May 20th to May 27th, 2012

This week, I have mostly been drinking…

Smoky beer

The Canadian popped into BevMo and decided that smoky beers should be the theme of this week’s purchases. The most fun of the bunch was Rogue’s Bacon Maple Ale¬†(beer advocate review), arising out of a collaboration with Voodoo Doughnut… yes that’s right, BACON beer! The pinkness of the bottle, the words BACON and MAPLE all contributed to The Canadian’s choosing of this 5.6% ABV, 30 IBU, light brown, hazy ale. The smell of the beer was definitely on the money (think smoky, sweet and salty) and it certainly was fun and different. However, the taste was a bit too weird to ever be considered a session beer and it took quite awhile for us to get through it – having said that, I’d be up for drinking it again, except next time I’d share it with a few more people in little tasting glasses paired with a doughnut!

Next up was Bayhawk Ales Imperial Brown Ale, recommended to The Canadian by a fellow shopper. With the Imperial moniker I was expecting it to be over-hopped as well as high ABV (7.2%) for a brown ale but it was surprisingly restrained on the hop front (IBU only 18) with a definite smell of bananas, which the interwebs tell me is from isoamyl acetate and is a fermentation product encouraged in Hefeweizen. Not really a smoky beer but we did enjoy it! Finally came the Ass Kisser Ales Porter Pounder Smoked Porter, ABV = 8.0%, IBU = 36 (beer advocate review)… I wouldn’t kick it out of bed but I wouldn’t go out of my way to court it either ūüėČ

Beer around town

This week I was drinking in Berkeley for work-related reasons. Among the beers I sampled were a couple of local offerings.¬†Now, I’m a firm believer in drinking local to properly ground yourself in a place and the¬†most famous San Francisco beer is probably Anchor Steam (ABV = 4.9%), so if you’re in SF, have a pint of this… and then find something more interesting instead.¬†Linden Street are a brewery based out of Oakland, with a worthy philosophy of crafting beer that is true to the early days of Californian brewing, rather than today’s West Coast styles. This means they only brew lagers but fermented at ale temperature (due to the warm Bay Area climate), naturally carbonated and unfiltered. I tried the Red Lager, which was pleasingly coloured and more flavoursome and satisfying than a typical larger while remaining lighter in body than a typical ale. I’d have another one, especially on a warm day.

A Porter from Japan!

Baird Beer; Kurofune Porter (ABV = 6.0%); beer advocate review: This bottle was probably the best of the week, dark, slightly oily on the palate but with an incredibly delicate and balanced finish that fades fairly quickly rather than lingers. It’s a bit light in body but after drinking a few¬†disappointing and over-carbonated US Porters, the bitter coffee/cocoa notes and the elegant finish put a smile on my face.¬†Plus, it’s from the foot of Mt. Fuji and the bottle urges you to, “Please drink contemplatively, Beer Drinker-san”. With that in mind, I’m off to contemplate further…

Hoppier, lighter, stronger, colder, fizzier… American beer!

If the embodiment of British beer is a pint of mid-brown best bitter (flat in the South, creamy head in the North) then the emerging epitome of American ale is an assertive IPA or Pale Ale, assaulting the senses with a cold, brash hop-attack of carbonated golden liquid.

Before I launch into a more thorough comparison of the nations’ beer-guzzling preferences, I suggest you head to the nearest supermarket and pick-up a couple of bevvies to keep you company and better make my points! Head to Safeway’s in either the US or the UK, pick-up a bottle of Bass Pale Ale¬†(arguably a better representation than a Newkie Brown or a Boddingtons) and a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Leave the Bass out so it’s warm and put the Sierra Nevada in the fridge to cool. All done? Great! Crack them open and enjoy!

Over the last few months I have come to appreciate the depth, enthusiasm and variety of the American craft brewing industry, determinedly weaning the nation away from the crime of anaemic Lite beers (shudder). However, the locals obviously have the local palate to consider and work with, hence the tendency towards cold, carbonated and lightly coloured beer. If this raises doubts in British readers, just take a swig of the cold Sierra Nevada in front of you and note how the distinctive American Cascade hops cuts through, resulting in a beer that is still flavoursome and satisfying. I now keep my cute six-packs of beer in the fridge as the best crafted brews here are designed so that the flavours balance when drunk cold. On the other hand, this means I am still questing for a truly satisfying Porter or Stout as their dark depths just don’t come through cold.

Something in an IPA obviously appeals to Americans on a deep, subconscious level – this isn’t just a beer, it’s a BEER!!!! …with HOPS!!!! …and STRENGTH!!!! Hops can clearly cut through cold beer and IPAs have always been strong but what you are too-often left with here is a predominance of high ABVs (it’s extremely rare to find anything below 5.0% and 5.5%-6.5% is more common) where malt is sadly neglected, skewing the balance of the brew (compare here with the Bass). Finding a session beer is harder but although the pints are only 80% of the size of a British pint, the extra carbonation and ABV keep your pint consumption about the same (note that I’m not the best judge of this though as I’ve always been a slow drinker who only has a few!).

Looking around here, you can even find Double IPAs (when you need even more hops!). There is also an emergence of Imperializing other styles too (for this read stronger and hoppier!). The hoppier-lighter-colder-fizzier¬†phenomenon¬†is also expressed as far into the beer lexicon as the venerable Barleywine, a true favourite style of mine. I’m looking forward to comparing British and American Barleywines in another blog… but may need a friend or two to help or I won’t get very far!

So, do you prefer the Bass or the Sierra Nevada? I myself have a soft spot for Sierra Nevada, having drunk many of the cute little bottles while in Pasadena (near L.A.) working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a month as part of my PhD. If you look hard in the UK you can also find their Porter, Stout and Barleywine (if you’re in Leeds head to Smokestack or¬†North Bar). In latter years I’ve generally steered clear of best bitters in Britain as far too many of them are disappointingly mediocre but catch myself here wistfully wanting something that is a little bit more malt forward.

Enough rambling for now… signing off in the words of “The Most Interesting Man in The World” from Dos Equis (look him up!)… “Stay Thirsty My Friends”…

May 12th to May 19th, 2012

This week, I have mostly been drinking….

…dark, flavoured beers!

The Canadian and I went to¬†BevMo, which is a fun store full of tempting choices and bought two vanilla flavoured dark beers and later, a mocha stout. Then I also picked up a chocolate stout from¬†Trader Joe’s, one of the local/ethical/organic-type grocery store chains beloved of Californians. Our basic idea is to buy two or three themed beers every week and compare them side-by-side to see which we prefer and to further our beery education and palate. Now that we’re in the US we’ve also decided to try them cold first and then see how they change as they warm up… more on that in another post! Without further ado, the beers I’ve drunk are:

Knee Deep Brewing Co; Tanilla Porter; ABV = 6.3%; IBU = 30; review from beer advocate

Abita; 25th Anniversary Vanilla Double Dog; ABV = 7.5%; review from beer advocate

Boatswain; Chocolate Stout; ABV = 5.4%; IBU = 66; review from beer advocate

Rogue; Mocha Porter; IBU = 54; review from beer advocate

Anyone who has drunk with me knows how much I love my dark beers, particularly a good porter, so I was really excited to try these. However, I have to say that overall the experience was… underwhelming. In general, the beers are over-carbonated, which gives an acidic and harsh mouth-feel that dominates the experience when drinking the beer cold. I have come to expect this since moving to the US last September and in some styles of beer it works quite well… but not in a porter or stout please! I was looking for a warm, velvety hug in a glass. The closest to this was the Tanilla Porter, which was silky but too thin. The vanilla sweetness did come through though. The chocolate stout was also quite pleasant to drink when warm and at $1.99 its short-comings were acceptable! Probably the biggest disappointment to me was the Rogue Mocha Porter – it just ain’t no¬†Dark Star Espresso Stout¬†(now that’s a breakfast beer!) or¬†Mill Street Coffee Porter. I haven’t given up on Rogue though and am excited to hunt down their¬†San Francisco pub¬†to give their beers a fairer trial. I’m particularly excited by the 1-star review it got from someone on Google who said the bathrooms were dirty, the table service was slow and that the beers were warm and flat – sounds perfect! Anyone want to join me?!

I have also drunk…

Grand Teton Brewing Co; Bitch Creek ESB; ABV = 6.0%; IBU = 54; beer advocate

You know how you have some beers that make you relax when you walk into a new pub and in lieu of something more exciting on tap, you are always happy to fall back on? For me, this is my US version. Like many american beers it has a generous dosing of hops, including the distinctive Cascade variety. However, unlike many american beers, the malts are not neglected and result in a pleasingly mid-brown beer with nice balance. A bit hoppy for the Canadian who prefers the also highly drinkable¬†Full Sail Amber¬†but at $2 per (small) US pint on Tuesdays at our local it’s really difficult for me to fault. If only I could find it on tap more often…