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.

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