This one pours a cloudy, particulate-floaty lemon yellow ale under white rim and foam. It is both creamy and dry due to the combination of unmalted wheat and a fairly generous level of hopping. Pronounced lemon merengue supported by biscuitiness. Some herbal greens as well. Natty.
Last November I found one I did like - Steam Whistle from Toronto. Having said I liked it, I still haven't bought another six since then. Then, as I sadly but honestly reported, I found I had bought a bottle of North Coast's Scrimshaw Pilsner. And I knew sadness again as I suspected I would not like this brew. I was wrong again. It poured lightly reddened straw with a white rim. Compared to the Steam Whistle, it has a sweeter corny note at the outset and then resolved into a grainy and dry grassiness but also minerally like dry riesling - steely and stoney hops. If there was a yeastiness it was the thinnest milk. Even at only 4.4%, the beer has a good balanced body. Here is what the brewery says about the beer and here's what the BAers say.
My trouble, however, even when now presented with two quality pilsners in a continent awash with poor corn sugar stuffed fakers, is that I just can't imagine when I am supposed to crave steely stoney dry grassiness? It is not quite thin astringency but it may be its second cousin. I suppose I am only left with the knowledge that it is ok, that I don't have to like everything. So - do you like pilsners?
Last time I said I would let you know how the 10th Annual B.E.E.R. Brew-off went. I ended up judging two flights: Stouts and German Wheat and Rye. I hadn't judged in a few years, primarily because my connection with the beer scene was severed when I relocated from Florida to Long Island (additionally our nuclear family census incremented from 2 to 3 during that time). Now (after a couple of years) I'm pretty well connected to Long Island beer culture. Despite my uneasy start at beer judging, after the first couple of score sheets, I was back into the swing of things. I've already started writing a "Competition Brewing" chapter for this year's beer book where I dispel some popular misconceptions about brewing competitions and judging at them.
I made my rounds to Long Island's breweries during the last fortnight. I finally had the ESB at the Black Forest. It's an amber beer, hoppy with a dry finish. I tasted some lemony notes which gave the beer a refreshing tartness. I also detected a slight tea-like flavor which I think comes from a long hop boil (correct me if I'm wrong). The beer was great, but I was sitting at the part of the bar where the servers come to pick up drink orders. One of the servers had bathed in cologne, so I had to time my sips of ESB when that particular server was on the other side of the restaurant. Advice to head brewers: Tell your servers to go easy on the cologne.
I like to visit the Black Forest during the day so I can drop into Kedco and pick up brewing supplies. The "Brews Brothers" are extremely helpful and attentive. They set me up with Pilsener malt for the batch of Saison I ended up brewing last Monday. I also grabbed a selection of hop pellets and assorted hardware including a tap handle that I'm going to install on the side of my keg fridge so I don't have to open the fridge door to get my homebrewed draft beer. I'll post a picture when I get it installed.
Some of you might have noticed that I'm working on a Long Island Beer Guide (a lot of the links in my posts are to pages in my guide). I decided to take last Friday off and do some research for the Guide. One of the things I'm doing is visiting Long Island beer shops to get an idea of what kind of stock they have. I am starting to notice a pattern. Most beer shops on Long Island have one, small set of shelves they dedicate to craft and imported beer. These "one star" beer shops all have the same set of craft beers. Any place you walk into you'll find Chimay, Unibroue, and Samuel Smith (plus maybe one harder to find beer). Of course, the Long Island craft beers are everywhere. Southampton's beers are now as ubiquitous as Blue Point's.
The "two star" shops have a bigger selection, but still that selection is derived from what I consider to be readily available beers like Fuller's, Hoegaarden, Leffe, etc. (basically the big European beer companies). In addition the "two star" shops usually have a selection of regional/mid-Atlantic craft beers.
I've only found one "three star" shop that carries literally hundreds of (for me) hard to find beers, and that's Shoreline Beverage in Huntington. If that name sounds familiar, then you're remembering my coverage of the flawed Long Island Beer Festival that they sponsored three weeks ago (see my last post here). My search for more "three star" beer shops on Long Island continues.
Last Tuesday, I took my son to a Long Island Ducks baseball game. I didn't realize that I would be doing any beer research that night, but to my surprise Southampton's beers weren't only available at the ballpark, they were highly visible. The Southampton Publick House is evidently a sponsor of the Ducks. Blue Point beers were also available. Apparently, Southampton's Secret Ale and Blue Point's Toasted Lager are available on draft at the ballpark. I wrote about beer at the ballpark on my own blog this last week so I won't rehash all of that here.
Also on Tuesday, the first part of a three part series on the AHA Membership Rally at the Brooklyn Brewery, appeared on The Spirit World (one of my other beer writing gigs). And speaking of other beer writing gigs, I was recently asked to be a contributing columnist for Lenn Thompson's Lenndevours. My overview of Blue Point Brewing Company: "Local Beers for Every Season" was published today.
Recently, I proposed that an organization for Beer Educators be established to train and certify people to speak knowledgeably and intelligently about beer and spread the good news of beer to the world. Well, I'm doing my bit. I hosted my first Long Island beer tasting. The beer style was German and American Wheat beers. Five people (none of them brewers or beer geeks) came to the tasting. We opened seven commercial bottles and I snuck in one of my homebrewed beers, so they could taste for themselves what homebrewed beer is like. Grassroots beer advocacy. We need more of it. I'll be hosting another tasting at the end of June focusing on Trappist ales. I'm calling the event "Drink Like a Monk" and it's listed on Beer Advocate (if you are interested in coming, you are invited).
One more thing and then I'll quit. I've recently joined the Mug Club at John Harvard's in Lake Grove. Big deal, right? Well, poking around Beer Advocate I've seen that a few people have posted less than positive assessments of the beer at JH's. I've been sampling the beers there for three years now and I have to say that JH's in Lake Grove is an excellent brewery. DJ Swanson, the head brewer, is one of the most innovative brewers I have encountered. For example, he's concocted an IPA that he fermented with a Belgian yeast to make a Belgian IPA. That beer is in the cask right now, so if you want something off the style map, head over there. I think more brewers should be willing to go out on the brewing limb and make something more than just the same old styles we see in every brewpub we walk into.
No, I'm not there. I don't think Blork is even there, our man in Montreal as he is just back from an Italian excursion. But the 13th Montreal Beer Festival or Mondial de la bière is on now though the 4th of June.
Here is a list of the brews which are available and it is pretty impressive - lots of micros, macros and imports. Due to limited market as well as interprovincial regulations, many of the Quebec craft brewers are not available here next door in Ontario. And getting oneself into the Petit Pub would be likely the only opportunity you would have in Canada to try some US beers that ought to be easily available like Rouge and Allagash. Quite sad really. But if you make it, have a Shipyard Chamberlain Pale Ale for me.
I recently received a review copy of the second edition of the "Essential Reference of Domestic Brewers and Their Bottled Brands". Published by MC Basset, it is quite an interesting book as in a way it is not a book so much as part of a system, a tool which also includes access to an updated data system to keep on top of craft brewing in the United States.
One major market for the DBBB is the really the retailer who needs to know quickly whether a particular brew is available in state. Through various listings, the storekeeper can not only determine how to contact the brewery but also can also use a quick reference to see if the beer has been locally available to date. Once in stock, the book and the website also provide handy reference pages in the Portfolio Index with information supplied by some participating brewers that can be printed and used in the shop to better inform the customer either as a sign or even a label on the end of a case. [It would be good if more craft brewers signed up for this part of the service.] You get the sense that the DBBB would be very useful for the beer store wanting to move out into the craft market, something we hope a lot of beer stores will be considering over the next, say, few decades.
For the beer geek like me, the DBBB can be used in one or two different ways. There is a handy beer styles index in which separate beers are categorized according to style so that if I know I like the dunkelweizen called Munich Dark from Harpoon Brewery in Boston Mass. I might also like Saranac Season's Best from The Matt Brewing Company in Utica NY. I also will use the alphabetical Brewer Index as well as the Geographical Brewer Index which are a simple brewery address and list of their brands - though, if you think about it this is fairly similar to Brewery Profile pages at Beer Advocate, like this one for The Matt Brewing Company. Trouble with the Beer Advocate, though, or any computer based beer guide is that it is hard to carry in the back seat of the car under a couple of cases next to the hockey sticks and boots. By comparison, the DBBB can be considered a handy dandy field guide for those excusions into unknown beer territory, useful when passing through different states to keep track of new beers you run across.
The DBBB only covers US beers and breweries and also relies on the brewery for data so don't expect the sort of half-baked opinion I might give out around here. It is about the facts. It's definitely worth a look. Check out what others have had to say here and here and here and here if you don't believe me.
A short but interesting article in today's New York Times on a newish restaurant, Cafe D'Alsace, with a serious interest in beer:
"We don't aim towards pub people," he said. "We're about the beer geeks, people who want to try a new experience."This review says there are 118 beers there and the restaurant's own webpage includes a .pdf of their offerings with prices. Sixteen bucks for a large format Foret Organic seems pretty darn reasonable as I am guessing I spent around ten for one retail in Ithaca without a fancy schmansy sommelier to keep in spats.
A saison with chocolate and chili. I have every expection that this will be weird yet chocolate and chili are an entirely respectable combination in Mexican cooking. And the brewery says that the chocolate is locally sourced. There is a good third of an inch of yeasty goo at the bottom which other reviews have led me to believe is where all the good stuff lies. So let's try it without and then with a swirl of the bottle.
The pour off the top without a swirl is a lively cloudy amber ale with a slight nod to orange with a white head. In the mouth it is a good saison, husky burlap with a little autumn fruit, cut through with what I can only describe as creamy white pepper. It is not hot like some (all) of the chili pepper beers I have been disappointed by. On the first swirl of the bottle, the beer now pours cloudy like raw apple cider. The white pepper cream is joined by milk chocolate. I am not yet thinking "yum" but it is one note of pear juice away from yum. Perhaps less oddly than you might think, it would go very nicely with a good steak but only during that course of the meal. The white pepper effect is very drying. On the final swirl, the beer is unattractively muddy with only a notch more chocolate.
I picked up these last time I was in New York, far western IPAs making their way across the continent. While I have had a number of North Coast brews before - like their Rasputin Imperial Stout - and have seen them fairly regularly, it was only around last Christmas that I noted the Lagunitas starting to make itself known on central New York beer shelves. According to the Beer Advocate, Lagunitas has a broad range of styles in its portfolio and there is every chance that to someone south of the 49th parallel this new found addition to my beery experience might seem like a sign of a sheltered up bringing - you see, they have these parties...420 parties...where people have more than beer and where the cops couldn't buy any if their lives depended on it. So lets see how they stand up and see if they say anything about California to someone up here in the Great White North.
- Lagunitas IPA: tan foam and rim over orange-straw ale. An intersting take on the American IPA as it does not really leave the hops out there on a ledge hanging over everything else. Plus there is that orangey note like in the line of ales exemplified by Youngs Special London Ale, Eye of Hawk and Shipyard Export. To be sure, this is hoppy with pretty distinct green overnotes partnering with a twiggy baseline. The malt is fruity with apricot and apple along with good rough graininess. Lots of texture and complexity within a well balanced ale. If I were to question this IPA it would be on that twiggy baseline which is played with a fairly heavy hand, making for a fairly pronounced spice bitterness. But this is an IPA after all and a lingering length of spice is well within order. This beer could certainly take on a hot curry or Thai dish handily. Five percent of BAers raise questions, complaints laying mainly with its hop allocation strategy.
- Acme California IPA: More of a medium amber than orange ale with a rocky fine while head. Even lighter still in hops if not body. Less fruity, none of the orange marmalade construct, much more focused on the grain as grain and and makes use of its spiced hops with a much subtler hand. The whole beer has a quieter voice, like something you might get from the Brooklyn Brewery, but like that New York brewer's mildly agoraphobic East India Pale Ale. But when you listen you hear. Yet even more BAers find fault - a full 10%! One makes a very good observation about an oily pine like quality. I suppose that is a negative if you are all down on oily pine tree taste. I think the claim is perhaps more indicative of the problematic place IPAs find themselves in, sort of the place where ESBs used to sit uncomfortably. If you think that the IPA is only half-an Imperial IPA you may find this style now lacking. But I think that is unfair to the style and the brewer as one can take the extreme position in anything only so long.