image from rvinz.com
I thought I’d go with a nice wheat beer for the end of summer this week. Training camp is winding down, and the Pirates are clinching another sub .500 season. Yeah, it’s that time again. And nothing goes better on a hot day than a nice cold wheat beer. They’re nice and light so that it just cools you down and doesn’t sit in your stomach like lead. If you’re turned off by the idea of wheat beers, its probably because you’ve had one (or many) of the hundred of American wheats out there that take advantage of one of the style’s biggest assets: it’s ability to absorb other flavors. If you’ve ever tasted a beer that was more like a wine cooler, it was probably a wheat beer that had a bunch of fruit thrown in it. I’ve seen wheat’s with standards such as strawberry, cherry, orange, lemon and raspberry. I’ve also seen some oddballs such as pomegranate, beets and prunes. Needless to say, a lot of breweries like to experiment (which I”m all for) and go way way way too far with their fun.
But I digress. Wheat beer is generally a German/Belgan thing, and they usually do it right and let the wheat flavor stand on its own. One brewery outside that area who also seems to have a firm grasp on this concept is Pivzavod Baltika in Russia. They’re the second largest brewery in Europe (behind Heineken), but they don’t export much to the US. Despite their tremendous size, they produce some quality stuff. They have a weird way of naming, however. Instead of making up a creative name, they just number their beers. 1 is their light beer, 2 is the lager, 6 is the porter and so on. The wheat beer is number 8. They like to be confusing over there (but they do give you huge oversized bottles that hold more than a pint to make up for it).
The #8 is a pretty standard wheat beer. It’s nice and crisp and refreshing with the wheat as the main flavor and some other nodes to just hint and accent. The one flavor that stands out is banana. It’s actually a welcome addition and makes the beer a tiny bit sweeter. Drinking this is not like biting a banana, however. The Russian brewers know moderation (unlike their American brethren). It is a bit heavy for a wheat beer, but I can live with that. My only other complaint is that it might be a bit over-carbonated. But that’s again a minor problem. Overall, however, this is a nicely done wheat beer. Nice and refreshing with a nice accent flavor that does just that: accent. So tip one back and see what else Russia can export besides hockey players.
image from blogs.creativeloafing.com
I’m going to do the weekly beer recommendation a day early this week since I’ll be busy tomorrow night (but NOT with the Steeler game unfortunately). I’m going with a brewery this week that I’ve meant to give a nod to for a long time now, but haven’t gotten around to it yet: Brooklyn Brewing Co. Guess you can’t tell where they’re located, eh? For the most part, Brooklyn doesn’t really experiment too much. They’ve got a lager, a wheat, a black stout, a brown ale, an IPA, etc. Every standard beer type they can do, they’ve done. Plus they have a Pennant Ale ’55 to commemorate the Dodgers championship (their only one in Brooklyn. The Pirates finished last that year as a side note). As a sports fan, I have to love that. They’re not one to mix stuff with beer to see what sticks. I once had Beets flavored beer to see what it tastes like (yes, it’s been done before. Unfortunately, it tastes like vomit). What Brooklyn DOES do very well, however, is quality. A good example of this is their lager.
It’s got a decent copper color (as you can see from the picture), and just about the right amount of head for a good lager. They really concentrated on the balance, and you can tell. There’s a definite base of hops which are mixed well with just a touch of malts to take the bite out. I wouldn’t call this a bitter hoppy beer at all. There are some little nodes in the background to make things interesting, but not enough to get in the way. I tasted some citrus and a hint of pine (not sure how they got that flavor in there, or why they thought to put it there, but it was a very good idea) that play very well off the floral hops. Overall, however, the focus is definitely on the nice crisp clean taste of the grain base. That seems to be a hallmark of Brooklyn Brewing Co. and I applaud them for it. Job well done. Cheers!
image from beerinator.com
So considering all that’s going on with the Pirates right now, I figured now was a good time for a nice stiff barley wine as the beer recommendation. I think I found a good one clocking in at 10% alcohol: Below Decks Ale from Clipper City Brewing Co. (Warning: please drink this responsibly. I don’t want to get sued).
Clipper City is located right outside of Baltimore and has a few quality beers in its repertoire. Look for their Heavy Seas line (of which Below Decks is a member). When they bottle Heavy Seas beers, they leave some live yeast in the bottle to age a bit like wine. A nice touch. It’s a fairly new brewery (established in ’95), and is relatively easy to find. Not every brewery will take a shot at a barley wine, but Clipper City earns some brownie points (and this recommendation) by giving it a shot . Now to come clean, I’m not a barley wine fan. It’s just way to sour for me. But if you’re into them, Heavy Seas is a good choice. It’s nice and complex, but still maintains a very solid barley wine flavor.
Besides the very sour taste, you can tell that this has a lot of malt in it. Clipper City apparently also threw in some caramel and brown sugar which gives it a definite sweetness, as well. Sweet and malt are always a good combo. I also noticed that there was a big head on this one, and very good lacing (how the head leaves foam on the inside of the glass. A sign of quality). The extreme alcohol content is noticeable in the aftertaste, but they do a good job masking it for the most part. Remember: this is a 10% ABV, so only have one of them. I’m definitely going to enjoy one as I cry over my autographed Bill Mazeroski picture and pretend it’s 1960.
image from duvel.be
Hey! After a week’s hiatus, the beer recommendation is back! I haven’t done an import in quite some time, so I’m going to go with one of my favorite Belgian Tripels. Tripels are originally Trappist beers that are very very strong and very sweet. They’re what you think of when you think great Belgian beer. There are obviously a lot of Trappists still in existance that make phenomenal tripels to this day, but there is one major brewery that can rival them: Duvel. Duvel is a fairly large Belgian brewery that you may have actually heard of. Besides their name brand, they produce beers under the Maredsous brand that are all licenced by the Maredsous Abbey. So I guess it’s not truly a big brewery beer. The recipe came from people who knew what they were doing.
Tripels are the strongest beers that were made by the Abbeys. This one is no exception clocking in at 10% ABV. So make sure you only have one, or better yet just drink it at home. Even with all that alcohol, you can’t really taste it. The harsh warming taste that you can sometimes get from a high alcohol beer isn’t there, which means there was a very good blending of the ingredients. Someone has obviously taken a lot of care making this beer. It also means that all of a sudden the room starts moving without you feeling it, so look out. Just like every Tripel, Maredsous is very heavy on the yeast, and very sweet. I’d say this is even more sweet than most of the Trappist Tripels I’ve tasted. You can even tell what you’re in for by smelling it. The mouthfeel just adds to it. This is a very heavy beer (you’ll feel full after one of them), but it’s still very smooth. Overall, a very well done beer. This beer is a tad expensive, but it’s quality. A nice beer to reward yourself with every once in a while. Cheers!
Some facts taken from wikipedia.com
image from terrapinbeer.com
Well, I told you I owed you one more for this week, so here it is. I’m going a bit off the map for this one, but bear with me. It’s worth it. Terrapin Beer Co. is a fairly new entrant in the microbrewery race (their first beer was released in 2002), but they’ve been just racking up the awards with every beer they’ve put out. Terrapin Beer takes its name from the Grateful Dead song Terrapin Station, which may explain some of its artwork, and its located in Athens, GA (not in Maryland which would have been my first guess).
Terrapin’s India Brown Ale is a really original beer which you know I always love. They took a great thing (Brown Ale) and mixed it with another great thing (India Pale Ale) and got a better thing. I’ll admit that doesn’t always happen (just try putting ketchup on your ice cream sometime……doesn’t work). Terrapin managed the feat by separating the two tastes. When you first taste the India Brown Ale, it could pass for a normal brown ale. It’s got a dark brown/copper color which looks like a brown ale. It’s got the real heavy malt taste like a brown ale. It even combined in some typical brown ale accents like coffee and caramel. Just as the flavor starts to fade, though, the IPA kicks in. All of a sudden you get hit with a lot of hops and a fairly bitter aftertaste.
So I guess you can call this a brown ale with a kick. How they managed to get the hops to wait until the end to kick in, I have no idea. But I like it. Plus, I have to give Terrapin props for trying something new. This is still a new brewery with only four beers, but they’re still fairly easy to get a hold of. That should tell you about the quality. I’m anxiously looking forward to their follow-up performances. They’ve set the bar high.
image from flickr.com
So I’ve been bad and haven’t put up a beer recommendation in a while (maybe it was that obsession with the Pens). So I’ll make it up to you guys by putting one up today and then another one up in its usual time slot of Thursday. I’ve been thinking about the beers I’ve put up so far, and the vast majority are very complex with a lot of subtle flavors embedded in them. I realized that that was kind of selfish since that’s something I like (I like the Sherlock Holmes deal of finding all the little flavors the brewer put in), but it may not be for everyone. So I decided to put up a fairly straight-forward beer this week.
In honor of Pittsburgh’s domination of Detroit this weekend, I decided to go with a good Michigan brewery. That way you can feel like you got the best of their sports teams AND the best of their beer. And the best of their beer (that I’ve had at least) is Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. Now, I realize Kalamazoo is in the western edge of Michigan and probably closer to Chicago than Detroit, but bear with me. They’re definitely a microbrewery, but they have a very very wide selection of beers. They’re also not difficult to find in Pittsburgh. If you’d like some other beers to try, go for the Oberon Ale (their most popular), the Two Hearted Ale, the Amber Ale or, if you can find it, the David Bell is 21 Ale (you know it’s a microbrewery when…).
Their Pale Ale is pretty much a standard american pale ale. It’s got a bright gold color with a decent head and terrific lacing. They hide the hops very well in this, and for a pale ale it’s extremely mild. I think Bell’s was really trying to show off the yeast flavor in this and it worked. I think I might taste the faintest lemon flavor, but it’s probably just my taste buds looking for gold. There’s nothing really there. It’s just standard beer. I think this would be great as a lighter pale ale to drink in the warm sunshine of June. Maybe when you’re outside, I don’t know, admiring the new Stanley Cup trophy in town.
image from thegazz.com
So for this week’s beer recommendation, I’m going with a true Irish stout. Something I don’t think I’ve touched on much. Now, when someone here in the states thinks Irish stout, they think Guinness. Plain and simple. It’s creamy, it’s found at almost every bar around, and it does that really cool thing with the head as you pour it. But, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there are other Irish stouts, and most of them do the same thing when you pour them. The big three right now are Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish. O’Hara’s Irish Stout is fairly new to the game, but is also an excellent choice.
So what I’m going to say will make a few jaws drop, but here goes: Guinness is probably one of the worst true Irish stouts you can get in America (which is a little like saying it’s the worst hitter in the Yankees lineup). Beamish is my personal favorite and I’ll tell you why. Guinness is straightforward. It’s bland. It’s got a solid roasted malt base and some coffee/chocolate taste underneath. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a stout. Beamish does all that, but goes out on a limb a bit. They add just a touch of hops which you can taste in the aftertaste. It’s not a lot. It’s not enough to make you spit it back. It’s just enough to make it interesting. I like it. But, as I’ve pointed out before, I’m a sucker for hops. So that could be it, too. I will make one warning, though. I’ve had Beamish in both can and tap form. You might need to go to the local Irish pub for this, but go with the tap. The can leaves a metallic taste in the beer that’s not very pleasant. You’ve been warned. So, until next time: cheers!