Ah, the holydaze season is upon us, so like it or not...it's time to drink. Forget the malls and shopping centers. Support your local breweries, brewpubs, and independent businesses. It's been a busy time for beer, with all kinds of seasonals hitting store shelves, as well as craft beer's big "mainstream" break, the Discovery channel TV show "Brew Masters", featuring Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. Stock up and herald the craft beer renaissance. Here are some thoughts on some recent tastings of mine. Remember that ratings run the gamut from 1 to 5, with 1 being toilet bowl dredge and 5 being holy water (and yeast, and malt, and hops!). Hut, hut, hike!
REDBRIDGE GLUTEN-FREE SORGHUM BEER (St. Louis, MO) - 3.0
Commendations to Anheuser-Busch for supporting the growing number of people with gluten (wheat or barley) allergies. However, don't let that dissuade you from trying this one, as it stands on its own merits. Pouring a nice red-amber with average lacing, this sorghum-based beer has a sweet molasses nose, and a rich and malty flavor. The hops content seems subdued, pushing this one towards an overbearing sweetness rather than a well-balanced mix. Still, an easy-to-drink beer, and certainly steps above mainstream American lagers.
NEW BELGIUM - TRIPPEL (Fort Collins, CO) - 5.0
This classic Belgian abbey-style ale with a redesigned label initially pours an unimpressive pale gold, but the thick head and dense nose brings to mind cinnamon, ripe fruity banana, and clove/coriander. The taste is a bum-rush of spice up front, followed by a mellow maltiness, then a stronger alcohol sting (it's 7.8%). A perfect example of this style, and made in America. New Belgium's Trippel is a delightful and delicious beer.
GOOSE ISLAND - MILD WINTER (Chicago, IL) - 4.0
Goose Island seems to have stepped up their brewing in the last couple of years, and this is another triumph. This rye ale is an attractive deep amber with a rich foam and a fruity, biscuity nose. So far seems enticing! Taste is a surprisingly smooth and spicy, with a hint of clove. Subtle and tasty, this one's definitely enjoyable.
SPOETZL BREWERY - SHINER HOLIDAY CHEER (Shiner, TX) - 2.5
A curiosity here - a seasonal ale flavored with peach and pecan. Odd and not necessarily a typical cold-weather brew, but Shiner's always been dependable enough for a good tasting beer. Nonetheless, I'm not overly fond of this one. The sweet flavor is followed by a nutty finish, which sounds well enough, but this is just not one I'd purchase a 6-pack of, at least this year. Maybe next year's batch will be better?
CAVE CREEK - CHILI BEER (Mexico) - 1.0
This creative beer (there is an actual whole green chili pepper inside every bottle) opens with a sickly pallid complexion and a nonexistent head. The only scent I get is, not surprisingly, jalapeno. The taste is, well, like hot sauce. The pepper far overpowers the ultra-light lager beer it's suspended in. I have to admit, it's a nice novelty for the beer fan who THINKS he/she's had it all, but this one is just not appetizing at all. I'm not one to ever waste a beer, but this one's a pourer.
KINGFISHER LIGHT LAGER (Bangalore, India) - 1.0
Pours a decent golden, with thin lacing. Smells of butter and honey, with maybe a little corn. Taste is similar, with only a heavy malt presence and no hops detectable. Seems quite drab and unremarkable. This one doesn't stand out in any way, though it does have more body than most American adjunct lagers. Still, this one isn't crisp or tasty at all. Wouldn't have another.
LEFT HAND OKTOBERFEST MARZEN LAGER (Longmont, CO) - 4.5
This attractive and arty beer (complex and creative bottle renderings) pours a deep amber with an average head. The olfactories reveal an odor of fruit and yeast. Quite appealing already! The taste is crisp and even sweet up front, followed by a slight hop zing in the followthrough. Seems stronger and heartier than most lagers, and this one was a pleasure to finish.
LAKEFRONT - RIVERWEST STEIN BEER (Milwaukee, WI) - 4.0
Pours an attractive amber-red, with average lacing. This rich all-malt lager also boasts of a lovely ripened fruit bouquet, and the first taste reveals a biscuity flavor, with a slight zip of hoppy citrus in the finish. Tasty and well-done, and a perfect example of a lager done the right way.
WEIHENSTEPHANER - HEFE WEISSBIER (Freising, Germany) - 4.5
Poured into my ale glass with a major amount of froth, this well-regarded classic makes its presence known with a slightly spicy, clean scent and a clouded golden appearance. The flavor brings to mind grains and spices, like baked bread with a followthrough of clove. Tasty, balanced, and the best hefe I've had in some time.
JOSEPHS BRAU - DUNKELWEIZEN (San Jose, CA) - 3.0
A thick, dense head on this malty Bavarian-style unfiltered hefe, with a nice scent of caramel, clove, and banana. The taste is bold and roasty with hints of buttery biscuit and clove - spicy and tangy. Not bad, but I found this one somewhat lacking in balance, with perhaps a tad too much of the spiced element.