Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beer Moment: Christmas Eve 2008

I’ve been told that the reason we put up with raising our children is so that we might enjoy the thrill that comes with having grandchildren. I believe that is true and I often question whether I actually deserve the joy that has come from having grandchildren. In any event, I try to stop and notice the special times.

This Christmas Eve I had a special grandparents moment that coincided nicely with a beer experience and thus the whole tableau melded briefly into what I’ve been referring to as a “beer moment.”

Several weeks back I purchased a bottle of Sam Adams Chocolate Bock and have been storing it away all this time, waiting for Christmas Eve. I had to work Christmas Eve, but all day long the thought of enjoying that Chocolate Bock brought a smile to my face and within about 30 minutes of arriving home, I’d poured the bock and jotted down some notes, ready to sample the rare brew on the back patio.

Well, I cannot set foot out on our patio without our oldest grandchild inviting herself out as well and I’m always happy to consent to the good company she provides; she’ll busy herself with her outside toys while I sit comfortably in a chair. This Christmas Eve was no exception and, as I sat sipping the Sam Adams Chocolate Bock I made a point to consider my great fortune not simply in being able to afford a single bottle of beer priced at over $15 when so many of my fellowmen have nearly nothing but also my luck to be there at that place at that moment with a child of just two years and eleven months who, for whatever reason, right or wrong, thinks the sun rises and sets in me (as I do her).

So there, in our tiny Christmas Eve mutual admiration society, we sat as the western sun hung low in the sky, fading from a Christmas Eve to a Christmas morn full of the promise of doll houses and toy guitars and I couldn’t help but think that no one could possibly be luckier than I. She’s too young and will likely not remember this Christmas Eve. I’m old enough to hope I never forget.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re enjoying a Christmas safe and snug, inside a home that’s equipped with light and heat. Hopefully, you know something of what it’s like to spend a holiday far from home, far from loved ones, far from familiar faces and hopefully life’s eventual outcome has led you back to a place where, today, tonight and forevermore, you’ll be held in the warm embrace of hearth and home, kith and kin.

Now, I ask you to spare a moment’s thought for those who are not with their family and those who may not be with their family for some time to come. Spare a moment’s thought for the service members who are this very moment standing watch, somewhere, to protect you and to make the world safe. They labor 24 hours a day, they work for a pittance and too often they are disregarded or worse disrespected.

Chances are this Christmas season you’ll hoist a beer or two. I would ask that as you hoist one of those beers you utter an audible prayer – yes, not a silent prayer – for the thousands of men and women who are at that very moment standing watch in your defense; though they expect nothing, they deserve nothing less than our undying gratitude. A prayer seems the least we can do.

I hope you’ll stop in next year for more fun and in the meantime, Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I’m finding that as Christmas approaches, my preferences seem to have ebbed and flowed and it’s been difficult to conclusively choose a favorite – some of this speaks to the whole setting and circumstance thing that I’ve mentioned a time or two since starting this beer diary. Frankly, I’ve been sampling a lot of beer in the past month or so – perhaps too much – which seems to have led to a dumbing down of my palate. Beers that I’d initially enjoyed are not as enjoyable the second time around and beers that I’d normally consider not good based on style (hopped beers for example) are turning out to be surprisingly tasty.

For the purposes of crowning some favorites for the season, I’ve tried to stick with initial impressions and thus, have settled upon Shiner Holiday Cheer, Gordon Biersch Winter Bock and Pyramid Snow Cap as my Christmas and Winter Seasonal favorites.

Merry Christmas, From Texas!
I’ve gone on at length about the Shiner Holiday Cheer. It’s a dunkelweizen, which is a style I tend to like. It pours and presents well. It’s packaged in an old school label, which I tend to like. It’s priced competitively, which I really like. I’ll just point you over to what some others have had to say.

Despite widely mixed reviews, Holiday Cheer scored pretty high over at Beer Advocate.

At least one Unrepentant Beer Snob seems to love Holiday Cheer as well.

The single caution that I might raise regarding Holiday Cheer is that it is not a beer for getting drunk on. As is common with many more flavorful but low alcohol content beers, the intriguing flavor that draws you in is also the element that makes you feel bad if you drink too many. Consider yourself warned, friends.

Down at the Brewpub and In Your Refrigerator!
I think I first got wind of Gordon Biersch’s Winter Bock via an email from their membership services department. I made a point of swinging by their Glendale, Arizona location on December 1st for lunch and a sample. Offered on draft, Winter Bock gives off a pleasant malty smell and had a roasted nut taste with a rather thin mouth feel (despite a robust head on a dark tea colored pour). Mildly bitter with a coffee finish. Winter Bock has a surprisingly strong alcohol by volume percentage that isn’t initially noticeable, so watch yourself.

I enjoyed the Winter Bock enough to buy a growler for the road, which I polished off within the suggested 48 hours. Once it was gone, I’d figured I might be out of luck finding Winter Bock on store shelves – I rarely see GB seasonals offered hereabouts. So, I made a point of dropping in a second time after work for another sample of Winter Bock. Imagine my glee when I stumbled across six-packs of Winter Bock for sale at a nearby BevMo. Well, I don’t always like the selection at BevMo and their prices are not especially competitive, but this time they had a seasonal that I wasn’t likely to find elsewhere so I bought a six-pack to enjoy Christmas Eve! (I should point out that they did not have six-packs of Holiday Cheer, though there was an empty space on the shelf where the Holiday Cheer had once been.)

So far, the worst rating for this beer over at Beer Advocate is a C+. That may not be enough in itself to make honor roll, but when averaged out over several reviews, Winter Bock makes the list. I like Gordon Biersch, not simply for their beer but for their customer service, which I'll delve into after the new year, perhaps.

From the Land of the Snowcapped Pyramids.
This one gives off a quick, hoppy smell in the glass and pours a light coffee color, sporting a cream colored head. The taste hints at licorice with a quick alcohol bite that’s a bit wine like. Mouth feel is medium thick and it finishes with a flavor of coffee and more hints of licorice.

Check out the blurb at Real Beer.

What the hell is Beats me, but they’ve posted a short review of Pyramid Snow Cap.

I often steer away from Pyramid products, suspecting they’re too fruity or too something. I took the jump for this one because it’s listed in Don Russell’s Merry Christmas Beer book. I’m glad I bought his book and I’m glad I bought this beer. We’ll have a six-pack of this at the Beer Rant Headquarters on Christmas Eve.

What others picked…
I was worried that perhaps I’d chosen some favorites too quickly but it seems others have as well.

Here’s a Top 10 list from the folks at I’m pleased and proud to say that I’ve sampled 6 of their top ten so far. I think that’s a good thing. Maybe I drink too much?

Here’s a nifty posting of holiday beers ranked by William Brand on his blog What's On Tap. I’ve sampled about half of the beers appearing on this list, as well. I suspect I’ll not get around to some of the imports; I’ll have my hands full just finding all the local, American made beers.

Still More Work to Do.
I’m still waiting to try the Sam Adams Chocolate Bock and I want to pick up some Hibernation Ale. (Earlier this year I tried a bottle of Hibernation Ale from 2007 and it was terrific!) I’ve also got two big bottles of Trader Joe’s 2006 Vintage Ale that I picked up cheap a couple months ago.
I suppose one of my New Year's resolutions will be to post shorter entries. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quick Riffs: Winter and Holiday Seasonals

Driven largely by the season and influenced by Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell’s nifty book Wishing You a Merry Christmas Beer, I’ve clung closely to the holiday seasonal beers these past few weeks. I’m still confident in my choice of Shiner Holiday Cheer as the season’s best so far and my choice seems to be born out by the fact that you can’t find a six-pack of Holiday Cheer in this town to save your life! I’ve squirreled away a single six-pack, which I intend to enjoy on Christmas Eve but that may be it for the season.

Meanwhile, there are hosts of holiday also-rans taking up the rear of the pack and in order to cover as many of them as possible, I’ll offer here a holiday edition of Quick Riffs. All of these appear in Don Russell’s book but I won’t be divulging where in his ranking they reside – you’ll just have to obtain your own copy of the book from Santa, won’t you?

Michelob Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale
Sampled November 21, 2008

Perhaps not surprisingly, this one gives off a vague liquor smell and no taste initially but builds to a noticeable vanilla taste that warms you somewhat. There is a bit of liquor in the taste but not in an unpleasant way. Really not too bad for a mass produced beer from a major player in the industry. Would be worth a second try if the field wasn’t already overcrowded with holiday beers vying for attention. This one will likely be one to look for after the New Year when all the seasonal craft beers have begun to disappear from shelves.

Boston Beer Company Sam Adams Winter Lager
Sampled November 22, 2008

Smell hints at citrus and malt both in the bottle and in the glass. Poured a bronze-tea color with a weak head. The flavor is malty with no noticeable evidence of orange and not a good deal of spice but this beer does have a warming quality as it goes down. You’ll find this one in Don Russell’s Merry Christmas Beer book.

Bridgeport Brewing Ebenezer Ale
Sampled on November 23, 2008
This one is featured in Don Russell’s Merry Christmas Beer book. I found it had a slight but balanced hop/malt smell in the bottle. My pour was perhaps too aggressive and the head overtopped the glass. The color is dark brown with a robust head. The taste was soda pop sweet, slightly oaky with perhaps a hint of fruit and slightly warming. I’d have old Ebenezer back at my house again, he’s agreeable enough.

My plan is to crown a Christmas Triumvirate later this month – you’ll just have to tune in to see which beers make my personal top three list. (Like you really care.) In the meantime, go out and buy Don Russell’s Merry Christmas Beer for yourself or as a gift for that special beer lover in your life. Here’s the link to his website, too: Joe Sixpack.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Mr. Beer "CinnaBust" Holiday Travesty

Okay, I'd hoped to get through December without dredging up this painful recent episode, but a kind visitor left a comment asking if I'd brewed anything else with my Mr. Beer set since the initial success of the Bewitched Red Ale. Alas, I have and it weren't pretty.

I attempted to brew a nifty sounding cinnamon concoction but, due to my failure to properly and promptly grasp the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, the result can only be considered an unmitigated disaster and I'll probably be kinder in my comments regarding professionally brewed beers from here on out.

The recipe - taken straight from the Mr. Beer website - called for orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, and one or two other ingredients, all of which became immaterial when I made the mistake of dumping 3 TABLESPOONS of cinnamon in the wort instead of the 3 TEASPOONS called for in the recipe. I caught the mistake too late and upon hearing me proclaim my disappointment with a quick series of grown up epithets, my wife (who is vastly smarter than I) said, "Just dump it out and start over."

Being a frugal, tightwad son-of-a-gun, I declined to take that good advice, opting instead to delete the remaining spices from the mix, and sticking solely with the orange zest, honey and "loads o' cinnamon" brewing model. I let the stuff percolate in the Mr. Beer keg for a couple weeks, maybe three, but was not encouraged when the yeast immediately dropped to the bottom of the keg in about the first 24 hours.

When it came time to bottle the stuff, I found an odd, slimy green goo laying in the bottom of the keg when the bottling was complete. Undaunted, I packed up the bottles in a plastic-lined box and squirreled them away to brew some more. Then, a couple weeks later, I placed the bulk of the bottles in the fridge to begin their one month lager. At about the one week lagering stage I sampled one of the small test bottles. Ugh. Fiasco.
The stuff poured like thick, sludgy, orange juice concentrate and actually looked like badly mixed orange juice in the glass. There was very little carbonation and that was bad, but what was worse was the smell. OMG (as the hip kids say). It smelled of chemicals - plastic or maybe kerosene. Bleech!

I'm not a chemist (even if the beer I brew smells like chemicals) so I can't put my finger on just exactly when the whole process fell off the tracks but dumping in too much cinnamon may very well have been part of the problem. The other problem is that I rarely heed good advice until well after it is given. Recall that I was advised to dump the wort and start over. Well, I dumped out 6 one-liter bottles this evening.

Whew. With that off my chest, I suppose I can go back to the good beers now, but yes, I will be brewing again, once I wash the smell and taste of kerosene out of these bottles.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Is it too early to declare a holiday winner?

I suspect the last time beer actually had fun was back when Spuds McKenzie was cavorting around with the beach babes, shilling for Budweiser. (For the record, I always thought Spuds was a bit stupid, but he gained some street cred when the prohibition types killed him.) For my purposes, it isn’t necessary to sell beers with cartoon characters and funny animal critters. Beer is a grown up beverage, requiring a grown up advertising angle. Beer isn’t about animated kitty cats or superheroes, beer’s about earning it. Did you work your tail off today? You did? Well, by God you deserve a beer! Beer’s about treating yourself.

Having said that, I think beer should have a fun side, too. That’s what I particularly like about this Shiner Holiday Cheer; it’s different, but doesn’t stray too far from a working class tradition that hits close to home for me. For starters, there’s the price. I plunk down $5.99 a six-pack for Holiday Cheer before tax and for those of you with an arithmetic bent, that’s less than a buck a bottle.

Next, there’s labeling that harkens back to the 1940s or 1950s. Every time I look at a six-pack of Shiner Holiday Cheer, I think of my old man punching some out-of-towner in the nose on the dance floor of the Alpine Inn. (Admittedly, not a holiday story but a true story nonetheless. What can I say.) Let's just say it was different back then, with less emphasis on unearned "self-esteem."

Finally, there’s the taste of Holiday Cheer: “simple but different” is all I can say. Since my first sampling back on November 17th, I think I’ve polished off nearly a case of Shiner Holiday Cheer (some was shared with guests during Thanksgiving and some was given away to co-workers.). Here are my initial sampling notes, taken verbatim from my beer log:

Slight spice smell in the bottle. Sweet fruit smell in the glass. Dark amber/red with a pinkish tan head. Noticeable peach flavor and a slight roasted nut flavor in the finish. Very good. Bottle touts this as an old world dunkelweizen.

So, were I do develop an advertising campaign for Shiner Holiday Cheer, the shot would open with a snowy 1950s street scene, showing a simple small town neighborhood with a few cars parked out front (definitely a ’57 Chevy and probably a nifty Ford Victoria, too) of a snow covered bungalow style house, Christmas lights adorning the front window. Inside the house, you’d see a workingman and his family with perhaps a couple of friends laughing as they enjoy the spirit of the season and a glass or two of Holiday Cheer. Ah, nice.
Shiner Holiday Cheer is a beer that should be earned. If you think you’ve worked hard this year, if you think you’ve given the system all you’re worth, then perhaps you should track down a six-pack of Holiday Cheer and treat yourself and, no matter what era you chose to be transported to, may the spirit of the season warm you from within and transport you back to that particularly special time. This one is my early first choice as holiday champion.

I love you dad.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dutifully, I’ve tracked down a bottle of Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel to round out the recent sampling of Franziskaner’s Hefe-Weissbier. Yeah, the bottle sported the same portly monk with the stein and the keys.

I found the dunkel to smell faintly of sweet malt in the bottle and it poured with a thick head in an orange-bronze color with medium lacing. Clear wheat taste was there but no strong hint of caramel and only a vague taste of banana that I’m accustomed to with dunkels. Not as good as most dunkels I’ve tried but given a choice of the two, I’ll key in on the Franziskaner Dunkel over the Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier every time.

Now where did I leave my keys?

Programming Notes:

Sam Adams Chocolate Bock - Where's my wallet?
I scored a single bottle of Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock on Friday. At roughly $16 a bottle, this is one roller coaster I'll not be riding repeatedly. Now I've got to decide when to drink the stuff.
Shiner Holiday Cheer - Oh, Yeah!
I've been sampling a lot of winter/holiday beers the past couple weeks; so much so that I'm quickly losing track of them and more importantly, losing track of which ones I particularly like. So, in case I slip, bash my head and lose my memory, I want to proclaim, even at this early stage, that the Shiner Holiday Cheer is basically riding roughshod over the competition. I'll post a more detailed set of sampling notes later but in the meantime, here's a link to the
Shiner Beer Website. Buzz on over there and track down the skinny on their Holiday Cheer.

I've ambled my way through almost a case of the Shiner Holiday Cheer, having shared it with guests and family over the Thanksgiving holiday and sharing it with a co-worker. It's good stuff and on a par with the Cinder Cone from Deschutes. For you beer poachers who might be thinking of bagging some of this product right away, here's a picture of a now long-gone six pack trying to hide on a high shelf in the garage last week. Gotta love that retro label!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Key Indicators

I’ll confess there won’t be anything of value posted here today. Whew. That’s a load off.

What the heck is it with Germans and keys?

I’ve always been aware that the Beck’s logo sports a nice key symbol. I’ve always associated it, rightly or wrongly, with the logo used by the SS Hitler Youth during World War II. (In fact, I seem to recall that the use of the key symbol by the SSHJ was due to a connection between their outfit and Colonel Sepp Dietrich, whose last name I believe means “key” in German. And, of course if you doubt me, check it out here on a page that gives a translation for the word Dietrich. I don’t remember much, but what I do remember, I remember real good.)

So this somewhat useless bit of knowledge has been sludging round in my brainpan for years and I’ve been content to leave it alone until a couple nights ago when I sampled a bottle of Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier. What the heck do you think was on the label but a happy little monk fellow swilling a stein of beer, with a ring of keys tied to his waist!

I did not encourage this fellow to rub his gut; he was doing that when I ran into him over at the Franziskaner website...go find it yourself.

The Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier, eh, not so great really. Mildly sour smelling in the bottle with a strong wheat smell in the glass. Very frothy head with medium to heavy cloudiness. Just a typical wheat beer in my book and not something I’ll track down again, but I am eager to try their dunkelweizen. Maybe their dunkel is the dietrich!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Quick Riffs: A Plethora of Pumpkin Products (and some others)

Halloween is long past – but the candy hangover lingers. I gathered an assortment of pumpkin, spice and Oktoberfest style beers and dutifully noted my sentiments in this hear tasting notebook. Before Thanksgiving lands on us, let’s give some of these seasonal beers a quick go, shall we?

I provided some notes for Dogfish Head Punkin Ale in this earlier post.

And I posted some comments about Wasatch Beer’s Pumpkin Ale here shortly after my visit to Utah.

Here’s a mixed six to round out the fall drinking season; which is not to say I’m done with the spiced and pumpkin seasonals.

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest Marzen
Sampled October 15, 2008
I was expecting more from this outfit. Dogtoberfest smells a bit grainy in the glass. The smell has a mild alcohol bite to it. The taste is slightly chemical and slightly dry at the finish. Dogtoberfest has a thin mouth feel and presents a brown-orange color. Not the best marzen I’ve had.

Left Hand Brewing Oktoberfest Marzen Lager
Sampled October 15, 2008

Distinctly sour grass smell in the bottle but indescribable smell once poured, this one has a mild alcohol bite in the taste and tastes faintly of nuts – perhaps almonds. This one was better than Dogtoberfest, but not outstanding in my book.

Dundee Oktoberfest Marzen Style Lager
Sampled October 15, 2008

The ubiquitous grassy, slightly sour smell in the bottle, with a slight caramel smell in the glass, this one presents a nice head with medium beading. The taste is of sweet candy with a quick finish. This Oktoberfest is probably the best compared to the Flying Dog and Left Hand offering.

Widmer Brothers Okto Oktoberfest Munich Style Ale
Sampled October 16, 2008
This one gives off a cereal, slightly sour smell in the bottle and slightly malty smell in the glass. Appearance is brown with a tan head. Taste is sweet and malty with a slightly dry finish. There’s a vague hint of nuts and sweetness that grows as the beer warms in the glass.

Michelob Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale
Sampled on October 19, 2008
This mass-produced poser is faintly grassy smelling in the bottle and faintly sweet-spicy smelling in the glass. Jack’s pours a bronze/amber color with a decent enough head that disappeared quickly. There is no pumpkin and very little spice in the taste that I can discern but it was a touch chemical tasting to me.

Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale
Sampled on November 1, 2008
Slight spice smell in the bottle with a very, very subtle taste. Thin mouth feel and week head with an appearance reminiscent of apple juice. Probably not a beer I’ll be seeking out next fall I have to say.

Gee, for a "quick riff" this turned into one long-winded rant. I'm thinking I'll step away from the sampling for a bit. Perhaps I need to dig through this slush pile for some of the old obscure rambling stuff. Hmmm.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Beer Moment: A Day At The Track With The VFW

Yesterday was my son-in-law’s birthday. As it happens, NASCAR is in town and, as it happens, the track offered a special corporate ticket package sponsored in part by Kevin Harvick Racing and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). I, my son-in-law and a buddy from work spent the day at the track with the VFW.

As part of the ticket package we got to tour the pits, eat good food and drink all the Budweiser products we cared to. I’ll admit, I put away my share of the Bud and Bud Light. I figure beers were going for $7 a can in the grandstands. I'd estimate I drank about $42 worth of free beer during our approximately 12-hour visit to the track. But there's more to it than just the beer and the bargain. I was honored to spend time in the presence of some of our nation’s finest men and women, active and inactive and retired military veterans.

Beer? Sure, the beer was pretty good. Heck the beer was free. The company was priceless.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Book Review: Christmas Beer

It seems that Christmas literally starts earlier and earlier each year. I’m not kidding when I say that one radio station where I live actually started playing 24-hour Christmas music the day after Halloween! Okay, if we really must have 60- or 90-days of Christmas, let’s have good beers and good reading material to go with that ceaseless music, okay?

I stumbled upon Don Russell’s book Christmas Beer (the full title is Wishing You a Merry Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews.) in Salt Lake City. You can find it on Amazon and not have to trust to dumb luck that you’ll just chance upon it in some obscure book and card shop. Either way, and no matter, if you maintain a “beer library” here’s a book you should buy. If you don’t maintain a beer library, here’s a great starting point. If you don't read beer books but know someone who does (or should) then buy them this book.

This great book works on two levels: it’s an interesting read, and, having read it, you’ll find yourself picking it up again and again just to browse the contents. If you’re like me you’ll first scan through it to see how many of the beers listed are beers you’ve actually sampled. My personal beer list is rather short so I only checked off 3 or four beers, but happily, most are listed in Russell’s top 50. I was happy to see that a couple of beers that I really enjoyed, Hibernation Ale and 2 Below rated fairly high. The trick now is to track down some of the other beers listed.

Author and journalist Don Russell is more commonly known as “Joe Sixpack.” He writes a weekly Joe Sixpack column for the Philadelphia Daily News and, for the record, he was Joe Sixpack before that term was hijacked by politicians, pundits and news hacks. The moniker Joe Sixpack conjures up an image of a regular fellow who would likely pick up his share of bar tabs now and then. I refer to these sorts as “beer folk” and they’re good folk (sure there’s always a few stinkers, but they don’t get to be called beer folk). As if to confirm this notion, when I emailed Joe Sixpack and asked if he’d be willing to field a few short questions for a review of his book, he quickly replied in the affirmative. So, without any more foot dragging, here are BeerRant’s questions and Joe Sixpack’s answers to some burning questions about Christmas Beer:

BR: Do you go by “Joe or “Mr. Sixpack”? (Heh, heh, bet he hasn’t heard that one a million times.)

Joe: Joe’s fine. Or Don. Or anything if you’re offering me a beer.

BR: How long did you go between idea and realization in putting together Christmas Beer:

Joe: About three years. Of course I’ve been drinking Christmas beer for much longer than that, but in the winter of ’05 I realized nobody had ever written a book about my favorite beers of the year. That’s when I started collecting the beers I needed for the book and began my reporting.

BR: Many beer books include what I call the “ensemble shot” with a bottle of the beer next to a full glass of the beer. Any reason why you or our editor’s chose to have pictures of the bottles alone?

Joe: Simple reason: I had a limited photography budget. Setting up those shots of poured bottles is extremely difficult – you need 3 people to do it right, and it takes a lot of time to get the pour to look good. That means you need a hell of a lot more bottles than I could round up. Remember: these beers are available only about two months a year, so I had to do a lot of organizational work just to put together the collection. In the end, it was just easier to present the bottle. Maybe the next edition will include more pours.

BR: Did you select the 50 best and are they in the order you chose?

Joe: Yes, I selected the 50. A difficult task paring them down, and that’s my lineup as originally written. I rarely “rate” beers because I’m one of those people who believes everyone’s palate differs. But I wanted to highlight these 50 as beers that are worth the effort to seek out.

BR: Do you have a guilty favorite you were reluctant to disclose in the book?

Joe: No. Actually, my guilty favorite is the No. 1 pick, Troegs Mad Elf. I knew from the start that it might be a bit controversial because it’s a regional beer, available only in the Mid-Atlantic. It would’ve been much easier to pick, say Anchor Our Special Ale or Sierra Nevada Celebration (both of which made my top 10) because they’re readily available. I picked Mad Elf because it’s truly my favorite Christmas beer. But honestly, I love every one of the beers in this book.

BR: What will you be savoring as a Christmas beer this Christmas Eve?

Joe: I wait till Christmas night to break out the best stuff. My wife and I make a big deal out of sharing something special in front of our fireplace while we exchange gifts. I have some four-year-old Mad Elf, some two-year-old Affligem and a few others. I was a huge fan of last year’s batch of Corsendonk Christmas – if I can round up an aged bottle of that, I’d be very happy.

BR: Besides beer in general, can you tell us what your next beer book is going to be about?

Joe: I don’t have a next book lined up, yet. It’ll most certainly have something to do with the culture of beer-drinking, as opposed to a guidebook.

I have a suspicion that Christmas Beer will find a place beside Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide on many bookshelves this holiday season, but because this is the holiday season, I imagine Christmas Beer will spend a lot of time off the shelf, in the hands of eager Christmas beer drinkers. And if that’s Christmas music I hear, it must be Christmas Beer that I’m drinking – and reading!

My thanks to Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell for kindly agreeing to field some questions for this review. You give beer folk a good name, Joe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Okay, let’s get one fact straight immediately: there wasn’t a whole lot of beer drinking going on during my recent visit to Utah, but I did manage to secure a few beers from Wasatch Beer including a seasonal pumpkin ale, which I sampled while there along with a six-pack of their somewhat irreverent Polygamy Porter. Also, we paid a visit to Trolley Square where I dropped in to Desert Edge Brewpub for a quick glass of their stout.

When we left Utah, I squirreled 5 beers (one pumpkin ale, four porters) away in my checked luggage in order to have some samples for tasting back at BeerRant HQ. Four of the beers were wrapped carefully in paper and then in plastic grocery bags, then stuffed tightly into shoes while the fifth was equally well wrapped and carefully placed between layers of jeans and a sweatshirt (it snowed in Utah while we were there by the way).

Once home, I eagerly opened the bag and found that our friends from the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) had checked the bags contents and left me a note. Everything was in order and ship shape and I’m not at all bothered by this; in fact I fully expected that it might happen.

Here’s a neat page from the Wasatch website that gives some background into their history and their link with Squatter’s (Salt Lake Brewing Company). No doubt Utah is probably a rough place to make a go as a brewer; their booze laws were a morass of regulations and loopholes the last time someone sat down and tried to explain them to me. A visit by the Winter Olympics may have caused a change in their laws but I don’t know for sure.

Wasatch Pumpkin Ale
Oddly, there is no mention of the Pumpkin Ale on the Wasatch website, which makes me wonder if they’re ashamed of it. The folks at Beer Advocate think Wasatch Pumpkin Ale’s the shizzle and I’d tend to agree, generally. I sampled the Pumpkin Ale both in Utah and back at BeerRant headquarters and I was tempted to save the last of the six-pack for a holiday/pumpkin/Oktoberfest blow out sample post but I’ll include it here since it’s a Utah beer. This is an unfiltered ale and a “brewmaster seasonal’ according to the label. It has a distinct spice smell that is sweet and pleasant. It pours an orange bronze color and has more taste of spice than pumpkin with a medium thick mouth feel. This pumpkin ale isn’t too bad for a beer with low alcohol by volume.

Wasatch Polygamy Porter
Polygamy Porter is the Pumpkin Ale’s irreverent cousin, I guess. I wonder why the brewer didn’t see fit to hang a similarly off-color handle on the pumpkin product? Anyway, Polygamy Porter has a grainy bread smell with a mild alcohol bite. It pours a dark tea color – but not opaque – and has a medium thin mouth feel. There’s a vague coffee taste and a bit of soot there, too. Medium to heavy lacing if poured aggressively. The finish is slightly dry and nutty. Frankly a bit thin and not really representative of the style in my opinion, but certainly worth a shot if only for the novelty. Will I have it again if I’m in Utah? Certainly. Here’s the Beer Advocate feedback for Polygamy Porter. (For those of you keeping score, the porter scored slightly lower than the pumpkin.)

Oh my heck, what is this?

On our last day in Salt Lake City we paid a visit to the downtown area and spent an hour or so mindlessly wandering around Trolley Square. Those of you with a gruesome bent will remember that this mall was the scene of a mass shooting in early 2007. You can get the scoop on the tragedy at Wikipedia. The whole experience was somewhat surreal and only later, while watching a show on the History Channel did I find that many of the stores we went into during our visit were locations that played prominently in the shooting and the shoot out between the gunman and police. But I digress…badly.

I knew from some earlier internet noodling that Trolley Square was home to at least one brewpub and eventually we wound our way upstairs where I found the Desert Edge Brewpub. I’m not able to find a website for them, so here, once again, is a Beer Advocate page, this time for Desert Edge.

I briefly contemplated trying one of two seasonal beers on the menu but opted for their Latter Day Stout instead. I reasoned that the weather was unseasonably cold – it had snowed the day before – and a dark, thick beer would be just the thing to tide me over before our flight home. The stout turned out to be a huge disappointment, really. It arrived looking coffee black with a tan head – not bad. First taste was a grain taste with a hint of chocolate, but then a sooty, burnt taste intruded into the mix. A thin mouth feel only added to the disappointment. The kindest thing I can add is there was a faint Guinness-like taste at the finish. I finished the glass and we beat a hasty exit. I won’t likely make a special effort to return to Desert Edge, but I’ll try to get back to Trolley Square because I particularly like the Cabin Fever store where I purchased a neat book on Christmas beers. (Stay tuned for a review of that book.)

Now back at BeerRant headquarters, I’m trying to make sense of a plethora of pumpkin and spice beers and hoping I’ll be nimble-minded enough to keep everything straight in my head long enough to get the experience posted. My heck, beer blogging is tough.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beer Moment: A Fall Ritual

I did something this week that I have never, ever done before. I burned leaves in my backyard. Yeah, big deal.

I think its something of a legend from the eastern states. I imagine parts of New England where they figure everyone in Phoenix carries a six-shooter and I’ve always harbored this mental picture of folks raking leaves in the fall and burning same. Environmentally I suppose this old annual chore is probably frowned upon these days – if anyone ever actually burned piles of leaves outside of a Rockwell painting. This past weekend I mustered up some gumption and tried it myself.

The ash tree in the yard doesn’t usually drop its leaves until December or January, but this year the leaves fell early for some reason. So, even with the daytime temperature hovering in the mid-90s, I raked and burned the leaves, all the while expecting a nosy neighbor to call the police or fire department.

Whether it’s actually done in the eastern United States or not, I’ve learned that there may very well be a therapeutic aspect to an annual leaf-burning ritual. The leaves crackle as they light, the fire roars up only to die slowly into black ash, greenish-white smoke billows up as a new handful of leaves are dumped onto the smoldering pile and there’s a brief lull, a pause, while the heat builds and then the fire flares up again. It strikes at something primitive in a person. I think it might be a sort of antidote to the impending cabin fever that a person must know is coming as a result of winter’s months cooped up inside.

For me, the beer of choice was just something I had leftover from a day or two earlier: a glass of Deschutes Pale Ale. It seems I think that I’ve had more beer from Deschutes than any other brewer this year. They are my new found favorite, I think. I also like burning leaves in the fall, but since my neighbors, the police and fire department will probably put a stop to the whole leaf burning ritual; I think I’ll just get accustomed to enjoying my Deschutes in a lawn chair on the porch. Ah, therapy.
Yes, I've got a post in the works for Utah. Sampled a couple of beers from Wasatch Beer. Bear with me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Virginia/D.C. Trip: Quick Finds on the East Coast

Holed up in a recently built Holiday Inn on the edge of Prince William State Forest, and near the Quantico Marine Corps facility, I set out to find some local beers to sample. I didn’t have to look far. In the small bar and restaurant in the lobby of the hotel they had something on draft called Old Dominion Lager. My meager notes describe it as “a Virginia brew” with a light golden color and medium lacing. A pretty plain offering but typical of this sort of beer, I think and the advantage here is in the freshness. The stuff is brewed just up the road so the assumption is that when you sample Old Dominion at the Dumfries Holiday Inn, you’re getting the best product they have since it hasn’t been shipped all around the country before arriving at your table.

Here’s the Old Dominion website. Pity to see that they’ve suspended operations at their brewpub.

The suspension of brewpub operations is likely due in part to the company’s recent acquisition by a consortium that includes Anheuser-Busch. The Beer Activist spells it all out for us rather nicely. He makes the point that now that they are tied to A-B, the folks who make Old Dominion will be more focused on sales and marketing and may neglect their role as “good business citizens within the local community.” The closure of the brewpub proves the point, I think.

In between tours, side trips, lunches and meetings, I managed to take the rental car out into the neighborhood and pick up some local beers, specifically a six-pack of Yuengling Traditional Lager and a mixed six pack of beers from Saranac Brewing. Let’s go over those quickly, shall we?

The Yuengling Traditional Lager pours a nice golden bronze color and looks pretty good in a plastic Holiday Inn cup, I have to admit. The beer exhibits a mildly roasted smell and was actually a darker color that I’d expected. Taste was slightly malty and sweet and fairly light. I’ve been told that Yuengling products do not have much of a shelf life and there’s a fine line between a good bottle of Yuengling and one that’s past it’s prime. All the more reason to enjoy Yuengling products during a visit to the eastern U.S.

Here’s a link to the Yuengling website.

Here’s a link the official Yuengling Brewery Blog!

About midway through my stay I became nervous that I might miss out on trying anything else while in Virginia, but I managed to find a traditional grocery store not far from the hotel (Eureka!) where I discovered a plethora of local beers. So much so, that it took me a moment to figure out my game plan. I opted for a mixed six-pack of beers from Saranac Brewing and sampled four of them in the hotel room.

Saranac Pale Ale had a sweet grassy smell and gave a nice pour. Mildly hoppy smelling in the glass, it has a slightly sour, mildly grainy taste.

Saranac IPA was only slightly hoppier than the pale ale. It had the same bronze gold color as the pale ale, with a robust head of light tan. This one was surprisingly sweet and not overly hoppy with a dry finish. The label claims this is “very hoppy in both aroma and flavor.” I don’t go in for hopped up beers but this one’s just right in my book.

Saranac Brown Ale smells surprisingly hoppy and pours a nice brown color with a sturdy head and heavy lacing. There’s a mild alcohol bite in the finish but the overall taste is light.

Saranac Adirondack Lager was evidently once called Adirondack Amber – I’m too lazy to chase down the reason for the name change but I’ll wager there were lawyers involved. This one smells like cheese in the bottle and in the glass – mozzarella or Parmesan, I think. It pours a light bronze color with a thin head. It tastes like cheese, too, though not necessarily in a bad way, I guess. Of the four Saranac beers I tried, this one was my least favorite. All in all, I think Saranac brews some worthy beers. Here’s a link to the Saranac website.

I squirreled away two bottles of Saranac and a bottle of Yuengling in my checked luggage for the flight home. Given the buzz about the shelf life of Yuengling, I suppose I’d better dig that one out of the fridge and drink it today, huh?

On my way out of the Virginia/Washington, D.C. area (yes it rained during my drive back to Dulles, too) I lingered at Moe’s Bar and Grill in Concourse D. Moe’s is a decent enough place; the service was good and the food not too expensive. I had a quesadilla and a glass of something called “Moe’s Ale” all the while thinking of my experience earlier this year with a six-pack of Moe’s. Remember? Moe's Backroom Blunder? Remember how Moe redeemed himself?

I don’t know if Moe’s Ale (on tap at Moe’s Bar and Grill in Dulles) is made by the self same Moe who makes Backroom Lager, etc. Here’s what my notes say for Moe’s Ale: Malty smell. Red/amber color with a nice light tan head and heavy lacing. Watery taste but slightly thick mouth feel. Tastes like cereal, corn or cornflakes at the finish. This wasn’t a bad beer frankly; I just wish I knew more about its origins.

For a second round, I had the waitress draw a glass of Yuengling’s Lager and found it to be slightly hoppy and sweet but really reminiscent of Moe’s Ale. At this point the first beer and the quesadilla may have beaten down my taste buds, but I’d have to say the bottled Yuengling I tried earlier in the week was better than the draft Yuengling I had at Moe’s.

Here’s a review page for Moe’s Bar and Grill at "Yelp."

That’s it for the D.C./Virginia trip. Since returning from the east coast, I've been to Utah, but now I’m settled back in at the ranch and sampling whatever comes my way. The beer diary isn’t keeping up with the tasting notes, I can tell you that! I'll post a couple of my Utah discoveries in the next few days.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Colorado Trip: Quick Riffs

I think I’ve traveled more in the last month than I’ve traveled in the past year, what with a jaunt to Denver, then Virginia via Washington, D.C., then to Utah. Gosh I’ve amassed a stack of beer notes! Here’s a run down of the other beers I sampled while in Colorado.

Sam Adams Oktoberfest 2008
Sampled on October 18, 2008
The Elephant Bar, Belmar, Denver
Tastes like a red. Good representation of a marzen, I think. Worth having again before the season is over. (No photo, sorry.) Better than a couple of other Oktoberfest marzen's I've sampled since returning from Denver - I'll post something on that later. Here’s a path to the Sam Adams site.

Odell’s 90 Shilling Ale
Sampled on October 18, 2008
Lucky Lanes, Belmar, Denver
A good roasted, sweet malty smell and taste. A bit hoppy in the finish but not bad at all. Presents a dark amber color. (No photo, sorry again.) Click here for the 90-Shilling page at O’Dell’s.

Dogfish Head Punk Punkin Ale
Sampled on September 22, 2008

Smells vaguely of spice and cinnamon. Grassy smelling with a slight alcohol bite in the glass. Pours amber gold color with a nice head. There’s an alcohol bite that isn’t off-putting at all. Maybe the best pumpkin beer I’ve tried based strictly on style and the first Dogfish Head beer that I can say that I like.

Here’s Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale page.

In the rush of travel, I also sampled (in no particular order) a couple glasses of Boddington’s, a few Single Track Copper Ales and of course the ubiquitous beer float using a can of Young’s Chocolate Stout. I neglected to make notes for the Boddington’s or the Single Track and I failed in my efforts to coax my brother-in-law into trying the joy that is a beer float. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Colorado Trip: Mocktoberfest

My life is one little bit of irony piled upon another, really. See if you can spot the irony in the following tale. (I’ll try to help.)

My recent visit to Colorado coincided with Denver’s annual Oktoberfest event in the downtown district, near of all places Coors Field (ironic). My sister and brother-in-law obligingly carried my sorry carcass downtown to seek out the event, which frankly turned out to be a big flop. Oktoberfest? More like Oktoberbust. Sorry I missed the mini-marathon they held (ironic lie).

A side street was cordoned off and tents were arrayed along the sidewalks and there was polka music playing someplace. I saw a number of fellows walking around with giant Paulaner steins, but the crowd was thin and the beer offering was limited strictly to Paulaner with Jagermeister as an alternative. Even the food offerings seemed dicey so we ducked in to Mexico City restaurant (ironic) where I sampled a Dos Equis Dark that was served in a Miller High Life glass (ironic). The Dos Equis smelled of lime mostly, since it was served with a slice of lime. The taste was sweet and malty. I’ll seek out and buy Dos Equis Dark again, not simply because the beer is good, but because I rather like their current advertising package featuring “the most interesting man in the world.” (In the coming months, I’ll be pitching a new marketing campaign for Beer Rant: “The least interesting man in the world.”) I won’t serve Dos Equis with a lime though; that’s part of my least interesting man shtick.

Under whelmed by Oktoberfest, we wandered around the downtown district and took in some after dark sights, including Coors Field and El Chapultapec, a hip jazz joint that I admired from the outside, but didn’t enter (remember, “least interesting man…”). Eventually, still a tad hungry despite our Mexican food interlude, we found a seat at The Samba Room (ironic) where I sampled a Xingu Black Beer. I’ve had Xingu before and liked it and my experience in The Samba Room was no different. Xingu is of course very dark – black, in fact – with a brown head and a sweet, malty taste. The pictures I took don’t do it justice.

If my visit to Del Norte Brewing was the beer highlight of my Colorado trip, then Oktoberfest Denver must go down as the low point. However, while Denver’s Oktoberfest may have been a bust, I think our stroll around downtown was very nice.

The Beer Advocates don’t seem to advocate drinking Dos Equis Dark Lager. Fine. I like it.

Here’s the site for Xingu Black Beer. Hmmm. Amazonian beer. I’d never thought of that.

As for El Chapultapec (1962 Market St., Denver), my copy of Colorado: A Liquid History reveals that this bar opened in July 1933 to celebrate the repeal of prohibition. Don’t go here looking for microbrews, though. Bar owner Jerry Krantz is quoted as saying, “…we got places down here now that make their beers right where you can see ‘em. We got places that get their beer from as far away as possible. Most of mine just comes from Golden or Fort Collins.” Fair enough. I’m sorry I didn’t go in. I’ll try to pay a visit if I get back to Denver. (I took that picture above and the one below.)

Up next: Colorado Quick Riffs
Up after that: Some samples from the Washington, DC/Virginia area.
Up after that: Some 3.2% craziness from Utah.

Colorado Beer Facts

Denver Colorado Beer Facts