Saturday, January 31, 2009

Old Engine Oil: Of Traveling, And Following

My little pick up truck turned over 100,000 miles this week; not while on the way to some exotic vacation destination, or while en route to perform some heroic deed, just simply on the way to work at 4:45 in the morning. Just me, my truck, and a few anonymous travelers on southbound I-17. I think my dad would have thought that was cool.

So, to honor the event, I sampled a bottle of Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Black Ale this week. This one has a definite chocolate smell and pours a dark brown with a lovely tan head. It’s altogether a great looking beer with a quirky name to be sure. Old Engine Oil has a burnt sooty taste with an initial hint of chocolate. It reminds me of Mackeson Triple Stout, but at quite a higher price. I like this beer enough to buy it again, but probably won’t because of the cost. Hey, I’m the guy with the truck that’s got over 100,000 miles. Call me frugal. Call me cheap. Just call me!

Hey! I note with happiness and pride that I have 9 followers to this goofy little beer blog! That’s really nice and I try to reciprocate by visiting the blogs and webpages of the wonderful folks who sign on to follow Beer Rant. Hopefully in an upcoming post, I can acknowledge each of you and include links directly to your blogs and so forth, but for now, just a big thank you for stopping by to visit now and then – I know you have better things to do with your time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Labatt Blue: All the Exoticism of the Corner Bar

Thermometer didn’t quite reach 60 degrees on the back patio here at Beer Rant Headquarters today. A bit of a cool snap by our standards. In keeping with the chill wind, I grabbed a bottle of Canada’s Labatt Blue Imported pilsner for an after lunch treat.

Today’s expedition notes indicate Labatt’s has a sour corn or grain smell, pours a light yellow color with a weak head and low, slow beading. The taste is of faintly sweet grain.

I suppose whether I liked Labatt Blue or not is immaterial, since what I did actually like about the beer was more difficult to quantify than just the taste. This beer reminds me of that good old cheap bar beer you’re used to getting down at the corner watering hole. That’s it.

I figured I’d visit the Labatt website and after a quick search I found what I think is their site, but let me warn you, don’t expect to learn anything about their beer ‘cause at this website, it's all about the hockey!

(Sorry, no jokes about Canada, or references to “eh,” or “hoser,” or that place called the “Great White North.”)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cutting Your Brewing Teeth in the Camps: Bootlegger Brown Ale

I don’t think beers need to have a gimmick to sell – good beers definitely don’t need a gimmick to sell. On the other hand, it’s always nice when a good beer has a story behind it. There’s a story behind Bootlegger Brown Ale and, while I’ve known of the story for a year or more, I’ve been unable until recently to acquire this tasty Texas brew, and that’s a story as well, I guess.

Read the story of Bootlegger Brown Ale at the Independence Brewing website and you’ll discover that the owner’s grandfather learned something of the brewing trade during a stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Do a Google search for the Civilian Conservation Corps and you’ll find that it was a 1930s work relief program that ultimately took some 3 million young men and put them to work in our nation’s forests, parks and fields between 1933 and 1942.

Ponder long enough on the notion of 200 young men confined in a work camp and you’ll eventually come to realize that the program wasn’t a summer day camp for sissies. Rest assured the CCC was a huge success and likely the most successful of the Depression-era New Deal programs by far, but boys will be boys and so it seems with the grand patriarch of Independence Brewing.

For those of you who may still be in the dark, Homebrewing 101 was not a course that was taught in the CCC. Odds are the predecessor to Independence Brewing’s current efforts took place in a dark corner of a barracks or mess hall, or perhaps even in an out of the way part of the park, hidden in the bushes and trees. The story of Bootlegger’s CCC past is sufficiently vague to generate curiosity and at the least a passing “that’s cool” from the average beer nut. (Of course the story of alcohol consumption in the CCC camps isn’t always a happy one. A World War I veteran in one camp died as a result of drinking vanilla extract and there are no numbers documenting how many of the thousands of vehicular accidents involving CCC enrollees also involved consumption of booze.)

I’m predisposed to like the story behind Bootlegger Brown Ale. For the record, I’m a big CCC fan. My dad was in it, but got kicked out. My mom’s dad was a U.S. Forest Service foreman and worked in CCC camps almost the entire time it was in operation. But alas, it seemed the vague CCC story connected to Bootlegger Brown Ale was going to be my only brush with the beer since it’s brewed and distributed locally and isn’t shipped out of Texas. Nevertheless, I kept a watch on the shelves of the local Total Wine and BevMo, Trader Joe’s and Sunflower Market, but no luck.
It wasn’t until I began exploring the practice of beer trading that I found someone from that part of the country who would trade me some Bootlegger for some locally brewed beers from my region. We worked the deal and SCORE! I acquired a six-pack of Bootlegger Brown Ale just after the first of the year!

Here are my notes from the initial tasting, done on the very day the package arrived, January 5, 2009:

Hint of chocolate smell and malt in the bottle. Roasted coffee in the glass. Dark brown color, not quite opaque. Nice head but quickly gone. Distinct coffee taste, medium lacing. Tastes a bit like a stout. Slightly sooty finish.

I like Bootlegger Brown Ale enough to hope that I can wrangle another trade from out of state; the likelihood of my actually getting to Texas seems remote at the moment, though there are a ton of great CCC sites scattered around the state. I might kill two birds with one stone, eh? Sample some Bootlegger Brown Ale closer to the source and visit some terrific places where the CCC did great work almost 80 years ago!

If you're lucky enough to live where you can buy it, buy it!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Beers for Smart@ss: Four Peaks Hop Knot

I don’t know exactly why Smart@ss is prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages for the next six months – frankly there are some questions you don’t ask folks you bump into in bars or Internet blogs. What I do know is that one clever blogger has offered to do something nice for another clever blogger and I’ve offered to take a swing at lending a hand.

Vgrid over at Vbg-log has offered to consume beers for Smart@ss and following a request for other volunteers, I signed on to consume a beer for Smart@ss today.

The beer I’ve chosen is Hop Knot IPA, which is produced locally by Four Peaks Brewing here in Arizona. Since Smart@ss lives in the “middle(ish) of the Midwest” I’d like to think that perhaps he’s pining for warmer weather at the moment – it’s been in the high 70s here lately. Failing that, perhaps he’d like to sample a bottle of beer that is made in Arizona and available only on draft and in growlers, kegs and cases at the Four Peaks brewpubs. Here’s what it looked like a few weeks ago when I first pulled it out of the case:

Hoppy IPA’s are not a beer style to which I naturally gravitate. I purchased a case of Hop Knot in order to transact a beer trade with a fellow beer fan in Arkansas and, having sent off a portion of the case as trade goods, I’ve been slowly working my way through the remaining beers from the case. I have to say, I’m beginning to appreciate IPA’s quite a bit more, now that I’ve tried a few of them. The thing that I continue to dislike is the practice of over-hopping beers in a sick game of one-upsmanship. I liken these hop monsters to that scary guy down at the gym who’s clearly jazzed on ‘roids and likely to blow up at the slightest provocation. Can we stick with the traditional style standards, please? Hops for the sake of hops seems a bit extravagant these days. But enough of this! This beer’s for Smart@ss!

It strikes me that Smart@ss is a thinking man and as such, I think he’d enjoy the complexity of this Hop Knot. Perhaps the weather is more conducive to a stout or a porter where he is, but with the furnace stoked and the dual pane windows in place, an IPA might be a nice counter-seasonal choice.

Hop Knot smells like grapefruit, perhaps with hints of pine; certainly the mark of a well-hopped beer so I’m told. It’s dry with a slightly thick mouth feel and the carbonation seems low while the lacing is heavy for a bottle pour. I’d be interested in trying this on draft and I suspect Smart@ss would be too. As with a number of IPA’s I’ve sampled lately, my initial impression is that they taste a bit like a nondescript soda pop and Hop Knot finishes with that dry-in-the-back-of-the-throat feeling you get after eating slices of grapefruit. Great beer and perhaps one of the better local beers I’ve tried so far!

I’ve considered saying this many, many times over the years, but never thought I’d actually get to put it out there: Cheers, Smart@ass!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Beer Moment: Barrett-Jackson and Beer

I attended the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale this past Friday. My oldest brother comes in from out of state every year with some buddies and he’s always let me in on the fun while they are in town and it’s never a disappointment. Here’s a shot of some of the guys discussing the finer points of a particular Ford Mustang as it waits in line to go on the block.

Their credentials allow them access to the bidder’s bar and we all make liberal use of the products dispensed therein. Here’s a shot of the bidders bar – they offer the usual fare in addition to Stella-Artois and Bass Ale.

Initially I opted for a simple Bud Light and here’s a look at what happens when you stand too close to the Ford Drifting exhibition with an open cup of beer. Look closely and you’ll see tiny bits of rubber floating in the top! Nothing like a bit of fiber with your beer, right?

Only later did I discover that Bass Ale was available and I switched to that. Here’s a shot of my beer cup, sitting quietly on the auction floor as I watch cars roll across the block.

A 1950’s era military jeep (restored) went for about $100,000 this year, which I thought was pretty cool and not too much below the selling price for a racecar driven by Dale Earnhardt when he was still alive and racing.The fun of this for me is not simply the beer (which is a plus anywhere I go) but the experience of getting to see my older brother admire and enjoy all these cars; he and his buddies are experts in all the finer points of classic car restoration and to walk around with them is like having your very own personal museum guide in what must be one of the largest displays of rare and unusual automobiles anywhere. Yeah, the beer was okay but the company is what can’t be beat.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Beer Reviews Online: How Do You Rate?

Once I found I’d made the decision to begin truly tasting and sampling beers, the next thing that I had to decide was how and if to actually rate the beers I tried. I’ve refrained from giving full-fledged reviews of beers here at Beer Rant. Beer is an acquired taste in itself, and to attempt to rate the myriad styles of beers that are out there would really be far above my skill set. The simple aspects of setting and circumstance can make a beer taste great on one occasion and lousy on another. Here at Beer Rant, I’ve simply acknowledged those beers that I prefer, occasionally adding that I would or would not seek out a particular beer again. The beers I’ve found that I especially like, I’ve usually referred to in multiple posts.

This is not to say that I don’t rate beers, I do, but not here on my blog. Normally, after I’ve made a personal rating for a beer, I check out how it stacks up with other drinkers. I refer to the ratings on Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, and they’re perfectly fine, wonderful sites but good gravy their rating systems boggle the mind with percentages and point scales. Ugh. I just need some place to jot my notes, make my ratings based on a simple scoring range and hopefully network with other beer drinkers of a like mind.

For my purposes, I’ve found a great online beer group called Beer Reviews Online. Sure, the other beer rating and ranking sites on the web are great and each has merit, but so far, I’ve only joined Beer Reviews Online. Why? Mostly because BRO is a simple, straightforward site that doesn’t have a convoluted multi-facet, subset rating system. At BRO, beers are rated 0 to 10 with space for comments. That’s it. In addition to the ratings, there is a member’s forum for sharing commentary and good-natured banter. Members can also connect directly through their profile pages and I’ve wrangled a great Beer Trade with another member of Beer Reviews Online, which is reason enough to jump into the pool. And guess what? If you decide to re-rate a beer, you can go into your ratings and edit the rating to move it up or down on your scale. I think that’s a nod to the vagaries of setting and circumstance, for sure.

So far, membership at Beer Reviews Online is fairly small and seems to include a lot of regional members. I’m an interloper to some extent in that I don’t live in the area where most of the other members live, but I feel more than welcome there and I have no reason to believe that others who visit and join BRO wouldn’t feel just as welcome.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year, Old World

This is what will pass for a New Year’s Resolution Post, I guess.

In the coming year I’ll work to keep my posts shorter.
In the coming year I’ll post fewer beer sampling comments and more general beer commentary, book reviews and so forth.
In the coming year I’ll refrain from using anything but images that I myself have created.

Sorry, I can’t resolve to be funnier, or smarter – heaven knows I’ve tried that for years and I’m pretty much stuck on “barely inoffensive, mildly humorous pseudo-intellectual.” I’ve learned to live with it, so can you. For those of you who might be wishing I’d simply resolve to go away; sorry, I can’t do that either. The good news for you is that there are a bazillion really good beer-related blogs on the net for you to visit and enjoy and that’s another of my 2009 resolutions. I’ll try to post more links to other beer blogs so that in your beer journey, you can stop by here on your way to those other beer blogs!

Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near Me: Old World Brewery

So, since I’ve already broken the first resolution, I may as well go on and fill you in on the few details I have regarding a new brewery that is scheduled to open near Beer Rant HQ in the coming weeks. I stumbled across an internet reference to Old World Brewery and while on a beer hunting errand I dropped in to find the place still under construction. Not wanting to make too much of a nuisance of myself I chatted briefly with the installation crew who appeared to be working on the material handling system to bring the ingredients to the brewing vats and then I excused myself. Exiting through the front lobby I bumped into Perry who told me they planned to brew in a couple days and that I should come back then. I thanked him and continued.

I returned in the afternoon on the appointed day to find Perry and Patrick (the owner) in the front office, Patrick on the phone to a supplier. The conversation appeared to revolve around a piece of equipment needed to complete the installation process. From the discussion, it was evident that no brewing would take place this day.

The phone call completed, Patrick stepped out into the lobby and gave me the quick greeting of a man with many things on his mind. Nevertheless, like so many good beer folk I’ve met over the last year or so, Patrick took the time to walk me through their set up, all the while discussing equipment issues with Perry and keeping an eye on the gauges and dials that lined the east wall of the brewery.

By his own account, Patrick doesn’t come from a brewing background but he strikes me as a business savvy fellow who has come into brewing in a round about way. One thing’s for sure, Patrick and Perry have their work clothes on and they’re working hard to get the beer brewing and the doors open. Old World Brewery will be the first tenant in the building and already they have installed a stage with lighting and a full drum set. The brewing equipment was purchased from a brewpub in Mississippi who lost their master brewer in 2004 or 2005. Perhaps Mississippi’s loss will be our gain. The plan at this point is to begin brewing the first batch on Wednesday, January 7th and a charity fundraising event is scheduled for January 24th.

Here’s the SuperPages Entry for Old World Brewery. Listed under “brands” is something called Sheriff Joe Scotch Ale. Hmmm. Hope that’s something they put out soon, since old Joe just got reelected. Maybe he’ll offer to come up for the grand opening! Another interesting point is the brewery’s proximity to Deer Valley Airport. Heck, pilots stopping in to top off their fuel tanks will practically be able to walk over to Old World for a pint or two before they take off on the next leg of their flight! (Just kidding.)

It’s a tenuous time and not necessarily the best time to be starting a new brewery endeavor. That said, you’ve also got to admire the truly American spirit that drives folks to create and produce under any circumstances and in any economic environment. I’ll be checking in at Old World as often as I can and will hopefully have a write up on their grand opening in the coming days or weeks. Meantime, let’s all wish Patrick and Perry best of luck with Old World Brewery!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Quick Riffs: More Winter/Holiday Seasonals

My original intent in creating the “quick riff” posting was to add content to my beer diary without an undue amount of blathering, editorializing or navel gazing. My initial attempts at quick riffs have not really been successful in this regard and, given the length of this introduction, I’m worried that this installment of quick riffs is also going to be a failure. Something to work on in the New Year.

Anyway, with the Christmas and New Year season over (but certainly not the winter season) I thought I’d give a quick run down of some more of the holiday/Christmas style beers that I’ve sampled recently.

Old Jubilation Ale
Sampled on December 11, 2008
Seems a bit hoppy in the bottle. Pours dark bronze with a robust head and tastes slightly sweet with hints of citrus. Definitely has a warming quality and a slight alcohol bite. There is no alcohol percentage listed on the label, but seems to be fairly strong. Gets better as it warms in the glass, but only to a point, so don’t dilly-dally, scooter.

Christmas Ale
Sampled December 8, 2008
Smells malty in the bottle and of sweet malt in the glass. Bronze in color with medium lacing and a grainy corn taste. Probably not worth mentioning in your Christmas or New Years cards, but certainly worth a try each year when it rolls around. I've learned that they also make root beer. Hmm.

Merry Christmas…

Sampled December 4, 2008
Gives off a sour spice smell in the bottle; maybe licorice. Poured a light coffee color that bordered on red. Thin head with light lacing. There is definitely a taste of licorice and a hint of something roasted there as well. This one gives a definite warming effect and a very slight alcohol bite. Finishes with a hint of almonds or some other nut . This beer seems worthy of a try every year simply because it's become something of a tradition, I think

Christmas Ale
Sampled on December 7, 2008 (Day of Infamy)
Grassy smelling in the bottle but more malty smelling in the glass. Pours a dark tea color with a nice tan head. The taste is sweet with a medium mouth feel. I'm frequently underwhelmed by this brewer and I only recall being bowled over by their Small Batch IPA.

Lost Coast
Sampled on December 7, 2008 (Day of Infamy)
This one smells sweet in the glass and pours a dark brown – but not opaque. Flavor hints at fruit an licorice with a thick mouth feel. Like many of the late year seasonals, this one has a slight alcohol bite, too. Again, I'm hard pressed to remember a beer from this brewer that really knocked my socks off, but the fun is in the trying, right?

I’m still waiting to sample (again) Hibernation Ale and New Belgium’s 2 Below. (Both of which I've enjoyed in past years.) Meanwhile, I’m finagling a beer trade with a fellow beer nut in Arkansas, nosing into the rumor of a small brewery scheduled to open less than a mile from Beer Rant HQ and giving some thought to all the folks who I have crossed paths with this year in connection with my new found appreciation of beer and things beer-related.
Happy New Year!

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