Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Two Variety Pack Picks

Those 6, 8 and 10 beer variety packs have always been something of a puzzle for me. I see them at places like Cost Plus Imports and wonder if the beers in them aren’t to brewing what Lucky Strikes were to cigarettes. You know the smoker’s legend about Lucky Strikes, right?

Smokers told me that Lucky Strikes were manufactured using all the ground tobacco that fell on the factory floor in the process of making better, more expensive cigarettes. I’m sensible enough to know this is baloney. (We all know it was Kool’s that were made that way and that’s why they added the menthol taste, man!)

Anyhow, I see these variety packs of beers and wonder if their contents are somehow made up of factory rejects and product that’s past its shelf life. I don’t know that I’ve ever purchased one of these variety “theme” packs myself, but my dear bride brings them home to me from time to time and I’ve recently determined that by and large, the contents are usually of good quality and within their reasonable shelf life, based mainly on my having checked a few of the beers that actually have dates on them. With this in mind, I suppose I’ll be more apt to buy these variety packs myself from now on.

The two most recent variety packs to cross the threshold here were the ubiquitous “Beers of the World” which I’ve had numerous times (why does a bottle of Red Stripe always end up in these?) and a variety pack of American Craft beers. Here’s the skinny on a couple from the Craft Beer variety pack.

Pyramid Hefeweizen Ale smells of wheat and grain in the bottle and surprisingly of vinegar or pickles when poured. Presents a dark opaque orange color. The consistency seems a bit thick – I swirled the bottle to agitate the last bit of sediment and found that the sediment was indeed thick. (The label touts it as “refreshingly unfiltered” but the thickness seems to work against some of the beer’s refreshing qualities. Nevertheless, this one had a spicy but light taste that I preferred to the Sam Adams Hefeweizen that I tried more recently, but having said that, I'm not sure I'll seek this one out again.

Here’s the link to the Pyramid Brewing website:

The posters at Beer Advocate weren’t blown away by this Hefe.:

Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale smells amazingly like pumpkin pie in the bottle and of spices in the glass. Insignificant head may be the result of some shelf life issues but that’s not reflected in the taste. This one is evidently also brewed by Pyramid Breweries, too. It actually has a mild pumpkin and spice taste that rates well for novelty if nothing else; this one claims to be “America’s Original” pumpkin ale, and while it didn’t knock me for a loop, I can see myself looking for this later in the year when the shadows get long and the evenings get cooler and there’s a touch of fall in the air.

Here’s Buffalo Bill’s website:

It’s a tough crowd at Beer Advocate and they don’t put too much stock in novelty or Halloween for that matter, I guess:

Here’s the Roughneck’s Take on Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale (he’s more eloquent than I).:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Small Batch. Big Taste.

Okay. How about a Breckenridge Brewery triple play? Yesterday it was their Avalanche Ale and the Vanilla Porter. I sampled those two beers awhile back and today, I broke into a long-stored bottle of their Small Batch 471 Double Hopped India Pale Ale. (Whew, that’s a mouthful and so’s this beer, man!)

To begin, it’s known that I originally hail from a small mountain county in Colorado, but I want it known that I’m not turning into a shill for a Colorado craft brewer. Honest. (Here is where I confess that I’ve got a Coors Brewing Company sticker on the back of my truck.) As proof, I’ll point to the lukewarm review I gave other Breckenridge products I’ve tried recently. They’re okay, but they just don’t knock my socks off.

Now, for this here “small batch” stuff. Small Batch 471 is something akin to an inside joke, I think. It’s a special recipe, I guess, that the factory hacks allowed the working grunts to run with and if that’s the case, I’m glad they did. I’ve proclaimed my disdain for overly hopped beers in the past – most recently the weird and quirky “Hazed and Infused” from Boulder Brewing (a Colorado brewer…hmmm.), but this Small Batch is a horse of a different color. For starters, it’s an ass-kicker at 9.2% abv. Secondly, it’s a wallet-buster, given that I paid $2.69 for a single at my local cigar and booze emporium. Oh well, I’m a sucker for a painted label bottle and a clever name. I bought it. I own it. I tried it.

The Tasting
Breckenridge Brewing’s Small Batch 471 Double Hopped IPA gives off a fruity, hoppy aroma in the bottle and pours a dark orange that is not the least bit clear. A head of about one finger is produced with a moderately aggressive pour. The initial taste is very hoppy with an alcohol bite and a finish than hints strongly of spiced orange. This stuff is really good but really strong. I believe it might be a nice beer to drink on a dark December evening while one waits for Santa to drop a Beer of the Month certificate in your stocking. I’m going to go out and buy another bottle just for that occasion! Hey, Santa, I’ve been good!

Here’s the link to Breckenridge Brewing’s web page for Small Batch 471. It’s good to know they make it year ‘round.

Here’s what the RateBeer crowd has to say about 471:

Here’s the Beer Advocate page for Small Batch 471. I especially like the comment made by one boozer, wherein he/she opined, “Would be a great session beer except for the 9.2.” I love it! (Pot would be great in cigarettes, except for the law.)

Here’s a nice post at Hops and Barley Blog:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two From The Rockies

I grew up not too far from the town of Breckenridge and while this beer isn’t brewed in the town, I still feel a bit of a connection to the territory. Summer time is the best time in the Rockies; the canyons and valleys are so narrow in some areas that in the winter, the sun barely casts its light on the valley floor before it sets. That makes for a long, brutal winter some years. But in the summer, the temperature hovers in the 70s maybe the 80s and during certain parts of the season, it always clouds up in the afternoon and often as not, it rains. But I digress.

Here’s the dope on Avalanche Amber:

Pours a truly amber color with a thin head and minor beading that’s gone after a few minutes. Smell runs citrus to caramel and the taste is a little bitter. Finishes with hints of coffee then it’s gone. This one didn’t knock my socks off frankly, but I won’t shun it at parties like last weeks prom date. (Where the heck did that come from?)

Here’s the skinny on Avalanche Vanilla Porter:

Pours dark coffee color with a weak head and no lacing of note. Smells vaguely of a vanilla milkshake and tastes of caramel building to a pleasant but vague vanilla finish that’s dry like a wine at the end. Not as delectably delicious as I’d hoped but not a complete letdown and just a cut above the Avalanche Amber.

I enjoyed these beers enough that I’ll seek out other Breckenridge products – and have – in the future. Perhaps if I ever get back to Colorado, I’ll try their product where it’s bound to be even fresher, having traveled a shorter distance. (For a review of their Oatmeal Stout, see the post from May 28, 2008.)

No links today. Do your own darned research!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oak Creek Brewing, Sedona, Arizona

Long Day’s Journey To Cool Climes
With daytime temperatures in the Valley of the Sun threatening the 110 to 115 degree range, this past weekend seemed a wonderful time to make an all too rare jaunt up to the relatively cooler country around Flagstaff. Johnny Southside became a willing accomplice once I told him that on the return trip we could swing through Sedona for beers at Oak Creek Brewing. (Our business in Flagstaff is immaterial, except to say we were on the trail of some 75-year-old remnants of a Depression-era work program known as the Emergency Conservation Works or Civilian Conservation Corps.) I had an additional ulterior motive in that I hoped to purchase one of the nifty ceramic beer steins offered on the Oak Creek Brewing website.

We wound our way into Sedona from Flagstaff, via the back road, stopping only briefly at Mund’s Canyon for a photo and to take in the crazed raving of a hiker sitting outside the pit toilets (evidently I’m not the only one who’s gone crazy as an outhouse mouse from the heat). We barely slowed down as we passed Slide Rock State Park; marveling at the line of cars backed up at the gate waiting to pay their entry fee. Understand, that here in the desert southwest, anyplace with running water is literally a Mecca for city folk, eager to escape the heat. Perhaps a close second would be any place where the beer flows and a drinker can sit in the shade.

There are actually two locations for Oak Creek Brewing in the greater metropolis of Sedona, Arizona: one is (evidently) a brewpub and grill while the other is the brewery proper. Being your typical anti social, I steered us toward the brewery with the hope that there might be fewer folks present.

The Oak Creek Brewing website indicates that the brewery is hard to find (but worth it) and I’d tend to agree. Nevertheless, two determined travelers managed to find their way through the tourist trap of downtown Sedona and in short order we were parked in a nearly empty lot, next to a Sedona Brewing truck circa 1930.

We stepped into the brewery, glad to be out of the glaring sun, and found perhaps 3 or 4 folks sitting at the bar and at the scattered tables. The bartendress greeted us and I dumped my notebook on a table then returned to the bar to peruse the offerings. Two seasonal beers were listed: a Maerzen and a red ale, cleverly named King Crimson, along with the regular brews.

Early on, I committed the cardinal sin of loudly proclaiming my status as an “out of towner” but the folks at the brewery were kind nonetheless and for that I thank them all, including our friendly barmaid who was working her first shift as it turned out. Johnny Southside and I decided to start with a pitcher of the Maerzen seasonal. Maerzen or Marzen gets its name from the fact that it is traditionally brewed in the month of March, with characteristics that help preserve it through the summer brewing season. Dark golden in color, the Oak Creek Brewing Maerzen seasonal had hints of grass in the smell with hints of fruit in the taste. Indeed, not a bad warm weather refresher.

Not wanting to waste an opportunity to sample both Oak Creek seasonals, Johnny Southside and I snacked on popcorn and peanuts, jawboning about every topic under the sun while the pitcher gradually emptied.

The Oak Creek Brewing brewpub is clearly a working operation with vats and machinery to prove it. The whir and thump of the brew vats sounded a workingman’s symphony to accompany our conversation as an eclectic group of people moved in and out of the establishment: biker types, families with kids in tow and individual men slumped over those ceramic mugs.

I asked our first day barmaid about buying a mug and she said she didn’t think there were any to be had. While we drained that first pitcher, she made a phone call and in short order reported that indeed, there were no more of the ceramic mugs available for purchase. That’s a pity. I was disappointed, but I determined not to let it spoil the trip.

The King (Crimson) Has Left The Building
With the Maerzen gone, we then ordered a pitcher of the King Crimson Red Ale, and, to perhaps assuage my disappointment, I ordered a glass of the Red Ale in a nifty Oak Creek Brewing pint glass. Ah, life’s good.

Life’s good and so is that King Crimson, which smelled of caramel with a sweet, dry taste, hinting of coffee. I preferred it to the Maerzen but tend toward darker beers in general. I snapped some sample photos of the beers and our surroundings, then asked the bartendress to draw me a growler of the King Crimson, which she immediately proceeded to do, only to find that, evidently, the shop was on its last keg of King Crimson. Now, I don’t know if I can rightly claim to have walked out with the season’s last growler of seasonal King Crimson, but I know that the nice lady behind the bar made a note in the log book to indicate that the last keg of King Crimson had been sold and she very graciously taped a copy of the BeerRant “business card” to the page, with a note indicating “wants a ceramic mug.” (I suspect that, fermenting in one of those big vats, was more delicious King Crimson, but in years to come, I’ll tell the story my way.)

We settled the tab and ambled back out into the sunlight and heat of the parking lot, facing nothing but the drive back to the Valley – and more heat. I imagine the Oak Creek Brewery is a swell place to sit from about 7 to 11 in the evening and if I lived in or near Sedona, perhaps it’s the sort of place I’d frequent often enough to create trouble with the bride – unless of course she were to join me.
Corporate shill.
Yeah, I bought a pint glass and a swell growler, each with the Oak Creek Brewing log. Here’s the link to their website:

Here’s a MySpace page for the Brewery (don’t ask me, I’m old and don’t know the first thing about how MySpace works):

Here’s a link to a list of visitor comments about the Oak Creek Brewery. I have to agree with all the positive comments I see here and echo the comments about friendly staff and clientele. This establishment is an asset to the town.

For what it’s worth, here’s the Rate Beer page for King Crimson:

I couldn’t resist popping the cap on the growler of King Crimson shortly after getting home. Mmmm, delicious. I poured the remaining beer from the growler the next day (Father’s Day!) and, while it was a bit flat, I believe the flavor was even more pronounced with a strong taste of coffee. I also poured a dab or two of the leftover King Crimson onto some salmon while it grilled and the result was a nicely brown glazed piece of salmon that tasted terrific.
I'm reasonable enough to know that I can't be a regular at the Oak Creek Brewery - it's too far away - but I will continue to seek out their product in my local stores and look forward to the time when my travels take me north again. I pray it's soon - this heat is a killer!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sunbru (Dog Days) Kolsch Style Ale

Four Peaks Brewing SunBru Kolsch

Attended a conference at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona this week. The “Ho” is like right out of a movie from the 1960s. I expected to see the Rat Pack lounging round outside in the shade. And, while 99% of our time was devoted to affairs of the convention – presentations, venders, etc., Johnny Southside and I did manage to spend a few minutes at the bar in CafĂ© ZuZu.

What I’d thought was a tap handle for Grolsch turned out to be a tap handle for Four Peaks Sunbru Kolsch. I ordered one and Johnny Southside had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The Sunbru presented very light in color with a sturdy head of about one finger’s width. Smells like a lager to me with a mild taste of grain and a quick finish. The beer was ice cold and is certainly a nice summer beer, but just too light in color for my tastes. Right or wrong, I’m afraid I equate light color with “weak.” I found myself casting a jealous eye toward the Sierra Nevada that Johnny Southside ordered. (So I ordered one of those for round two.)

The Four Peaks site describes Sunbru thusly: “…a very light golden ale that is malty, sweet, almost honey-like in the nose. This ale has a light to medium body and a very delicate flavor. Easy drinking, it has very low bitterness and a soft dry finish…This style originates from the city of Cologne, Germany where all twenty-eight breweries are dedicated to brewing only Kolsch style ales.”

According to their site, Sunbru was originally called “dog days,” which I prefer to the name “sunbru,” which sounds like a fruit drink or iced tea beverage. I think if all the breweries in Cologne brew this style, it must be a rather boring town as far as beer is concerned.

Beer Advocate’s devotees had this to say:

Here’s a picture of the bar in ZuZu’s. If this place weren’t outside my normal area of operation and removed from my usual social milieu, I might be coaxed back for another beer…heck, I might go back anyway.
Here’s my favorite picture of the Rat Pack (I just wish they hadn’t set the drink on the felt!):

Back to work tomorrow. The Valley Ho will move on without me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Boulder Brewing: Hazed and Infused

One from the slush pile...

The offerings from this brewer tread the “hippie” side of the fence – not an era that I’m especially enamored of, but hey, it’s beer so I’ll try it.

Smells sour, bitter and acidic. Like a burned out hippie who's just waiting to die or for his 401(k) to finally pay off big.
Poured with a thin head, medium lacing
Oaky taste. Dry, quick finish.

Not great. I’m learning that the overly hoppy beers are not my thing…of course, the 60s aren’t my thing either, that’s when this country forgot how to work and how to fight. Now we watch reality shows about men who work (fishermen, lumberjacks and oilfield workers) and….oh, never mind. (Stick to the beer, stupid.)

Here’s the link to the Boulder Beer Company website. (“Colorado’s first microbrewery” I guess so. Who am I to argue, but hey, didn’t Coors start out as a “microbrewery” at some point?)

Here’s what the “free love” crowd at Beer Advocate had to say about Hazed:
I suspect that if I find my way up to Boulder some day, I’ll try to make time to visit Boulder Brewing’s headquarters. In the meantime, I’ll keep an open mind about their other hippie-oriented beers and try them down the line. However, I probably won’t bother with Hazed and Infused again.

Friday, June 6, 2008

D-Day, June 6, 1944

Perhaps, a beer before parting.

I stuck to a tried and true today. No tasting. No notes. No sniffing the bottle or the glass. I sought out the common. It could have been a Schlitz or a Pabst or a Budweiser, but I chose High Life. All I expect today is that the beer I drink be a beer that some American fighting man would have had on a rainy day in England in June 1944.

We'll never know their kind again and that's sad. What's also sad is that the world has forgotten their sacrifice. Sadder still is that many Americans have forgotten their sacrifice. So, if you, or someone you love, was in a place called Normandy this time in 1944, you have my thanks and prayers.
(It wasn't until after I'd posted this that I realized June 6th was also the first Friday of the month and thus, the day that beer bloggers the world throughout, engage in what has come to be called "the session." All the more reason to be thankful for the sacrifices of D-Day and so many other d-days since: America's fighting men and women sacrificing and dying to defend our right to waste the better part of a day rambling and ranting about beer.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mac’s Blackwatch Cream Porter

Blackwatch is the name given to a Scottish military regiment with a long history. I suspect that while this seems to be an easy drinking beer, one might feel a kick in the seat if you hang with Mac for too many rounds and thus, I think this beer lives up to the motto of the Blackwatch Regiment: Nemo Me Impune Lacessit. (No one provokes me with impunity.)

This is a dandy, dark porter with a robust, noticeable taste that makes me glad I picked up a whole six-pack and sad that I didn’t pick up two six-packs! Once again, thank heaven for Trader Joe’s! Even with the weather here in the desert southwest hovering near 100 degrees, I had no hesitation in pouring the last of my Mac’s Blackwatch into a glass this evening – it’s just not too heavy even for a porter. I hoisted this last of the six-pack in honor of the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, which where I’m sitting hasn’t yet come, but in the UK the fateful anniversary has arrived. (We’ll never know what they endured, or what they sacrificed and we should thank God for them every day we have the luxury of living in freedom.)

The Tasting

A beautiful pour with dark beer and tan head. Smells a bit of wine in the bottle. Smells of roasted nuts and maybe a bit fruity in the glass. This one’s a keeper and seems to be readily available at Trader Joe’s.

Here’s a link to the brewer’s website:

Here’s the Roughneck’s Take on Mac’s Blackwatch Cream Porter (I like the analogy/metaphor, whatever.)

The hooligan’s over at Beer Advocate had nice things to say about Mac’s in general:
(Though I rate it higher than a B- myself.)

Here’s a nice Wikipedia entry for the Blackwatch Regiment:

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Black Toad Brewing Dark Ale

Beer Ghosts, Me'thinks.

What is it with some of the beers I buy at Trader Joe's; you can’t seem to pin down any information on the brewers. Case in point: Black Toad Brewing’s Dark Ale. This is a dandy, dark beer that hints of dark wheat bread and nuts in the bottle and tastes vaguely of coffee and licorice, then finishes off with a pretty strong taste of licorice. In the glass, it’s as dark and mysterious as Black Toad Brewing with a thin, whispy tan colored head.

As for this illusive Black toad Brewing, well the label says they’re in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My buddy over at Loggerhead's: A Roughneck’s Take On Beer, tried this beer back in 2007 and their product was from Chicago. Hmmmm.

Here’s another spooky part of this mysterious puzzle: I took some fairly detailed photos of a glass of Black Toad’s Dark Ale sitting beside the empty bottle with the six pack carton as a nifty backdrop. Downloaded them and went in later to retrieve the images and…nothing. Gone. The file was still in the computer but the images were gone. Weird.

Here’s Wortwursts post at Loggerhead's:

The Beer Advocate crowd rates this one high:
I’d say this is another home run for Trader Joe's. Even if they aren’t exactly up front as to where their beers are made or by whom, I still figure they are tops for providing access to offbeat beers at a really reasonable price. More bang for the beer buck, I say. On the other hand, there seems to be some serious joo-joo working with this stuff and I’d be careful with it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chamberlain Pale Ale (Warning: History Lesson)

Shipyard Brewing Company. Chamberlain Pale Ale

If you’d asked me last week to name an American beer that honors a Medal of Honor recipient, I wouldn’t have been able; but today I know.

On the advice of Johnny Southside, the wife and I visited Total Wine near Arrowhead Mall a week ago, and found a veritable cornucopia of beers from around the world. We headed first down the six-pack aisle and the very first beer to catch my eye was the handsomely labeled Chamberlain Pale Ale. Joshua Chamberlain is a hero of the Battle of Gettysburg and a personal favorite of my wife. When we got ‘round to the singles aisle, I made a point of picking up two of the Chamberlain Pale Ale’s for my mix and match six pack. (By the way, the Total Wine is flippin’ awesome! If you don’t have one in your neighborhood, write your congressman and demand on NOW!)

I tried the first bottle of Chamberlain Pale Ale this afternoon and I’m so very impressed with this beer, I think I’ll go back and pick up a six-pack to have for the anniversary of the Gettysburg Battle in early July. I think this will be a terrific beer to enjoy in our Arizona heat over the July 4th weekend. But I digress. Who is Joshua Chamberlain?

Amazingly, 63 men were awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of heroism during the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania between July 1st and July 3rd, 1863. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine is one of those heroes. Gettysburg is now known as the high water mark of the Confederacy, but in the first days of July 1863, Union success was hardly a foregone conclusion. The battle of Gettysburg erupted as the result of an almost accidental encounter between Union forces and Confederate foraging parties who had moved toward the town of Gettysburg in search of supplies – especially shoes, which were in short supply in the rebel military. The initial contact developed into a delaying action as Union forces were pushed back through the town of Gettysburg and into the high ground adjacent to the town. (Ironically, Gettysburg is the only battle of the Civil War in which Confederate forces attacked from the north, while Union forces fought from the south to the north.)

On the second day of the battle, Colonel Chamberlain’s 20th Maine, composed of 358 men, were arrayed to the left of the Union line in defensive positions on Little Round Top. Chamberlain’s small unit protected the whole left flank of the Army of the Potomac. Late in the afternoon of July 2nd, the unit withstood repeated attacks from the 15th and 47th Alabama. By evening, stretched further and further along the ridge, their ranks diminished by combat casualties, the 20th Maine was in an untenable situation. At about 6:30, rebel forces launched a final attack on the 20th Maine’s lines. If successful, this attack would have given Confederate forces control of high ground from which to attack the remaining Union forces. With his ammunition nearly depleted, his forces sapped by combat casualties, Colonel Chamberlain knew his unit would not be able to repulse yet another attack. Chamberlain ordered his men to charge into the advancing enemy with bayonets fixed. This daring charge so surprised and unnerved the Confederate forces that many of them dropped their guns and surrendered. The remaining Confederate forces were successfully repulsed and the Union lines were secured for another day.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was truly a renaissance man; a scholar and soldier, he even served as governor of Maine and passed away in 1914. While I’m no judge of greatness or of great beer, I’d say this beer is as fine a tribute to the man as will be found anywhere.

The Tasting
Smells faintly of grass in the bottle and mildly of wine or alcohol in the glass. Pours with a thin head, a dark amber color. Tastes of fruit. Light. This one’s a terrific beer and an excellent example of the style.

Don’t take my word for it.

Here’s what the troops at Beer Advocate had to say about this one:

Here’s a nice news piece from Beer Advocate, marking the mass-market release of Chamberlain Pale Ale. Some useful background and links here:

Here’s a link to the website of the artist who painted the beautiful image for the label on Chamberlain Pale Ale:

Finally, here’s a link to the brewer’s website. Go there and buy a Chamberlain pint glass or t-shirt, NOW! (Drink from it, or wear it for the Gettysburg anniversary in July.)

Colorado Beer Facts

Denver Colorado Beer Facts