Monday, August 27, 2007

Stiegl not a steal

I'm back at Trader Joe's, buying food and of course, beer.

I'm entranced by the pretty beige and red antique-looking labels on the little green bottles of Salzburger Stiegl. I've noticed the six-packs before, but I've always balked at the $10 price tag. I've had Stiegl on tap before and it was fairly memorable as a smooth, balanced lager. Perhaps that's what was really enticing about those little green bottles, tucked inside their protective cardboard jacket. I had the taste for a smooth, refreshing, lager and it turns out that Stiegl delivered what I wanted: a light golden lager that is neither too sweet or too bitter; malty or hoppy with a soft mouthfeel. This Stiegl beer is a smooth drinker; a very quaffable session beer. So, why then, am I paying $10 for six 11.2-ounce bottles of this stuff?

I'm mostly enjoying my Stiegl six-pack, but at $10 a six for a lager beer, I expect to wowed with a lot of complexity (think double bock) or treated to a wonderful hop aroma and flavor. The Salzburger Stiegl is neither complicated or wonderfully hoppy (the aroma is slightly grainy), so I feel a bit cheated. I'm not calling this the Labatt Blue of Austria (as the folks over at A Good Beer Blog have), but for $10 I'm going to buy some K├Ânig or some Jever.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Trader Joe and Paul Revere

A few weeks ago, the Trader Joe's closest to my house expanded its beer selection. Now I can mix and match among breweries such as Unibroue, Sierre Nevada, Goose Island, Three Floyds, Pyramid, Great Lakes, Dogfish Head and Anchor. I recently made a a little hoppy sampler with some Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA, some Goose Island India Pale Ale and a bottle of Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing.

First produced in 1975 (I thought as a Christmas beer, but Anchor's website indicates that it was brewed to commemorate the bincentennial of Paul Revere's famous ride), Anchor Liberty is a classic hoppy ale and was THE hoppy ale for quite awhile until other craft brewers started brewing their own hoppy beers. Anchor Liberty was probably my first hoppy, India Pale Ale type of beer and I imagine it's inspired a lot of other craft brewers through the years. Anchor's website makes a big deal about dry-hopping, or adding dry hops to the finished beer. It states that the process is rarely used in this country...well, maybe in the 1970s and 1980s, but I think a lot of craft brewers are using dry hops these days.

I can't remember exactly my first taste of Liberty Ale, but I know it was at The Cafe in Macomb, Ill. I used to think Anchor Liberty had so much hop flavor that a slight green haze was noticeable. I no longer think of Liberty as the hoppiest ale out there, but it is still a contender, with its pine resin scent and hop flavor mixing well with crisp, yet sweet malt. The white, rocky head (as noted in the accompanying picture) is very appealing. It's a pretty simple beer really, but I think sometimes simplicity is what tastes best.

Biere de Garde six months later

About six months ago I bottled a beer that I was hoping would turn out to be in the style of a Biere de Garde. A few weeks after bottling I thought it didn't taste malty enough to be a BDG and I started thinking of it as a Belgian-style Pale Ale. Since then, it's Biere de Garde features have been coming out. Tasting this beer six months after bottling, I'd say it has some qualities of a BDG (fairly clean, hops are distant), but the mouthfeel is lacking, especially up front. However, what I'm especially impressed with is the appearance: the absolutely rocky, meringue-like head that is created when this beer is poured. I'm willing to bet this had to do with a lot of things: sanitation, the yeast strain, the amount of priming sugar used and the addition of a pound of torrefied wheat to the grain bill.

Overall, time has mad me a believer that Wyeast XL 3787 can make a Biere de Garde if given the time. The beer will be phenolic at first, but the esters will fade almost completely away given enough time (about six months, in this case).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A complete disaster of a brew session...but a good beer.

My last brew session, several weeks ago was a complete disaster. I was too ashamed at the time to divulge the particulars, and defying Charlie Papazian's "Relax Have a Hombrew" mantra, I worried incessantly about the batch.

Well, it fermented fine, botting went fine and now I think I have one of my best homebrews ever! The one aspect of this brew (a saison-style with added spices) that is completely blowing me away is the pale color. I've got a light golden ale that is clear and beautifully topped with delicate, lacy foam. The aroma is bright and sunny, with plenty of citrus. You see, the spices I used included the zest of two limes, some lemon verbena leaves and black pepper. I made a tea from the leaves (maybe half dozen or so of them) and added the tea to the end of the boil. The light citrus flavor in the aroma carries over into the flavor of this brew, which couples with the crisp pilsner malt and light Hallertau hops and balanced finish to make for a very enjoyable summer ale....completely by accident!

The accident, which may explain the pale nature of this batch, had to do with chilling the beer, transfering it to the fermenter, topping up with cold water and then realizing that I forget to add four pounds of malt extract. I stared the fermenter for a moment and then mustered up the fortitude to take a gravity reading, which read something like 1.030 or lower. I didn't want light beer; I wanted a six percent alcohol saison-style ale. To remedy the sitution I basically made and cooled a second wort with the extract and some additional sugar. Then I poured out about two gallons of the wort in the fermenter and added the second wort back into the fermenter. I'm guessing this dilution process is partly what lightened the color of this brew.

All's well that ends well though!

Beer-to-beer Combat Week

I've been into side-by-side tastings lately (read: this week). Tonight I compared North Coast Pranqster Belgian Ale with Goose Island Demoliton Ale. I respect the brewers at North Coast. I love Red Seal and maybe love Old Rasputin even more, but the particular bottle of Pranqster that I enjoyed just wasn't up to par. At first pour, the head of foam that formed was discouraging; the carbonation seemed off (maybe an old bottle) and the head didn't generate any Brussels lace. There was something in the aroma that was a bit unexpected...I seemed to pick up some mint, along with a sort of musty cellar smell, plenty of sugary sweetness and some alcohol - not bad I suppose. The Pranqster tasted primarily of sweet malt with some bubblegum fruitiness laced with alcohol - definitely some warming alcohol - despite the beer only being between 7 and 8 percent. The mouthfeel is very smooth, accentuating a bittersweet finish that coated my tongue with sugars. What bothered me about this beer was the sort of flat carbonation and sweetness without any real interesting flavors. I was a bit let down with this beer. I expected something paler and drier, and I guess a little prettier in the glass. Nothing really stands out with this one that would make me a fan of it compared to other North Coast brews such as Red Seal and Old Rasputin.

The Goose Island Demolition, on the other hand, was exactly what I want in a pale Belgian-style strong ale. I poured my bottle of Goose Island Demoltion into a tulip-shaped glass, which seemed to emphasize the creation of a beautiful, thick, white head of foam on top of a hazy straw-colored ale. The head fell slowly, leaving a fairly thick coating of lacework behind on the sides of the glass. I moved in to take a sniff and found a delicate aroma suggesting fresh cut hay. An extra few swirls of the glass revealed a subtle graininess, too. I was struck by the light mouthfeel and very light crisp, pilsner malt flavor mixed with a spicy, herbal hop character. All of this suggests high drinkability, but just a touch of warming alcohol in the lightly peppery, dry finish is a faint reminder of the strength of this brew - despite the light, dry, "airy" character of this beer, it is rather strong - stronger than the Pranqster.

I liked the Demolotion quite a bit over the Pranqster. Maybe I obtained an old bottle of the Pranqster and I don't necessarily blame the brewers; it could be that the beer distributor or the store's fault for improperly storing the beer. Without any freshness dating or bottling code, who knows how old the bottle might be? So far now, I have to say I prefer the Demoliton. It was just lighter on its feet, dancing around the seemingly more formidable Pranqster. I've had the Demolition at the Goose Island Clybourn brewpub (1800 N. Clybourn Ave. in Chicago) before and the bottled version is just as good (if note better) than what I recall tasting on draft. The dryness of this brew made it dangerously drinkable and very easy to drink; the light spicy-peppery hops kept it interesting and made for a very refreshing sip - especially during the summer.

Now with more frequent updates!

It seems blogs are the place to be and here to stay. When I started my website, the Marcobrau Beer Pages back in 1998 there weren't too many people blogging about beer. Heck, there weren't very many people with beer websites. Sites like Beer Advocate, Ratebeer and Pubcrawler were still in their formative years. I started a website about beer mostly because I wanted to create a repository of information about beer in the region where I lived. Other people have certainly come along and improved on this, one site in particular that comes to mind is the Beer Mapping Project. Another reason I started my website was to share my tasting notes with everybody on the Internet. Eventually, I started posting all my tasting notes on Beer Advocate and now the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way -- sort of -- as I plan on posting more about beer general (tasting notes, pub experiences, etc.) on this blog. This will be in addition to my somewhat regular updates of what homebrews I've got going. I guess it could be viewed as a "if you can't beat 'em, join'em mentality", but I really think it's more about the convenience of blogging versus updating a website. I am, after all, a lazy American.