I picked up these four mid-summer down in Ithaca and I really did not know much at all about the brewer. Blame the cost of transportation. Now I know that they have been around since 1993 and have a close to over-snazzied web site with lots of stuff blinking and cloinging away. Tabernash appears to be their German-style line. These four are all ales - an ESB, porter, APA and milk stout respectively.
- Sawtooth Ale: Oh goodie. An ESB. It poured a loose white head dissipating quickly to a rim over an orangey beer - more copper than amber. It is not a lot like other ESBs I have had as it has a big round sweetish caramel maltiness right in the middle, like a balloon in a shoebox pushing other things aside. There is not a lot of other flavours, some citrus fruitiness, a bit of an edgy hop that is not competing well and a bit of heat at the back of the throat even though it is only 4.75%. The brewery says there is some black malt in it which I think is sitting in the edginess adding not a smokey or a roasty note so much as a burnt black toastiness - reminding me of breakfasts delayed past. There is a bit of stickiness in the mouth that I equate with brewing sugar, a feeling I do not think I have ever had with a microbrew. Maybe its the failed toast thing as well in there. A relatively watery finish. I am with the low end of beer advocates on this one...I think. I don't like being this unhappy with a beer. I don't know what to make of this.
- Jackman's Pale Ale: Now I am scar't. Scar't of what the next bottle will bring. The pale ale has much less of that overstuffed bland malt heart compared to the ESB-like object above. It also pours to a quickly forming white rim over orangey ale. There is also less aroma - quite neutral. In the mouth there is more graininess, maybe some of that black malt and hop edge as well and a heart that is candied orange, maybe a slight bit of ginger hot again at the end. It is sort of like the one above but actually balanced. Still not a beer to go out and hunt down but not one to keep for unsuspecting visitors either. Oddly, a pale ale that is higher at 5.2% than the brewer's ESB. The beer advocates are a little bored with 95% giving it a pass but still giving it only 3.76/5 averaged.
- Black Jack Porter: Good News! These guys can do the interesting. This porter pours a beige rim over light mahogany with a treacle date aroma. The mouth is treacle, dried fruit, nut and cocoa. The quality is way better than the two previous pale ales. Like a fruit nut bar or Christmas cake framed by an arc of hops. Creamy rich yeast. Unlike the ESB or pale, this beer is bright and clean, not cloy, a softer feel - though perhaps there still is the high sulfate level. The finish even has a slight tinge of green hops. Beefy at 6.4% helping the black rummy feel. BAers at the upper end agree with me.
- Milk Stout: Cadbury. Pours a mocha rim over mahogany, the aroma is chocolate cream. A full rich blast of chocolate smoothed with lactose, cut by a convenient line of hops giving structure. There is some fresh fruit, like pear juice giving a nice feel. I really like this beer. Richer than Mackeson, US version. I don't understand the low end BAers unless there is bottle variation. No milk sop at 5.2%.
I mentioned Roger Protz's new book 300 Beers To Try Before You Die! the other day and what did Knut, our man in Norway, do? He got a copy and has reviewed it for us - even sending a very snazzy cover shot, too. Here's the review:
British beer writer veteran Roger Protz has a new book out, published through CAMRA called 300 beers to try before you die! It is well worth investing in for anyone with an interest in quality beer. Protz draws on his vast knowledge to give a different type of beer guide, which I think will be of use, both to newly converted ale disciples and to more seasoned drinkers who want to test out beers beyond their usual staples.
The concept is fairly simple: Set up a list of 300 good beers, representing the major categories around the world. Focus on high quality beers from small and medium sized brewers. This could be done by just about anybody, but the author makes the most of this format. Each beer is presented with colour illustrations, most of them of excellent quality. We get a potted history of the beer and the brewery, tasting notes and anecdotes. The web sites of the breweries are also include – very useful if you want to seek out more elusive beers. While this concept naturally focuses on brews worth praising, Protz is not hesitant to criticize producers who are taking short cuts compared to the traditional ways of brewing. He includes Pilzner Urquell as a recommended beer, but points out that the beer was even better 20 years ago, before the recent rise in exports and change of production methods. He similarly draws on his decades of experience and makes this a good read as well as a reference book to dip into.
The book is divided in chapters presenting the various beer types – bitter, pale ales, pilsners, Trappist beers etc. This is a British publication, and the focus is on beers available in Britain. A few of the beers are only available on tap in remote villages (something for the most experienced CAMRA drinkers, too), but most of us will find a number of beers either available in a friendly well-assorted beer shop or when travelling in North America or Western Europe. It is no surprise that a majority of the beers are from Germany, Belgium, England and the US, but other countries are also represented.
One minor item: Some of these beers are available in both draft and bottled/canned versions. Some more details about this, maybe with some words on how the different versions may vary in taste, would have been welcome. One can always argue about such a selection. Is there too much emphasis on stouts and porters? Any beer lover has his top ten or top hundred, often based on what is locally available. Personally, I find that my favourite brewers are well covered, and from what Protz writes about the beers I know I like, I can set up a list of beers I will try at the first opportunity. As for my score, I have to admit that I have tried less than a third of these beers. But, on the other hand, I have no intention to roll over and die just yet!
The diversity of unique but wacky laws on the sale of beer never ceases to amaze me. Today I found out about something called a "cereal malt beverage":
...cereal malt beverage seems a relic of a bygone era. According to the brewing industry, only five other states treat the weaker stuff differently than the stronger stuff: Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma and perpetually dowdy Utah. And attempts in Kansas over the past 20 years to change state law have all failed. Michelle Semons, a spokeswoman for the National Beer Wholesalers Association, said it will likely remain on those states' shelves, "as long as consumers are purchasing it." The difference between cereal malt beverage and beer in Kansas law often is less than a quarter-ounce of alcohol in a 12-ounce can. Yet that difference determines who can sell what. Only retail liquor stores can sell packaged beer, whereas grocery and convenience stores can sell packaged cereal malt beverage. The state regulates liquor; state and local governments regulate cereal malt beverage.Often these systems continue only to perpetuate a multi-level system of selling while not rocking the boat of the utter utter badness of beer. If I ever travel inlnd into the USA as opposed to the nearer north-east end I suppose I will have to contend with them as a buyer. For now I can only think of Pennsylvania and wonder.
Surprised I was. I pop into the government store looking for kookoo juice and what do I find? A beer I have not seen before. And from Sri Lanka as well. Excellence. I like these dark beers called foreign stouts. Last fall I reviewed another, Royal Extra Stout from Trindad, which is the same sort of thing from the Caribbean. At 8.0% this is hefty enough to called an imperial stout but there is no massive coffee urn lick of roast, no mega hop. Just round and rich. Kinda like milt stout on nitro.
Sinha Stout by the Lion Brewery Ceylon Limited has a massively mocha chord, coffee ice cream lacing a-plenty over a jet black brew. When first poured, the head is lumpy like beige ski moguls. In the mouth there is plenty of sub-minty bitter hops and bitter chocolate coffee malt. It goes on forever without turning this way or that until it opens into a lingering sweetness. Loverly.
A lighter pale ale at 4.1%, it is named after an regular at one of Young's pubs in London which is 260 years old this year. The regular attended the establishment in the 1700s and his smelliness has been remembered through the centuries - Nathaniel Bentley was his name (which leads to a number of questions we need not pursue.) Here is the tale from a pub locator web site:
Nathaniel Bentley was an ironmonger who had a shop in Leadenhall Street. On the eve of his wedding, tragedy struck. His bride-to-be died. So distraught was Nathaniel that he locked up the room in which he had prepared the wedding feast, never to enter it again. A broken man, he neither washed or changed his clothes. When his cats died he just left them. The English love an eccentric and his notoriety meant his business flourished. When Nathaniel retired in 1804, the landlord of the Old Port Wine Shop in Bishopsgate bought the contents lock, stock and dead cats. He put them on display at his pub and renamed it "Dirty Dick's". In 1870 the pub was rebuilt from ground level, the wine vaults are part of the original building. The "dirty" contents were carefully relocated in the new pub. Sadly it was decided in the mid nineteen-eighties that a clean up was in order and the dirty artifacts were cleared away. Today's cleaned-up pub is pleasant with bare floor boards and an abundance of timber beams. The upstairs bar forms a gallery and the vaulted cellar houses the restaurant.Sure - blame the 80s for that, too.
But enough of the dirty man. The ale is nice but nothing to not wash over. Lace leaving off-white over orangey-amber. Not a lot of hop on the nose and in the mouth it is more about edge with a bit of twig. The malt is sweetish giving a little more body than the strength might make you expect. It is grainy, grapy juicey with some autumn apple - better malt than this has. A perfectly fine if unflowery pale ale. Some BAers say it's a session ale but I really don't see spending an evening with this. Others are calling it a mild when it is a run of the mill lower hopped best bitter or even a light ale...though Young's Light Ale runs at 3.2%. Whatever it is...it's a wee bit dull for me. Oddly, it is not listed on Young's site as one of their brands and they have new labels.
The industry today includes more than 2,400 brewers and beer importers, 1,908 beer wholesalers, and 551,000 retail establishments. The industry's economic ripple effect benefits packaging manufacturers, shipping companies, agriculture, and other businesses whose livelihood depends on the beer industry. Directly and indirectly, the beer industry employs approximately 1.78 million Americans, paying them $54 billion in wages and benefits. The industry pays over $30 billion in business, personal and consumption taxes, including $9.2 billion in excise taxes.The total economic contribution of beer to the US economy is now $65,914,557,648 - which is larger than the military budget for the UK, China or Russia but oddly only 80% or so of the total value of Google.
I reviewed Wolaver's oatmeal stout in early July after picking one up at a Wegman's in Ithaca in the organic produce section for something like 7.99 a six. This brewery, one of the great craft brewers of Vermont, makes both the the Wolaver's organic line as well as Otter Creek giving it a range of about twenty brews. These three - the brown, the pale and the India pale ale - were available as single bottles at Ithaca's Finger Lakes Beverage Center last visited four weeks ago. Such restraint.
- Wolaver's Pale Ale: This beer pours a off white rim over very active orange-amber ale. Very soft water just the way I like is the first thing you notice. There is sub-chewy green hop over sweetish grainy elegant pale malt. I could coax maybe green apple in the malt if I thought about it but it is really bread crusty malt as opposed to fruity. This is a really attractive beer I think to myself on a second sip. The yeast has a milky aspect and at the end there is a slight white pepper ting. Fairly high test at 5.8% for a pale ale but not big enough in the body to even be a ESB. BAers all approve.
- Wolaver's India Pale Ale: Not as orange an amber but the same white rim. Lots of green and citrus skin hops over a somewhat subdued body for an IPA. Just not big is all I am saying - it still it has increbily good posture. Again, like the pale ale, sort of a refined version of the style though not as subtle as a Brooklyn East Indian Pale Ale. Even with the generous hopping the malt has a juicy side and more ripe pear than green apple. The finish is green garden bitters and nice clear water. Again, really nice. It would be interesting to do a side by side with a Sgt. Majors, though I suspect that would be lighter even still. Some BAers are unkind - who either want an IPA bomb or don't like green hop. Why bother trying new stuff if your criteria is that it is not like the old stuff?
- Wolaver's Brown Ale: A thin tan foam over the most interesting shade of brown - not deep enough for mahogany but a bit too much of the cheeky red in it for that hazelnut paper husk. Clear with low carbination. If brown ale is sub-porter, this is sub-old-school-porter with its hopped bite as opposed to a lighter version of a brown to like Southern Tier's roasty malty porter. Under the hop, green and steely, the malt has fruit, grapey with even some cherry. Lusher still with the same soft water. Still the malt is grainy rather than this sort of duller glom. Throughout it all chocolate barely there, like chocolate you had, not have. Maybe smoke, too. I like it. The hops and rich fully milky yeast have some sour but at the level of and complimentary to the fruit. If I think of these three US browns, it is certainly in the ballpark and maybe second to the Brooklyn.
I received a heads up from The Wall Street Journal's designated reader of A Good Beer Blog, Carl, that the paper has posted an interesting article on US craft brewers using cans rather than or in addition to bottles. A taste test ensued and I will spoil the ending for you:
Details are in the accompanying chart, but of the 16 beers tasted, canned brew, in average scores, rated four of the five top spots, though the top-rated beer was Stone's India Pale Ale in a bottle with a rating of 8.8. The canned Scape Goat Pale Ale popped an 8 and Old Chub Scottish Ale a 7.8. Two other canned offerings scored higher than 7.There is much more to the article than just the scoring, however, including a useful history of the canning process so have a read. Nice to note that I have a Stone's IPA in the stash just waiting for a quick note sort of review.
One other thing became clear -- on the taste front, cans weren't much of an issue. A few beers that panelists conjectured might be cans were actually bottles. And of the nine canned beers, Tony identified two -- and not because he detected a metallic taste but because he thought he'd recognized the beers from previous tastings. Jeff called one can correctly. On the other hand, sipping a different beer I knew to be canned, he joked, "If this comes from a can, I'm buying Alcoa stock."
A big old beer for a North Country winter. I have written about the two other bottled offerings by Lake Placid Craft Brewing of Plattsburg, NY here and here and the third offering, Frostbite Ale, continues the tradition of quality ales. It is a big winter ale with lots of chewy hops, a big body and a fine lingering taste with plenty to think about in the malt. There is autumn apple, citrus and hazelnut under the green and twiggy hop. It pours a fine tan head over a gingery sort of medium amber chill hazed real ale. Lots of spice in the nose and on the palate as well. Every single BAer says yahoo.
I think there is more here at 6.8% than just an IPA. There is a hint of antique that reminds me of an old ale or a lighter barley wine, the ones you pull out at Christmas. Anyway to look at it - or more to the point taste it - it is pretty fine stuff.