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Friday, December 28, 2012

Revolution Brewing Co.'s Fistmus

photo by Paula Dunn

  • Style:  Spiced Ale (Revolution considers it a Red ale)
  • ABV: 6.1%
  • Season: Winter (mainly holiday)
  • Ease to locate: Illinois & parts of Ohio (beer finder)
  • Color: Brown with hints of orange amber
  • Head: One Finger off white foam
  • Aroma: Pine, citrus & holiday spices
  • Mouthfeel: Light to moderate
  • Finish: Medium
  • Food Friendly: Filling winter stews & chili, also nice with warm appetizers
    One of the best things about living during the 21st century is that we don't have to eat spoiled food (unless you're male, in your 20's and living on your own.  In that case, eat whatever is in the fridge so you don't starve to death.)  I mean, yes, I agree that DVRs IPhones and the fact that we currently have not one but two new kick ass Sherlock Holmes to marvel at is pretty damn cool too.  But I really enjoy knowing when my milk will curl before I put it in my coffee and I appreciate a bit of warning of when my baby spinach might wilt.  Some seasonal beers are also now stamping expiration dates on their bottles.  I love that.  One of the biggest perks of drinking  local is having access to the freshest brews available.  Being able to stop by your local brewery on a random Tuesday for a growler refill is a luxury that just wasn't available for most people even a few years ago.  In the past, the best a person could hope for was to get a favorite brew on tap somewhere.  Nowadays, you can buy a seasonal beer from your local liquor store and, thanks to one little "bottled on date", know that the bottle hasn't been sitting on the shelf since last Valentine's Day.
borrowed from Revolution Brewing Co.

    I was very excited to find a bottle of Revolution Brewing Co.'s spiced holiday seasonal, Fistmas, a few weeks ago.  Revolution Brewing  is located on Chicago's Northwest side and are known for their hopped up IPAs (Anti-Hero and Double Fist.)  I happen to adore their Eugene Porter and there may be a Mad Cow Milk Stout sitting in my fridge right now (or I may have drunk it by the time you're reading this.  I only have so much control.)  So I was kind of excited to taste their spiced ale.  Revolution considers Fistmas a red ale, but as I explained in my post on Lagunitas' Censored Rich Copper Ale, red ale is sort of a catch all for anything that's not a brown ale.  Of course, spiced ale is also a catch all for any beer that has all sorts of usual and unusual spices added to it.  You could have a beer with candied ginger in it or you could have a brew with jalapeno peppers.  It's kind of like Russian brew-lette sometimes.  I think I may be developing a nose for finding misplaced beer at stores.  I was crushed when the kid working the craft beer section informed me that he couldn't find the Fistmas display and that they must be sold out for the year. Insert sad face here.  Sad, yet still determined face, because I eventually unearthed a rouge box hiding under a crate of Shiner Christmas ale.  I need to figure out a way to make some cash out of finding these sold out beers.  Other than, you know, actually working in a liquor store, that is. 
    Just so you know, this video is not safe for work.  Unless you work in a liquor store.  Then let it rip full volume.
    Fistmas poured a semi clear light brown color with hints of orange amber to it.  An off white, one finger head rose quickly and gave a reasonable amount of light lacing.  I took a sniff and my first thought was of a freshly cut Christmas tree.  Sometimes an abundance of hops on the foam can be a wicked assault on your nose, more cleaning solution or car freshener than anything reasonably resembling something you'd want to willingly drink.  This smell, however, was fresh, clean, and sort of wholesome.  Like a crisp winter's day in the back woods of Maine.  Just how you would want a mouthful of pine needles to taste (Oh, like you've never thought of trying it.)  Once I got past O Tannenbaum, I could detect some cardamom and ginger scents.  The first taste was very similar to the aroma.  I could also pick out a bit of malty sweetness and a back note of orange peel under the pine and spices.  This balanced out the earthiness of the beer nicely.  I was rather shocked by how well balanced this beer actually was (I don't usually expect much out of a holiday beer.)  It was a pleasant surprise though.  Kind of like opening a cushy wrapped present from my mom and not finding socks.  It sported a well carbonated light to moderate mouthfeel and a medium finish, but I think anything heavier would have felt very out of place.  I drank this beer with a steaming bowl of chili and really liked how the various spices of the two mingled together.  I could also see Fistmas working well with a winter bean and sausage stew or a bowl of homemade butternut squash soup.
    Beer is not fruit cake.  It has a definite shelf life and should be respected as such.  Yes, certain bottles will benefit from a bit of cellaring, but for the most part, fresh is better.  My bottle of Revolution's Fistmas was bottled on 11/19/12.  I drank it on December 16th, less than a month difference between bottling and enjoying. That's kind of cool.  What isn't cool is taking all sorts of photos on your new IPhone of the beer that you are writing a review on, only to have them deleted when you synch up to some mysterious and ominous Cloud.  Luckily a co-worker had his wife send me a picture of his bottle. But it's not the same.  You'd think with two Sherlock Holmes working today things like this wouldn't happen.  Maybe in 2013.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s Christmas Ale

  • Style: Winter (Holiday) Ale
  • AVB:  7.50%
  • Season: Winter
  • Ease to locate: Widely available in the Midwest, NY, NJ, VA, WV, KY,  & Washington DC
  • Color: A festive copper color
  • Head: One & a half finger that falls quickly
  • Aroma: Strong holiday spices of cloves and ginger
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with nice carbonation
  • Finish: Short to medium
  • Food friendly: Savory/sweet dishes like a turkey & cranberry panini or roasted pork & apples, also great for a holiday desert tray

It's beginning to look a lot like the liquor aisles at least.  It seems to be the norm now that most craft breweries put out a seasonal brew or two every year.  And like all Christmas presents, some are better than others.

Just like Christmas cookies, everybody has their favorite (I'm partial to snicker doodles myself.)  I'll admit it.  One of the nicer perks I've discovered since beginning this blog is that friends are eager to share their favorite beers with you.  Sometimes they even throw a free one or two my way to review.  I recently helped a co-worker locate his favorite hometown seasonal ale and he was nice enough to pass a bottle along to me.  Teacher always says that every time a beer cap pings, an angel gets her wings.  And, you know, I just want to do my part to help increase the angel population.  

Christmas ales originated during the Middle Ages, but not as part of holiday celebrations.  Spice were often put into regular beer back then in place of hops.  This was thought to give beer a medicinal property, and sine you couldn't exactly drink the water and penicillin & Cold-Eaze still had 400 years to go, it seemed like a good idea.  In the 20th Century, small European breweries began to create special ales during the winter months as a treat for their regulars.  Christmas ales often taste of cinnamon, cloves and ginger; spices that just scream Christmas, just as George Baily might call out to his old Building & Loan.  Great Lakes Brewing Co., is a well distributed brewery located in Cleveland, Ohio.  They've won quite a few World Beer Championship awards for their beers, the most recent being a silver medal for this holiday ale in 2012.  Now, you can put whatever stock into awards that you wish.  To me, the proof is on the plum pudding, so to say.

Great Lake's Christmas Ale poured a rich copper color, and maybe it's just the holiday induced stress talking here, but the golden reddish hue seemed extremely festive all on it's own.  A one and a half  finger, light colored head settled into a next to nothing film that floated on the surface of the drink.  There was minimal lacing that took a heavy swirl or two to even produce.  What the head lacked in staying power, it more than made up for it in aroma.  I could smell the typical holiday spices of cloves and ginger right off the bat.  The first taste reflected the scent perfectly, heavy on the cloves followed right behind by the ginger and cinnamon.  I had a sudden urge to bake some snicker doodles.  In fact, this beer would go great with a Christmas cookie platter or a slice of pecan pie.  As the beer warmed a bit, it opened slightly and revealed notes of honey and caramel vanilla.  It grew less spicy and more sweet as it sat.  There was a nice bit of carbonation which helped to balance out the sweetness.  Fizz always equals festive in my book any way. (my book being this of course.  It's an easy one night read.)

The mouthfeel was moderate, which was pretty much expected.   The clove and ginger flavor carried over to the semi-short finish.  I think the reemergence of the spices on the finish really helped to keep the honey sweetness from becoming cloying.  A decent Christmas ale should be as easy to drink as a glass of lemonade on a hot day.  And a hell of of a lot easier to drink than whatever the heck glogg is.  And if you do know what glogg actually is, keep it to your Thor-loving, fiord-living self.  

One of the best things about seasonal beer is the opportunity to enjoy unique offerings that are available for only a short amount of time.  Many breweries take November and December as a chance to try something new (such as New Galrus' fruit forward beers or the Lagunitas Brown Shugga' Ale substitute, Lagunitas Sucks! ale)  If you're lucky, you may be able to indulge in a fresh pull from a draft at your local brew pub.  But if you'd rather imbibe in the comfort of your own home (because that's where you keep the lazy boy chair and flat screen) a bottle of holiday ale is still about as fresh as you can reasonably get.  Due to the seasonal nature and limited amount produced, you're pretty much guaranteed a recently bottled beer.  Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s Christmas Ale is a nice addition to the holiday beer repertoire.  Serve it with roasted pork and apples for your holiday dinner party.  Make yourself a leftover turkey and cranberry panini.  Or better yet, take it as a contribution to a Christmas Cookie Exchange to liven things up.  I'd certainly invite you back next year if you did.        

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lagunitas Brewing Company's Censored Rich Copper Ale

  •  Style: Red Ale
  • ABV: 6.75 %
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Available in most states
  • Color: Pretty copper (hence the name)
  • Head: One finger that settles to thin layer, nice lacing
  • Aroma: Sweet with dark malts, caramel & dirt
  • Mouthfeel: Dry and moderate
  • Finish: medium to long, but nicely balanced
  • Food Friendly: Yep.  Bring it on.

Let me just begin by stating that censorship is bad.  It's judgmental, narrow minded and just plain boring.  I don't want anyone telling me what I can read, listen to or watch on a screen.  I am so not down with that.  Unless it's Lagunitas doing the telling, that is.  After drinking their Censored Rich Copper Ale, I'm completely down with letting them make all sorts of decisions for me.  Listen to Kayne West without my ear buds in?  Look at a Robert Mapplethorpe photo without one hand over my eyes?  Read Tom Sawyer in it's native Missourian?  Bring it on, boys!

Just for your own information, this is what happens when you let the bad kind of censorship into your heart:

Censored is a red ale, which of course, is also like saying that Censored is not a brown ale.  The term red ale has become a catch all for almost any lager that is lighter than a dark ale, but not light enough for a pale ale.  More often than not, they are colored with caramel dyes to give them a reddish hue that ranges anywhere from a blush to a dark amber color.  For example, Smithwicks is an Irish red ale, but New Holland's Sundog Amber is also considered a red ale.  And these two beers couldn't be more different to me taste-wise and mouthfeel-wise (yes, mouthfeel-wise is a word.  Feel free to use it during your next game of Words With Friends.)  In any case, red ales are typically well balanced and relatively easy to drink.  Censored is no exception to this rule.

Censored Rich Copper Ale poured a reddish golden color.  The brew was extremely clear with hardly any sediment, making for a very pretty pint.  It reminded me of a sunset or Lucille Ball.  

 There was minimal carbonation as it settled.  A decent one finger head died down quickly to a thin top layer, leaving a delicate series of spider web lacing clinging to the glass' sides.  The foam boasted the sweet scents of dark malts, caramel and a bit of dirt on the back note.  I could taste the sweetness of the dark malts, caramel and a bit of honey right away.  As it warmed and opened, I could then detect some bitterness from orange peels and chewiness from raisins.  This was quickly chased down by the hoppy flavor of pine and grassy dirt.  It boasted a dry, longish finish that sort of surprised me.  The spice of the pine and citrus zest lingered on my tongue, but not in a grimacing sort of way.  Like most of Lagunitas offerings, it was a nicely balanced beer and easy to drink.  It wasn't complex by any means, but honestly, complex beers have their time and place.  Sometimes you just want a drink that plays well with others. 

As I mentioned in my Thanksgiving beer suggestion post,  I think that Lagunitas Censored is a brilliant option for an abundant holiday meal.  The beer has an easiness to it that works with the myriad of options during a festive family meal.  Of course you don't have to save it for just the most wonderful time of the year.  Censored Rich Coper Ale could just as easily compliment an average Saturday pizza night or a grilled flank steak on a warm July day.  As I was writing this post, Lagunitas made an exciting announcement.  Apparently they will be opening a Chicago plant (first outside California) in the coming year.  If a business decision like this doesn't cement Chicago as a major player in the craft beer scene, you need to get your head out of the suds, my friend.  And yes, I like to think that I had a little to do with it.  Feel free to thank me in brown bottles, if you are so inclined.