Monthly Archives: April 2010

Drinking It All: #22 Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale

Drinking It All is a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.

'off-centered' brown ale. 'off-centered' is a trademark of Dogfish Head Brewery

Today I’ve got another Dogfish Head beer to write about–an Indian Brown Ale. This beer somewhat resembles another famous brown ale: Newcastle, but it’s hoppier and has 7.2% ABV. So it’s a bigger beer all around.

(I realized after I opened the beer up that my last post was a Dogfish Head as well, and I aim to spread beers from the same brewery out more. But it’s already open, so what the hell.)

You’ve probably read what I’ve written about Dogfish Head previously (or else you haven’t and should go back and read all my previous posts, dammit), so you might figure that I’ll have good things to say about this beer. And you’d be correct. This is a solid, heavy beer.

The taste, like I said before, resembles Newcastle a little. It tastes even more like Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan, which is also a brown ale made with, obviously, pecans. I think the high alcohol in the Indian Brown Ale lends it a little more sweetness than a regular brown ale usually has. Also, there are more hops in this beer than a regular brown ale would probably have.

The beer smells sweet, too. The label explains that the beer is made with aromatic barley, caramelized brown sugar and Liberty and Goldings hops. So the brown sugar, I think, is one of the sources of the sweetness. And, holy shit, this beer is dark. It’s Guinness-dark, which is considerably darker than most brown ales I’ve ever had. It’s so dark that calling it a brown ale, I’m sure, has more to do with how the beer was made than its actual color.

*And we all know that we shouldn’t really even classify the beers we like or don’t by the color alone.*

This Indian Brown Ale is a good beer that, if you can find, you should try. It’s also, like most of the Dogfish Head beers, one that you’ll probably only drink one or maybe two of in a sitting (so much for someone’s three beers in-a-sitting rule).

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Brown ales aren’t usually my favorite, but this one is ‘off-centered’ enough to be pretty memorable.

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Beer Tasting Ups and Downs

A few nights ago, I went to a beer tasting here in town. The tasting was kind of sponsored by the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, and George Reisch, who is a brewmaster and director of brewmaster outreach for A-B, was the speaker/guide for the tasting. I expected, going in, to taste a few beers made by A-B and maybe hear a little about how they’re made. However, the tasting was much more interesting.

Not only did we get to taste some A-B beers (i.e., Budweiser, Bud Light, Shock Top), but we got to taste them next to their competition (i.e., Miller Lite, Blue Moon). Now, it doesn’t sound interesting. A tasting (sponsored by A-B) that compares Bud Light to Miller Lite will likely end with the conclusion that Bud Light is superior to Miller Lite. This doesn’t require Matlock-esque deduction skills. And the tasting, predictably, leaned towards the A-B beers being superior to their various competitions.

What was interesting is how most of the A-B beers actually did taste better than the competition. Or at least they were described by Mr. Reisch in a way that was easily verifiable and seemed more positive than the other beers. I never thought I’d be convinced that the taste of Bud Light was good, but it actually wasn’t bad. Similarly, I was surprised that Shock Top (A-B’s version of Blue Moon) tasted pretty good.

Mr. Reisch definitely knows his beer. His family history is steeped in beer brewing. (You can read an interview with him here.) And so it was obvious that he cared a good deal about beer and knew how to talk about it and explain it to a general audience in a way that was equally entertaining and informative. This is no small feat by any measure and not something I take lightly. It was great to see/hear someone talk about respecting beer with regard to the type of glass it should be served in or how it should be poured.

But there was a certain amount of disconnect between what Mr. Reisch said and what seemed easily inferrable to me, and I imagine others, too.

While I am an admitted and documented fan of Budweiser and other big domestics (I’m pretty sure I understand why they exist, what they do, and what they’re made for), I also have no illusions that they are what I’d call ‘good beers.’

*The following is entirely subjective and also probably not that interesting*

Budweiser is not a beer I drink if I want to drink a good beer. Neither is High Life or PBR (both beers that I’m, again, a documented and admitted fan of). These beers are what we’ll call lawnmower beers. You can drink a handful of them because they’re easy and relatively cost-effective. Support: Mr. Reisch, more than once, referenced a brewing calculus that basically boils down to ‘if you couldn’t see  yourself drinking three of these [beers] in a sitting, then it [the beer] doesn’t pass the test. (For a number of reasons, this seems particularly telling.) When I think of good beer, say a Double IPA or a homebrew, I don’t think of having more than three at a time, or usually even three. I imagine most of you feel similarly. With a good beer, I want it to last a little while. A friend of mine, and fellow brewer, summed it pretty good when he said (I’m paraphrasing) ‘I’ll drink Budweiser when I’m out to get hammered, and the homebrew is the beer I plan to quaff slowly’ (Woody Conwill). So my measure of a good beer is not that I can drink three of them. Although often I could see myself doing so.

Here’s the problem that it’s taken me so long to get to:

At the beer tasting, it was heavily implied, all but stated, that the goodness of Budweiser (and other A-B beers) was a result of the difficulty of the brewing process. This is akin to saying that someone who’s particularly good at a musical instrument is necessarily a treat to listen to. Anyone who’s been subjected to a band like Widespread Panic–with guitar soloes, and goddamned drum soloes–can, I imagine, aver that this ability does not a good tune make.

So even though they spend more money on rice for the Budweiser than they would grain, it doesn’t mean it’s a better beer. Even though it might be, I’d be inclined to agree, much harder for A-B to make Budweiser than it is for Dogfish Head to make its 60 min. IPA, it doesn’t make it better. To be sure, a lot of the hardness in the brewing of Budweiser is due to the fact that it must be consistent. Consistent to an insane, McDonald’s engineered hamburger degree. You like a McDonald’s hamburger? Cause I don’t. These are products that are so successful because of their ability to appeal widely to the lowest common denominator. They have the particular ability not to offend. They do not make noise. They are not to write home about. And that’s fine with me–as long as they don’t pretend to be such.

So to try and wrap this up in under 1000 words, which is where I’m quickly headed and beyond, part of the tasting was informative and enjoyable. Part of the tasting felt like (was) a sales pitch.

I certainly do not regret going to the tasting. It was not a waste of time by any means, but it was a little disheartening to realize that a good amount of the night was slanted towards convincing me that A-B beers were superior to others. (I mean, I already buy that shit all the time.) Being told (or suggested) which beer (art, tool, method, etc.) is superior to another is a much different thing than simply being given the information to decide for yourself. End lecture/tirade/bitch session.

Came in right at 981 words. Awesome.

Drinking It All: #21 Dogfish Head Aprihop

Drinking It All is a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.

ass kickin' fruit beer

Today I’ve got a beer from Dogfish Head Brewery. Dogfish Head is arguably one of the most interesting American craft breweries, and from the beers I’ve tried, it’s easily one of the best. All of their beers I’ve had would make very short lists. So my friend knows that I really like the Dogfish Head beers, and he brought some over when he came to visit this past weekend. Also, he and I have both read Sam Calagione’s book Brewing Up A Business, which, if you’re at all interested in entrepeneurship and/or breweries, you should check out. (I think I’ll actually do a review of it soon. Because there probably aren’t enough reviews of it on Amazon.)

On to the beer. It’s called Aprihop, and it’s an IPA made with apricots. If you’ve read some of my past reviews, you probably have an idea of how I feel about fruity beers. I don’t particularly like them. But. This beer is a big exception.

It’s an IPA, so there is a fairly prominent hops taste and smell. I’m not sure how the recipe was worked out, but the apricot flavor is easy to pick up. I would have imagined that a fruit flavor would get lost behind the hops, but it doesn’t in this beer. Now, my knowledge of apricots is limited to the dried ones that my wife brings home from fancy grocery stores sometimes. I’ve never had a fresh apricot, but I think I recognize the apricot taste in this beer. And it works very well with the typical IPA hoppiness.

The Dogfish Head beers I’ve had (and I haven’t had all that many, but I have tried the 60 and 90 minute IPAs–goodgodholyshitthey’regood) have all been worthy of letters home. This Aprihop beer is definitely another kick-ass beer in the Dogfish Head lineup. It’s mellower than most IPAs, but the hop flavor is just as good as some other more extreme, hop-heavy IPAs. This beer actually would be a good introductory beer to IPAs. The beer smells strong and good, and it tastes strong and good, but it’s a very accessible beer at the same time.

I’m officially endorsing a fruity beer. Write it down. Take a picture. Dogfish Head is not a brewery with whom to fuck.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Two thumbs up. If you see this beer on tap or in a curb store, pick it up. If you have any complaints, I’ll take the blame.

Drinking It All: #20 Red Brick Peachtree Pale Ale

Drinking It All is a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.

offense for the microbreweries

I’ve been in the yard again today. But now I’m done and I’ve got some beer to be drinking. I picked up another of Atlanta Brewing Co.’s beers the other day, and I’ll go ahead and say that I’m more a fan of this one than the last one I reviewed–the Blonde Ale. Of course, this is probably obvious because it’s a pale ale. (If you haven’t read any previous entries, I like pale ales. Quite a bit. Let’s see if I like this one.)

The Red Brick Peachtree Pale Ale, made by Atlanta Brewing Co. (Jesus, that’s a bunch of names), is a fairly solid pale ale. It reminds me of Anchor’s Liberty Ale, which is a good thing, but it doesn’t have as sharp a hop taste as Liberty Ale or the standard Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Which can be a good thing or a bad thing. I’m inclined to say bad–just because I’m completely stupid for hops. I often talk about how badass it’d be if there was a hop-scented airfreshener (sp?), and when I make beer, I always make my wife smell the hops. Everytime. And I always know she doesn’t care. But they smell that fuckin’ good.

Back to the beer.

There is enough of the hops so that I know I’ve got a pale ale, but it’s not what I’d call a really hoppy beer. The smell (through my pollen-raped nostrils, anyway) is not that hoppy. The taste doesn’t have much malt to it that I can tell, but the hops are subtle enough that, I think, this would make a good starter beer for someone who isn’t into pale ales. (Obviously, tons of people drink Sierra Nevada’s PA without really considering it’s a PA, and like it, but I’m guessing that if you buy this beer, you probably have an idea what a PA is. (I promise that sentence is grammatically sound.)

I realize that the last beer, another Atlanta Brewing Co. beer, was characterized, by me, as a starter beer. And I’ll make the argument that this is a good thing. With the fairly recent popularity of craft beer (evident in the big domestics’ push of Bud American Ale and all the numerous Michelob specialty beers), easy drinking microbrewed beers, which are better than the big domestics’ attempts, are basically the frontline beers that could convince people to try something new and not just new to Budweiser. Everybody’s got to start somewhere, and the two Atlanta Brewing Co. beers I’ve had are definitely worthy stepping stones into more esoteric beers. And, shit, they’re pretty good beers for those of you who don’t wish to intellectualize as much as me. After all, you could say it’s just beer. Silly me.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? I’d buy it again. When I go to the Atlanta Brew Fest in May, I hope to get some on tap close to the source. Hot damn.

Things to Do With Beer: Yard Work and Danger-Genius Ramps

Today was a good day. Let me tell you about it.

I spent pretty much all day outside working in the yard. This included: tilling up an insanely big garden area and a smaller (when compared with the first area) garden area; having an OK lunch with an excellent, big PBR; and weedeating, pushmowing, and ride-mowing (just made up a word–call Houghton Mifflin) the yard.

But this doesn’t sound like fun, does it? If you’re thinking “no, it does not, dude” sorry, but you are incorrect. Add cold-ass Miller Lite to all of the yard mowing and the fun materializes like a Chia Pet’s grass/hair.

So, first, there was the tilling to be done. Sadly, there was no beer involved in this part of the yard work–it was only 9:30am, arguably too early for a beer. The tilling was made relatively easy with the use of the tiller we rented (back-tine, not front-tine–we’ve made that mistake before). The hardest part was getting the tiller back into the car when we were done and about to return it. Suffice to say that the thing was heavy–the two guys that picked it up and loaded it into my car when we rented it were heard, by my wife, to be laughing at us because they didn’t think we’d be able to get it back in when we were done. They didn’t know I’m magic.

don't try this at home

Pow.

What you are seeing is an $800 piece of machinery in the back of my car after I drove it up the ramp made of two 2×12’s from an old garden box. You might be thinking that Danger is my middle name. Yes it is. But also Genius. It’s a double name, like sorority girls have.

After lunch, I acquired enough gas to power the push mower and riding mower and also a 12 pack of Miller Lite. You can imagine the rest. If you have the means, I strongly suggest getting a riding mower (ours came with the house we bought last summer), regardless of your yard’s size. You can ride around on it and drink beer at the same time. Any other explanation seems unnecessary.

Now you might be thinking, “Miller Lite? what gives?” This gives–Miller Lite is one of those beers that complements outdoor activity in a way that no other beer I’ve had does (except, of course, High Life (Miller’s got that shit figured out)). And it should be cold. Like really hand-hurting cold–then you get to use a huggy, it’s what they’re for.

So at the end of the day, you’ve got a massive space for a garden, and you got to use a machine outfitted with big blades, a 4-stroke cycle engine, and a pull-cord starter. Manly. Then you’ve got the yard mowed, which is measurable in completely satisfying ways that no other jobs I can think of are. First the grass was high, now it ain’t. But there is the vague smell of the gas from the lawn equipment and the new cut-grass. Good. And there was beer. Awesome.

no complaints

I realize this post was not completely about beer. But when we drink beer, usually we’re doing things. Things that often determine the type of beer we drink. So here’s one thing, or group of things, to do with beer.