A hidden Gem from belgium

Old Toad bar manager Joe McBane has done it again, He’s serving bottled Grimbergen, a blonde abbey ale from Belgium. It’s a pretty good example, and at 6.2% abv it has some heft to it.

Here’s the best part. It’s on special at $2.75 a bottle. That is an absolute steal. I’m heading back up there tonight; I doubt they’ll last long.

Southern Tier brewing house beers

Yesterday, we went down to MacGregor’s Grill and Tap Room here in Rochester, where we were informed that the Southern Tier Brewing Company was taking over the bar’s house-branded beers (previously supplied by the Ithaca Brewing Company). We sampled a Cherry Wheat and I think a pale ale.

Maybe there’s another brewery that goes by the Southern Tier moniker, because to say that these beers didn’t meet the standard of excellence to which we’re accustomed from ST woud be an understatement.

The Cherry Wheat was ok in essence, and the beer didn’t overcherrify, but there was far too much hop presence for a fruit beer, leaving a nasty, strangly aftertaste. The ale was thin, devoid of aroma, and just plain bad.

In fairness, we had been drinking a pitcher of hoppy Ithaca Cascazilla, so our taste buds could have been confused, but Southern Tier has a long way to go in order to get these beers anywhere close to the fine stuff they produce under their own name.

Beercraft newspaper column #8- Super hoppy beers

Lets all be bitter with superhopped beers

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Along with malt, yeast and water, hops are an essential ingredient in all beers. When added to fermenting wort, they suppress the growth of microorganisms that would compete with the yeast. Of course they also contribute much to a beer’s flavor and aroma, their bitterness counterbalancing the sweetness of the malt.

It’s the “hoppier” beers that have really taken off in the American craft beer scene. Breweries across the nation have built loyal clientele on the strength of floral, pleasantly bitter pale ales and IPAs, which are substantially more acerbic than, say, brown ales and most lagers.

Just for the record, bitter in this sense is a good thing. It’s not like taking a spoonful of castor oil. Think of it as a fresh, almost citrus sensation that may take some getting used to but figures prominently in the flavor profiles of most good beers.

Put it this way, if it’s not there, you’ll miss it.

For dedicated hopheads, however, that’s still not enough. A large proportion of beer people (sometimes even us) love having their tonsils blasted out the backs of their heads with vine-grown bitterness, and breweries are responding accordingly. Each of the following beers kick you in the throat with more bitterness than a Dubai port manager.

With all beers, the challenge is to maintain a balance of flavor. When you’re blending five different hops and dry-hopping the beer, that challenge becomes pretty daunting. The River Horse Brewing Company’s Hop Hazard, however, retains its balance while still maintaining all the bitterness of a grounded teenager.

The beer pours amber, several shades lighter than copper, without a lot of foam. It has that fresh-meadow smell, but there’s still some malt in the aroma.

The first thing you taste is the malt, but as the beer washes over the back of your tongue the hops are unmistakable; a pleasant, not astringent, bitterness several magnitudes greater than the average IPA. When done right, the bitter flavors should invite the drinker to take another sip. Judging by the empty six-packs lying around Mark’s computer, Hop Hazard gets it correct.

A big beer in alcohol content as well as hops, Victory Hop Wallop is a darling of the craft beer community. It’s brewed by the consistently excellent Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and it’s bitter like Pete Best at a Beatles convention.

For an IPA, Hop Wallop is a very pretty beer. It’s much lighter-colored than expected, more like a golden lager, with an appealing snow-white head. The aroma and flavor, however, are all hops, and yeah, the name is right on. It’s certainly balanced away from malt, but that just makes Hop Wallop a hophead’s ambrosia.

The Dogfish Head brewery of New Hampshire has always made maverick beers, and 90 Minute IPA is no exception. Weighing in at 9% alcohol by volume, it’s as potent as a doppelbock, and it needs that strength to carry the extreme hoppiness imparted by boiling the flowers in the brew kettle for a full 90 minutes.

Technically, 90 Minute is a Double IPA, and the greater malt presence necessary to generate that kind of strength makes this beer surprisingly balanced. Still, the label says it all. You’re getting a hop explosion in this beer that’s bitterer than a Freetime reader coming across yet another crummy metaphor.

Dogfish Head also makes a 75- and 60- minute IPA which tones down on the hop-heaviness. All three of these are fantastic beers in their own right.

In Other Beers:

Tax day is one of the better occasions on which to drink a bunch of beer. Happily, Monty’s Krown in Rochester will be hosting the Victory Beer Festival on April 15th. A representative from the Victory Brewing Company will host a tasting of their excellent range of beers, hopefully including the aforementioned Hop Wallop, as well as some that are only available at their brewery.

The Rohrbach Brewing Company will be hosting a beer and food pairing featuring the beers of Germany on April 18th at their Buffalo Road restaurant. Expect Rohrbach lagers, as well as a range of authentic German beers. Call the brewery for reservations.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com

Decisions, Decisions…

Going to the pub tonight, what to choose?

My favorite bar actually had German Rauchbier on draft last weekend. It’s hickory-smoked beer from the town of Bamberg. I love it. Most of my fiends think it tastes like sausage.

Anyway, it’s pricey and expensive, and they on;ly had 30 liters (of which I went through two). I’l probably stick with the beer special, usually Jever Pils.

The bitterest Pils…

I am in the mood for a Pilsener. A nice clear, golden, bitter lager just bursting with Saaz hops. Mmmmmm.

Pilsener Urquell, from the Czech Republic, is still one of the best. Germany’s Jever, Spaten Pils, and Dinckel Acker CD-Pils are also excellent. Fortunately, I can get all of these within walking (stumbling?) distance from my house.

Damn, it’s gonna be a long workday.

-Mark

Layered beer- it’s all about the contrast

I hadn’t had a black and tan for a while, so the other day I ordered a couple. If you are unfamiliar, it’s a pint of two beers, Guinness and Bass, with the darker Guiness layer floating on top of the lighter-colored Bass. Here’s a picture.

Bass has never been one of my favorites, but it was worth it just for the visual pleasure. There are other mixes, too. A snakebite is stout layered on top of cider, and a half-and-half replaces the lower layer with lager. They’re a nice change of pace and they draw attention from beer neophytes if you feel the need to look pseudo-sophisticated.

For the most part, however, I’m gonna keep my beers in separate glasses.

The only St. Patrick’s day-related column without a clichéd Irish saying for a header

Everyone loves to put on a little Irish for Saint Patrick’s Day, but in truth most people aren’t that picky about what they drink with their corned beef and cabbage. Any old swill seems to work fine, especially if it’s dyed green.

More discerning or traditional folks gravitate to the one beer that, through insanely expensive marketing, has taken over St. Pat’s as its own: Guinness. A huge percentage of annual Guinness sales take place in the one week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. One local bartender expects to go through ten kegs of the roasty black stout on the 17th alone.

That’s all well and good, but American revelers tend to miss other wonderful beers arguably superior to Guinness, yet just as Irish.

Irish beer in New York State pretty much means stouts and red ales. The two styles are vastly different, and each has its fans.

Dry and tea-colored, with slight caramel flavor notes, Red ales are an easy adjustment for the beer novice. They aren’t particularly strong. They don’t overpower the senses. You can drink them all freakin’ day. The best compliment to pay a Red is to say it’s well-balanced between sweet and dry.

Red ales have unfortunately been typified in the American market by the bland, pseudo-Irish Killian’s Red (brewed by Coors, ostensibly using an old Irish recipe). In the local pubs, a far superior alternative is Smithwick’s. It’s light and earthy, with a toasted flavor. A trip to Ireland will show that this is the new beer of choice in the old pubs. When you order, ask for a “Smith-icks.” The “w” is silent.

A bunch of American microbrewers make Irish red s. Find plenty of them bottled at area beer stores. On draft, Rohrbach McDermott’s Irish Ale and Custom Brewcrafters’ Johnny’s Irish Ale are the local contenders.

Red ale, however, is not the beer that for Americans is the essence of Eire. That will always be Irish Stout, typified by Guinness. Brews in this style are very dark, almost black, from the use of heavily roasted barley malt. Contrary to popular opinion, the darkness of the beer has no bearing on its strength (Irish stouts weigh in as slightly weaker than American mass-market lagers).

Because of their color, and the fact that they are carbonated with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide, Stouts are the most beautiful beers in the world. The sight of a freshly poured pint, with its thick, cream-hued head and settling bubbles cascading in waves down the sides of the glass, is one of the singular pleasures of the beer world.

When you order one, don’t be surprised when the bartender pours your glass halfway, then sets it aside for a couple of minutes before finishing the pour. She’s not being a jerk, the beer is settling to provide the characteristic two-finger head. Guinness sends quality-control people to bars all over the world to train staff how to correctly pour their beer, and you benefit from that expertise.

The nitrogen also lends stout its smooth, silky mouthfeel and easy drinkability. Still, the flavor of an Irish stout is very different from that of any lager. The roasted malt provides a much more earthy taste, often with strong notes of coffee or chocolate. It may take a bit of getting used to, but the pleasure of a pint is worth it.

Guinness may be the most common stout, and has all but claimed itself the official beer of St. Patrick’s Day, but it isn’t too dificult to find other excellent stouts which, unlike the Canadian-produced Guinness, are actually brewed in Ireland.

MacGregor’s features Beamish Stout, brewed in Cork, Ireland, at its Gregory Street location. You can also find Beamish in “Draft Cans” which release nitrogen into the beer when cracked open (give them a minute before sipping in order to avoid a sinus cavity full of foam).

Beamish is sweeter than Guinness, with a more mild, less sour finish. It’s a popular pick among beer geeks who want to seem more knowledgeable and hip than the everyday beer-guzzling rabble.

Also available in area beer stores, but regrettably not so much on draft anymore, is Murphy’s Irish Stout. Like Beamish, Murphy’s is brewed in the port city of Cork, and features a sweeter, richer taste than Guinness, with perhaps more of a metallic tang from the patent malt. Murphy’s also comes in nitrogen-powered draft cans.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, it’s important to keep in mind the spirit of the holiday; the fact that the Irish don’t make a big fuss over it, and that, in the USA, it’s not what you drink, but how much you overindulge. So, at risk of inflaming the tempers of temperance-minded individuals who are inexplicably reading a beer column, We’ll say “Slainte” and raise a glass to this classic verse by The Pogues:

Now the words that he spoke/ Seemed the wisest of philosophies
There’s nothing ever gained/ By a wet thing called a tear
When the world is too dark/ And I need the light inside of me
I’ll walk into a bar/ And drink fifteen pints of beer

Happy Saint Patrick’s day from Bruce and Mark!

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com