Posted by: Scott | April 26, 2010

Beer History: The Brewnami

Since my last post, the days have slipped by rapidly. I promised a Fighting Flagships article, yet here I am, without a beer to write about. Spending money on such things is twice as hard when you only have one good foot, especially when the other one’s medical costs could pay for a used hatchback. But the flagships can fight on Thursday. Today we’ll discuss beer history! More specifically, the great London beer tsunami of 1814.

Our story begins at Meux’s Brewery, an establishment owned by Sir Henry Meux, a baronet and Member of Parliament, and situated in the London parish of St. Giles. This brewery had one unique and undoubtedly eye-catching feature: a 22-foot-tall vat that held 135,000 imperial gallons (or 610,000 liters) of English porter. To celebrate the construction of this behemoth beer tank, a celebratory dinner was thrown for 200 guests. The meal took place inside the vat. What could have possibly gone wrong?

The tidal wave didn’t occur during the dinner, of course. But on October 17, 1814, long after the vat had been drained of people and refilled with porter, an employee noticed a broken support hoop. No biggeth, he thought, ‘twas broken before, with no ill consequence! Then the vat ruptured, and the rushing ale crashed into several smaller vats, bringing the beer total up to about 323,000 imperial gallons (or 1,470,000 liters). Put that in your pint and drink it! Some actually tried, but more on that later.

This unstoppable payload of porter knocked down a brewery wall and surged into the street, forming a 25-foot wave that toppled two houses and flooded the basements of many more — basements occupied mostly by poor families. As the ale settled in the streets, onlookers gathered. Some dug for survivors in the rubble; others simply guzzled the alcoholic groundwater.

Eight or nine people died (reports differ). All but one drowned. The last croaked the next day from alcohol poisoning, presumably because he selflessly tried to “bail out” the street, with only mouth and belly as bucket and sea. His final words, recorded for eternity on a noble plaque, were, “Wooooooo! Free brewskies!”

That day was one of those most surreal and deadly in beer history. (Not that I found many others: I tried looking up “deadly beer history” on Google, but Google merely replied, “Did you mean: teddy bear history?” Thanks for nothing, Google.) Like the Titanic after it, this massive vat and its proportionate failure proved once again that hubris leads to naught but the loss of perfectly good beer. No, seriously. Think about how much booze now sleeps at the bottom of the sea, in the belly of that sunken colossus. I tear up every time I think about it.

Thursday: Fighting Flagships!

P.S. – That photo comes from a 1959 issue of The Age magazine. I altered it only slightly.

Posted by: Scott | April 22, 2010

Genesis Ale Review

He’Brew’s Genesis Ale (also known as “The Chosen Beer”), must have been created by Lames Bond, breaking in his license to pun. I usually dislike this type of humor (because, as you just saw, I suck at it), but this punster fooled with the forces of Jewish linguistics, and he best prepare to get Chomskied. By combining the word Hebrew, the name of a widespread Semitic language, with the phrase “He brew,” he has insinuated that all Jews talk like cavemen. And that’s religist.

Actually, I love puns. This one came from Jeremy Cowan, a Jewish San Franciscan who started Shmaltz Brewing Company as a way to spotlight the unrecognized relationship between beer and Judaism. When Jewish Europeans began migrating to America, many of them preferred wine and other beverages fermented from fruits, but some — such as Samuel Leibmann, who laid the groundwork for the famous Rheingold brand — helped fill the new world’s glass with beer instead. But Jeremy Cowan started Shmaltz more than a century later, and we’ll soon find out whether his testament to Jewish brewing really deserves canonization.

Stats:
Brewery: Shmaltz Brewing Company
Style: American Brown Ale
ABV: 5.6%
IBU: 28
Glassware: Pint Glass, Mug
Serving Temp: 50°F
Price Range: $1-$2 per 12 oz. bottle

REVIEW:

Let me clarify something about the style listed above. According to Beer Advocate, Genesis Ale is an American brown ale, and on the bottle you’ll see the words “light brown ale.” All signs point to an ale of the brown variety. Most browns are moderately dark, but as this poured, I almost mistook it for an amber! The light bronze body; the soapy, off-white head; and the nonexistent lacing all strained the limits of that “light” on the label. Unless we’re talking about an actual light beer. But we aren’t.

Further research revealed that Genesis Ale is actually a cross between a west-coast-style pale ale and an amber, which of course explains the color. Thanks for the accurate labeling, guys. My frustration soon received more fuel: After all that, this thing has the audacity to smell like a brown ale, with mild, malty aromas of nuts and dark fruit. (A hint of floral hops keeps me from completely losing it.) Wait — I’ve seen this before. This beer suffers from dissociative identity disorder. Perhaps a taste will clear things up.

Genesis Ale greets me with a warm maltiness, but then different tastes attack. Their bite is sharp, metallic. The subject strives for the hoppy bitterness of an English-style pale ale but continuously comes off tart, astringent, almost medicinal. Some earthy, bready notes soften up the palate. Malt is dominant overall. Even with a dominant personality, however, each flavor lacks substantive depth, and their sum gropes for complexity in numbers, but only creates confusion out of blandness; the sensations encountered in the first sip barely differ from those on the last. (The metallic bite does subside somewhat over time, though.) Finishing the session, I notice the medium body and semi-crisp carbonation that somehow seem syrupy and flat, the aftertaste that stops at a bitter tinge on the tongue.

In the end, Genesis Ale lives up to its name, tasting like a first attempt. I hesitate to use a word stronger than “mediocre,” seeing as I finished my glass without a problem, but I doubt I’ll buy another bottle. The more I drank, the less I wanted to. But with beer names like “Jewbelation Ale” and “Rejewvenator” (plus an awesome-sounding double IPA brewed with rye), I’ll probably give Shmaltz another shot at some point.

Food Pairing:

This beer didn’t exactly shriek for any food in particular, which means it will probably pair well with a typical beer food. Pizza springs to mind. Genesis Ale should perform admirably in washing down a greasy mouthful of cheese and sauce without interfering with the flavors.

Monday: The second installment of Fighting Flagships!

Posted by: Scott | April 19, 2010

Budget-Beer Bible | Chapter 3

revious chapters in the Budget-Beer Bible have discussed ways to find good beer on the cheap, such as locating the elusive unspoiled sale-beer; visiting specialty stores for great deals on seasonals and first runs; and buying beer at its source. Today, however, I’m going to discuss two completely different techniques for getting loaded without bankrupting yourself.

First, check online beer stores. This recommendation comes with a caveat: Beer online is rarely cheap. Even if you chance upon a clearance sale, the shipping will probably gouge you so hard you’ll want to turn off your computer and cry like a hungry baby. That said, the Web can find just about any beer from anywhere. I’d love to visit Westvleteren, Belgium, home of the famously reclusive Westvleteren Brewery, which produces some of the finest ales in the world. My problem? Flying to Europe isn’t an option at the moment. But, thanks to the Internet, I got to sample all three Westvleteren beers (and it was totally worth it). Shopping online helps beer nerds hunt down rare brews from across the globe without needing to actually cross said globe every five minutes. All others should probably avoid it.

Now for the primary point of today’s article: The cheapest beer available is the kind you make yourself. During my recent adventures in homebrewing, I realized that, despite the large initial investment, brewing your own beer is the one of the cheapest ways to go. Here’s a price breakdown:

Commercial Craft Beer: Assuming that you drink roughly five to seven 12-ounce bottles of craft beer per week, at approximately 2 dollars a bottle (often more), your annual beer expense could total almost $700.

Commercial Macro Beer: Even if you buy the super cheap stuff at, let’s say, $15 for a 24 pack, and increasing the number of beers to 10 per week (let’s face it, I’m being generous), you’re still spending more than $300 a year.

Homebrewing: Remember the large initial investment I mentioned?  I spent a little more than $200 on my kit, but that included everything. Other options do exist, e.g., a Mr. Beer kit, which limits brewer control but costs considerably less. Either way, your first year’s total will be a bit high.

But the whole mess quickly pays for itself. Recipe kits only cost 30 to 50 bucks on their own, and each makes 5 gallons of beer, which fills about 48 twelve-ounce bottles. So, going back to seven beers per week (since we’re once again talking about flavorful craft beer), your first year of homebrewing will cost you almost $500 (if you buy the expensive equipment, as I did) – but the year after that, with the necessary equipment already acquired, the total drops below $300. If you did it right, you’ll be drinking beer that costs less than the cheap stuff and tastes as good as the pricey stuff. And it’ll get even cheaper as you begin writing your own recipes and buying raw ingredients instead of kits.

I’ll level with you: I’m terrible at math (I’m a writer, so I never use it beyond calculating tips), and the figures above are most likely inaccurate, or at best sloppy and unscientific. But I think my logic is sound. Making your own beer is a cheap, fun option for fans of good beer — as long as you don’t mind the investment of time, energy, and a little extra cash at the beginning.

Thursday: Finally, I review that Judaic beer. Sheesh.

Posted by: Scott | April 16, 2010

Beer of the Month Club

Last Christmas, I received a gift from my cousin and comrade in ales, Shawn Rexius (whom I cannot in good conscience mention without bringing up his twin, Shane, who is also my brotha from anotha motha), and his super-cool wife, Tiffany. The gift? A three-month subscription to this Beer of the Month Club (hereby abbreviated BM — stop giggling). When each new shipment arrived, it felt like a bonus Christmas morning — and this time Santa brought the good stuff.

Now, three months later, my BM is over (I said stop giggling), and no amount of freshly baked pretzels will coax that jolly old drunkard out of hiding. ‘Twas amazing while it lasted, though. My subscription worked something like this: On the 23rd day of the month, I’d hear a knock on the door; I’d look outside; I’d find a medium-sized box containing twelve bottles of beer. Four varieties per box. Three bottles of each. Mostly American craft brews, but a few imports too.

Looking back, I can choose my favorite easily: Snake River Brewing Company’s Zonker Stout, a superbly balanced dark ale that won a silver medal in the 2010 World Beer Cup. Upon opening a bottle, rich roasted malt and bitter chocolate appease your nose, while flavors of coffee, cocoa, and smoky grains melt in your mouth (though, if placed in your hand, they would presumably dribble over your fingers and onto the floor — bad form, dude). After my first bottle, I nearly chugged the other two. The subscription yielded several other solid beers, such as the sweetly spiced Barbar Winter Bok and the smooth, fruity Emancipator Doppelbock, but none reached such heights in balance and flavor as “The Zonk.” Note to Snake River: Call me if you want the rights to that kickass nickname.

Most of the other beers were drinkable but commonplace — the kind you’re glad to have around when you run out of the beers you love because, well, you’re still craving a cold one, and you gotta drink something. These included Heavy Seas Pale Ale and Sweetwater Georgia Brown, beers that were consumed without complaint but will probably never visit my fridge again.

Now for the bad. Or the ugly. Actually, one of these beers embodied both. You might remember Sherwood Forest’s Friar’s Belgian-Style White Ale from Beer Basics | The Wit. It’s worth mentioning again here. During my first sip I decided it belonged on my beers-I-despise list. Everyone on Beer Advocate seemed to miss one flavor in particular, but I placed it instantly: cigarettes. This beer smelled like the upholstery in my grandma’s car; it tasted as if the ingredients list should read “barley, hops, yeast, ashtray.” I almost didn’t swallow it – a vague, nagging sense of consuming something foreign and unwholesome closed my throat – but I forced it open and swallowed anyway, not once, not twice, but thrice! to judge it fairly. I was. And am.

By now you might think that my BM experience was somewhat hit and miss. I loved a few beers, merely enjoyed others, and genuinely hated one. But I also gained a deeper understanding of why these kinds of clubs exist. They can’t provide what you already know you want; you’re not picking out the beers, after all, and everyone’s taste is different. Unpredictability is what makes it fun! Each month, I received a box filled not just with beer, but with possibilities, and I even enjoyed trying the bad ones because 1) I enjoy trying new things, and 2) bitching is fun. Admit it; at some point in the past you’ve tried something bad, exclaimed “someone likes this?!” and laughed with likeminded friends. Bitching is fun.

If I were to purchase a subscription of my own (which I’m seriously considering), I think I’d try a different service. See what others had to offer. That said, I’ve savored every second of this BM, and I’d recommend the experience to any and all beer lovers.

Monday: Chapter 3 in the Budget-Beer Bible.

Posted by: Scott | April 12, 2010

Mission Brewpossible

Look, in the back, with the thermometer!

Look, in the back, with the thermometer!

My foot surgery went well. Or so the nurses kept telling me. My foot, however (along with the bulky, distended bandages that suggest a rare grapefruit-to-foot implant procedure), tells a different story. But that’s irrelevant; let’s talk beer. Not the beer of Judaic origins I promised to review, though, because I’m not allowed to mix alcohol with my meds. What beer will I discuss instead? Mine.

Before my surgery, I redirected a chunk of my tax return toward – wait for it – homebrewing equipment. That’s right, faithful readers; the time has finally arrived. I bought the following gear:

  • Two 5-gallon buckets (one primary fermentation vessel, one bottling vessel)
  • One 20-quart stainless steel pot (for boiling the wort)
  • One racking cane/hose and one bottling cane (for siphoning wort/beer)
  • One hydrometer (for measuring gravity)
  • Forty-eight 12-ounce amber glass bottles
  • One Brewer’s Best recipe kit for a Belgian-style tripel
  • Other assorted items (bottle brush, thermometer, bottle capper, etc.)

Flat bottomed pots you make the brewin' world go round!

I found this stuff at What Ale’s Ya, the homebrew supply store I mentioned in my first Beer Pioneer article. After rushing these new toys home, I called my beer brother Ryan to come over and help set up. We poured 2 gallons of drinking water into the 20-quart pot and started steeping the aroma grains. Next we removed the grains and brought the water to a boil — or tried to. After two hours on high heat, however, our water still refused to boil. Confounded, we began hunting for the cause of this conundrum like bloodhounds on a scent. Upon realizing that we were neither Sherlock Holmes nor Batman, we gave up and called What Ale’s Ya. Turns out their pots have raised bottoms. And my stove has flat glass burners. D’oh.

The friendly folks at What Ale’s Ya refunded my money for the pot and replaced the grains. We acquired a new vessel – this one 22 quarts and flat-bottomed – and tried again. Things went much more smoothly … until we had to cool the wort. This is a heavy, sweaty job, and our wort just wouldn’t cool quickly enough. To avoid bacterial infection, we cooled it as much as we could, pitched the yeast, sealed up the fermentation bucket, and prayed those little guys weren’t roasting in their own private hell-sauna.

I got the stuff.

Twelve hours later, the water in the airlock – a small device that lets co2 escape while keeping air and bacteria out – was bubbling jovially. The yeast survived! Fermentation had begun. By the second or third day, each new bubble smelled of tripel. Eureka!

Next comes bottling, which we’ll probably do a day or two after I post this, when the initial fermentation has ended. Then we’ll melt some priming sugar; pour that sugar into the bottling bucket; siphon (or rack) the beer from the primary fermentation bucket into said bottling bucket; and fill the bottles, where that new sugar will trigger a secondary fermentation. A third of my 12 ounce bottles will age for 3 weeks; two thirds will age for 6 weeks; and a single bomber will sit in storage for 9 long weeks. I’ll report back here with mini reviews of each — assuming the first set doesn’t taste like sewer water.

Thursday: Beer of the Month club wrap-up.

Posted by: Scott | April 5, 2010

So God walks into a bar …

Chimay is one of the seven beer-producing Trappist monasteries.

Easter Sunday, one of the most important days on the Christian calendar, has come and gone. I wonder how many people celebrated with a beer. “Beer?” some might ask. “On Easter Sunday? Sacrilege!” Or perhaps they’d sit politely, shifting once or twice but remaining silent. Or maybe they drank wine.

For centuries, we Americans have disconnected beer from faith. We associate church with pious Sunday-morning finery; we associate beer, however, with parties gone wild, dank dives, and swearing, sweaty men. It’s not surprising that social movements have risen up to combat the evil effects of alcohol. The Temperance Movement — a crusade for family values led by groups of women who give themselves names like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and who apparently think that alcohol alone can turn peaceful, loving husbands into wife-beating monsters overnight — played an influential role in passage of the 18th Amendment. According to Wikipedia, after the adoption of prohibition, evangelist Billy Sunday said,

“The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs.”

… Mmmkay. So why do they hate alcohol? And what is temperance, exactly? On their website, the WCTU defines temperance by quoting Xenophon, a Greek philosopher:

“Temperance  may be defined as: moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.”

Quite a broad net. They obviously haven’t read any of the recent studies suggesting that moderate beer consumption can actually benefit your health. Let’s try to forget the WCTU for now and focus on the organized religions that invite alcohol into their houses. Wine, for instance — a similar beverage to beer in many ways — is a key ingredient in the Christian ritual of communion. But beer scholar Michael Jackson, in his introduction to the Beer Visual Reference Guide, suggests a disparity in translations:

“The Aramaic scrolls that were the foundation of the Bible have Jesus miraculously turning water into ‘strong drink.’ The Greeks translated this as ‘wine,’ but the Saxon version of the Gospels refers instead to ‘beer.’”

Wow. Hefty implications there. According to Jackson, beer and faith have been friends for years. And why shouldn’t they get along? I struggle to find a reason, especially when said beer is consumed responsibly by people who drink it for the taste (or the symbolic ritualism, I guess) rather than the effect it has on the body. Thanks to that alleged Saxon interpretation (and that’s a BIG thanks), monastic brewing traditions sprang up and spread across all of Europe, planting the roots for the brewing industries of Germany, the Czech Republic, and many others.

In some countries, such as Belgium, brewing traditions still thrive. Trappist monasteries produce some of the best beers in the world. But, if you’re still unsure about the bond between beer and God, heed the following words of wisdom from Father Theodore, a Trappist monk. He sums up my overall points about beer, religion, and responsibility with the grace and eloquence of a born scribe:

“I’ll have another beer. I’m not driving.”

Monday: Foot surgery on Wednesday means no article on Thursday. Next Monday I’ll be reviewing a beer of Judaic origins — just to be fair, of course. This isn’t turning into a religious blog. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I topped off my Easter evening by sharing Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with my lovely wife.

Posted by: Scott | April 1, 2010

Chelada Review

Godzilla and his party crew enjoyin' a Chelada.

I know you’re excited about this one. Clamato + Bud Light = best — idea — EVER.

This puppy’s called the Chelada. What’s with the name, you ask? Marketing genius, that’s what. Hipsters, club-goers, and other youths who fit neatly into demographics (and who are 21 or older) will love this mixture of tomato juice, clam broth, and light beer because it has a Mexican-sounding name, and, let’s face it, trendy youngsters will love just about anything if it can be used ironically, has an ad campaign that makes them feel like rebels, and/or simply doesn’t make sense.

But here’s another Chelada-bomb: The name actually has cultural roots in Mexico. Chelada comes from Michelada, a traditional Mexican cocktail. And when Americans start premixing and mass-producing traditional Mexican cocktails, you know this party we call socioeconomics is about to get crizazy.

Stats:
Brewery: Anheuser-Busch, Inc.
Beyond that, I got nothin’. Oh, it’s 4.2% ABV. Wooooooooo!

REVIEW:

Sweet Chelada blazes out of the can like a blood-soaked heart forged in the pits of hell, a quartz-encrusted dragon extending pink foam wings. That glorious salmon-colored foam soon crashes earthward, which gives me a better view of what lies beneath — that murky bed of candied roses. Brilliant.

Aromas of sweet tomatoes, freshly plucked from a processing plant assembly line, waft up from my glass, gently overtaking the invigorating scents of salt and fish. I can’t wait to take a sip — so I take one! Carbonated Clamato fills my mouth; I savor every additive. Salt and lime complement the drink’s sumptuous textures, which roll over the tongue like sweet and sour tomato paste. Its flavors border on foodish, as if I’m eating an en-Chelada! Transcendent.

What a viscous blend of malted barley, stomped veggie-fruit, and liquefied invertebrates! I can’t imagine a more thirst-quenching trio. If you see this in a store (or a gutter!), don’t hesitate: slurp it up! Do it now. Today. This isn’t a joke that I’ll retract tomorrow. Who told you that? I’d never make light of this delectable drink. Five caps out of five.

Edit: April 2 Retraction

OK, this review was an April Fools’ joke. Below I’ve pasted my actual tasting notes.

  • Appearance: A dull, murky, reddish orange, like spit and blood. The white head fizzes up but crashes quickly.
  • Smell: Vomit. And tomatoes. Dear lord, the tomatoes. Mixed with some kind of cloying sweetness. Please don’t make me drink this.
  • Taste: The first sip is like sweet and sour tomato paste. I’m gonna hurl. I need a glass of water. Three more drinks at least. Must power through three more drinks for … my … readers. Ungggggh. Second Sip: Holy crap, that’s terrible. I can almost taste the clams – that is, if they were being bulldozed by tomato juice injected with a million CCs of sugar. My stomach hurts. Third Sip: Is that salt? And lime? I have to stop. My mouth is threatening suicide and my stomach has a mutinous look. Fourth Sip: Kill me.
  • Mouthfeel: Viscous. Not at all refreshing.
  • Overall: I hate this more than anything I’ve ever drunk. Even the Cave Creek Chili Beer. The aftertaste still haunts me. Must find mouthwash.

And now, the real score:

Food Pairing:

A New York strip steak smothered in straight-from-the-can tomato sauce, paired with a cold Chelada, will punch you in the mouth with excellence. Don’t miss out. (Also part of the joke. Miss out. Please miss out.)

Monday: An account of my adventures with the Beer of the Month Club.

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