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.

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