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.
I have been in Texas for a few weeks now, and the one thing I cannot adjust to is the heat. T.E. Lawrence and his band of Merry Arab Pranksters may have crossed the Sun’s Anvil to attack Aqaba by land, but the Mexicans who work construction here in the summer think A’Lawrence and those Arabs are a bunch of candy asses for hiding from the sun during the day. It is the end of September, shortly after 10 a.m., and it is over 90 degrees, and no one here thinks that is odd. It is just the way it is. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
The Avatar Jasmine IPA is brewed with dried jasmine flowers added to the boil. Having had some flowery beers recently, I cannot claim to have picked up any jasmine in the aroma or the flavor, but it did not matter with this excellent IPA. The hops are herbal and grassy, and there is a touch of lemon on the tongue. The malts are a subdued caramel, and complement the hops perfectly. At 6.3% ABV, this is a smooth drinking IPA. I am giving it a 7.5/10.
The Elysian Loser Pale Ale is another winner. Brewed as a tribute to Seattle’s Sub Pop Records*, this pale ale poured a burnt orange with some nice lacing running up the glass. The hops had notes of pineapple and herbs, but were mild and muted and went nicely with the creamy maltiness. This was a smooth drinking pale ale, perfect for the cool spring evening that I knocked it back on, 7/10.
*Hag was a huge Sub Pop fan back in late eighties, especially their ‘Dope and Fucking Guns in the Streets‘ series, but then again who wasn’t?
Genius is a word that gets thrown around too often these days. ‘Genius’ should be reserved for people like Norman Einstein. However, someone occasionally comes up with an idea that is so startlingly brilliant that attention must be paid. To be clear, I am not saying that the Vice Blogger ** is a genius, but he did come up with a genius idea. He took the standard NCAA Pool that everyone has in their office, and made it about beer. Instead of the usual ten buck entry fee, he set up a pool where you promised to send the winner a couple of bottles of locally brewed beer. So simple, yet so brilliant.
Just before the Sweet Sixteen, I managed to forge an alliance (just like a contestant on Survivor***) with the eventual winner, so I am getting a partial share of the winnings, despite finishing fourth overall in the pool. I just might be a genius. I am at least an idiot savant.
I initially had a grand plan to collect all of the beers from my winnings and then invite some friends over for a tasting party, but that plan bit the dust when the first box of beer arrived. I did not want to wait to try these beers. Also, I am greedy, and I really do not like my friends enough to share my beer with them.
The first batch of beers to show up on my stoop in Jersey City came from a Vice Blog reader in Minnesota. Looking at the list of States in my categories sidebar, I do not see Minnesota listed, so I have certainly not reviewed any beers from Minnesota. I have never been to Minnesota, and to the best of my knowledge I have never come across any beers from Minnesota in my travels. As far as I can tell, my only connections to Minnesota are 1) my brother-in-law is a Minnesota native and 2) my over the top fascination with the music of Bob Dylan, Hibbing, Minnesota’s most famous son.**** When I opened the box, and saw the two bottles and two cans, I did a little dance around the kitchen because these were all virgin pours for me.
Showing a remarkable amount of self control and discipline, both highly unusual for me, I split the tasting over two nights. The first beer of the first night was the Lift Bridge Cross Cut Pale Ale. This poured copper and crystal clear, and the first thing I picked up on in the aroma and the taste was some unusual citric bitterness. Turning the bottle on its side, there was a little blurb saying that the beer is brewed with grapefruit peel, which seemed to me to add a different bitterness from what you usually get from hops, but which nicely complemented the hoppiness and the mild maltiness. At 5.5% ABV, you can knock back a few of these at a sitting. This is a tasty and balanced pale ale, and if it was available in Northern New Jersey, it would be in the regular rotation. 7.5/10.
The next bottle to be popped was Mantorville Brewing’s Stage Coach Smoked Porter. Nice opaque pour with almost no head. There was a subtle smokiness to this porter, with a touch of mocha. As the beer warmed, I picked up an espresso aftertaste. I would love to try this beer while eating some barbecued brisket. The smokiness of the beer and the smokiness of the brisket would go together nicely, and I am always looking for a reason to drink beer and eat brisket. This was a great beer. 8.5/10.
The second night was devoted to the two cans of Surly Brewing Company’s beer that I received. I have already made an ass of myself when it comes to canned beer, so I will not use this space to recount the benefits of canned beer, nor will I claim to have noticed any metallic taste in these beers. I will say that Surly brewing has a sterling reputation, word of which has even reached the Swamps of Jersey, and I was anticipating great things from these beers.
The Surly Furious did not let me down. Holy shit, this is a good one! As soon as I finished the pour, I was hit with a bouquet of piney and herbal hops. The hops tasted resinous at first, before exploding in fruity goodness. This beer had a liquid velvet mouth feel, almost creamy, and the hoppiness was nicely balanced by toffee tasting malts. I did not pick up any oak, which is the norm for an IPA, but it was not missed. At only 6.2% ABV, you can knock back a few of these, and if I had any more, I would have done so. This is one hell of an IPA, 9/10.
After the glory of the Surly Furious, I thought there was no way that the Surly Bender was going to match it, and it did not, but it was still one hell of a beer. Described as an oatmeal brown ale, this had a nutty flavor, with some coffee and chocolate in the background. It had a mild hoppy bitterness to it, with an orange peel taste. At only 5.1% ABV, this was a very smooth drinking beer. I am not a fan of brown ales in general, but this was easily the most interesting brown ale I have gulped down. I am giving it a 7.5/10.
** If you do not read the Vice Blog, you should go check it out. Aaron has good taste in beer, and he is funny as hell. More often than not his reviews are stories of his tomcatting around NYC, with the beer a secondary consideration.
***I have never seen a single episode of Survivor. I am basing that comment on what I have been told by fans of the show.
****I go through phases with Dylan. Sometimes I listen to the good songs from the bad albums he made in the 80s. Sometimes I go with the acoustic early albums, other times I immerse myself in the complete Basement Tapes. The holy trinity of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde get heavy play on my Ipod. Right now, I have been listening to Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, the two albums of folk song covers he did in the early 1990s, and a bootleg recording of a 1966 show from Sydney, Australia. Anyone who knows me, or who has spent more than an hour with me, knows I can mount a defense of Self-Portrait to a certain extent, and I can and will defend Saved as a brilliant album, so discount my ravings as that of a devoted Dylan-ophile, but if you are looking for some bootlegs, I can probably hook you up.
Magic Hat is located near Burlington, Vermont. It is a beautiful place, and if you have never been there, get up there as soon as you can. Burlington is a college town, so the place is crawling with coeds, and it also has those ‘creative’ types that linger around every college town in America. Befitting this locale, Magic Hat beers have some of the coolest packaging and funkiest names in the craft brew world. Unfortunately, their beers often do not live up to expectations set by the packaging and the naming, at least to my palate.
Credit must be given to the Magic Hat sales team that covers Hoboken, because at least one Magic Hat beer was on tap in every Hoboken bar I stopped in on Friday night. Magic Hat #9 was the beer of choice for the V-Man and me as we hit the taverns of Hoboken, at least in part because of the unique profile of the tap handle. It was easy to spot, and the combination of my failing eyesight and the dim lights favored by drinking establishments the world over make it too hard for me to read the names on tap handles unless I am right on top of them. I could just mouth the words “MAGIC. HAT.” and hold up two fingers to get us beers. Unfortunately, the Magic Hat #9 is another of the Magic Hat beers that falls short of expectations. It is a slightly hoppy pale ale that tastes like it may have been flavored with apricots. It pours a nice amber color with a decent head. The #9 has all the component parts to be a really good beer, but does not quite get there. I wanted this to be so much better than it was, but it was just average, 5/10.
I have not been out and about in Hoboken in ages, except for the occasional trip to Maxwells to see Marah or some other band. It has easily been twenty years since I went for a pub crawl in Hoboken. I did not really like the town back then. It always struck me as the post-college town, where the keggers were replaced by cheap bars, and Buffy and Chip continued their klutzy waltz of romance and/or tawdriness that began in sophomore year while walking back to the dorm from the abnormal psych class and would continue until they threw caution to the wind, got married, had kids, had affairs, and finally got divorced, but back then I could suck it up for a night. Now that I am in my mid-forties, with the tread on my tires just a little too worn from the roads I have traveled, I cannot fucking stand Hoboken. I also have far less tolerance for nonsense now than I did then, and Hoboken is full of nonsense. Add in that every bar we went to played Lady GaGa at head splitting volume and every patron looked like they were about sixteen years old***, and it was an early night for your humble author.
***HEY YOU KIDS, GET OFF MY LAWN!!!! Yeah, I sound old and curmudgeonly, mainly because I am old and curmudgeonly.
When I started drinking good beer, someone told me that bottles were better containers for beer because they did not impart any metallic taste to the beer in the way that cans did. There is a certain logic to that. Coke from a bottle tastes different from Coke from a can. The Coke in the can has a tinny flavor. However, storing beer in bottles has limitations. Light is the enemy of hops, and even dark glass bottles let some light in, leading to a deterioration of taste. It may not matter with a beer like Corona which has no taste anyway, hell, they sell that stuff in clear glass bottles, but better beers are usually sold in brown glass bottles to limit the impact of light on the flavor. Some craft brewers use six pack carriers with high sides to further reduce light exposure. In terms of reducing light deterioration, cans are superior to bottles.
It was only a matter of time before a craft brewer started using cans instead of bottles, and Colorado’s Oskar Blues is the first that I am aware of to do so. I thought “marketing gimmick” the first time I saw their cans, thinking they were appealing to the hipster crowd who ironically drink Pabst Blue Ribbon from a can, but it does make some sense from a brewer’s point of view. Brief Sidenote: Is there anything that can be done to the thin the hipster herd a bit? I had such high hopes for the various Middle East Wars, hoping that a draft would be instituted and take some of those mopey bastards off the streets, but no such luck.
Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale pours a nice deep copper color with a medium. It is hoppy on the nose and the taste, mostly citrus, balanced by a bready malt flavor. Was there any metallic flavor? Yeah, I thought I noticed a slight aluminum taste, but I drank this with the bottle can in front of me, so it may have been entirely in my head. (That’s right, I wrote bottle at first, and posted it that way even after proofreading). I would like to either try this in a blind taste test or side by side with a draft to see if I still detect that aluminum. 6.5/10.
UPDATE: After getting some emails and a comment on the subject, I did some research and found that Oskar Blues uses a special coating on the inside of the cans which prevents any metallic flavors being imparted into the beer, so that “aluminum” I tasted was a complete figment of my imagination. I found this information by poking around the Oskar Blues website for all of about fifteen seconds. The lesson, as always, is that I am an idiot.