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Monday, August 26, 2013

Bell's Brewery's Oberon

  • Style: American Pale Wheat  Ale
  • ABV: 5.80%
  • Season: Yearly Summer release March through September
  • Ease to locate: Bell's is located in Michigan and distributes to 18 states covering most of the Eastern half of the country.  And Arizona.  I can only suppose that the brewery executives just want a reason to visit someplace sunny come January.  Here's their beer finder
  • Color: Cloudy golden yellow with light brown undertones.  Sediment floating and visible carbonation
  • Head: White, 1 finger head with nice lacing creeping up the sides and dissipates to a thin layer after a few minutes
  • Aroma: Citrusy with orange and lemon notes.  A slight sour element of fermented wheat, as well as a dry cracker scent.  Yeasty with a bit of funk.
  • Mouthfeel: Light & smooth with lots of carbonation, but not dry.  Slightly oily.
  • Finish: Medium with the bitter spiciness of hops on the tail.  
  • Food friendly: Yes.  Most wheat beers pair well with food.  Try it with delicate dishes such as crab cakes, grilled trout or berry themed salads.  Serve it with goat cheeses like chevre or gouda

Are you seriously trying to tell me that it's really the last week of August?  Already? It seems that we all impatiently wait for Summer to come.  We dream of long, sunny afternoons cat napping in a backyard hammock.  Or cool evenings spent lingering with good friends at an outdoor patio restaurant.  It doesn't matter if you live in Florida or Minnesota, everyone's thoughts turn to the summer months once January hits.  The problem is that if you blink, half the season is gone before you know it.  That's why you need to grab each precious, slippery moment and make the most of it.  Hence the mini keg of Bell's  Oberon pictured above. 

                                                           I'm pretty sure that Shakespeare would be writing for TV if he was around nowadays.  Probably for Family Guy on Fox but dreaming about Game of Thrones on HBO

In mid evil stories (as well as in Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream)  Oberon is the king of the fairies.  In Willy Boy's play (and yes, it's a little known fact that all former English Majors get to cal him Willy Boy), Oberon is having a bit of a martial spat with his queen over how to raise kid of a dead servant.   Imagine Different Strokes if Mr. Drummond was a burly wood elf who wanted to make Arnold his no neck henchman and Mrs. Garret as the lady of the house who wanted to make him a hippie nancy boy.   Don't worry, Arnold would still say "What you talking about, Willis?"  One doesn't want to stray too far from the text in classics.  Bell's Brewery named their very popular summer seasonal after this legendary fairy king.  It's a wheat ale, which is perfect for the summer months, and fermented with Bell's personal, ultra secret, stop asking Lagunitas because we ain't telling no matter how much you beg, house yeast.  But the nicest thing about Oberon in my opinion?  The mini keg.  Not many beers release their brews in these portable, yet still easily accessible, containers.  I mean, once you're past the college years of having 100 people at your house party, but haven't quite reached the point of alienating everyone else in your life so you are forced to drink alone, a mini keg is the perfect summer get together solution.  I really wish that other breweries would embrace this concept.  Can you imagine a mini keg of Revolution's Anti Hero or of Great Lakes' Commodore Perry?  Or (if I'm dreaming, why not dream big) a mini keg of Pipeworks Unicorn vs Ninja ?  On the other hand, that might turn into one of those 100+ people parties where I only know 3 of them (and actually only one by name.) 

Ode to a summer's beer.
My Oberon poured a hazy, cloudy, golden brew.  There were hints of light brown along the edging, giving the liquid a bit of character.  A healthy one finger head formed, thick with fluffy foam and decent lacing creeping up the pint's sides.  The head settled to a thin layer on the surface for most of the drink.   There was visible carbonation and lots of sediment floaties swirling around inside this brew.  The citrusy scent of oranges and lemons were easily detected when taking a quick whiff.  There was a dry cracker note just underneath the citrus profile.  I could smell a slightly sour note (which I assume was of fermented wheat), but not enough to make you think it was a sour beer.  I felt that this sour tang gave the aroma some needed depth.  As it warmed, a yeasty, bready, funky quality emerged as well.  None of these scents were particularly powerful on their own.  The dry cracker wheat grain profile dominated the taste over the orange and lemon notes, which were defiantly present, but much less so than they were on the nose.  The ever so slight sourness came in towards the back of the sip, as did a very light spicy hop note.  The taste was easy and yet still interesting because of the tang and funk elements.  After a summer of drinking a lot, and by a lot I mean A LOT of IPAs (and DIPAS, Super Duper DIPAS, This Beer Has So Many Hops In It That If We Told You The Quantity We'd Have To Kill You DIPAs.  You get the picture) that a lower IBU beer with a unique taste profile is actually quite refreshing to the palate.  The mouthfeel was light, but a bit oily in texture.  There was an abundance of carbonation (thank you well sealed mini keg gods!) that helped smooth out the rougher edges of the swallow.  The finish was medium and fairly unexciting.  A bit of spicy bitterness from the hops lingered a bit, but certainly wasn't in any danger of wearing out it's welcome by any means.        

I'm pretty sure that Kenneth Branagh's doing a one man play about this pint glass.  In iambic pentameter.

Because of it's lower IBU, lighter mouthfeel and citrus forward aroma, I would serve Bell's Oberon with a wide variety of dishes.  Try it with delicate meals such as crab cakes with lemon sauce  or a simply prepared whole trout on the gill.  But on a really hot and humid day, pair this beer with a salad of assorted greens, fresh berries and goat cheese.   The wheat and citrus elements will happily commingle with the fruitiness of the berries and the tanginess of the cheese.  Summer bliss. The photos used here and the tasting notes I jotted down were of a pour from the mini keg's second day of use.  But I've drunk enough Oberon in my adult life to tell you that I didn't notice any real difference in taste or appearance between this beer poured from the bottle or one poured from the mini keg.  It did keep the beer fresh and I didn't notice a drop off of carbonation from the first day to the second.  Could I have written the same post opening a bottle of Oberon?  I assume so.  But it certainly wouldn't have been as much fun.  And isn't summer fun exactly what we all dream about in January anyway?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cigar City Brewing's Jai Alai

  • Style: IPA
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Ease to locate: Cigar City Brewing (or CCB for those in the know) only distributes in Florida.  They're located in Tampa and can be found in many grocery stores & gas stations through out the state.  So basically, it's like finding Spotted Cow in WI.  Only visiting Florida is a much easier sell in January than, say, Eau Claire
  • Color: Slightly hazy, golden amber that lets just enough light through to glow slightly from the inside out
  • Head: 2 finger slightly off white fluffy head with lots of lacing (check out the photo to the left)
  • Aroma: In one word?  YUM!  OK, I'll expand a bit.  Notes of citrus (mainly grapefruit), tropical fruits, a bit of resin and a nicely balanced sweetness from the malt backbone.  It just smells fresh.
  •  Mouthfeel: Medium (almost creamy) with a nice amount of carbonation.
  • Finish: Moderate with a sliding linger into a bitter, resin hopped tail
  • Food friendly: Very much so.  Grilled & roasted meats and poultry; fatty fish such as salmon & tuna; sausages of every kind; ethnic foods such as Thai and Hispanic (this and jerk chicken would be phenomenal.)  The list goes on and on.   For cheeses, pair it with sharp varieties, such as blue cheese, or peppery varietals such as pepper jack.      

I did not know that such a place as Ybor, Florida ever existed.  When I first saw the name, I thought that it must have been a typo in need of auto correct.  Of course I couldn't ask anyone because I had no idea what so ever how the hell to pronounce it anyway (it's pronounced "eee-bor".  But don't tell too many people.  I'm assuming it's a way of weeding out the locals from tourists down there.  Because almost EVERYONE wears Crocs in Florida, so that's no help.)   But as it turns out, I can thank this little slice of Tampa heaven for two of my favorite things to come out of sunny Florida, Cubano sandwiches and beer from Cigar City Brewing.  I get around the whole relatives living in Florida by rationalizing that they are my favorite things ever to go into Florida (I've learned that rationalizing in one form or another is very often the by product of a craft beer hobby.  When you are willing to pay $30 plus for a bomber of one special beer just because it says "limited" and "bourbon" on it, rationalization becomes your BFF very quickly.)  And one of the best things about having family living in Tampa is that if you ask nicely (OK, truth be told, I didn't even have to ask all that nicely.  Sometimes having out of town company can lead to your own bout of rationalizing,) they will take you to the Cigar City tasting room for an afternoon of beer, beer and, say it with me, more beer.

                                                                             Yes, this song does trip lightly through my head every time I open a beer. Now imagine me as a 5 year old singing it.
I was able to try an amazing line up of Cigar City's beers at their tasting room.  There were four of us doing flights, so we pretty much covered the board.  Even my Heineken loving uncle had to admit that their lager "wasn't bad."  And this is from a guy who sits down at a restaurant and immediately orders two Heinekens.  So he won't have to wait for the second one when the first is finished.  Personally, I could have just sniffed their Cubano Style Espresso Brown Ale all afternoon and I was completely enthralled with their Guava Berliner Weiss (I may have finished my pour, drank a cousin's pour AND gladly accepted the glass of it from a couple sitting next to us at the bar.  Don't judge.)  The beer that I was most exited to try was the IPA that has reached cult status across the country, Jai Alai.  Let's just say that I wasn't disappointed.  I ended up leaving the tasting room with a six pack of the espresso brown ale and a six pack of this impressive IPA (that was bottled just two days prior.  Score!)  I also tried to convince them that they needed to bottle the Berliner Weiss, so if you should suddenly see this nectar on the shelves down in the sunshine state, you'll know exactly who to thank.  I accept small bills and large pours.
This is probably the prettiest IPA that I've encountered in a long time.  But I think all the praise has gone to it's head.

My Jai Alai poured a golden amber liquid that seemed to glow from the inside out when held to the light.  It was slightly hazy, giving the color a bit of  depth and character.  A huge, fluffy two finger head emerged with just a shade off white foam that created an amazing crust of thick lacing all around the pint glass.  If you've read any of my previous posts (and if you haven't, now's a good time to catch up.  We'll wait.) I love a good lace show and this IPA certainly didn't disappoint.  The head lasted for most of the drink, eventually settling down to a thick, creamy surface layer. I don't know if it was because the can I opened was extremely fresh or if this beer just has some magic to it, but the aroma of the IPA was enticing and very seductive.  I notice that many of the Cigar City beers that I was lucky enough to sample had a great noses on them.  I found it very impressive that the brewers made the aroma of their beers such a priority.   On this brew, I could smell the dominant grapefruit notes right away, followed up quickly by qualities of tropical fruits and a bit of resin.  The sweetness of malt helped to round out the scent nicely.  The taste followed the nose, but more intensely.  The grapefruit forward flavors gave the taste a satisfying feeling of freshness and  purity (try not to take that as pretentiously as it sounds.  Those are just the two words that came to mind with my first sip.) I noticed the subtle notes of the pineapple, mandarin orange and possibly mango just under the citrus.  A nice supply of malt sweetness blended in on the swallow just as the resin flavor emerges.  The mouthfeel was medium with an almost creaminess to it without being syrupy or full.  Lots of carbonation helped to dry the brew out and make it extremely drinkable.  The finish was moderate, the resin on the tail was unmistakable, but didn't really linger.

Fluffy, soft clouds of foam.  I know of some stouts that would be jealous of this lace show.
It also settles almost like a stout.  Florida already claims Florida Weiss as their own.  Could this be a Florida Stout?

A well crafted IPA can be an extremely food friendly sort of brew.  The grapefruit freshness of Jai Alai lends itself to a slew of tasty pairings.  I'd serve it with a slightly sweet tropical, yet still spicy, dish such as jerk chicken  with a side of grilled pineapple.  This IPA would also pair wonderfully with a favorite summer meal of  fish tacos with tropical fruit salsa.  But lets face it, the ultimate meal is exactly what you might think, a simple & delicious pressed cuban sandwich, full of ham, roast pork and pickles.  That's my idea of beer & food Nirvana.  And while today my cuban sandwich may be made by a guy named Pete at my local Mariano's grocery store and my Jai Alai share a shelf with bombers of Chicago's finest, all I have to do is close my eyes and imagine that I'm back in the heart of historic Ybor.  I do wonder exactly how the nose and flavor profile will change as this IPA ages.  I imagine that it'll still be a great IPA, but maybe no longer a magnificent one.  I'm not sure if I'm willing to risk one of my precious few cans to find out. Next time I fly down to visit the cousins, I'm going to have to leave more room in my suitcase for CCB offerings.  I love my shoes, but a girl has to have her priorities straight after all.

Monday, August 12, 2013

New Glarus Brewing's Thumprint Berliner Weiss

  • Style: Berliner Weiss
  • ABV: New Glarus doesn't generally release their ABV, but many Beliner Weisses are under 5% (most hovering around 3%) and I don't see this one as being an exception to the norm
  • Ease to locate:  You know the drill.  Ease to find if you live or can travel to Wisconsin (or know someone who lives or travels to WI.  It's good not to be a hermit, my friends.).  For the rest of you, I'm working on a scratch and sniff version of this blog.  It should be ready in 2 to a zillion years.  Meanwhile, here's their beer finder
  • Color: clear, lightly golden, straw yellow with hints of pale green.  So pretty.
  • Head: Two finger white foamy head that leaves fluffy lacing
  • Aroma: Sour scent of fermented grapes, tart notes of wheat grains, sweet cereal grains and a layer of lemon zest acidity 
  • Mouthfeel: Light and effervescent
  • Finish: Long and dry with a pleasant lemony taste lingering on the tail of the sip
  • Food friendly: Light summer meals.  Consider dishes that would normally get paired with a white wine (think Pinot Grigio or Prosecco) such as chicken, white fish and cream based pasta dishes.  Try it with buttery cheeses like brie to cut through the creaminess of the cheese

Never say never.  Yes, its an awesome Bond flick. Also apparently, a what I can only assume is an unbearable, Justin Beiber "song".  And yeah, I put the word song in quotation marks. Just because it has systematically arranged letters set to random musical notes doesn't necessarily make it a song.  (Please don't mention the quotation marks thing on Twitter.  I understand that Beiber owns all of Twitter.)  But more than an excuse to watch Sean Connery being his suave, Scottish self, it's a good rule to live by in general.  I thought that I hated sour beers.  Last year at a beer event during Chicago Craft Beer Week, someone handed me a tasting glass and told me to try what was in it.  Let me just say, you really ought to give a girl a heads up before she is going to try a sour beer for the first time.  And up to the beginning of this summer, I hadn't touched one since.  My connection in Wisconsin smuggled me back a four pack of New Glarus' Berliner Weiss in May because, well, that's what connections tend to do.  I, in my ignorance, didn't know what a Berliner Weiss was.  But I did know that I like shiny red foil and that I definitely love New Glarus.  I enjoyed my first snifter.  And greedily coveted my second third and sixth bottle (luckily connections also get you more of the good stuff if you ask politely.)  Imagine my surprise when I did a bit of research and discovered that it was a dreaded sour.  And thus the gateway to Sours opened and swallowed my soul.

                                                                         I can't quote Army of Darkness and not post a clip.  To be relevant, you can imagine that I'm Ash and my snifter is the Boomstick.  Shop Smart.  Shop S-Mart.

German in origin, Berliner Weiss is a relatively obscure beer that is beginning to make a current foothold in the American craft beer market.  Back in the 19th century, it was considered one of the most popular beers in Berlin (I'm going to let you figure out just how it got it's name.  Try not to strain yourself.)  It's brewed with a quarter to fifty percent of wheat grains. Traditionally the beer is soured in a bottle conditioned second fermentation or by the introduction of a bacteria called Lactobacillus (which is a strain that converts sugar to lactic acid. Also used in making yogurt or sourdough bread.  Now you know and knowing is half the battle.)  It's known for being highly carbonated and often contains sediment (second fermentation in a bottle will do that to a fella.)   In Germany, it's common to add fruit syrup to the beer.  Luckily for me, American Berliner Weisses often brew their beers with fruit forward notes and take the DYI option out of the equation.  I was able to try a Guava Berliner Weiss made by Cigar City in June that made me consider a move to Tampa just to have a second glass.  Then I remembered that I'd probably be expected to root for the Dolphins if I lived  there.  Not.  Gonna. Happen. 

Maybe it's the snifter, but it just looks refreshing, right?
My Berliner Weiss poured a relatively clear, lightly golden, straw yellow liquid.  There was a hint of very pale green around the edges when held to the light.  It sported a pure white, two finger head that left huge fluffy lacing all around the glass.  The head itself fell gently to the surface after a few minutes and disappeared a bit less than midway through the drink.  The lacing, however, stuck around for a while in all of it soap bubble gorgeousness.  It sort of reminded me of sunshine in a glass.  Just so summery and refreshing to look at.  I could smell the sour scent of fermented white grapes easily, but not overpoweringly so by any means.  The tart aroma of wheat and some bready yeast reminded me that this was definitely a wheat based beer.  The sweetness from cereal grains balanced out the sour aroma.  There was a well placed a zip of acidity from lemon zest that rounded out the aroma nicely.  As expected, the taste followed the nose note for note.  It was sweeter than I had expected (from my previous experience with sours at least) but the sour grape quality made no bones that this was a sour beer. The fermented wheat gave the needed tartness to water down a puckered mouth, but was also nicely balanced by the brightness from the lemon zest.  Abundant carbonation helped to keep the mouth feel light and fizzy.  A long, pleasant finish lingered, ending with a bit of citrus on the tongue.

Soapy, fizzy, foamy bubbles.  The best kind.
They have good heads on their shoulder's at New Glarus.
 I have seen the light and it is truly refreshing.  There is a huge part of me that feels foolish for not embracing the world of Sour beer because of a bad (horrible, life questioning, not to be overly dramatic but possibly made me consider just playing it safe and drinking only Blue Moons from now on) experience with just one.  There's an even bigger part that's very glad that I gave New Glarus a chance to usher me into the fold with such a warm weather friendly beer.  I would serve this Berliner Weiss with lighter foods, such as summer salads or creamy pasta dishes (pasta with salmon and cream sauce  and a simple garden salad with balsamic dressing? Yes, please.  More.)  I'm not a fan of avocados personally, but I think that this beer would also pair wonderfully (and cut through the fruit's creaminess) with this salad of chicken, avocados and oranges.  But even on it's lonesome self, this is a damn fine beer to while away a summer's afternoon.  New Glarus, my taste buds are forever in your debt. 

And as a footnote, I have tickets to a large beer fest this Saturday and, for the first time, I plan on actively seeking out Sour beers to sample there.  In fact, I'll be checking out as many interesting beers of all styles as well as all the up & coming local breweries as I (and my dainty little tasting glass) can possible handle.   I'm be posting real time updates on this blog's FaceBook page through out the afternoon Saturday.  I may even tweet (as long as you guys haven't turned King Beiber against me.  Loose lips, people.)   Check it out if you're interested.       

Monday, August 5, 2013

Spiteful Brewing's Mrs. O'Leary's Chocolate Mlk Stout

  • Style: Milk Stout
  • ABV: 7%
  • Ease to locate: Spiteful is a new brewery (my batch was #27) who still deliver some of their beers by bicycle.  So lets just say Chicagoland.  Here's a link to their twitter page, but beer menu might be easier.  I noticed that they restocked the shop where I bought their last bottle.  I feel better now.
  • Color: Dark blackish brown.  Thick and dense.
  • Head: 1 finger dark tan head, slowly settles to a uniform layer.  Soft lacing that leaves a shallow ring.
  • Aroma: Milk chocolate tempered by bitter roasted coco beans.  Some lactose sweetness and a slight hint of coffee.  
  • Mouthfeel: Slightly thick and lush, but with lots of carbonation to lighten the load.  Not as heavy as other milk stouts, which makes it nice for summer.
  • Finish: Medium in length with a bitter, earthy tail that lingers a bit.  Slightly dry.
  • Food friendly: Not really.  It's light so you could pair it with the typical sweet stout desert options such as berry forward cakes.  Since there is an earthiness to it, I suggest trying it with a bit of spicy barbeque.  Serve this with buttery cheese, such as Swiss.

Chicago is a city built on a foundation of myths and stories.  It's one of the many reasons that I love this city of mine.  I think that most people have heard of the Great Chicago Fire and the aftermath of it's uncontrollable destruction.  It's interesting to take a walk around downtown Chicago and see exactly where the fire burned.  Many are shocked to discover how small an area the city proper actually was back then.  If you ever find yourself on the corner of Randolph and Washington (pretty much where the Goodman Theater stands) check out the building sitting on the East corner.  That's one of the few buildings that survived the fire.  It's a McDonalds today.  Progress, huh?  The O'Leary barn where the possibly chorus-line inspired cow was once housed?  It's the Chicago Fire Academy training grounds today.  Somebody alert Altantis Morriset of the irony.  On October 8, 1871, the day just after the fire brought the city to it's knees, business men were on trains to New York to drum up support for rebuilding.  And rebuild we did.  That's something that isn't a myth about Chicago.  We have an innate, nose to the grind stone, not going to quit if its the last thing I do, cowboy-up sort of  attitude. 

                                                                                                        What really happened.  Moo.

Spiteful Brewing is another young Chicago brewery. One of the special things that I've noticed about Chicago breweries is their can do attitude.  Sure, nano breweries all over the states have hard workers.  I doubt that most of these places could survive if they didn't.  But Chicago brew workers seem to have a special sort of attribute that goes beyond nose to the grindstone.  While their nose is rubbing up against that spinning grain crushing wheel, they have their tongue planted firmly in cheek and a resourceful mind turning even quicker that that wheel.  And that's why we get to enjoy such a wide and ever changing variety of beers from places like Pipeworks, Beygle, DryHop and yes, Spiteful.  It's sort of like Chicago's weather when you stop and think about it.  If you don't like the weather right now, just wait a minute.  If you aren't blown away by what's in your glass, one of those guys will have another variety on the shelves before you can complain about your drain pour.
You know. I'm betting that poor Mrs. O'Leary probably could have used one or three of these after the little "incident"
My Mrs. O'Leary's Chocolate Milk Stout poured a dark, blackish brown.  It reminded me of the color of shoe polish that my dad used to smear on his wingtips when I was a kid.  It was rather dense and thick looking.  The one finger, mocha colored, spongy head slowly settled to a uniformly shallow film for most of the drink.  Soft, styrofoam like lacing left a slight ring around the pint glass.  I could smell the heavy aroma of milk chocolate tempered by a bit of roasted caco beans.  The sweet scent of lactose and just a hint of coffee rounded out this stout.  The taste was very similar.  The dominant note of milk chocolate was rich and sweet.  The lactose sweetness could have easily put this milk stout over the tooth rotting top if it hadn't been tempered by some bitterness.  Much like Richard Dent did for Walter Payton on the '85 Bears, the layered notes of roasted coffee and toasted grains gave this beer the needed harshness to balance out all that sweetness. A lovely bit of earthy hops kicked in on the tail as well.  The mouthfeel was creamy and lush, but the abundant carbonation lightened the feel up considerable.  It's difficult to find a decent milk stout for Summer weather, but the lower ABV (for a milk stout at least) and high fizziness make it perfect for when it's in he 80's and you crave something chocolately to imbibe in.  The finish was a bit dry because of the scrubbing bubble effect and medium in length.  The bitter, earthy hop flavor lingered ever so lightly on the tail, setting you up for the next mouthful.
I sort of wonder what ever happened to the O'Leary cow after the fire.

I'd like to think that she got to retire some place warm & sunny.  Maybe Kansas City.
Milk stouts aren't generally easy to pair with food.  The milk chocolate sweetness doesn't lend itself to many culinary options outside of deserts.  Try it with a vanilla cake smothered in gobs of whipped cream and fresh berries. Because this milk stout is lighters than many of its kin, I think it might even work with a lightly spiced barbeque chicken, the hit of cayenne and paprika working together to counteract any overt sweetness in the beer or in the sauce.   I also believe that this might just be the perfect beer to use in a beer float.  Grab a giant mug, scoop or two your favorite vanilla ice cream in it and find a gorgeous summer night to enjoy it on. Just watch out for rouge, low laying lanterns.