Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer Beer Round-Up #3: Brooklyn Summer Ale

I realize that each of the beers in this series so far has come from a can, but that’s just the nature of summer beers these days.  Good for the beach, the pool (you don’t want glass bottles anywhere near a pool deck, just ask Amanda) or hiking. They’re easy to carry in and once the liquid is imbibed, the cans are easily crushed and recycled.

The third beer in this summer beer round-up is Brooklyn Summer Ale. Again, I’m not sure why I’ve never picked up this beer before now, but it is a remarkably refreshing and flavorful beer for summer. Very dry and earthy with a slight hint of citrus (from the hops, not added citrus) and a bready graininess through the finish. This beer is a little more rounded at 5% ABV. Some summer beers clock in a little lower, but I appreciate the slightly higher alcohol content which can stand up to food a little better than its lighter counterparts.

While I have no problem with summer beers brewed with citrus fruits and other “summery” additions, it’s nice to see a warm-weather beer that stands on its own without those flourishes. Brooklyn Summer Ale is a great example of a summer beer that lets beer’s four main ingredients do their job.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer Beer Round-Up #2: Sixpoint Apollo

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that, in fact, Apollo is a Kristalweizen (a filtered Hefeweizen). This comes as a bit of a shock, as all four cans that I sampled earlier this spring appeared somewhat hazy with at least a little "hefe" in suspension. Maybe the wheat was playing tricks on me.


This week’s summer beer comes from Sixpoint Brewery.  Their new summer seasonal comes in the form of a traditional Bavarian Hefeweizen Wheat Beer.

Sixpoint Apollo is refreshing (in more ways than one).  While I truly enjoy mashing things up a bit when it comes to traditional styles, I also find it somewhat daring for a brewery these days to release a beer that has nothing to stand between it and long tradition.

Sixpoint Apollo stands up to that tradition and does not disappoint.  It pours a cloudy, golden-yellow with a large off white head. Banana and clove are present in both aroma and flavor with an amazingly tart and refreshing quality through the finish.

Next time I pick this one up I’ll make certain to pair it with some weisswurst and mustard. Very well done.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Summer Beer Round-Up #1: Narragansett Summer Ale

Beer and summer are meant for each other. Over the next several weeks, I’ll take a look at a few summer beers that I think epitomize the relationship.

First up: Narragansett Summer Ale

First things first, who doesn’t enjoy a 16 ounce can? One full pint of beer. And the price for a six-pack is by far the best deal you’ll get on 96 ounces of crisp, refreshing beer this summer. I’m not sure why I looked passed this beer last year, but I did, so I’ve taken it upon myself to rectify this by drinking this beer weekly during the warmer months.

Brewed with 2-row pale malt and citra hops, the fizzy pour produces a lovely white cap of foam atop a golden-brilliance of effervescent liquid. Some lacing forms around the sides of the glass as the head falls into a wisp. Aroma is slightly citrusy, with hints of tropical fruit and mild grain. The flavor follows suit with plenty of hop character without being too overwhelming and licks of grain through the dryish finish.

A wonderful light summer beer at 4.2% ABV, this Blonde Ale will not be out of stock in my house until at least the middle of September…if they last that long. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Beer, not bombs.

I've been trying to find this picture for a while now.  It's a British Spitfire carrying beer to the troops in Normandy after the invasion.

I've often come to the defense of beer in comparison to wine and have used the argument that almost no army marched on purely wine, beer on the other hand was integral to the health and well-being of marching armies. Even the Romans when conquering the Gauls where unable to transport enough grapes for wine to the north and began to drink the indigenous beverage, even after the Emperor Julian declared beer to taste like a billy goat.

This could turn into a much larger entry, but as I thoroughly enjoy this image of warfare at its lightest, I thought you might too and leave it at that.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Slow Boat to Nantucket

Nantucket Sound in late April can be a little rough. The slow boat to Nantucket Island was skimming across a sea of white caps, bumping along in the early afternoon surf, spraying the bow in a light mist and producing several loud claps when a wave caught it at just the right moment. We had parked the car in Hyannis and walked aboard several hours earlier and were nearing our destination. We had been invited by our friend Janet to visit her for the weekend and to participate in the Annual Daffodil Parade, an event celebrating the arrival of Nantucket’s beautiful yellow flower each spring.

As I mentioned, the late afternoon crossing was appropriately nautical and the slow boat was, well, slow. Luckily the Steamship Authority had the good graces to allow the sale of beer aboard and I joyfully sipped a Pale Ale from John Harvard’s Brewery. Medium-bodied with just the right balance of sweet malt, earthiness and citrusy hops. John Harvard’s has a number of brewpub locations in the northeast including Harvard Square in Cambridge, but I was happy to find it on board, albeit in a biodegradable, compostable cup.

Janet greeted Amanda and me at the pier and whisked us across the island to drop our luggage at her apartment. The next morning Janet brought us to the Nantucket Wildflower Farm to secure our transportation for the day. The outside of the 1953 Chevrolet pickup truck was near immaculate, the inside and what could be found under the hood was not so much. After “punching” it a few time, Janet managed to get the truck sputtering to life as Amanda in her poodle skirt and me in my best Buddy Holly costume watched on.

Thankfully, the truck made it downtown where we filled the bed with the parade’s namesake flower and loaded half a dozen children into the back, attired in varying shades of 1950s dress.  I stepped inside the downtown beer and wine store to pick up a few bottles of beer for the picnic at the finish of the parade. Cisco Brewing Company is Nantucket’s only brewery and it only seemed appropriate to grab a few 22 ounce bottles of their Whale’s Tale Pale Ale for the festivities.  I tucked them into our cooler and surveyed the growing number of vintage cars spread across the cobbled main street.  When I returned to the truck it looked a little worse for wear under the weight of daffodils, peanut butter sandwiches and school children. There was some fear that the truck’s chassis couldn’t stand the pressure—that would prove to be the least of our worries, however.

Some announcement or other signaled that we’d be moving out soon and that all cars should prepare for the start of the parade. As lovely as our transport appeared, it did not wish to start, it was perfectly content at being ogled by the crowd and apparently it didn’t hear about the peanut butter sandwiches and beer we had planned at the finish. As each of the other cars revved and readied, our 1953 Chevy was on life-support, hooked up to a generator. The children stared as the other cars shuttled off, leaving a lonely green truck packed with daffodils.

It was eventually determined that the kill-switch hadn’t been engaged or that the flange hadn’t been aligned with the down-thruster or some such technical terminology, but the truck started and we were hurtling down the road. I was, in fact, holding on to the doorframe at the open window as it had been determined that I would be riding the running board.  This was a good plan if we had been slowly making our way with the other cars to the end of the island, but since we were trying to catch up to the pack from our slow start I held on for my life at what was most certainly a speed exceeding all reason.

We did manage to catch up with the other cars without me falling off into a sand dune and the rest of the afternoon was spent picnicking and talking with the other drivers. I popped open the Cisco Whale’s Tale, which went perfectly with the peanut butter sandwiches. Later that evening I order another at a local restaurant on draught, it poured a slightly hazy orange with a moderate off white head of foam, hints of caramel malt throughout with a slightly musty, herbal hoppiness through the finish. It had been a long day, but a lot of fun.

The light drizzle and overcast skies had disappeared by the next morning, replaced by a gentle sea breeze and brilliant sunshine. The temperature was just perfect and we made the drive out to the Cisco Brewery for a few beers.  When we visited, the bar at Cisco opened onto a patio with a number of tables and chairs positioned to accommodate a few dozen patrons. During this visit a brown dog strolled around walking in and out of the bar area to check on his guests. With the temperatures hovering in the lower 60s, I figured it would be a fine time to drink Cisco’s Moor Porter. From nitro into a biodegradable cup, the beer poured a deep, creamy brown with a soft mocha head.  Plenty of cocoa and coffee in the aroma with hints of caramel, grain and toffee, with a heavily roasted malt bitterness through the finish.

It might have been one of my favorite days of drinking beer. The temperature and atmosphere was simply perfect. We passed the time playing shut-the-box and chatting as the dog made his rounds and the bar guests sipped. While I knew the weekend was coming to a close, I took no notice of it, allowing the moment to take away the care that in the morning we had to leave. We bid farewell to the barkeep and the dog and the next day to Nantucket.  The crossing back to Hyannis was a bit kinder this time and it was smooth sailing all the way back to the harbor. It had been a remarkable weekend and one that I will always remember fondly. Good beer, good fun, good times.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"It takes a beer to make a thirst worthwhile."

I'll be conducting a German beer seminar on May 12 in Sudbury, MA.  Read about the styles we'll be drinking below. Click here for tickets.

When talking about the history of beer and beer culture, there is almost no other country as important to its development than that of Germany.  For centuries, Germany and its beers have been revered the world over for their depth of flavor and the purity of their ingredients. From light, crisp Pilsners to dark, malty Bocks, German style beers are some of the most unique and diverse, especially considering the limitations imposed by the 1516 beer purity law restricting the use of ingredients to malt, water, hops and yeast.In this class we’ll take a look at several German beer styles produced in Germany and the United States.

We’ll start with a beer that was considered the “Champagne of the North” by Napoleon’s invasion forces during his campaigns in Germany.  The Berliner Weisse style is a tart, quenching brew that is often mixed with sweet syrups to cut the acidity that develops from lactic fermentation. Once brewed by nearly 700 breweries in and around Berlin, this style is nearly extinct save for a few intrepid producers both domestic and international.

Then we’ll head west to the German city of Köln (Cologne) and a style of beer that was first produced in response to the rapid expansion of German Pilsner production. Kölsch is a top-fermenting ale brewed to a light, straw-colored hue. Almost always moderately hopped with just a touch of grain in the finish, the Kölsch style can be found year-round, but is often produced by domestic brewers as a light, summer seasonal.

Our next style was first produced in the Czech city of Pilsen and was quickly adopted by German brewers in their own style.  The German Pilsner differs somewhat from the Czech style, revealing a beer that is slightly hoppier with a crisp, dry finish and an abundance of Noble hops. This style would eventually find its way to North America with German immigrants and become the best-selling and most widely available style in the World, although today the style has been watered-down and the recipe corrupted over years of penny-pinching and a demand for mass-produced, flavorless, vaguely beer-flavored seltzer water.

In passed classes we’ve talked a little bit about the Southern German beer known as Hefeweizen.  This light, crisp and refreshing wheat beer is brewed in a few different variations including a dark style known as Dunkelweizen.  The flavor is very similar to Hefeweizen with notes of mild banana and spicy clove, the darker versions lend a certain breadiness that develops on the palate as an almost banana bread-like flavor.

Each year in the spring German brewers break out a style of beer that has become a rite of the season. The Maibock, named after the month in which it is typically served, is a sweetish, malt-dominant beer brewed with Noble German hops.  These beers are sometimes called Helles (Pale) Bock due to the lightness of color when compared to the typical dark-brown Bock. The alcoholic strength of these beers can vary somewhat, but are typically in the 6 – 7% range and are perfect beers to shake the remaining chill in the air that can sometimes lingering into the springtime months.

The Bavarian city of Bamberg is known for a style of beer that exhibits the flavors and aromas that are developed from wood smoked malts. These Rauchbier are intensely smoky with some of the maltier versions revealing the aromas and flavors of a sweet-glazed, smoked ham (not a joke). While these beers might not suit the palate of some, I have yet to find a beer better suited for barbecued ribs or smoked brisket.

Our final beer style was developed by accident, so the story goes, when a young apprentice brewer was moving barrels of beer from the winter cold back inside the brewhouse. In his haste, he carelessly overlooked a barrel of strong beer and it was left out in the cold.  In the morning it was discovered that the beer had frozen, but not completely.  A layer of ice had formed at the top of the barrel leaving the “ice-distilled” beer at the bottom. Since the water content had been frozen and removed, the remaining beer was of considerable strength. These so-called Eisbocks are still brewed today and still pack a considerable strength of alcohol.  These beers are more akin to a liqueur with a depth of flavor that can include notes of cocoa, intense fruitiness and brandy.  A perfect beer to pair with dessert, these beers are best served in a snifter and just lightly chilled.

We owe a lot to German beer producers and the styles they developed. In this class we pay tribute to just a handful of classic interpretations with a dozen or so left to explored for another day. I hope you’ll enjoy the styles we’ve chosen for this class, they are some of my favorites.  I’ll leave you with the German saying that “it takes a beer to make a thirst worthwhile,” I think you’ll find that after you’ve tried these beers that it most certainly does.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life..."

I’ve kind of been putting off writing about my beer experience in London.  To be honest, I simply went with the flow. Of course I took plenty of mental notes, but I guess I didn’t want to seem uncouth sitting in the pub scribbling. I did sniff, I did swirl, I did look at the pint, but I opted to do it a bit more covertly.  This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself, I did indeed, I guess I simply wanted to allow the beer and pub culture to wash over me instead of aggressively attacking it as I am apt to do.  Ultimately, I think I may have had a better time because of it.

My flight from Boston had a brief layover in Shannon, Ireland, just enough time for me to have a Guinness. I’ve heard from almost everyone who has ever had a Guinness in Ireland that it is a thousand times better than the Guinness we get in the US, so I was eager to test it out. It was morning in Ireland, but it was still quite late in Boston, so I justified my purchase by considering that somewhere in Boston a pint of Guinness was being poured at the same time as mine.

I’ve always been a firm believer that the enjoyment of something is directly related to where, when and how, so when I tell you that I thought the Guinness I had at the Shannon Airport DID taste better than anything I’ve had in the states, please understand that my anticipation, the fact that I was on vacation and the fact that I was in Ireland are all direct contributors to my enjoyment of the beer. It was a perfectly poured pint with just enough creamy foam on top. I savored it while I waited for my connecting flight to Heathrow.

The flight from Shannon to London was short and before I knew it I was on the train to the heart of London. I had quite a pack on my back as I hustled across Hyde Park towards Paddington and my hotel.  After getting somewhat lost I finally managed to find my hotel, which was conveniently located across the street for The Mitre pub, a venue I would visit frequently over the next few days.

As excited as I was to have a pint, I was much more excited to see the city. The plan was to forgo a Tube pass the first week since I’d be travelling to Paris in a few days. I zigzagged my way across London from Wellington Arch to SoHo and back again.  I was very tired, I had not slept very well on the flight and I was looking forward to an early first night. I ended up back at The Mitre, a Young’s Pub, where I got a freshly drawn pint of their Bitter and a plate of fish and chips. I enjoyed a couple other Young’s specialties including Young’s Double Chocolate Stout on nitro, smooth, creamy, chocolaty and a great end to a very long day.

I spent the next day visiting sights and popping into a pub here and there. Unfortunately, I happened to be in London at the time of the World Cup.  Many pubs would become frenzied at game time (which seemed like almost all the time).  Being an American, I have little interest in European football, so I sought refuge in a few “football free” pubs, a Godsend if I’m being honest. Fuller’s seemed to have a couple of these pubs scattered around the city and I had no problem popping in to get out of the sun (yes, there is sun in England), especially when I could find Fuller’s London Porter on cask—a beer I have enjoyed numerous times in bottles and on draught in the US—a revelation from a cask, however.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I headed off to Paris and that when I returned I was in classes for the good part of a week.  We had a few scheduled half days and of course we had the evenings free.  I made the best of these by visiting the British Museum, the National Gallery and strolling the street and along the banks of the Thames. I saw a lovely production of Macbeth as a member of the groundlings at The Globe and a stunning production of The Tempest at the Old Vic.

Near the end of the week I planned to meet up with my friend Alex for a proper British pub-crawl. I had mapped out a plan of attack, starting at what would become my favorite pub in the city. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is just off Fleet Street and a stone’s throw from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Rebuilt in 1667 after London’s Great Fire, this classic English pub is full of charm and character. With sawdust on the floor and a vaulted, whitewashed basement bar, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese serves up one of the best (and most inexpensive) pints of Samuel Smith’s Bitter in the city. Samuel Johnson was famous for having frequented Ye Cheese (and I mean frequented) as well as a host of other world-renowned literary figures. It was difficult for us not to spend the entire pub-crawl at this one location, but we moved on.  After a number of notable stops, we ended up at a pub near the Houses of Parliament drinking with a group of Australians.  Before too long it was time to pack it in and get some sleep, besides, the pub was closing!  We said goodnight to the Australians and jumped in a cab. As I walked through South Kensington it began to drizzle slightly.  The cool rain was refreshing as I made my way back to the dorms where I fell quickly to sleep.

I returned to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese the next day after picking up some tea for Amanda at Twinings and walking around Trafalgar Square. As I sipped a wonderfully drinkable nitro-Stout from Samuel Smith, I realized that this would not be the last time I would visit London.  As a fellow patron of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” I’ll certainly drink to that.