New Angles on Old Tricks: The Classic Pale Ale

December 20, 2012

With all of these funky new beers, many of which were unimaginable even a few short years ago (and I say that as a guy with a vivid imagination when it comes to beer), I often forget that a good pale ale is one of the true treats of the beer world: delicious; low enough in alcohol to drink several without causing the world to spin, yet flavorful enough to thoroughly enjoy; and strikes the right balance of bold flavors and drinkability for a craft beer neophyte to enjoy. Few things make me happier than seeing the inroads Sierra Nevada has made with marketing its flagship Pale Ale. No matter how lame the bar is (and I have been in plenty of lame ass bars), these places will usually now carry Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale as a sop to beer snobs like me. No matter how lame the pizzeria (or now that I am in Texas, a taqueria is more likely), they usually have a few bottles of it handy, or better yet, a tap devoted to it.

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Terrapin Station

October 22, 2012

Grandpa Jones approves of this beer

While in Florida recently, I stumbled upon some beers from Terrapin Brewing Co. Their beers are not available in Texas, at least in my experience. That made sense to me, as I assumed the brewery was located in Maryland and I just figured they had not made it this far south and west of the Mason-Dixon line until I looked them up and discovered they are from Athens, Georgia. While their unavailability in Texas makes less sense, as Georgia is not as far from Texas as Maryland is, the the real lesson here, as always, is that I am an idiot.

Terrapin Rye Pale Ale – This pale ale is nicely balanced, with some fairly assertive floral hops and earthy and caramel malts. It has a 5.5 % ABV, so it is a nice session beer. That is the second time I have used ‘nice’ to describe this beer in as many sentences, and that is the best I can say for it. It blandly inoffensive, certainly drinkable, but nothing to get excited about. I had hoped for more flavor from the rye malts, but it was not to be. Good, but not great, 6/10.

Terrapin Easy Rider Hopped Up Session Ale  – This one is bit more interesting. It is very aggressively hopped, with lots of flowery and citrus flavors and aromas mingling together, and packs a lot of flavor for a beer with only 4.5 % ABV. It has a sticky mouth feel and a crisp and bitter finish to it. There is no real malt profile to speak of here, but I am o.k. with that, 6.5/10.

Insert Dennis HOPper joke here

The Evolution of the Craft Beer Renaissance: Deschutes Red Chair NWPA

August 16, 2012

1989: {Calling Mr. JK on the Phone} Dude, I had the best beer ever! Deschutes Red Chair Pale Ale! It is amber colored, has all these cool flavors, and tastes like nothing I have ever had before! And get this: It comes from the Pacific Northwest where all those cool bands that Hag listens to come from! Awesome! What? Fuck you, I know the Cowboys suck, Jerry Jones is an asshole, and Jimmy Johnson doesn’t know what he is doing…they are on TV now? Damn it, the phone cord is not long enough for me to reach the remote, I gotta go!

1998: {AOL Instant Message to Mr. JK} Hey, I tried this beer the other night, Deschutes Red Chair Pale Ale, from Oregon, so you know it was great. Some brewery called Deschutes. Lots of hops in it. Bitterest beer I have ever had. It was excellent. …Sorry, someone just called my phone and my internet connection was lost for a few minutes there. What do you think of this Lewinsky chick?

2003: {Email to Mr. JK} Hey, I tried this beer from Deschutes called NorthWest Pale Ale. I think they are trying to establish ‘Northwest Pale Ale’ as a specific genre. It is ok, I have had better, but I would definitely drink it again. Lots of hops, and lots of malts, nice color to it too. On another note, the Return of the King reviews are awesome, we need to go see it soon.

2007: {Text Message to Mr. JK} Pckd up 6 of Dschutes NWPA, ok stuff, not much else at bodega, sort of wild card to find. Need anything else for bbq/

2012: {Mr. JK reads my blog} I recently tried Deschutes Red Chair Northwestern Pale Ale. It pours a somewhat hazy copper color, with a strong aroma of grassy bitter hops. It tastes a bit sweeter than it smells, but that initial sweetness gives way to a soapy burnt flavor on the back end. This is a beer that has most of the component parts to be a decent drink, but does not quite put it all together. Everything seems to be operating at cross purposes, and it just never tastes quite right. It is not awful, 5.5/10, but it is a beer I will not be revisiting any time soon, as there are many better beers out there to drink.


I would have loved this in the past, but now it is just Meh

Victory Headwaters Pale Ale

June 25, 2012

I am genuinely surprised that I have not already reviewed Victory’s Headwaters Pale Ale, as it has become something of a ‘go to’ beer for me over the past year or so. It is not a groundbreaker in any way. It does not push the limits of what can be defined as beer. It does not redefine the pale ale genre. It does not make me see visions of comely wenches lounging languidly as I drink and guffaw in my Falstaffian glory, and yes, there are some beers that do that. Frankly, it is not even my favorite pale ale, as the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is still my number one pale ale.

It may not be any of those things, but it is still a damn fine beer. The hops are assertive without being overpowering, and there is some malty sweetness on the back end to make this a nicely balanced beer. It is dry, crisp and refreshing, not heavy at all, and at 5.1 % ABV is an excellent session beer. This is the type of beer I would give to a beer neophyte in order to introduce them to the world of good beer, and yet is good enough to give to beer snobs, as I did with GEB a few weeks ago. Yet another fine offering from Victory, 7.5/10.

Austin’s Independence Brewing Co.

December 3, 2011

If you are reading this, chances are that you are a beer dork.  If by some weird twist of fate you have stumbled upon this blog and are not a beer dork, but are thinking, “hey, getting into a craft beer is a hobby I might enjoy” I implore you to back away from the computer screen, and go grab yourself a Miller Genuine Draft.  Being a beer dork is a lonely existence, as it is rare to find anyone who shares not only your love for good beer, but also your precise flavor profile.  How often have I met someone who knew their way around a beer menu only to discover that their love of beer is focussed on lambics and brown ales, and they dislike the hoppier English-American hybrids that I favor?  Actually, that has never happened, but it could.  And if you are a guy, forget about meeting a woman who shares your love of good beer.  If you do, she will be one of the following: a) married;  b) seeing someone c) not into guys in general; d) not into you specifically;  e) under the impression that Blue Moon is a Belgian beer; f) some combination of the above. Read the rest of this entry »

Ska Brewing Euphoria Pale Ale

December 22, 2010

The version of The Harder They Come that Jimmy Cliff sang in the movie is not the same version that was used on the soundtrack.*  The lyrics are slightly different, and the performance is remarkable.  Listen to that silky smooth guitar line snaking through the song, and Jimmy’s most soulful vocal performance.  I love the version on the soundtrack, but the movie version is better.

The Euphoria Pale Ale by Ska Brewing is silky smooth and easy drinking, with just a mild grapefruit bite from the hops, perfectly balanced by the toasted caramel malts.  Only 6.1% ABV, so you can drink a bunch of these at a sitting.  The folks from Ska Brewing not only have good taste in music, they make some damn fine beer also.  I am giving the Euphoria Pale Ale a 7.5/10, and am on the lookout for other offerings from Ska Brewing.

* The Harder They Come is the greatest soundtrack album of all time, and if any of you are thinking of making an argument that The Big Chill, or, god help us, Footloose is better, please leave my blog and don’t ever come back.  However, to show how magnanimous I am, I will listen to arguments made in favor of Valley Girl.

Anchor Humming Ale

October 27, 2010

This is a dry, crisp ale that is hopped up enough to be classified as an IPA, but is easy drinking enough to be a pale ale.  The hops are not all that bitter, more mango sweet than anything, and at slightly less than 6% ABV, you can have a couple of these at a sitting.  The Humming Ale tasted remarkably bright and fresh and vegetal, with plenty of flavor.  It tastes like a summer beer brewed for the autumn.  Unfortunately, it also appears to have been a limited release.  A few days after trying this, I went back to my local beer emporium to grab some more, and it was entirely sold out, and the diminutive Chinaman who runs the shop told me “No More! No More!”  If you find some, grab it, because it is a good one, 8/10.

Check out this interview with Fritz Maytag, the founder of Anchor Brewing, and the grandfather of the American Craft Beer Movement.

McNeill’s Brewpub and Brewery, Brattleboro, Vermont

July 20, 2010

Mr. JK’s teenage son, Lee Harvey TK, has taken to calling me the ‘Brewpub Wizard’.*  The nickname is based on a single fortuitous happenstance which occurred a few weeks ago up in Vermont.

Lee Harvey TK, seventeen years old and the proud carrier of a learner’s permit, was itching to drive, and Mr. JK and I were perfectly content to let him play Hoke to our collective Miss Daisy.  We needed beer, food and fireworks for the Fourth of July, and decided to go to the food co-op in Brattleboro for the beer and food.  In the days leading up to the Fourth, we had been drinking beers from McNeill’s Brewery in Brattleboro.  Their beer ranges from good to great, and at $3.99 for a bomber bottle, their brews are certainly cost effective.  I insisted that we also stop at McNeill’s for a beer while in Brattleboro.

I had never been to McNeill’s, but that did not stop me from telling Lee Harvey TK how great the cheeseburgers were at the brewpub as we drove to Brattleboro.  Our normal route to Brattleboro was blocked off due to a July 4th Parade, and the detour had us all twisted around.  I was in the backseat barking directions to Lee Harvey TK, even though I had no idea where I was going.  Mr. JK was shouting contradictory directions, with about as much idea of where he was going as I did.  He shouted “Left!”; I barked “Right!”  For some reason, Lee Harvey TK ignored Dad and turned right, and as we turned the corner, McNeill’s was in front of us. I cannot emphasize this enough:  This was sheer dumb luck.  I had absolutely no idea where the brewpub was located.  As we parked, Lee Harvey TK turned to me and said, “These cheeseburgers better be good.”

When it comes to food, brewpubs generally fall into a few broad categories.  There are those that serve high end gourmet food;  There are those that serve glorified pub grub; And there are those that are run by hippies and serve sprouted mung beans, hummus and baba ganoush (all ingredients locally grown of course).  Guess which category McNeill’s falls into?  Let’s just say that Lee Harvey TK did not get any cheeseburgers, and he really hated the hummus.

The bar at McNeill's

Mr. JK and I had a few beers at the bar while Lee Harvey TK sullenly drank his club soda, and whupped us at the various bar games they had.  We had the cask conditioned Warlord Imperial IPA, which was outstanding, and a few others.  Unfortunately, the taps were not working properly, so the selection that day was extremely limited.

On to the bombers we tried over the course of a few days:

The Champ Ale (named after the Lake Champlain monster, America’s very own Nessie) was light and refreshing, perfect for the blazing heat we had in Vermont.  It had a nice yeasty tang to it, very low hops bitterness, and a low 5.5% ABV.  The Champ Ale bills itself as an American Pale Ale, but it tasted somewhat Belgian to me.  Whether Belgian or American, it was still good, 7.5/10.

The Firehouse Amber is one of the better amber beers I have come across.  Amber Beers are like Brown Ales.  They are usually not bad, but they are almost never great.  The Firehouse is not great, but it comes closer than most amber beers I have tried.  It poured cloudy and amber, and had a nice fruity maltiness with a touch of hops bitterness.  This was one of the more pleasant beers of the weekend, 7.5/10.

Speaking of Brown Ales, McNeill’s Professor Brewhead’s Brown Ale, like the Firehouse Amber, is one of the better examples of the style that I have tasted.  It poured a light brown with a decent head and lacing.  It smelled yeasty and bready, with more hops in the taste than in the nose. The hops had a mild orange and apricot flavor to them, and balanced the malts nicely.  While brown ales are not my favorite style of beer, this is a good one, 6.5/10.

The Blonde Bombshell was a highlight of the blistering hot weekend in Vermont.  Hoppier than most golden ales, and certainly hoppier than I expected, this had a refreshing citrus flavor which was helpful on the one hundred degree days we were sweltering through, 7.5/10.

The Dead Horse IPA was a bit disappointing.  It was not awful, but considering how good the other beers were, and considering that IPAs are the bread and butter beers for most craft brewers, this should have been a home run.  Instead, it was a ground rule double.  The hops were not distinctive, and the beer just did not come together as well as the others we tried, 6/10.

*Lee Harvey TK’s nickname needs a little explaining.  As loyal readers know, Mr. JK has a BB gun at his house in Vermont, and we occasionally engage in shooting contests when we are up there.  I continued my Mr. Magoo like tendency to hit everything but what I was aiming at, while Mr. JK was humming along at a .500 clip.  Lee Harvey TK simply did not miss anything.  At first I thought he was lucky, but when he knocked down twelve cans in a row, and hit the bottle cap on his first shot, I realized it was not luck.  A few years from now, when he takes out both Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong Il with a single shot from two miles away, remember who was the first to tell you about him.

However, it was not all driving and shooting cans for Lee Harvey TK.  We were watching the Spain-Germany World Cup game, and as the clock ticked down and Spain advanced to the final game, he said, “Break out the PASTA! Spain is going to the Finals!” Mr. JK and I both looked at him with that “You Did Not Say Something That Titanically Stupid In Front Of US, Did You?” look on our faces, and Lee Harvey TK immediately tried to backtrack, but it was too late.  For the rest of the week, we kept offering to make him “Pasta de Espana” or “Fettucine de Madrid” for dinner.  He replied “shut up, they have pasta in Spain” but he knew he had put his foot in his mouth, and that we were not going to let him forget it.

Andersonville Brewing Pale Ale

May 3, 2010

As I have pointed out before, pale ales tend be overlooked by beer dorks, mainly because they lack that extreme element that so many of us find appealing, and also because non-beer dorks can drink them without scrunching up their faces and saying “EWWWW, that is so bitter!”  This should be an indictment of beer dorks, because a good pale ale is as enjoyable as any style of beer that is out there, but beer dorks won’t care as they search out the latest barrel aged IPA fermented with Belgian yeasts and Cuban brown sugar and a hops varietal that can only be found on southern slopes in the Himalayas, and I will be leading that search, god help me.

However, as I will surely need some refreshment during that search (“I hear that ten bottles were shipped by mistake to that bodega on Central Avenue in Newark! Grab the pistol and car keys! Let’s Go!”), I could certainly do worse than the Andersonville Brewing Company’s Pale Ale.  Pale gold in color with a fluffy head, this pale ale has the most grapefruit aroma and flavor of any beer I have come across, and that includes the excellent Cross Cut Pale Ale that is brewed with grapefruit zest.  The inscription on the can claims that the brewery is solar powered.  I don’t give a shit about how green this beer is, but this dry, crisp, and refreshing pale ale is perfect for a hot and sunny day, 7/10, and if I am saving some polar bears by drinking it, that is all the better.

More Beer in Cans

April 28, 2010

After my recent dipshittery concerning canned beer, I have made an effort to seek out other examples of craft beer in cans as a sort of penance.*  I have picked up a few over the past couple of weeks, and give them the once over here.

The Phoenix Pale Ale from Pennsylvania’s Sly Fox was a tasty concoction.  The toffee malts are balanced by the mild hops, with the hops a bit stronger on the tongue than in the aroma.  This poured a beautiful clear amber, with a frothy but quickly dissipating head.  There is no ‘WOW’ factor with this beer, but it is smooth and flavorful, and at 5.1% ABV, you can knock back a few.  It has earned a spot at the back of the rotation, 6.5/10.

SF Beer, JC Backdrop

San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewing Company is not well known on the East Coast, but that should change soon as I am seeing their beers pop up in stores here more frequently.  The Brew Free or Die IPA is smooth and mild, not too hoppy for a West Coast IPA, and the smoothness masks the 7.0% ABV.  The hoppiness has a fruity aftertaste.  Again, there is no ‘WOW’ factor with this beer, but it is another good one, 6.5/10.

Sweet Jeebus, this one knocked me on my ass.  This was my last beer of the recent session with Mr. JK, and knocking back a beer with an 8.7% ABV when you are already pickled is not a smart idea.  Drinking this was like getting cold cocked by Mike Tyson in his prime.  I had another one for review purposes a few days later, and can report that the Oskar Gordon Ale is a fine beer.  Hoppy and malty at the same time, the aroma and the taste are resinous, with a chewy mouth feel.  You cannot drink many of these in a sitting, but the ones you do drink are enjoyable, 7.5/10.

*-Bless me, Father, for I have sinned

What are your sins, my son?

-I made a misleading statement on the internet about canned beer

Say three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, and drink three canned beers

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