Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Celebrator Dopplebock (Brauerei Aying)

Yuengling was established in 1829 and claims to be America's oldest brewery. The Weihenstephan Brewery in Bavaria, by comparison, has been continuously operated since the year 1040. I begin this way to assert that Germany's dedication to and mastery of the brewing art is beyond reproach.

The Ayinger Brewery is a relative newcomer at the age of 134, but its roots are sunk in the rich soil of its native Bavarian tradition. Accordingly, you might expect their Celebrator Dopplebock to be one of the most authentic dopplebocks made -- an exemplar and standard-setter of the style. You'd be right.

Celebrator comes in a classic brown bottle with a pure white cap. Making up for this plainness is an ornate, old-fashioned-looking label which depicts two goats embracing a vessel of sudsy dark beer. Slung around the bottle's neck by a red thread is a white plastic trinket of a goat (bock being a word for "goat" in German).

The beer appears almost black-brown, but shows a lovely ruby color when light passes through it. Pouring raises a short, light brown, tight-bubbled head that settles in the glass with the cascading effect usually associated with nitrogen-drawn drafts. It has the aroma of concord grapes and flint.

The flavor of this dark beauty is toasted barley malt all the way. So restrained is the use of hops that you have to ponder carefully what role it plays. Sweet barley malt totally dominates the full body. There is no bitterness, no smokiness, no huskiness, and the taste stops just shy of the impression of molasses. The flavor evades hazards and extremes with the confidence of a BMW negotiating a slalom course.

The mouthfeel is creamy, involving the minimum carbonation necessary. The grape note that was suggested in the nose increases as the beer warms, as does the detectability of the 6.7% alcohol content.

In my opinion, Celebrator Doppelbock is one of the world's truly great beers. It is rich-tasting and focused, and a marvel of craftsmanship. If you ever need a distinct change of pace from the hops avalanche of American craft brews, you can reach for none better.

Featured beer:
Celebrator Dopplebock

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beer Club (week 10)

Great lineup this week, as we bid adieu to Justin and welcome Melissa:

• Burning River Pale Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Company)
• Celebrator Doppelbock (Brauerei Aying)
• Golden Monkey (Victory Brewing Company)
• Hop Head Red Ale (Green Flash Brewing Company)
• Red's Rye P.A. (Founders Brewing Company)
• Shock Top Belgian White (Anheuser-Busch, Inc.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dale's Pale Ale (Oskar Blues)

This was Justin's final contribution to the TNJ Beer Club before he went off to work at the increasingly legendary Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. As I've said before, I consider starting this biweekly beer exchange one of the best ideas devised by anybody at any time.

The Facebook page for Dale's Pale Ale touts it as "America's first hand-canned craft beer." I've roamed the far corners of this big, scary Internet and I can't find any other brewery contesting the claim. So, what Oskar Blues started (some say as a lark) almost ten years ago has ultimately blossomed into a industry-wide trend with potentially significant environmental benefits. I never would have predicted it, but I guess that's why I'm the amateur blogger and Justin works for Sam Calagione.

I poured this beer into my trusty pint tumbler. It appears a chill-hazed amber, and enthusiastically lofts up three inches of pillowy pumpkin-tinged suds. When cold, the aroma is of pungent citrus hops with cake underneath, becoming more sour and grassy as it warms. There is extensive lacing as the glass is drained.

When sipped, low-key carbonation allows the beer to flow quite smoothly in the mouth. There is a puckering bitterness up front, but after that arrive nice fruity hibiscus and sweet malt flavors before the taste returns to a slightly sticky bitterness in the long finish. Although designated simply as a "pale ale," you could stick the label "India pale ale" or "amber ale" on this and no one would bat an eye.

This is officially the best beer I've had from a can -- and I don't mean that as the faint praise it may sound like. It is not crazy with complexity, but it has full flavor and a nice contour. Recommended for packing to the beach or any other glass-prohibited venue, and even for drinking at home.

Featured beer:
Dale's Pale Ale

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Raven Special Lager (Baltimore-Washington Beer Works)

Wade Malcolm contributed The Raven to Beer Club a while back -- just after another round of layoffs had further thinned the ranks of our newsroom. The ominous symbolism was noted.

This beer has a peculiar background. It was created by a couple of Baltimoreans along with a couple of German partners, and was brewed and distributed in Europe for a year before it ever came to America. It also appears that The Raven Special Lager is the only beer produced by Baltimore-Washington Beer Works, which is why it's a good bet you've never heard of the brewery before.

This beer pours a clear warm gold with half and inch of head. It has a classic lager aroma -- slightly musty with a suggestion of grain. The German part of its pedigree seems immediately evident. Once the modest head dissipates, virtually no aroma rises from the beer.

Amidst its light body and prickly carbonation resides a simple and clean taste. The hops and the malt hang pretty tightly together, with the sweet malt gaining the upper hand just briefly before the flavor ends. Nothing Gothic or poetic on display, despite the label's claim. But a serviceable beer with a familiar taste that would probably have broad appeal.

From the bottle's label:

The Taste is Poetic
"...Open here I flung the shutter when with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore..."

Featured beer:
The Raven Special Lager

A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Company)

"Petaluma" is right up there with "Sheboygan" and "Schenectady" in my list of towns that sound like they should be the setting of a 1930's comic strip. Happily, in the here-and-now it is also home to the estimable Lagunitas Brewing Company, whose beers are now distributed in more than 30 states -- one of them not even contiguous!

A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale comes in a squat brown bottle with a cute girl on the label. Jeffrey Gentry contributed this to the week nine round of Beer Club. I drank it a little warmer than I ordinarily prefer, because we were in the midst of a 30-hour power outage and everything in the refrigerator was warming up fast...

Best I could tell by the flashlight's illumination, the beer poured a pale amber and retained two inches of white foam. It left patchy lacing in the glass. The aroma was of fresh ruby grapefruit, peach, and pine resin.

My main impression was of pungent hops flavors splashing against the roof of my mouth along with the carbonation’s crest. Grapefruit and apricot nectar are also there in mellow accord, and give the beer a fairly weighty mouthfeel. A tiny backbone of light grain taste pokes through as the flavor recedes. Surprisingly, the beer is not at all bitter in the aftertaste.

This is certainly very drinkable, and I wouldn't refuse it if offered again. But for some reason I was expecting to be knocked out by it, and I wasn't. Reminds me somewhat of the Breckenridge brews, in that I don’t get a real clear statement of what structure they were going for. There are plenty of agreeable flavors there, but they are not put together in a way that makes me shout “Hallelujah!”

Kind of like the girl on the bottle, actually. Despite the fact that she’s wearing a snug-fitting button-up halter and cowboy boots, it’s not entirely clear if she’s supposed to be a farmer's daughter or a temptress. She's nice enough to look at, though, and the beer's nice enough to drink.

From the bottle's label:

So, we're all on collective disability. That's cool. Let's put some ice on it and keep ourselves elevated for a while. So, what's on the tube..? Honey..? Get me a beer from the frige [sic]... Will ya..? Sweetie..? Please..?

Featured beer:
A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale

(Didn't get a picture of this beer poured because of -- you guessed it -- the power outage.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Palm (Brouwerij Palm NV)

I chose this sophisticated-looking bottle to drink first from the Beer Club's week eight lineup. I figured I'd be starting off with a solid, classy import. Didn't quite turn out that way...

Palm pours a pale amber. It rushes up to two inches white fluffy head, then settles to one finger or so. Some lacing. The aroma is lemon and musty European hops.

My immediate flavor impression was of corn on the cob. There is not much foretaste; after the slightly lackluster carbonation ping there is basically a single straightforward flavor note of pilsner-like sour malt. The fade out is reminiscent of Bugles corn snacks.

Possibly Belgium's least impressive export.

From the bottle's label:

PALM was originally brewed at the beginning of the 20th Century as a new style of beer, Speciale Belge - taste complexity of an ale brewed to be refreshing like pilsner or lager. It is PALM's perfect balance of flavor and approachability that makes it Belgium's Amber Beer.

Featured beer:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hop Rod Rye (Bear Republic Brewery)

Mainly based upon my admiration of their Racer 5 IPA and Red Rocket Ale, I decided once more to chip in a Bear Republic brew to the Beer Club. Another factor was my mild obsession with rye: I like the toast, love the whiskey, and am beginning to fancy it as a beer ingredient, too. Rye imparts a distinctive spiciness to whatever it is included in, be it pumpernickel bread or bourbon or beer.

There is an ancient German brewing style called roggenbier that uses 20 to 25 percent rye in its grain component. In the American market you will see a variety of beers with "rye" in the name, some of them ales and some lagers. It's hard to know how much grain they're putting into these beers. (I got the stiff arm from Great Divide's communication officer when I inquired by email about the percentage of rye in their Hoss Rye Lager. "Unfortunately, all of our malt blends are proprietary...")

I'm sure that someone out there is brewing an authentic roggenbier, but many of the style designations I see are things like "rye bock," "red rye," "black rye," and the perhaps inevitable "rye PA." Anyway, I figured Bear Republic could be trusted to do something good with rye, regardless of what they called it.

The beer pours amber brown, with about an inch of ecru-colored head. It leaves lovely curtains of lace in the glass. The aroma is zesty and floral, with malt in the middle and molasses in the background. As it warms, the molasses note turns to caramel and becomes more predominant.

The taste is sweet and peppery, with a huge spike of dense rye in the middle. The flavor is complex, collapsing inward on the tongue in a swirl of opposing sweet and bitter elements -- spicy sharpness, buffeted by caramel in the wind-down. I do find the aftertaste quite bitter and sticky. I guess that's a consequence of what they needed to do to get this extraordinary flavor. (You know, flying buttresses aren't particularly attractive either, but they allow you to build a cathedral that's magnificent from the inside.)

This is the third brew I've had from Bear Republic that is truly excellent. The hallmarks of all three are well-executed ideas and LOTS of flavor. Impress me once, good for you. Impress me twice, good for me. Impress me three times? I'm gonna tell the world about it! So people, listen up: try this company's stuff. Their success is the beer world's gain.

From the bottle's label:

Hop Rod Rye is a high performance, turbo charged, alcohol burnin' monster ale with dual overhead hops injection, made with 18% rye.

Don't drink & drag. Sediment at bottom of bottle may be a result of the truckload of hops in this non-filtered ale.

Featured beer:
Hop Rod Rye

Honorable mentions:
Racer 5 IPA
Red Rocket Ale
Hoss Rye Lager

Friday, August 5, 2011

Beer Club (week 9)

We're a little light this week, but here's the lineup:

A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Company)
Dale's Pale Ale (Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery)
Hop Rod Rye (Bear Republic Brewery)
HopDevil Ale (Victory Brewing Company)
Satsuma Harvest Wit (Abita Brewing Company)

Punk IPA (BrewDog)

And now for a highly annotated introduction: I was at State Line Liquors purchasing my biweekly contribution to Beer Club, when my buddy Justin (a.k.a. "luckiest dude currently drawing breath") pointed out that August 4 is International #IPADay. He grabbed a 750ML Punk IPA off the shelf, and on an impulse I grabbed one too.

As I observed in my review of Railbender Ale, "Scotland" and "beer" are hardly synonymous. The pointedly iconoclastic founders of BrewDog would love to change that. They are hitting the market with tons of attitude, an interesting lineup of brews (and I even exclude from that statement their "shock value" alcohol bombs of 32% and 41% ABV), and videos of them heartily demolishing bottles of Budweiser, Becks, Carlsberg, and Stella Artois. They describe Punk IPA as a "post modern classic pale ale." Let's try to figure out what in the world they might mean by that.

The pour raises several inches of fluffy and sturdy off-white foam. The beer is yellow gold with a warm orange aura, and it is quite hazy. Large sheets of lacing lined my glass when I was done.

At close range, the enticing nose is of fresh citrus, earthy hops, and butter. Knowing how heavily they've laid on the hops in this recipe, I am surprised that the aroma does not project further.

The first taste is tremendously bitter -- BUT... then comes a surprising wave of fresh malt flavor. (I wonder whether a dimension of that fresh green taste may actually be the hops flowers themselves, rather than their aromatic oils? A non-brewing amateur beer lover speculates.) It is a delicious scarcely-roasted barley taste. So, maybe a "post modern" IPA is one that treats malt as a co-star rather than a mere delivery platform for hops characteristics?

I don't detect a lot of what I think of as fruit flavors in the body, which is a distinction from most of the bigged-up American IPAs. It is a nice difference, actually. After the barley, I taste a trailing note of lilac perfume. Punk's mouthfeel is not particularly heavy for the amount of flavor delivered, and its carbonation is adequate but quite soft feeling on the tongue.

This is an intensely flavorful but hardly outlandish IPA. It is obviously influenced more by the American (and particularly West Coast) style trend than by the English tradition from which it arises, yet it is not likely to be mistaken for an American IPA. I really enjoyed drinking this one, and if price and availability were not major factors I would love to have it on a regular basis. For now it will remain for rare occasions like International #IPADay.

From the bottle's label:

BrewDog: Beer for Punks

Beer was never meant to be bland, tasteless and apathetic.

At BrewDog we are setting the record straight.

We are committed to making the highest quality beers with the finest fresh natural ingredients.

Our beers are in no way commercial or mainstream.

We do not merely aspire to the proclaimed heady heights of conformity through neutrality and blandness.

We are unique and individual.

A beacon of non-conformity in a increasingly monotonous corporate desert.

We are proud to be an intrepid David in a desperate ocean of insipid Goliaths.

We are proud to be an alternative.

Featured beer:
Punk IPA

Honorable mention:
Railbender Ale

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tripel Horse (River Horse Brewing Company)

There was a River Horse beer in our very first Beer Club lineup. I guess I'll never forget that. I also hadn't forgotten how pathetic and underdeveloped their website was when I went to look up Hop Hazard at that time, so I was sad to discover that, three months later, the brewery's online presence remains unimproved. This is a cardinal sin of marketing in the contemporary era. Seems like someone should be either hired or fired over there...

Anyway, Tripel Horse is the subject of the present critique. I set up a pint glass thinking I would be having an IPA. I changed my mind while my head was in the fridge, then forgot to grab the goblet when I settled on a Belgian tripel. Forgive me, O gods of appropriate glassware!

This pours a very hazy pale orange with foam that is fizzy, not billowy. The head is reluctant to build up and quick to die down. There was virtually no lacing on the sides of the glass as I drank. Very peculiar for the style. There was, however, plenty of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. The aroma evokes mostly tart lemon -- with effort, some sourdough bread.

The immediate impression is shandy-like tanginess, with prickly carbonation. Behind that, the sweetness of pear or white grape juice. Clove rides the warming wave of that 10% ABV. Overall very sweet and only a little sour.

I would expect much more subtlety and complexity from an actual Belgian. This was a bit soda poppy. After reading some reviews around the Web, I can only conclude that River Horse has detrimentally tweaked this recipe over time. For one thing, compare both the label and the pour in this shot versus mine below. There is no way in hell this is the same beer. My bottle couldn't have produced that much foam if I had whisked in a jigger of dishwashing soap.

So, my recommendations to the folks at River Horse: see if you can dig up that old recipe; fix the beer; then, for heaven's sake, fix the website.

From the bottle's label:

The muscles on our Tripel Horse are not from Brussels, but its soul is. Be ready for big flavors of our Belgian yeast, nutmeg and coriander if you decide to ride this horse.

Featured beer:
Tripel Horse

Honorable mention:
Hop Hazard

Monday, August 1, 2011

Red Rocket Ale (Bear Republic Brewery)

I've just tried Red Rocket Ale from our friends at Bear Republic Brewery in northern California. This blog's many devoted readers will recall that Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA has become one of my current favorite quaffs. I really like this beer as well, so two things about it strike me as a shame: the terrible label design, and the fact that its name calls to mind certain very unappetizing visuals from South Park.

But on to more positive things. The color of the beer is darker than I expected -- not so much red as purplish brown. As I look through the glass I see lots of yeast clumps in suspension, indicative of bottle conditioning and leading me to anticipate some spicy yeast effects in the flavor. This expectation is reinforced by a bright, lemony, peppery, and yeasty aroma.

The taste is extraordinary. This flavor has moves! Supported within the medium heavy mouthfeel is a body of surprising complexity. I can chase out fruity, floral, and spicy threads and be right well entertained while doing so. The flavor starts bitter, dips down into earthy, grainy territory, then up into a lemony finish. As it warms, the underlying musty Scottish ale characteristic emerges a bit more.

This is one of the most distinctive beers I have tried in a while. I would probably limit my recommendation to friends known to be of intrepid palate, but I would drink it again myself without hesitation.

From the bottle's label:

Red Rocket Ale is a bastardized Scottish style red ale packed with distinctive flavors and an aggressive hope character rivaled by none. This unfiltered, bottle-conditioned amber colored ale, breaks all style molds.

Featured beer:
Red Rocket Ale

Honorable mention:
Racer 5 IPA