Saturday, March 31, 2012

Drink First -- Read Later--The Art of Beer Guest Post

Here's a little treat for you guys today. You're so spoiled! An online friend of mine known as The Art of Beer agreed to write down some thoughts on beer reviews and how to approach them. She also provided a few cool pictures that I sprinkled throughout her article. You can check out her blog here, but only after you check out this article. OK?

Drink First – Read Later

I can remember the day when I bought a bottle of wine because the label caught my eye.  Some of my picks were delicious, some not so much.  The fun part was experimenting and learning about something new.  In most cases I was not going into the experience with a preconceived notion of what it would taste like.  Sure I read Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.  But I didn’t carry copies around in my purse to reference as I shopped.   I made mental notes when reading and relied on my memory or my famous attraction to labels when making my choices.  Now there’s App for that!

To frame this point in the beer world, just look at how Social Media has exploded in the past few years.  The World Wide Web is flooded with information about all the brilliant craft breweries and the business of craft brewing in the United States.   

Want to learn what the best beer is or where the best place to drink beer is in a city you are going to visit? - Ask the Twitter Universe and you can get some great answers about what beers to sample and the best places to sample them.

Curious about a new brewery that is being distributed in your area? _ Go to Beer Advocate or Rate Beer to find out what the unwashed masses are saying about their beers.

Wondering if that bottle of  “Double-Dutch, Upside Down, Donkey Bladder Aged,  Nano Brew” is worth $48 for a bomber?  - Search Beer Blogs for reviews on the beer

The resources available are tremendous.  Now comes the tricky part…a lot of what you are reading is the “opinion” of a person or an organization. Some people are clearly more credible than others but don’t mistake popularity with validity when it comes to taste.  With something as subjective as beer, how do you wade through the rhetoric and find answers that help you make decisions?  Should you even check what people think before trying the beer?  In most cases I like to drink the beer first --- read reviews later.   It makes for really fun reading if you genuinely liked the beer and you find the armchair beer critics bashing the hell out of it.

How do you actually know if “SDNanoBeerExpertGuru”  (made-up – I swear) is really an expert?   Why would “he” ever taste a pencil eraser or how does “she” know what wild boar urine smells like?  I don’t know about you but I have never actually tasted sunshine nor do I make it a habit to sit with a Thesaurus, coming up with bizarre descriptives.  Taste is subjective and largely based on how experienced your nose is.   The more you sniff in life, the bigger your reference library becomes and the more defined your palate is.  To coin a phrase my father often used;  “Somewhere in the middle lies the truth” and when it comes to beer, the truth is really what your palate decides it should be.

I am not saying that reading beer reviews is a bad habit.  On the contrary, it is entertaining, thought provoking and at times eye-opening.  They can stimulate your own creativity and help you find words to describe what you taste, smell and feel when drinking a beer.  The key is in sorting the information and knowing how to use it or in a lot of cases, NOT use it.  As much as I enjoy reading reviews, make no mistake about the fact that I would rarely skip a beer based on the negative reviews of strangers.  I tend to try a beer first and then read what others think about it.  This can be an enlightening approach and one I highly recommend.  

Who should you listen to?

There are several beer people that I share similar tastes with.  If one of them gives rave reviews about a new beer or a recent vintage of an existing beer, of course I will take notice.  After a few years comparing notes with these folks, I have developed a respect for their opinion but there are definitely times when I do not share their view and I am sure they would say the same about me.   I enjoy comparing notes with these people and I have respect for their experience.   I also seek out certain beers based on positive comments from the people I respect.

As craft beer choices become more accessible, it becomes harder to decide which beers to try, but the good news is that there are heaps of beautifully crafted beers available in most states nowadays.  Beer trading is a practice I advocate greatly for.   I can say with all sincerity that there are some wonderful folks out there that take great pride in sharing their local favorites with people in other areas.  There is nothing more gratifying, in my humble opinion, than shipping off some local beer to a person you like and respect in another area.  Sharing what you love makes for good beer karma and paying it forward is what I love most.

How do you choose beer?

As the Craft Brewing industry grows, it will become more difficult to make choices just because the volume of choices will become overwhelming.  Keep your ear to street. Listen closely for “positive” buzz.  Those that show respect for breweries and brewers are always people I will pay attention to.  Try your best to tune out those who bash breweries and spout insults about brewers.  These people are doing nothing to advance the craft brewing industry and chances are pretty good they have a poisoned palate. .  For every rare/hyped beer out there, there are dozens of lesser-known but equally well made beers out there.  Take pride in sharing information that help those beers get recognized.

Now… kick back with a new beer and make your notes about what you taste and what you think.  Then…go out and search the reviews to see what others are saying.  Take note of the folks that share your view of the beer and save for future comparisons.  Have a good laugh reading the nasty reviews of the "mom’s basement dwellers".  It’s cheaper than cable and at times more entertaining!  Last but not least, share your positive finds with friends using social media.  Champion good beers and give props to the brewers that make them.

Xoxo – TheArtofBeer

Friday, March 30, 2012

Black Metal Farmhouse Imperial Stout

Today I'm drinking Black Metal Farmhouse Imperial Stout brewed by Jester King Craft Brewery in Austin, Texas. First and foremost, thanks to my traveling coworker for bringing this back from a Houston business trip. It ain't easy packing four wine-sized bottles in your carry-on. (He didn't). Anyway, the silver and black colors and makeup on the Gene Simmons KISS wannabe on the front are pretty cool. I did a little research (Google Images) to find that the face painting on this guy is a little different (and he probably doesn't have quite the tongue either). But I bet he's in a KISS cover band for sure!

Another reason to like the label is that it goes the entire way around the bottle. No real estate is wasted for communicating their message to you. There is a story panel that lets you know this beer has many aliases and talks about it being a "punishing brew". Read the rest to your left. The third panel gives you the ingredients and suggests you drink this between 57 and 61°F from a horn. I didn't have a horn, though I am considering this pair of horns from Amazon for next time (affiliate link).

I am halfway into the wine bottle. I am not sure how, but I'm a little buzzed too, a little surprising for me at only half of a 9% alcohol bottle, even of this size. But luckily I already wrote down most of my thoughts. Pardon any really bad jokes though.

I like the head, which I almost never comment about. It is a light brown, mocha-colored fluffy fun head. LOL. Nice aroma--cocoa powder and plums, fairly rich, with some nutty and hoppy contributors. Cocoa flavors are first but are coupled with distinct Belgian yeast qualities. Plums and dark cherries. Smoke, roasted malt, wood. Some flat coffee flavors, too, which I didn't love. Pretty complex beer for sure.

There are a few other flavors that I found most interesting. I'm not sure if I've ever used the word leather in a review. Probably, but likely I was making fun of someone for using it. But for real, this beer has a flavor like church shoes. The second interesting flavor is salt. This beer tastes salty. Finally, a little sourness creeps into the picture mid-bottle. I didn't notice that at first, but just a touch of that is here. Not sure I really loved any of these, but I think they are fun to talk about.

The 9% alcohol provided a little heat in the throat, but mostly just got me buzzed. Not a bad beer with plenty of nice flavors. I personally think there is too much going on in this beer and that some of the components collide rather than marry each other. I also think it's missing a little sweetness as the hoppy bitterness is a factor. But it is definitely different than your typical imperial stout. The label does say, "we brew what we like... and offer the rest to those who share our tastes." Thanks for sharing, Jester King! I will be back.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Samuel Adams Whitewater IPA

Today I'm drinking Samuel Adams Whitewater IPA brewed by The Boston Beer Company in Boston, Cincinnati or Breinigsville, Pennsylvania. This is a wheat IPA brewed with apricots and spices. That's pretty interesting. The label shows a rushing stream hidden in the woods amongst some trees and giant letters and banners that spell SAMUEL ADAMS WHITEWATER IPA. Enjoy before August, 2012.

Orange citrus and faint apricot aroma. Also wheat and sourdough bread. The flavors begin much the same. Orange citrus and pine are very prominent and dominant in the beginning, but the bitterness level is something you may not have guessed by the bouquet. This is really bitter, like chewing on a grapefruit rind. The wheat is also plays a big role, flavor and texture-wise.

There is a sour, doughy, malty aspect that tries to balance out the bitterness, but instead it is a little unpleasant and enhanced by some upper-level, aggressive, biting carbonation. A bit puckering and astringent. And a dry 5.8% alcohol finish--I was surprised the content was that low for as much as it showed. Not terrible and I really was in love with the combo idea this beer presented. I just didn't think it tasted that good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Whole Foods Pembroke Pines Grand Opening

I'm going to write about the Whole Foods Pembroke Pines Grand Opening somewhere else in a little bit, and I'll link it here when I do. But I thought it would be worthwhile to show you a few beer photos from inside. BTW, I made the first beer purchase for this store. 9:05 am, 5 minutes after opening. A six pack of Lagunitas Imperial Red was the only thing I purchased. Mom would be so proud!

Honestly, though, I probably would have purchased more if the parking lot wasn't completely mobbed by thousands of crazed people, marching bands, cheerleaders, cameramen, the Mayor's entourage, etc, etc. Walking the quarter mile back to my car with one sixer was already too much.

Let's see. As you saw, I didn't stay too long, but some quick local points of interest. Torpedo 12-packs are on sale until April 20ish for $10.99. Forget Publix if you love that one like I do. They also have Lagunitas Imperial Red (as you read above) and Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, both of which have been long gone from the Total Wine up the road. I guess that stock probably won't last though so get on it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dos Costas Oeste Lemon Wood

Today I'm drinking Dos Costas Oeste aged on Lemon Wood. This is a collaboration beer between The Bruery and Cigar City Brewing, brewed by Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida. I enjoyed and reviewed the version aged on Grapefruit Wood about six weeks ago as well. The label on the wine-sized bottle again depicts a map of the US with a winding path from California to Florida, brewery to brewery.

Nice aroma with bright lemon and orange citrus standing out. Yeast is also a very noticeable factor in the bouquet. Flavors are also great from the beginning. Fruity, juicy orange and sweet candied lemon rind are really terrific. Upper-level carbonation contributes to the experience from the start, creamy and with some zip.

Honey flavors and sweetness usher in the spices listed on the bottle, though I taste the coriander much more than the ginger. The spices nicely knock down the sweetness a bit. Fruit and citrus persist throughout. The 9% alcohol is well-disguised but really steps up when it comes to accentuating the fruit flavors. A little heat too.

Yeast is there. Same with light funk. But both are really tame and definitely not wild. Was hoping for a little more Saison funky qualities in my glass. I guess if you try, you can find some wood, though I'd have never guessed lemon wood. However, there is a ton of lemon flavor in the beer, so I guess that's the source. A bit sugary and even sweeter with warmth, which is why I preferred it a little more toward the beginning. Also, a little dry at the end. Very nice beer! Highly enjoyable!

Speaking of Cigar City, I bumped into the very sexy Phil fka @DosBeerigos at Total Wine yesterday. In fact, we bumped into each other right at the same spot we first met a few years back, by the classroom. How romantic! Phil works for Cigar City now. Feel free to stop by the new Whole Foods in Pembroke Pines this Saturday 3/31/12 for a beer tasting. If you say "Beer Drinker Rob" to Phil, you wont win anything, but you will get a priceless smile. Guaranteed!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Troegs HopBack Amber Ale, Pale Ale, Java Head

While I was on vacation a few weeks ago, my brother and I managed to polish off a case composed of four different Troegs six packs: HopBack, Pale Ale, Java Head and Dream Weaver. HopBack was my favorite!

I wrote down a few thoughts though I was paying more attention to a lot of other things. Drank it from the bottle too. So there!

Nice citrus and pine flavors to start. Nice spicy zing. Caramel flavors add some balance. I would have sworn it was an IPA. Massively refreshing.

Hoppy, floral bitterness. Tastes very fresh. Citrus lemon. Balanced by some bready malts. Nice beer. Very enjoyable.

I would have sworn I had Java Head before, but I can't find anything on the site. So I guess I'll go with I haven't tried it.

Strong coffee aroma, surprise. Coffee flavors dominate all others, roasted to the point of being burnt. My brother didn't like that aspect, so I drank most of this sixer. A little nutty and hoppy too. Nice creamy texture. Not bad.

I didn't take a picture of Dream Weaver but I did review that one before. You can read about it here. I again thought it was a very nice beer and was glad to check it out as part of the mixed case.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer

Today I'm drinking Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer brewed by Mercury Brewing Company in Ipswich, Massachusetts. (Speaking of Massachusetts, you guys see that Boston Beer made a Boston Marathon beer and wont share it with the rest of the country? Pfft! LOL.) Anyway, Vampire Slayer is their American Imperial Stout. I'm sure you remember the rave review I gave of their Russian Imperial Stout just a few weeks ago, right?

So Vampire Slayer as a name? Yeah, I was thinking that too. Pretty tame for a brewery that usually combines words that don't go together or makes them up to suit their needs. I guess the fact that they are calling this their Second Anniversary Ale might make them want to be a little more normal. You know, so when they look back in 20 years they aren't like WTF!

The art work depicts a guy wearing jeans and enormous Clown Shoes putting a stake through a Vampire's heart. Unfortunately the room is only candlelit and the artwork is much too dark. I get that it's supposed to be dark in there, but for the purpose of showing us what's going on, they need to brighten it up a little. Even sex scenes in dark bedrooms in movies are well lit, if you catch my rationale. There is a story on the side which you can read below, but my favorite part is that they brewed this with Holy Water and malt smoked with Vampire Killing Stakes. Haha. Bottled 2/2012.

Nice cocoa and smoke combo for an aroma. Sweet chocolate and dark cherry flavors are most prominent at the beginning. The smoke is instantly noticeable too, but thankfully it is nuanced and not overdone. There are actually more roasted malty flavors than smokey ones, and no char or burnt flavors to be found, again a positive comment. Wood, toffee, plums, licorice--just a few of the nuances that you will taste as you drink your way through Big 22.

I mentioned those secondary flavors above. The 10% alcohol really does a good job bringing those to the forefront. Yes, there's a little booze and heat in the chest, but this beer tastes deceptively weaker than the stated alcohol content.

After drinking the entire bottle and looking back, I was at first going to say this was on the sweet side. But by the end of the bottle, a hoppy profile started to stand out. And along with the alcohol and light bitterness from the roast, I feel this beer was pretty well balanced.

Good body, clean, not syrupy. Lacing was really terrific if that's one of your fetishes. And you know what? I could really taste the Holy Water and effects of smoking over Vampire Killing Stakes. Mmm. Really nice beer, though I give an edge to the Russian Imperial Stout. Darn Ruskies! :)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale 2012

Today I'm drinking Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale 2012 brewed by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. This beer is an annual favorite of many people and will be my fourth year checking it out on this blog. I think I have a few bottles from years past stowed away in my man cave (top shelf in one corner of wife's closet). One day I'll go find that.

The label is the same. A simple mountain scene turns dangerous for a scared ass and nosy mountain dweller. Yep, they are about to meet Bigfoot who is lurking in the nearby forest.

Caramel and toffee aroma, with some hoppy orange swirled in too. Sweet Caramel... Meet Hoppy Pine... You'll be playing together this afternoon! The citrus orange and spicy hoppy flavors are really terrific. And at the same time the thick and chewy caramel and bready malt base coats and sticks to the palate. Bigfoot isn't overly bitter or too sweet. It's also not a neutral balanced beer. Rather, you get great play from both aspects individually, and the interaction is awesome.

Body and carbonation are good. The end shows some of the 9.6% alcohol, a little heat and booze, but very well incorporated and not annoying. Nice flavors throughout which linger long after each sip is gone. This is an excellent beer and a classic to check out year after year.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cuvée René Gueuze Lambic

Today I'm drinking Cuvée René Gueuze Lambic brewed by Brouwerij Lindemans in Vlezenbeek, Belgium. I can't say for sure if I've ever tried a Gueuze before, but I'm about to drink a wine bottle of this one. I've had this one in the fridge for a few months, apparently even desirable as this beer "improves in bottle with age". What I can't figure out though is why the label says it was Bottled 18 AUG 2012. Yes, I looked a dozen times to make sure that it really was bottled in the future (today is 3/19/12). Amazing! Like some Michael J Fox movie or something.

Capped and corked. Apple cidery, tart and sour, fruity aroma. Holy shit is this sour! I was expecting some of that but was still caught off guard a bit. Lemon and sour apples are super dominant in the beginning, like nothing else even exists. For as sour as this started, the fruitiness is very soft and light and pleasant, floating on that sour sea. The apples really stand out with the effervescent and bubbly carbonation. There is a definite Champagne quality to this beer.

The tart and sourness does grow on you, and your palate will manage to get a grip with reality (there's 20 more ounces to go). But with each sip, the flavors burst in your mouth. Vinegar, sour apple, little sharp jabs. Thinking about this beer, it's not really overly complex--not a knock, just that I thought that might be the case before starting. Nice fruitiness, very tart and sour. Light body, really refreshing.

As the beer warms, I do start to detect a little bit of funky damp clothes-type aromas and flavors, too. Check it out when you can and let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nugget Nectar

Last week I had a case of Troegs' Nugget Nectar in my hands. Because the stupid Distributor laws in PA say the guy couldn't sell me less than a case, I had to decide whether the two days left in my vacation was enough time to make the purchase worthwhile. I left without buying any beer, only to go home to the tired old leftover Yuenglings. (I did discover Booker's Bourbon in those final two days, so all was not lost!) There would always be another year to perhaps try Nugget Nectar, right?

Well on the way out of town, we stopped by PNC Park for a few pictures and lunch. After trying the East End Big Hop on tap, I asked for a bottle of Nectar Nugget, as SoHo's menu listed the beer. I told the server about the reversal of words and she said, "I'll be sure to let them know". I'm pretty sure she rolled her eyes when she walked away. Stupid beer geek! LOL.

So I finally got to try this beer. After I poured it, I had to ask the same server to leave the bottle for just a few more minutes so I could read it and take a picture. Stupid beer geek! My big burger came just then as well.

This is the same number of fans Three Rivers used to get when I was growing up!

Hoppy aroma but not too strong. Much hoppier flavors and bitterness right from the start, though. The hops are actually quite spicy, with a rye kind of black pepper spiciness jabbing at the palate. There is definitely a caramel malty balance, but the bitterness is the star throughout. Delicious!

After a handful of sips and writing my tasting notes, I dug into my lunch. My Black and Bleu Burger had some hard-core spicy crust on it that actually drowned out the rest of this beer experience. It could have been any beer and I regret not drinking the entire bottle alone first. Oh well. See you again in 2 or 3 more years, Nugget Nectar!