis better than Dos… marginally.
Continue reading “From the Bottle Collection: 4 Days Before Christmas Beer”

Top Ten Christmas and Holiday Ales

From Beerinfo.com

Great Lakes’ Christmas Ale- The Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale is a repeat World Beer Championship Gold Medal winner. The full-bodied, spirited beer is copper in color and has a combination of cinnamon, fresh ginger, and sweet honey tones. Christmas Ale is crafted from American two-row wheat, roasted barley, and English crystal hops, among other ingredients and is designed to complement most holiday meals.

 Anderson Valley Winter Solstice – From the first sip of Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale , your senses will be aroused with the vision of a glowing fire, warming the hearth and home, as gently drifting snow flakes silently blanket the trees outside. Each lingering sip will gently warm your soul with thoughts of family and friends, gathering around the table for the feast. Luscious, creamy, smooth, and warming, this medium bodied ale is brewed with Caramel and crystal malts to give it just a hint of sweetness, then paired with our private blend of holiday spice. Winter Solstice Ale is great alone or as an accompaniment to any meal, and it has been known to liven and spice up nearly any social event.
 
Pyramid Snow Cap – A rich, full-bodied winter warmer crafted in the British tradition of holiday beers. This deep mahogany colored brew balances complex fruit flavors with a refreshingly smooth texture, making Snow Cap a highly drinkable and desirable cold weather companion.

Sweetwater Festive Ale – A full-bodied, high-octane brew capped off with our use of cinnamon and mace. This beer will warm you all the way to your bones. Brewed only one day a year for the holiday season.
 
                                      
 

Continue reading “Top Ten Christmas and Holiday Ales”

On the Joys of Beerhunting

Written by Tom Becham for Professor Goodales

Courtesy pencilandspoon.com

There is really no definition of the word “beerhunting” (other than a truly lame one on Urban Dictionary).  Nor is there one of “beerhunter”, though renowned beer author Michael Jackson was known by that name.

I choose to define beerhunting as the pursuit of new, different, unique and tasty fermented grain beverages.
Simply ticking names off of a list is hardly the point of beerhunting, and misses a lot of the allure of it for me.  To me, it is about the pursuit of knowledge and hedonistic enjoyment.
This includes seeking and purchasing many different kinds of bottled offerings, to be sure.  But the best and most enjoyable feature of beerhunting, is going to brewery tasting rooms and brewpubs.
I have a couple of reasons for feeling this way. First, it is an old aphorism that beer is best when consumed fresh and near the brewery.  Setting aside for a moment the exceptions like bottle-conditioned and deliberately aged offerings, that statement is largely true.

Continue reading “On the Joys of Beerhunting”

From the Bottle Collection: 5 Days Before Christmas Beer

One Bottle Collection beer for every day before Christmas. Rating system: not actually meant as a “tense” comment. All these beers either don’t exist anymore, or I tasted in the past. Hopefully, if not so hot before, they’re better now. If they do still exist. Or hopefully, if not better they’re as dead as the… Dickens.

Note: the ghosts have varied a bit over the various versions, but even Mr. Magoo’s version the Future was bleak. In the pictures chosen for this series the most visually pleasing ghost was Present.

Ghost of Christmas Present… remember him? Jolly, fun: the kind of guy you’d invite to a party for the season, and the kind of beer you could bring to a festive affair and not be totally laughed out of the room by festive beer geeks. That’s the best a beer gets in this series. Now Ghost of Christmas Past isn’t a great award. You can see from the picture he can be a bit of a grump. Probably from mediocre’ beer. And best not bring a Ghost of Christmas Past Beer to a beer geek festive affair. You’ll be the limp wet noodle of the party. A Ghost of Christmas Future beer? You remember that guy, right? If you want to be laughed at, have to bring most of your offering home and feel like you’ve just attended your own funeral instead of a party, bring a Ghost of Christmas Future beer. Some Ghost of Future Beer might best serve as embalming fluid.

Written by Ken Carman

Anderson Valley Seasonal Solstice

I hate to slightly disappoint those who might expect me to be more positive regarding a craft beer early in the rise of craft to counter the even bigger dominance of AB and Miller back then, especially one trying to do a Winter seasonals few did, but I don’t remember this one in the slightest. If I hated it; I’d remember. If I loved it; I’d remember. Solution: a rather bland, unremarkable, past attempt by one of the early craft brewers.

Yes, you have to give them just an ounce of credit for doing so, but that early in craft beer I would have gone nuts over this. I didn’t. I haven’t seen this bugger for a while. Of course I haven’t looked for it. Maybe they still make it. I have read that the brewery has installed all kinds of solar array stuff and they recycle labels. The owners have changed too. One hopes the beer has gotten more impressive than this was.

So one rather bland Ghost of Christmas Past award it tis..

Without intent, I have collected well over 1,000 beer bottles since the early 70s. When something finally had to be done about the cheap paneling in this old modular, I had a choice. Tear down the walls while, oh, so carefully, replacing the often rotted 1X3s. Or: cover them with… The Bottle Collection.

‘Beer in TX’ is No More

Written by Eric Braun for mysanantonio.com

Perhaps the most nonsensical of all the Texas beer rules and regulations — although there are plenty to go around — is the rule that dictates what a beer is called based on whether or not it’s above or below 5% in ABV (alcohol by volume). That rule was struck down by Judge Sam Sparks in a ruling yesterday. He also struck down the rule against producers being able to tell customer where to find their beers.

If you’ve ever noticed a label that read ‘Beer in TX,’ it was likely an ale that couldn’t be called an ale because it was under 5%. Meanwhile, lagers over 5% had to be called an ale or malt liquor. As beer lovers know, ales and lagers are the two main different types of beer and the difference isn’t ABV.

This was based on a lawsuit filed by Austin’s Jester King Brewing and others a few months ago which I wrote about here. Essentially, Judge Sparks found that the labeling rules and the rules against beer manufacturers being able to tell consumer where to find their beer to purchase were both unconstitutional according to the guarantees of the first amendment. So those rules will go away assuming there are no successful appeals or other funny business.

Unfortunately, the judge ruled against using the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to cancel out the regulations wherein brew pubs can’t sell outside of their buildings and breweries can’t sell inside their buildings. That might have been wishful thinking, but it was worth a shot.
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Top Ten: Craft Beer Themes of 2011

 

List of Ten by Bryan Kolesar@ Washingtontimes.com

PHILADELPHIA, December 16, 2011 – 2011 may not have seen much in the way of brand new industry-wide development or innovation. However, that did not stop the following list of themes from continuing to grow deeper roots and being taken to a continually widening audience.

10. Eat, Drink, Food, Beer

The concept of centering a dinner around a beer theme has grown over the past several years and seemed to explode across the beer landscape in 2011. Pizza shops paired Italian craft beers with a variety of pizzas. Fine dining restaurants and award-winning chefs created multi-course gastronomical affairs with some of the country’s leading brew masters. Cheesemongers set up tastings to highlight the more-often-than-not superiority of beer pairings than that of wine. From region to region and across the spectrum of dining options, the way in which beer is enjoyed is changing and the idea of beer and food compatibility has become more accepted and appreciated than ever.

9. Better with age?

Beer enthusiasts have stashed away some of their beers in hopes of discovering a drinkable product better than when it was first delivered fresh from the brewery. A blended Lambic beer like Boon Mariage Parfait from 2004 has a bottle stamp proclaiming it “best by” the year 2028. In recent years, the better beer bars of the mid-Atlantic – ChurchKey (Washington), Monk’s Café (Philadelphia), and Max’s (Baltimore) to name just three – have carved out a special nook on their beer menus to showcase their own cellaring programs and the wondrous potential of aged beer. Certain beers age differently and sometimes better than others; beer enthusiasts are having a blast trying to figure out which beers.

8. Keep it fresh, keep it local

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