There's fresh. And there's REALLY fresh.

August 15, 2014 0 comments
I've sampled a lot of beers this summer, but one that really stood out is the Indigo Imp Blonde Bombshell that I picked up at the high-end market in town. It was smooth, very rich and clearly had the nose of a bottle-conditioned beer. But what struck me the most was the bright, yeasty- flavor that brought back some great memories.

Over 25 years ago, my wife and and I couldn't really afford much of a honeymoon, so we spent a weekend in Frankenmuth, Michigan - a great little town (cough-tourist trap) that offers some great places to visit and some great food.

At the time, they had a Carling Black Label brewery in town, we went on a tour and the fresh Black Label in the hospitality room was actually pretty good. Also in town was the little Frankenmuth Brewery, which offered two kinds of beer--regular pale lager and a dark beer.

I purchased a six-pack of the lager and took it back to Ohio with us. It was good, but what I remember most was the incredible, fresh, yeasty flavor--with which I was not familiar at all, and not found in any other beer I'd had at the time (this was 1983, after all). At the time, I later discovered that the strange, fruity taste I was experiencing was due to the still-active yeasts in the brew; I wasn't sure it was something I preferred, but it was a memorable taste, nonetheless.

That original Frankenmuth brewery is no more - it's been replaced by a new version, with much more sophisticated and higher-quality beers. But the yeasty brightness of this Indigo Imp bombshell brought it readily to mind. I still have my wax-sealed "imp" bottle in the fridge - I have a feeling  it will possibly improve with a month or more of aging - if I can resist drinking it a little longer.

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Summer Beer Roundup - Part One

Every summer,  my normal beer-drinking habits morph into something slightly more plebian - I generally gravitate towards lighter beers and ales, usually mixed with lemonade during hot afternoons lounging around the pool. That preference is supported by long experience; for some reason, Mexican-style beers like Corona, Modelo and even bottles of  Land Shark can be enjoyed in quantity on the hottest of days without giving me a headache.

So it should be no surprise that Shandies of various types are regularly sampled, along with some other lighter types that I wanted to try. Here's a brief look at some of what I've enjoyed this summer...

Sam Adams Porch Rocker
Wasn't expecting a lot, but I actually enjoyed this--and have purchased it on more than one occasion. Nice, solid brew with a light, lemon twang that was reasonably natural-tasting. Refreshing and dependable.

Leinenkugel Summer Shandy
I used to really like this brand. But that was before they began selling it at a premium price. Their original red ale was solid, but this shandy was a big disappointment. Forgettable beer with a very artificial lemon taste - more akin to a lemon cough drop than real fruit.

Hopping Frog Turbo Shandy
Easily the best beer I had all summer.  Delicious ale, rich - but not too hoppy, with a rich, sweet, lemon zest that called upon me to drink more and more. Unfortunately, at about $7 for a 22oz bottle, that is unlikely. But this stuff is delicious - and that's not just hometown bias.

Great Lakes Brewing- The Wright Pils
This was a real letdown. I generally love GL beers, but I've found that more of their beers are starting to have the same "hop profile" - making it harder to discern what style of beer I am drinking. Pilsners should be light, golden, clean and drinkable -- but this was way too hoppy [and bitter] to fit the style. It was the same situation with the GL Oktoberfest I tried last fall...way over-hopped for the beer style.

Seems their brewmaster has fallen into the American craft-beer trap of throwing too much hop into the brew kettle. My feeling is that if you can't stay true to the real "style" of the beer--that's fine--but then you should just call it something else.

Stiegl Radler
No, I did not try the grapefruit radler that seems to be the hot thing now. The local ultra-high end market in town had a couple cases of the stuff in the beer aisle, but I prefer the original lemon, which really does have more of the "lemon soda pop" mouth feel than more typical shandies, and is absolutely delicious. I usually take a few bottles of this to my friend's annual summer-ending luau and it's always a big hit. Awesome stuff.

More beers to come...

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Books: Homebrew Handbook is a Hit

December 6, 2013 0 comments
Future Publishing's [UK] Homebrew Handbook has been out for a little while now - but it was only recently that it caught my eye at the local Barnes & Noble. I'm a sucker for a nicely-produced book or magazine of any kind, so I couldn't resist grabbing a copy and taking up to the checkout.

The handbook is a very attractive, well-written and well-illustrated guide on how to brew your own beer. Like most publications from Future Publishing, it's a very high-quality piece, printed on high-quality paper and made to serve as a handy, durable reference that will last you through many homebrewing sessions. I will look good on your coffee table, too. The handbook looks at three essential methods of brewing (Home Kit, Extract and Full-Mash) and includes some solid reference material on malt, hops, water and various aspects of the brewing process that the beginning homebrewer--whether they are in the UK or the US--will find helpful. As it has been a while since I've brewed myself, it also served as a nice refresher, and the articles on establishing microbreweries and labeling your beer were interesting and inspirational, too.

One of the most useful parts of the book is the nice collection of recipes that are included, from very basic types to some more specialized brews that were provided by some popular craft breweries. Some of these you might be familiar with; others are rather obscure offerings from lesser known brewers, but they are all interesting to read about and assess, and may inspire you to tinkering with your next batch of homebrew.

All in all, a nice publication that we would highly recommend at just $14.99.
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July 24, 2013 0 comments
A new article in TIME Magazine discusses a trend in brewing that we have been expecting for some time now – the increasing emergence of session beers in the U.S. market. Highlighting the efforts of Redhook Brewery in Washington state, it notes the introduction of their new, Game Changer - new pale ale that’s been freshly put on tap at 925 U.S. locations of the Buffalo Wild Wings chain. The target point is just a little higher than a mass-produced domestic beer, and slightly less than your typical high-end craft beer.

“It’s an approachable craft beer that’s not too heavy or too high in alcohol, so people can enjoy drinking it responsibly over the course of a whole game,” says Andy Thomas, president of the Craft Brew Alliance, which owns Redhook.

 Meanwhile, Patrick Kirk, beverage-innovation director for Buffalo Wild Wings, explained why the chain wanted its own special craft beer, and why it was important for the beer to be sessionable:

“We’ve seen an interesting trend, a movement toward craft beers coming back down to be more sessionable, brewed with lower alcohol and an easy-to-drink mentality. That’s what our guest is demanding. If you’re going to stay for a game from kick-off to the end, you can’t really drink beers with 6% or 7% ABV throughout the game. It’s not possible from a responsible service and consumption standpoint, as well as from flavor perspective and a cost standpoint. But you need great flavor. The goal was to not be fully in the craft camp but to be a step up from domestics, and brew a well-balanced, full-flavored beer that hits the middle between 4% and 5% ABV. Game Changer is at 4.6% ABV, so it’s definitely sessionable.”
You can read more of the article here. It discusses a lot of other issues, like the ongoing controversy about what makes a beer a craft beer, anyway. Suffice to say I think we’ll see more of this type of thing as time goes on, because the truth is, no responsible person can go out and drink 7.5% IPAs all night long.
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Summer is traditionally the time of year when I trade in my brown ales, stouts and IPA’s for lighter beers that allow me to hold up a little better in the heat. Over the years, I’ve come to pay attention to what’s in my glass…remembering times in the past when a combination of too much beer and too much sun would put me out of commission for a day or more. If you’ve ever had a bout of beer-induced sunstroke, the memory will stick with you for a long time.

This is the reason why I gravitate to the inevitable Corona, or Modelo, or Pacifico, or Land Shark – or even a Bud Light Lime during the summer months. In particular, I’ve found that there’s something about beers brewed south-of-the-border that helps me avoid the brutal effects of sun-and-suds – so a long afternoon floating in the pool, listening to ska or reggae…and knocking back a bottle or ten doesn’t seem to have any ill effects.

I’ve also found that what makes this even more palatable is adding lemonade to my beer. The proportion may vary, but a 1-part lemonade to 5-parts beer ratio is fine – and I’ve even gone as high as 1:3 on a VERY hot day. “What about bottled Shandys?” - you say?

“We don’t need no stinking shandys…”

Actually, I have bought a few. I’ve found Sam Adams’ Porch Rocker to be pretty good. Leinenkugel’s Shandy is utterly awful (the lemon taste is very chemical – more akin to a cough drop). One of my favorites – Stiegl - is actually a true radler, made with lemon soda – and it is very, very good. I always show up with a few of these at my best friend’s annual Luau and they are always a hit.

Of course, any quality German Lager or Helles will do just fine – though I am less likely to add lemonade to a beer of very high quality with a comparatively delicate taste. On a slightly different note, I recently sampled a Newcastle Blonde Bombshell on a recent Saturday afternoon in the pool and found it to be very fine indeed.

I know I’m not alone in this warm-weather adjustment. As much as I love a cool Guinness, a well-balanced IPA or a delicious Spaten Optimator, I am just not going to drink much of that stuff when it’s 85 degrees outside and I am sweating buckets after moving the lawn and pulling weeds.

Let us know what your summertime favorites are.
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Believe it or not, I've yet to make it to Blues & Brews in downtown Akron - but this is the year I plan to rectify that mistake and enjoy some of the 200 beers from 80 brewers that will be featured. Now in it's ninth year, the beer celebration is one of the biggest beer fests in the state, attracting a number of brewers from across the country and even further.

In addition to Ohio regulars such as Great Lakes, Hoppin’ Frog, Cornerstone, Buckeye, Willoughby, and Fat Head’s, Blues & Brews also will feature a number of other other new breweries like Millersburg Brewing from Millersburg, Portside Distillery from Cleveland, 50 West Brewing from Cincinnati and Listermann Brewing from Cincinnati.

Sponsored by Acme Fresh Markets, The Winking Lizard and Thirsty Dog Brewing, the event promises to be the highlight of the Beer Year in Akron and hop-fully the weather will hold out. The event runs from 2 to 6 p.m. General admission tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the gate. Brewer’s Circle tickets, which allow you into the event at noon and include special beers and food, are $55 in advance or $60 at the door. Live music will be provided by Freddie Salem & Lonewolf, The Billie Smith Band and The Juke Hounds.

To find out more - check out the story on
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