The initial aroma wafting from my Khmer smelled as if it had been created with moldy bread strained through a sock. A sock that Satan himself had been wearing on a particularly loathsome day in the sulphur mines. The rotten egg notes continue through to the flavour, where they seem to cut through the mouth-puckering sourness and overwhelm anything else in this beverage. The brew has a slight natural effervescence which only serves to make things worse. Alcohol by volume was listed as 4.5%, so there wasn't much hopes that a few swift gulps could anaesthetise my tastebuds into submission.
Actually, it was the 2006 Empire State Brewing and Music Festival down in Syracuse in central New York and I sent my pal Paul on special assignment. Click on his pictures for a better view:
Many a good sprout of inspiration hath sprung forth nurtured by the dung of a boring meeting. During one such a bout, a tangent of festivals and beer germinated and Alan let me in on a gem:Now I am really jealous. I can second that recommendation for the Marx. It has a particularly nice bar itself that always seems to have Southern Tier Porter."There's this awesome little thing in Syracuse where a bunch of craft brewers roll out their wares - I think it's in July - and there is a great hotel, too."A few clicks later and the better half and I were on our way to the Empire for the July 21 event. We were not really sure what to expect other than a festival that allows for tasting of over 120 specialty and hard to find (especially for Canadians) brews, face time with guru-brewers, some live music and good eats. After entering the gates and being handed a little 4 oz. tasting glass and some funky beads we were told to go forth and taste! We were most definitely in the right place at the right time.
With so many little beer booths sprawled out before us the only question was where to begin? Start light, end heavy, start light, end heavy - got it! Three tasty IPA's down and you didn't need to be Kreskin to figure out that this event was going to be a lot more than promised - I mean they had a specialty tent just for Belgians!! Servers were cheerful and happy to pour. Wheat beers and IPAs were present in the largest numbers followed by darker ales, stouts, lagers and assorted fruity concoctions. A minor sampling of wines and coolers were also present - presumably for the date who couldn't find the Coors Light table. While the place was not exactly crawling with brewing gurus we did manage to get in a bit of Q&A with a nice chap from Colorado who seemed to know his way around a mashtun.
It's always the details that separate the good things from the great things. Details like making sure the perfect accompaniments to beer were offered up - barbeque from the Dinosaur BBQ, some fine sausage and an eclectic mix of really good live music that had the crowd swaying and tapping and in good spirits. Even the porta-potties were above par - flowers and cup holders as standard options for crying out loud! Of course there was plenty of beer swag to be had as well. There were some awards for best beer and all that. I don't know who won. I came back across the border the next day with a case of Dogfish Head's Aprihop Pale Ale though.
Ya sure, it's hard to have a bad time at a beer festival but you just can't complain about such a smartly run and well focused beer event such as the Empire. At US$30 per ticket you get you money's worth just in the beer and music alone. Kudos to the wise sponsors of this event. If you missed it then make sure you don't miss it again in 2007 - or if you can't wait that long check out the Middle Age's Brewing Company's 11th Anniversary celebration on August 6...in Syracuse of course.
If you go, check out the Marx Hotel (also known as the beer can - you'll know why when you see it). It's about a 12-minute walk to the festival at Clinton Square. After the event wraps up I recommend 2 pints of the house pale ale and a plate of wings at the Syracuse Suds Factory - a good and tasty deal at $10.
...and it ain't that far from the Dino BBQ and a pulled pork sandwich like the one below:
Greg Clow of the Big Smoke has started a beer blog. This is a very good idea. The Weslakerians need the insight that this end of the lake has enjoyed for eons now through this my blog. Easlakerians rejoice at their cousins move into the 21st century.
If you are not aware of whom I speak, Greg is a big wheel at Bar Towel, Ontario's best source for information about the beer scene in Toronto and where I steal all my funniest observations.
This is a great community-focused idea:
The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank’s Walnut Street Donor Center will hand out vouchers for a free pint of beer for those who donate blood today through Friday.Apparently it is a couple of fine establishments that are honouring the vouchers, Molly Brannigans or The Pep Grill in Harrisburg, PA. The bars and the CPBB are to be commended and I would think it would be a hell of a lot more attractive than the alternate iPod draw being offered over in Lebanon County. Yet - a man named Jim is appalled...or, rather, apalled:
I am apalled that the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank will be offering a free pint of beer for a pint of blood. I thought they were helping save lives, not promoting drinking and alcoholism, which leads to thousands of deaths each year.Because you know every person who has ever had one beer paid for with a voucher is an alcoholic. Sadly, the loss to society perpetrated against us all that is caused by exercising the desire to craft...err...eccentric letters to the editor has never been measured. Not clear whether Jim actually gives blood himself or just gives earfuls to anyone within range.
Ever since my pal portland came up with the phrase beer-tasting water, I have been a little too obsessed with Pabst Blue Ribbon. But then I realized I had a unique opportunity to perform my sort of science experiment: a side-by-side comparison of a PBR from the US against one brewed under license in Canada by Sleeman of Guelph. Even though any possible outcome of this project will not advance the human condition one bit, I took on the challenge.
First, I noticed the price. A six of Canadian PBR is $7.50 at the LCBO. The US version was $4.60 at a gas station on 12E, east of Watertown, NY. I knew I was getting ripped off, too, as I had seen $3.29 for the six at another place that was sold out. Then I noticed the cans. There is clearly more blue ribbon on the PBR stateside. Does this matter? I suppose not. Both also have the River Plate red sash which is quite natty.
To be honest, the beers taste pretty much the same - sort of bland, the pablum of beers yet without off flavours and somehow comforting. Like pablum, no self respecting adult would look forward to the taste but, once presented with it (like a new father feeding pablum to his little baby for the first time and scraping it off his hands knees and forehead), one is less turned off than one might expect. Yet the Canadian version, right in all pictures, is clearly a notch lighter and by the end of the glass as it warms and the bubbles die away it maybe even more watery.
What have we learned? Not much. Except I have ten more in the fridge.
A pal brought me this Unibroue seasonal after a jaunt to Quebec - you know, Quebec...that part of the country over 200 km away from here that would unleash sure destruction of the very fabric of Ontario's cultural identity were its seasonal fruit ales, among other things, released upon hapless Ontarians.
Many BAers do not approve - a full 29% being against it. My notes have it as a peachy-pinky-straw cloudy ale under a white rim giving off a clean acidic and somewhat generically fruity aroma. When you get into it it is quite effervescent and lightly cider-ish, crisp and well-balanced with light (ie not exactly bold) berry fruit and malt. Raspberry? Incidental in a way. Vineous with a sort of a watery drying finish. I could trick myself into thinking I was drinking a Spanish sparkling wine and not necessarily a very good one. Creamy yeast wraps it all well, though. Nothing to add from the brewery's drastically out of date website.
Big news today from one brewing industry analyst:
According to a report by Merrill Lynch analyst Christine Farkas, in June, No. 1 U.S. brewer Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. volume fell 1.9 percent, brewer SABMiller plc volume fell 5.7 percent, and fifth-largest brewer Molson Coors Brewing Co. edged down 0.3 percent. The segment gaining the most volume is Micro or Craft beers, or beers that are locally produced. Volume grew 12.5 percent in June.What other industry is roaring ahead like craft beer?
Back in 2000 Heineken bought half of the shares of the brewer, De Smedt, which started operations in 1790. This little brewery was renamed as key to the purchase was De Smedts license to the abbey ales of the monks of Affligem, who trace their history and brewing back to an original founding in 1074 or 1086 by Benedictine monks. Or maybe just 1574.
Anyway, since 1980 in Europe and since 2000 in North America, Affligem beers have floated around the edges of the big brewer's portfolio showing up recently in places - like the LCBO - that you really would not expect to find a range of decent Beligian brews. By the way, they are abbey beers and not trappist as they are no longer in the control of the monks. A neat distinction but do they deserve the same title if neatly slotted in the vest pocket of a macro-national like Heineken? I leave that to you...and you...but not you.
- Triple: Mmmm...nothing like a hot boozey bomb of a triple on a stinking hot summer evening. Did I mention it is stinking hot in these parts these day? Well it is. This beer pours a cloudy orange straw under one of the most attractive rocky mousse heads I have ever seen. On the nose there is candy, alcohol and malt. For a triple, compared to past reviews of the style, this is pretty approachable even if 8.5% due to its malty richness. Here is a handy summary of the style. There is plenty of fruit - cherry, autumn apple and light raisin - as well as burlappy old hop and yeast melding with the heat with a nice little green note at the end. 100% of BAers approve.
- Dubbel: This beer pours a lovely mocha thick foam and rim over chestnut ale. Again, there is that rich burlap mix of aged hop and the sub-spiced yeast that sets the structure for the malt. Like the triple, there is apple but also deeper tastes of dried like fig and date - as well as maybe cranberry with the tang of the yeast. This complexity of fruit befits a dubbel. Come to think of it, tobacco might also be configured in the mind from elements in the fluid. This is a very approachable take on the style but not a sell-out in any respect. 1% of BAers find it not enough, demanding more...as they do...incessantly..
- Blond: Finally the blond which pours a very nice and active clouded mid-straw with a tinge of peach under pin-point white rim and foam. The same signature burlappy old hop imparting a dry mineralliness yet with plenty apple juiciness within a roundness of pale malt and a bit of a kick at 7%. Quite attractive even if as cerebral as many a Belgian brew. More BAers are unhappy - up to a full 3% of thumbs downery types. Dear oh dear. Sure, it is not the be all and end all but something has to be. For me, this is a gateway Belgian. How did you get hooked on these blue cheeses of beer anyway? Gotta start somewhere.
I got a great link in the email bin this morning from the author of a great website called My Science Project letting me know about their latest project, building a better beer insulation thingie:
Beer drinking is one of the world’s favorite pastimes. So as the weather started heating up, we felt a scientific duty to investigate this burning beer-related question: what is the most effective beer can cozy? We took temperature measurements using a digital thermometer with a metal probe. In most of the experiments, the probe was submerged 5.5 cm into the beer, at the approximate midpoint of the can. All experiments were performed outdoors, with ambient temperatures varying from 90F (32.2C) to 103F (39.4C). Except as noted, all beverages used were 12 oz. (355ml) domestic beers. The starting temperatures for the beers ranged between 35.7F (2.1C) and 43.7F (6.5C)...It does get all scientific and stuff so I was getting a little...well, somewhere between woozy and sleepy what with all the talk of variables and...stuff - but the Lego insulator as illustrated was pure gold.
Here I am back from a week and a half roaming New England and eastern New York State and I have been struck how this is the year of wheat - everyone is brewing a wheat beer and calling it that or "summer ale" or some such thing. Time was a summer ale was just a crappy light beer. Now it means flavour and here are four examples - posing in front of my gift to me, a case of Thousand Islands Pale Ale - from right across the USA: Partly Sunny from central NY; Celis White from Michigan; Summer Breeze from Massachusetts; and Sweaty Betty from Colorado. But are they a style or a trend? I'll be up all night trying to figure that one out.
- Partly Sunny, Ithaca Beer Co.: I am a big fan of most of the beers from Ithaca Beer Co., especially the Flower Power IPA and this one is up there. It bills itself as "Wheat Beer Brewed with Spices!" on the label. It pours a light golden-ish straw and gives off a strong smell of passionfruit. There is only a thin whisp of a white rim. In the mouth, there is plenty of lemon and passionfruit but not in the syrupy sense as there is a good cutting handful of bright hops in each beer as well as well as that tell-tale grassiness of wheat...and I am going to say malted wheat rather than raw wheat. I can't come to call this a Belgian white-style beer (aka witbier) as it is too light and not cloudy from rolled raw wheat so it is like "an American wheat into which the brewer has plunked the sorts of fruit additions you would expect from a Belgian white". But try to stick that on an inch-by-inch spot label.
20% of BAers say this is not their thing and I am not surprised by that at all. They categorize it as a Belgian witbier and if I was drinking it as such I would be saying the same thing. This is a candidate for not winning the tiara as it is a long way from Hoegaarden. In itself, however...and not unlike me, it is quite fine in its own way and, quite unlike me, gets better the more stinkingly hot it gets outside.
- Wachusett Summer Breeze: I have had two of of the beers - their IPA and brown - from this north-central Massachusetts brewer and liked them both. Neither is an extreme example of their style and neither is this wheat beer. It pours a slightly lighter straw than the beer from Ithaca above again with the thin white rim of foam. And there isn't any fruit flavour added - though there is a citrus tang which I would think was from the wheat and hop selection. This is a straight up US wheat: slightly grassy, clean and bright in the mouth. There is some malt richness and that note of graininess to it as well so you know you are dealing with a real beer and not some additive jacked-up macro.
A lot of BAers are unhappy noting mainly it is too light in flavour. I have a hard time finding fault with this as lightness is clearly the brewer's intention. I would think that when you have the word "breeze" on the label, lightness is one quality you might be expecting. On a day with as much stinkingosity as today, I am not wanting sweet crystal malt, heavy roast barley or heady hops. I am looking for light with flavour and this is one I would reach for.
- Celis White: cloudy mid-straw with white foam, rim and lace. Quite a creamy Belgian witbier from the savior of the style or at least the brewery that bears the name. The nose has tropical aromas of passionfruit and nutmeg. In the mouth there is porridge from the raw grain, green grass, lemony citrus, passionfuit, vanilla and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. A slightly drying note in the finish.
This compared to Summer Breeze above makes for a great example of why the label "wheat beer" is too broad to convey much meaning as it covers too many styles. 94% of BAers give the thumbs up. For me, the raw grain is more pronounced that other witbiers reviewed in these parts. It is a quarter notch thicker than Hoegaarden. Maybe an autumnal wit.
- Sweaty Betty: another wheat beer, another style as this beer from the Boulder Beer Company of Colorado calls itsef a "wheat blonde" - and it tastes like it with both the grassiness of wheat and round richness of a Belgian blonde...though the brewery call is a "Bavarian wheat"...which I think means a hefeweizen...which this beer is not. Hmmm. Whatever style it is, this beer pours a bright burnished straw gold with white rim and foam. The taste includes plenty of light summer fruit freshness - pear and peach - with some perspective thrown in with the grass of the wheat and some slight graininess. This is quite a juicey and more-ish brew.
10% of BAers say no to this beer, with plenty of complaint about its distance from a hefe. Again, the tragedy of style undermines focus on the fluid itself.