Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Beer Reviews

Starting in late August last year, I wrote a review of each different kind of beer I drank, excluding the large variety of beers I drank during the Brew Ha Ha event in Sycamore, IL, in September. Things got a little foggy after awhile and reviewing each beer (I must have tried close to 50 different beers, in shot glass portions) was impossible. But except for that omission, every different beer I’ve tried since August 31, 2013 has gotten a short review.
Writing reviews on beers inspired me to try many different beers. I have many old favorites, but am always open to new flavors. And the onslaught of variety that has become available in my lifetime means it will take more than a lifetime to explore all the different varieties of beer available. These are indeed heady times!

I follow a simple 5-star scale. I tend to bias towards IPAs and darker beers. Lagers, pilsners and other lighter beers are treated fairly, but I tend to give higher ratings to the beers I like. I will list the approximate date, the name of the beer and (if I have it handy) the brewery, my star rating, and the short review.
So far, my favorite is.....

I tried this one on Sept. 20, 2013 (see review below). The following are brief, non-scientific reviews of the 35+ different beers I've had since August 31.

8/31, Guinness draught (from a can), Guinness Brewery, Dublin, Ireland, 4 stars. Creamy delicious. A classic for a reason. I first discovered this beer more than 15 years ago and it still ranks up there as one of my all-time favorites. I remember when I lived in Antigo, WI, and couldn’t find this beer, so I took a trip to Green Bay just to hunt down a few cases.

Hop Notch IPA and Baba Black Lager, Uinta Brewing Co., Salt Lake City, UT. 3-stars for Hop Notch, 4 stars for Baba Black. I drank both of these at The House Café in DeKalb during a live show of a favorite local band, The Great Influence Machine, at Cornfest. Hop Notch was almost too hoppy, an insult of flavor, but the Baba Black was creamy coffee smooth.

9/1, Shock Top Belgian White, Anheuser Busch, St. Louis, MO, 3 stars. A macro brewery approximation of a Belgian white, with fake flavor additives and over-the-top cloying tartness.

9/2, Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA, The Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA, 4 stars. Hoppy goodness!
Sam Adams Hazel Brown and Mild Ruby, 2 stars. Fake. Flavors added. All three beers were part of a specialty 12-pack. The IPA was by far my favorite of them all.

9/7, Sam Adams Pumpkin Harvest Ale, 3 ½ stars. Smooth, crisp, surprising and subtle. I was expecting more fake flavor nastiness, but the hint of pumpkin showed restraint.

9/8, Busch, Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, MO,  3 ½ stars. Along with Old Style, Busch is one of favorite swill American Style Lagers. Drank with a townie friend while watching a Bears game.

Hop Stoopid Ale, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Petaluma, CA,  4 stars. Fragrant citrus notes. An Imperial IPA. Strong, with a high ABV, but deceptively smooth.

9/13, Sam Adams Boston Lager, 4 stars. A classic for a reason. Crisp, fruity, with some bitter notes. A well-rounded beer.

9/16, Stella Artois, Anheuser-Busch Inbev, Leuven, Belgium, 4 ½ stars. Light. Crisp. Refreshing. Almost a perfect lager.

9/20, Chimay Peres Trappiste Premiere (Red Label),  Chimay Brewery, Hainaut, Belgium, brewed by the Scourmont Abbey, 5 stars. The only one of the eight Belgian Trappist ales widely marketed in the United States. A true labor of love, time and devotion. Full-bodied, balanced, smooth, and full of flavor across the entire palate.

9/22, St. Peter’s Cream Stout, St. Peter's Brewery Co Ltd in Bungay, Suffolk, United Kingdom, 4 ½ stars. Complex flavors. Char aroma. Cocoa and bitter finish. A very good stout.

9/27. Pumpkick, New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO, 4 stars. Any beer touting cranberry and pumpkin flavors raises a frou frou red flag, but this full-bodied lager was subtle on those flavors, which came out mostly on the back palate.

Old Style,  Pabst Brewing Co., Los Angeles, 3 ½ stars. My favorite swill beer. (Go Cubs!!) But still a swill. A little weak and watery, but with a distinct flavor I like.

10/4, La Fin Du Monde, Unibrouie Brewery, Chambly, Quebec, 4 ½ stars. A superb, triple-fermented golden ale. Very complex finish and surprisingly light-bodied and easy-to-drink, considering its 9 percent ABV.

10/5, Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider, The Woodchuck Cidery, Middlebury, VT, 3 ½ stars. Not technically a beer. Very full-bodied. Sweet. A little strong on the spices, but a very sippable dessert quaff.

10/11, Farmhouse Hatter Farmhouse IPA Belgian Style Pale Ale, New Holland Brewery, Holland, MI, 3 ½ stars. As IPAs go, this is pretty tame, so it may be a good introductory beer to those a little put off by the hoppy effrontery of most IPAs. Nice, frothy head. Golden body. Hops balanced by sweetness.

Hamm’s,  Hamm's Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI, 3 stars. C’mon. Sing along with me. “From the land of sky blue waters (waters). From the land of pines. Comes a beer refreshing. Hamm’s the beer refreshing. Hamm’s.” The jingle. The classic unchanged can. $3 a six pack. A typical swill beer, but be warned. Don’t get your swerve on with this beer. It will rip through your system like a marauding bear.

10/13, Rampant Imperial India Pale Ale, New Belgium Brewing Co., 3 ½ stars. Very aromatic, or, as I joked, “odoriferous.” And hoppy. As an IPA should be. It’s clean and smooth and flavorful, but there’s nothing distinctive about it.

Pabst Blue Ribbon,  Pabst Brewing Company, Los Angeles, 3 stars. The ultimate swill American Adjunct Lager. Hipsters across the nation decry the superior drinkability of PBR. I bought a 24-pack for $9.99, so it’s my beer of choice for awhile.

10/26,  Wernesgrüner, Wernesgrüner  Braueri, Steinberg - Wernesgrün, Germany. 3 ½ stars. Can’t beat the price on this one – free. I found it in Aldi’s dumpster. For a beer available at Aldi’s, it is clean and crisp, with a little sweetness on the back palate. A light and refreshing pilsner.

11/2, 5 Vulture, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, Bedford Park, IL, 3 ½ stars. My brother Ken visited for Halloween and brought this local micro brew. It’s an amber ale brewed with ancho chili, called an “Oaxacan-style Dark Ale.” I had my misgivings. Peppers and beer? But it’s fine. There’s only a little spice at the finish. Nice body. Subtly sweet.

11/15, Leinenkugel’s (original golden draft),  Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Chippewa Falls, WI, 3 ½ stars. An old favorite. Typical lager, yeah, but well-crafted. Good head. Sweet finish. True golden color. I poured a Leinie and PBR side by side. The PBR is lighter and more bubbly. The head dissipated quickly. The Leinie looks solid and darker by comparison. Leinie’s bring back memories of camping trips up north. The brewery also produces solid craft and seasonal brews.

11/22, Winter White, Belgium White Ale, Bell’s Brewing Co., Kalamazoo, MI. 4 ½ stars. I’ve never had a bad beer from this brewery, and the Winter White continues the standard of excellence. Very cloudy. Very white. Full-bodied. Complex wheaty flavors, with a sweet finish of coriander and cardamom. One of the best whites I’ve had in a while.

Accumulation White IPA, winter seasonal, New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO. 4 stars. Another seasonal tried on tap at PJs Courthouse Tavern in Sycamore. Intensely hoppy with a sweet finish. This is a beast of an IPA, but after it bowls you over, it picks you back up. I like this brewery. Fat Tire is one of my favorite lagers.

11/23, Icehouse, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee WI, 2 ½ stars. I bought this beer at Liquorland on 11th St., in Rockford en route to pick up my friend Shawn for a road trip into Chicago. Liquorland is in a seedy part of town and boasts the largest selection of cheap 40 and 24 oz. beers I’ve ever seen. The primo ultima in cheap-o I saw is LaBatt’s Max Ice (7.1 percent ABV), 99 cents for 24 ounces. I wasn’t brave enough for that. The Icehouse is bad enough.

All Day IPA, Session Ale, Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. 3 ½ stars. A low ABV for an IPA, but a very balanced flavor. Flowery aromas. I drank it too cold out of the bottle – not the best arrangement – but the flavor improved as the beer warmed.

Breakfast Stout, imperial stout, Founders Brewing Co., 4 ½ stars. Again, less than ideal drinking conditions – cold, out of the bottle – at a rock concert, but the complexity, sweet and bitter balance, coffee and chocolate notes, makes for a very fine beer. I am not surprised to see it gets a 100 rating on Beer Advocate. A great find!

11/30, American Pale Ale, Wisconsin Brewing Co., Verona, WI. 3 stars. This is a put-hair-on-your-back in-your-face blast of hoppy goodness. While it’s not for the faint of heart, and the hoppy/ sweetness interplay is all out of balance for hoppy, I’d drink it again because what I love about IPAs, or, in this case, an APA, is the aura of a floral bouquet you get in the front palate. This beer has quite an aura!

12/1, Two Brothers Sidekick American Pale Ale, Two Brothers Brewing Co., Aurora, IL, 4 stars. Drunk on draft in a tall glass at Buffalo Wild Wings. Hoppy, but not overwhelming. Well-balanced. Not weak. Not overwhelming. I have yet to be disappointed by a beer from Chicago-area Two Brothers.

12/6, Local 1529 IPA, Detroit Beer Company, Detroit, MI, 3 ½  stars. Two friends and I stopped at this brew pub before attending the MAC Championship Game featuring our alma mader, NIU, versus Bowling Green. This IPA has an odd, skunky hoppiness on the front palate, but finishes nice and sweet. A distinctive, acquired flavor.

Steam Tunnel Stout, Detroit Beer Company, 3 stars. Non-distinct. Very basic. None of the coffee or chocolate notes I look for.

At the game itself I tried…

Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch Inbev, 3 stars. Not much to say about America’s most popular beer. It’s like most things pop. Simple. Direct. Bland. Serviceable. Its risen to the top by being “smooth,” i.e. a beer for people who have yet to acquire a taste for beer. And that’s why I don’t seek it out.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, CA, 4 stars. By comparison to Budweiser, the Sierra Nevada is an onslaught of flavor. Balanced, yet smooth (sans quotation marks), and quite drinkable. It’s hoppy and floral, but not in IPA intensity. I discovered this beer a long time ago (15+ years) and return to it time and time again.

12/11 Don De Dieu, triple fermented wheat ale, Unibroue Brewery, Chambly, Quebec. 4 stars. I loved Fin Du Monde by this brewery and their wheat ale is excellent as well!At 9 percent ABV, it packs a punch, but is balanced by the wheaty sugars, making for a surprisingly smooth beer.

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