Sunday, February 17, 2013

Beer: Oaken Barrel, Budweiser, and Bell's

With so many new craft brews (and, indeed, new craft breweries) popping up, it seems there is an unending wealth of new beverages to review! Not a bad thing. Here are a few recent samples I've enjoyed. Remember, the scorecard runs the gamut from 1 to 5, with 1 being crap and 5 being king. That said, anything at a 3.0 or better is decent. Support your local craft breweries and independent beer in general. 

Oaken Barrel has been around for 5 years now, and I have yet to meet one of their beers I didn't like! Congrats to them for 5 years of making Indiana brew approachable and enjoyable. This is their interpretation of a Belgian tripel.

Cloudy golden upon pouring into my Viking glass. Nicely carbonated, but lace is thin. Nose is toasty at first impression, with some candied or dried fruit coming in behind. I don't get any spice in the nose, though, oddly. Taste is rich and malty. Definitely a big flavor here. I get candied fruit (figs, berries, fruitcake) along with a mildly spiced note. The finish is dry with a balanced fruit-spice melding. The bottle doesn't note the heavy-duy 9.4% ABV at all, but it's evident 2/3 through the bottle!

Overall, this is a solid brew, and certainly a faithful interpretation of the big Belgian tripel style. Enjoyable.

I had to at least try this latest marketing plot from the cut-throat corporate side of brewmaking (and avowed enemy of independent brewing). It's a typical American Adjunct lager in style, but with added alcohol content (6%) and a tad more body than Bud Light. 

Pours a clean, clear golden amber, as promised on the bottle. Solid head of fine off-white carbonation, which subsides quickly, leaving no lace. Nose is yeasty and grainy. Not bad, just pretty well generic. Taste is sweet and mild, with almost no hop bite whatsoever. There are some toasty caramel and toffee tones, and even a hint of fruit. I get a really sweet finish, too, which kind of kills my enjoyment. 

I've had much worse beers before, but this isn't one I'd return to, given the choices. 

Bell's is a leader in craft brewing, and among the top 10 independent craft breweries in the US. They have trail-blazed the path for craft since 1985 and are always reliable in making tasty (and occasionally groundbreaking, as with their Hopslam double-IPA) brews. Midwestern Pale Ale is a re-branded (and, I think, re-formulated) version of their previous Bell's Pale Ale. I like this much better.

Pours a cloudy golden with a superlative white head and attractive tree-line lace. Lovely! Nose is crisp malts and a snappy citrus hops presence. Seems balanced and enticing. Taste is nicely hopped, but not overly so given the style. I get a complementary malt bill alongside the hops. 

Overall, a perfectly balanced and exemplary pale ale. Top marks for the style.

Originally crafted at Bell's more experimental "Eccentric Cafe and Beergarden" in Kalamazoo, MI, this unique pale ale combines rye grains with a hop-forward pale ale, to outstanding effect!

Pours golden and semi-cloudy due to massive chunks of sediment. My bottle is dated only a month ago, so I have no explanation for this. Regardless, there's a wealth of lovely and attractive lace. Nose is malty and appealing, with a hint of hops. Not bad. Taste is pleasantly hopped, with nice citrus notes and a slight bitterness. Didn't get a lot of the rye in the mix (which is fine with me), just a well-hopped pale ale. 

Tasty, well-done, and very enjoyable!

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