Saturday, July 31, 2010

Catching Up on a Few Things

Not even two weeks in and my lazy ass has gone almost a week without posting an update (save bock review Vinnie e-mailed me that I spent a minute posting).

Responding to Vinnie's post on bocks, my amateur theory on bocks is that brewers/breweries that specialize in German-style beers produce the best of this style.  Metro Brewing and Capitol specialize in German styles and as such produce top-notch bocks in Metro's Generator Dopplebock and Capitol's Autumnal Fire and Blonde Doppelbock among others.  However, this is a style very perilous to having a boozy flavor if not supremely brewed and some of my favorites breweries (Great Lakes with Weizenbock, Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Bock) fell victim to this.

I Like My Dark Beers At Night
I quite enjoyed Deschutes's Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale.  Hop in the Dark has a strong rye taste with a subtle hop balance and is very drinkable for a dark beer.  Even though I missed out on Black Butte Porter, my Minnesota Deschutes haul with Hop in the Dark and Mirror Pond Pale Ale turned out to be very fruitful and well worth effort of bringing them home.

Random Google searching (a favorite pastime of mine) led me to this awesome food/bar review blog, Smokin' Chokin' and Chowing with the King.  It is more a food based blog but I'd suggest to the readers of MBB to check it out (especially if you have a soft spot for fried foods like I do).

Finally, I plan on taking my maiden voyage to the monthly BA event at Goose Island this Thursday.  I'll try to get a post up about it shortly afterward and look checking it out (and hope people enjoy some of the Surly I brought back from Minnesota voyage).

New Holland Golden Cap Saison, tap

For those of us that put all weekdays on relatively equal footing, Friday nights blow. When all you want is a pint to cap a late night at work, it's usually hard to find a suburban bar that hasn't transformed into The Friday Bar--crowded and clamorous; overtaxed barkeeps slinging Li[gh]t[e]s to scented people.

Fortunately, the Beacon in Forest Park is a reliable exception. It's off the beaten Madison St. path, so it mostly draws regulars and a good age-diverse crowd. Even on a Friday night, you can sit alone at the bar without looking like a creep (not to say I don't look like a creep anyway, for other reasons). The music is always good and never too loud, and they have about a dozen beers on tap, most of which are craft. And you know it's a True Pub© because they even have a bookshelf!

Golden Cap is very light, both in color and feel--translucent almost piss-yellow and easy to drink at a 1.5 to 2 ounce-per-sip. First whiff is flowery, a little fruity--pear or peach I think--and vaguely lemony. Compared to other saisons, Golden Cap is lighter on sweetness and more bitter, though not excessively hoppy. The dominant undertone is apple, especially on the finish. A little booziness crept in on a sip or two, but I may have just taken too big a swig on those.

Grade: A, for apple but also a reflection of the quality. Well, maybe only an A- or B+ on the latter, but in this era of grade inflation, who's to say what that is anymore. It's not the best I've ever had, but I love the style in general and would happily drink this again. Recommended as a good starter saison for someone who's never had one.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bock to Basics

[written by Vinnie, posted by Zuch due to Vinnie's internet filter restrictions]

If asked to form a static rank of favorite beer styles, I don't think I could do it. Mood, season, time of day, and other such variables factor so heavily that I would find the task impossible. That said, any attempts at such a list would typically have bocks in the lower half (for taste, that is--not for pun-making). With a few notable exceptions--Capital's Autumnal Fire being the first--I find bocks to be too syrupy, too musty, or downright bland.

California probably isn't the place to go for good bocks, but after the nice things I had to say about Sierra Nevada on Sunday, I thought I'd try the 30th Anniversary Charlie, Fred, and Ken's Bock (yes, that's one beer) on Tuesday night and a Glissade last night. The Glissade is a golden bock, the Charlie more of an amber, but if you asked me which was which, I could only tell the Charlie by the overpowering boozy taste. Other than a little bit of the musty flavor, both beers are flavorless, odorless, and way too sweet to my tongue.

But rather than writing off these beers completely, I have to wonder whether it's just me. Maybe everyone's palate has its ageusic spots--something akin to color-blindness--and one of mine is whatever quality redeems the bock. If that's the case, I owe my sincerest apologies to Charlie, Fred, Ken, and any other brewers whose bocks I'll inevitably pan on this blog. In the meantime, I'll continue seeking out those rare ones that do stand out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Metropolitan Krankshaft, bottle, poured into water glass

I came by mom and dad's house tonight to check out their Alaska photos and do some laundry (yes, I'm 26, fully employed, and have my own condo--thanks for asking).

I had two Krankshafts left in the fridge from the 4th, and now there is but one. Krankshaft is probably my favorite Metropolitan brew, though I'd recommend any of the others I've tried (Flywheel, Dynamo, Generator). Krankshaft is a K├Âlsch, one of my favorite--and one of the most under-appreciated--styles of beer. Krankshaft represents the style pretty well, though it's probably a bit sweeter than average.

If you're hammered, you could be convinced you're drinking champagne. But--as I'll repeat often--great beer is not to be wasted on the hammered. The aroma is very grapey, a little citrusy, and vaguely soapy. The grapeness dominates the start of the sip but gives way to the grain before finishing with the hop bitterness. You'll wanna inhale lightly on the sip--about an ounce and a half per--swish it back through your cheeks, and let it sheet across your tongue and down the hatch.

Grade: K, for krisp... or klean... or... whatever. I love this beer. Go get some.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer seasonal twofer: Sam Adams Summer Ale, bottle; and Sierra Nevada Summerfest, bottle, poured into pint glass

Below is a terribly photographed sketch of my D&D character. He doesn't have a name yet--I'm open to suggestions--but he's a cleric. An anarchist cleric. He has a mace and 17 wisdom points. He is not your father's clergyman.

Tonight was my maiden Dungeons and Dragons experience. At 26 years-old, the inner-weirdo I suppressed during my actual adolescence has come out in force, so when I was invited to join a D&D group, I couldn't resist.

I've always stereotyped D&D players as big Mountain Dew drinkers. Also teenagers. They are teenagers, ergo they drink Mountain Dew. Since all of us are over 25, we had beer. My contribution was Sam Adams Summer Ale. I normally wouldn't buy it, but I was in a hurry to get downtown for the start of the game and stopped at the first empty-looking liquor store I passed. Summer Ale was the only thing in the cooler I'd never tried.

My first sip was a flashback to Skippy's--the leftover keg beer, lemonade, and vodka concoction of Sundays past. Perhaps I'm being harsh; I never rate lemon-flavored beers well. Maybe they have some merit. Heck, I love a good hefe with a lemon, so it's not that I'm anti-lemon. Sam Adams seasonals are usually pretty good; Noble Pils and Octoberfest come to mind first. But I think Summer Ale is a lazy effort. Lemony! Refreshing! Hot weather! You'll drink! Blech. Give me something better.

Grade: H, for half-assed. This is a total throwaway to placate an easy market. Pure Lamesville.

After returning to my dog-sitting post in the burbs for the night, I poured myself a nightcapper, a Sierra Nevada Summertime.

Good old steady Sierra Nevada. They may not be the boldest innovators, but they do many types of beer very well, without succumbing to any of the ABV oneupmanship or extreme hopification nonsense. Summerfest is a no-frills light lager--refreshing, flavorful, good in big bubbly swigs. And no fucking lemons! (A little citrus in the aroma but nothing on taste.) There's no reason they couldn't market this year-round as Sierra Nevada Pilsner.

Grade: P, for prototypical. It was enjoyable, yet I could probably be fooled into thinking it's a Schlitz if you hid the bottle. This isn't a knock on either beer; I love Schlitz. Just keep that in mind when you consider the price disparity.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Biting From the Bad Apple

The authors of More Better Beer took a Thursday night excursion to the big city, checking out The Long Room and The Bad Apple.
We really need to invest in a digital camera

I'll cover the Long Room later but first and foremost want to highlight one of Chicago's best new bars. From closing time discussion with one of the owners (down in the trenches tending bar) and his softball stories from his time in L.A. to a tremendous tap list (at very nice prices), the Bad Apple instantly jumped to the forefront of my favorite beer bars.

After my typical start to the session with a buffet of hoppy beers (including my first experience with Dreadnaught) I was ready to lighten the mood a bit and tried out Left Coast's Tangerine Wheat.

So what, I like quality fruit beers

While my love for hoppy beers is typical of beer geeks I am off in my own little world with regards to fruit based brews. Though the brewers at Lost Coast wanted to de-emphasize the tangerine flavor in the beer it was blatantly obvious yet quite tasty (and mind you, I do not normally like tangerines).

Even with a low ABV I would not recommend drinking Tangerine Wheat in multiple doses as I believe the sweet flavor would be too much of a good thing. However, it worked well in the middle of my session and gave my tongue a much needed change-up and break from the hostile hop takeover.

After enjoying the Lost Coast offering I was glad to enjoy Matilda on tap for the first time (a bit ashamed to admit that as a proud Chicagoan and beer geek for more than a year now). Goose Island must have a small brewery in Brussels because they nail the Belgain style in multiple brews (also love Sofie and quite enjoyed Pere Jacques even before I was a full-fledged beer lover).

One-third of tremendous GI Belgian trio
Tremendously balanced, the citrusy notes of Matilda combine with the strength of the Belgian styled ale to form a masterpiece of the style. Dangerously drinkable, Matilda is quite accommodating in taste but sneaky strong with a 7.5% ABV, which makes this a good night cap to a session.

To end the night I made a call to an old friend, New Holland's Dragon Milk. A sweet stout that just so happens to pack a giant 9.0% ABV punch, this brew combines Mike Tyson's punching power with Money Mayweather's scientific skill in deftly knocking you on your ass.

One of my favorite stouts
Love the balance of sweetness and strong body and a great way to end your night (especially if you do not have to drive). Also, in an industry filled with creative names, Dragon's Milk is a great way to describe a beer that can knock even the strongest drinkers out, yet do so in such a sweet manner.

With great service, many tremendous offerings at excellent prices (i.e. GL Dortmunder Gold draft for $3.50), and an owner that engages with his customers, The Bad Apple is rapidly developing into one of Chicago's best beer bars.

One final thought, a quick MBB tip of the hat to The Long Room, a great bar in its own right and the place that exposed me to a coveted beer to try in Three Floyds powerful IPA Dreadnaught (worthy of all the hype and another great 3F offering).

Friday, July 23, 2010

From the complaint box: Pitchfork's beer debacle

Last weekend I attended the fifth annual Hipster Pride Parade Pitchfork Music Festival, as I've done every July since 2006. In the last five years, I've watched the festival grow from not-enough-bodies-to-make-a-crowd to not-enough-room-to-fit-the-bodies, and I can say that the expansion--aside from the Great Toilet Shortage of 2009--has been graceful, holding the event true to its original form.

Of course, as the festival has become more popular, it's become a bit more commercialized, but this has hardly been a problem. The vendors and organizations have, for the most part, remained local, and those that aren't--Whole Foods, The Onion, Amp, and Cliff being a few examples--at least fit with the festival's mantra (humor me). Ads were not plastered throughout the park; commercials were not shown on the video screens between sets. Everything was good as ever.

Everything except the Heineken.

I don't begrudge Pitchfork for trying to profit or hold down ticket costs. They should be doing this. But by booting a local staple for a mass-produced import, they're encroaching on dangerous territory. The festival had been serving Goose Island (312 and IPA) from the beginning, before every sports bar had a 312 tap and the president was delivering cases of Honkers to foreign dignitaries.

But this year, they served Heineken and--before it ran out halfway through the festival--Newcastle Summer Ale. (All I can say about Newcastle Summer Ale is, do not buy this beer.)

Goose Island's IPA is hardly among the best, and 312 is one of the worst wheat beers I've tried. I don't mind Heineken either. It's fine. I drank a few. With the mercury pushing 95 all weekend, it wasn't exactly beer-guzzling weather anyway.

This is not the point, however. The substitution of Goose Island for Heineken was a troubling signal. Are we losing Pitchfork as we know it? Or was the cost savings just too much to pass up? I wonder what kind of market research went into the decision; I know I wasn't the only one grumbling.

So to Pitchfork, I say: Find a way to make the Goose Island partnership work again. By next year. This is not just a matter of taste but of the festival's image. Don't damage that because--let's face it--the image is just as important as the music.

I hope they get the message. If not, so be it. It's just beer, and it's just some music festival. Life goes on.

Crown Valley Big Bison Ale, bottle, poured into pint glass

Tonight I'm dog-sitting for my friends Kyle and Amanda. The pup's name is Geoffrey, and he's a beagle. He also likes beer, especially High Life. I would have him write a guest review, but at the moment, he seems more interested in lying down and licking himself.

I like watching Geoffrey, not only because it's a low-cost simulation of fatherhood but also because it adds a sense of purpose to lazing on the couch and watching cable TV, two luxuries I won't afford myself in my own home. Cable TV must've known I was coming tonight because it greeted me with high-grade pornography--a 1987 Cubs-Phllies game shown as a tribute to Andre Dawson's Hall of Fame induction. Two things strike me about 1987 baseball: 1) The camera work, by today's standards, is pretty bad. 2) The stiff, mechanical windups that we see today didn't really evolve until the early '90s. Pitchers were still pretty loosey-goosey in 1987.

Crown Valley is new to me. They're from Missourah and just recently stated shipping to the Chicago market. According to the label, Big Bison is a "Belgian style dubbel, full-bodied and rich with notes of raisin and plum." Cool. Well, it does smell a lot like raisins. Musty and a little chocolatey too, I thought. The taste will remind you of other brown ales but probably a bit sweeter. There was also some of the yeasty, bleu cheese-like tang you'll often get in a dark ale. The sip starts well, but booziness takes over after a few swishes. This is a dense and dark enough beer to hold the 7.2% ABV, so I don't understand the problem.

Grade: W, would certainly drink again but probably not buy again.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Amateur Beer Review: Surly Furious

Surly's Signature Brew
Surly Furious pint can, poured into Lakefront Brewery pint glass

If you're looking for high quality beer reviews I probably should cede this department to Vinnie.  However, a few quick thoughts on the fine American IPA known as Surly Furious.

With all the hops of a west coast style IPA, Furious is the kick in the pants that helps start any good session.  Floral hops immediately takeover your taste buds but a strong malty body gives the beer a well balanced flavor that keeps it from being strictly a hop bomb.

The beautiful red color highlights Furious's intimidating look but the beer is also accommodating after the initial hop shock wave and it is very easy to enjoy two or three in a session (not recommended for a full session though unless you possess a mighty powerful tongue).

My clogged sense of smell notices the citrusy, floral scent common of IPA's but unfortunately cannot pick up the nuances assuredly contained within this strong brew.

All in all, an excellent representative of the American styled IPA (or strong red ale if you feel like using that classification) and Surly's signature brew among their regular line-up.  Unfortunately, finding a Surly pint glass in the Twin Cities was as difficult as finding Surly outside Minnesota will soon be.

Lagunitas Pils, bottle, poured into inappropriate glassware

My parents have been away on an Alaskan cruise since last week, so like the good son I am, I came by their house tonight to water my mom's plants... not that I've actually done it yet. It was long dark when I left work, so I'm holding out for overnight rain. In the meantime, I jammed on the out-of-tune family piano and had a beer.

As my latest attempt to convert my extended family into craft beer drinkers, I brought some Lagunitas Pils to the family (German/Czech side) 4th of July celebration, hoping that the chance to try something new would trump the novelty of a vortex bottle. That part wasn't entirely successful--the upside being that the leftover came back to my parents' house for me to drink on nights such as this.

The downside may be that--after a few weeks and a few cooler transfers--it's no longer grade A prime. I recall Pils tasting better on previous occasions, but I still enjoyed this one. Pils may not fit what you consider pilsner if that happens to be Miller Lite (no condescension intended). Compared to the mass-marketed brands, Pils is sweeter, fruitier, and more bitter (California likes it hoppy). It may actually remind you more of bocks you know than pilsners.

Grade: S, for sub-optimal drinking condition. It's still a tasty beer, but I would put at least two or three other Lagunitas brews ahead of it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Voyage to Twin Cities and St. Paul's Best Bars

As anyone that talked with me over the past month realized, I was really looking forward to my trip to the Twin Cities during second weekend in July for my friend Dave's wedding and more importantly checking out a couple of St. Paul's finest beer bars, The Muddy Pig and The Happy Gnome (just kidding on that Dave, I thoroughly enjoyed the wedding bud).
One Pleasant Pig

On that fateful Friday the 9th the erstwhile Brad Boman and myself embarked on our trip to the Pig and Gnome.  I instantly fell in love with the Pig because of their laid back atmosphere that nicely complemented an extremely strong tap list.
Happily discovering Great Lakes Commodore Perry IPA on tap, I was ready for a strong opener (after enjoying a Surly Furious in the hotel room-Surly becoming distributed in Minnesota only ensures that I'll be hitting the Twin Cities more than periodically).  Always ready for a hoppy start to the night, the Commodore replied to the challenge and let me enjoy another strong GLBC brew as the subtle hop texture balanced with the floral taste made for a well designed IPA.  Not quite the kickass hop factor of Burning River, the Commodore was a strong English style IPA that thrives with balanced hop flavor.

Cleveland will always have a winner with GLBC
Round two at Pig called for a Rogue Double Dead Guy but unfortunately I was not prepared for the alcohol punch that the 9.0% ABV brew delivered.  After settling in about halfway through, I started to understand where Rogue was going with this brew and enjoyed the latter half much more.  However, as in many high ABV bocks, the prominence of the alcohol flavor overwhelms the beer and makes enjoyment of the beer that much more difficult (at least for me).  Definitely prefer the original Dead Guy and in this case bigger did not mean better.

A Quality Hefe from St. Paul
The finale at the Pig was time for a local taste as the bartender recommended our group the locally brewed Summit Hefeweizen.  Having a tepid reaction to Summit's Hefe out of the bottle, I went with the flow and hoped for the tap version to be an upgrade.  Indeed, it was much more enjoyable from the tap and one of the better hefe/wheat beers that I have enjoyed (not at level of Three Floyds Drunk Monk, New Glarus Dancing Man, or Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, but a couple of notches above Goose Island 312 and at least on par with much ballyhooed Bell's Oberon).  As with most hefes the prominent citrus flavor complemented the grainy wheat body and the flavors were in good balance with each other.  A few beers in now (and running on much too little sleep), I was rocking and rolling and ready for destination number two.

Joined by our old college buddy Rich,  the now three man group made short trip to Happy Gnome.  Initially worried about the Gnome having a pretentious atmosphere, we were pleasantly surprised by a second straight friendly, strong bartender that knew his beer (shout out here to the people of Minnesota, they really could teach many of us Chicagoans some lessons in enjoying life and dealing with people).

Yeah, I'll gladly be naughty for this Goose
After hearing the news that the Gnome was out of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (probably good news to me, who did not need that knockout blow), I went with the bartender recommendation of GI's Extremely Naughty Goose Imperial Brown.  Whatever disappointment lingered about not trying the well reputed BCS quickly dissipated after tasting the first few sips of Naughty Goose.  Malty, sweet notes of chocolate and vanilla easily masked the 9.0% ABV.  Extremely drinkable for a 9.0% beer, the Extremely Naughty Goose was one delightful sip after another and just one phenomenal brew (definitely in contention for my top five all-time beers).
Good Times at Gnome

The night cap at Gnome was quite the interesting experience.  Per my recommendation Brad tried the Tyranena Chipotle Smoked Porter and shall we say struggled with the complexity of the brew.  Brad did not enjoy the self-described taste of barbecue pork (I will say, I also did not find the sweeter notes that made me such a fan when I enjoyed one at Brixie's a few weeks back).

Meanwhile my fervor for trying Rogue's Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout was quickly quelled after tasting one of the most highly decorated beers of its style.  For whatever reason I could not taste anything beyond the weakish oatmeal body, failing to enjoy any sweet and/or coffee notes inherent in most stouts.  After this night I was not exactly rushing to purchase any shares of Rogue (though I will make an attempt to try Shakespeare Stout  again as I realize a beer rated as an A by Beer Advocate is not the lemon I portrayed it as).

Meeting up with our buddies that were finished with the rehearsal dinner, it was bon voyage to the Gnome and a night of quality beer bar hopping was in the books (at least as it relates to quality beer bars).  The events of the rest of the night are sort of a blur anyways (thanks Vern for the tequilla shot), but thankfully I made sure to take strong mental notes on my trips to the Pig and Gnome and look forward to frequenting these spots on future trips to Minnesota.

Quick Addendum:

Deep into my enjoyment of the wedding reception Saturday night, I capped off the reception with Summit's Extra Pale Ale.   A strong bodied pale ale, Summit's EPA hit the spot with its hops and tasty floral notes (bitter, but tastefully bitter).  After a night with the liquors that Summit still went down smoothly and my taste buds enjoyed the change of pace.

Dogfish Head / Victory Saison Du BUFF, tap

Supergroup Saison
[written by Vinnie]

Al was a high school classmate whom I hadn’t seen--legitimately--since high school. No Facebook friendage or nuthin. But we ran into each other at Brixie’s tonight. I recognized him first, as is usually the case since I tend to look different than I used to. He ended up there after meeting a blonde girl, who ran into an old friend and her boyfriend, who said “let’s go to Brixie’s”... something like that. Al is a hotel manager now; he has a dog and a condo; he’s a fellow night owl who works strange hours and is off tomorrow. After catching up, the night ended with the blonde girl a stumbling mess stuffing change in my shirt pocket, her friend yelling at Al and alleging we were gay, and then the three tearing off in a silver compact with her two companions, leaving Al and I standing in the parking lot, confused and a little relieved. We exchanged numbers, said we’d try to catch a Sox game sometime, and headed toward our cars.

Before all that, I made a great beer choice. (Can’t say so much for the blonde girl who’d been drinking Bud Light with limes.) Saison has lately shot up my list of favorite beer styles, and I had high expectations for the brewing supergroup of Dogfish Head, Stone, and Victory. The aroma was fruit--peaches or passion, I think--a little musty, a little nutty, a little piny. The taste had the pine nut flavor but not much of the fruit. I also got some bulb--shallot or fennel--and cilantro, which may give the beer a soapy flavor to those with that cruel palate. It was not as sweet as most saisons I’ve had; there was no alcohol taste, and it went down at the perfect pace for the 6.8 ABV.

Drink in a patient mood--slow, swishy sips, one ounce at a time with long breaks in between. Each one will probably taste a bit different. Don’t drink this beer with food that will crowd out the flavor. Neutral and toasty only.

Grade: S, for sublime. I could drink this often.

Lindemans Framboise, tap

[written by Vinnie]

Last week I went to one of my regular spots,
Lunar in Villa Park, with a taste for something Belgian but lighter on the ABV. I’d never tried a lambic before, nor had I given it much consideration. The appearance of the Lindemans bottle screams sweet and slightly poisonous like sweet vermouth, and whenever I see it in a liquor store, I can never conceive of a situation when I would want one at home. But a limited tap offering is always impetus to try something I would never stretch to buy, and my palate was in the right place. I also had a free pint coming because the bartender couldn’t find a cap for the growler of house bock I’d wanted to buy. If I were ever to try a Lindemans, this was it.

I had no clue what Framboise meant beforehand, but I had a pretty good inkling once I saw the head. My eyes started to water watching the pinkish foam go down. After the first sip, I almost cried. There is no subtlety--raspberries, raspberries, raspberries. I love raspberries, but raspberries as tart, furry lump-- not raspberries as sugary liquid explosion. But I drank it all down like a big boy girl. Once my sweet receptors desensitized, it wasn’t nearly as bad, but afterward I felt like climbing the jungle gym.

Grade: J, for juice. Lindemans Framboise is fizzy, raspberry-flavored juice. Now I know.


So, this may be a touch different then our last writing project, Yellow Chair Sports. Vinnie and I have become sophisticated gentlemen who enjoy good beer (At least that's our story. I'm sure some of our friends may perceive things a touch differently). Seeing that both of us spend plenty of time on Beer Advocate, why not use our writing talents to entertain all eight of our readers with beer recommendations, spots to enjoy said beers, and other beer related thoughts that will captivate everyone that stumbles upon our latest project.

Thanks to a slow night of work, my usual mind drifting hopes the minutes and hours away, and needing to drone out about a different subject then the 47 combinations for Marquette's starting line-up/recruiting classes for the next three years, More Better Beer is alive and ready to go until one or both of us inevitably have writers block a few weeks from now.