Monthly Archives: May 2011

Drinking It All: #41 Guinness

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.

guinness draught can

One word: yes.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Ditto.

Drinking It All: #40 Sierra Nevada 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.

Today I’ve got Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, which damn near unarguably holds the place as America’s standard pale ale. It’s a beer you can find at most restaurants/grocery stores that carry more than just the big three domestics, and it’s green label makes it pretty instantly recognizable. So it’s not necessarily a rare find as far as beer goes, and the tendency may be to discount its quality because of its familiarity. But to discount this beer would be a very silly thing to do.

Sierra Nevada’s one of the big, important craft breweries in America. They were/are an integral part of the craft beer movement, and they make a solid little line-up of beers, of which the Pale Ale is probably the most well-known. I’ve already lauded their Torpedo Extra IPA, but somehow still haven’t written up the Pale Ale any of the times I’ve had it at the house. Blame familiarity and the fact that I always just put it off until the next 6-pack. Not anymore.

This pale ale is a solid work-horse of a beer. It’s hoppy the way good pale ales should be, and, to be honest, it’s borderline hoppier than many IPAs. The beer features Cascade hops pretty prominently, and the hop flavor heavily resembles grapefruit. This is the kind of fruit beer (i.e., a beer that’s fruity without using actual fruit) that I can get into. And there’s just enough malt character to balance out the significant amount of hop flavor that the beer is known for.

The color is pretty standard for a pale ale (which may be due, in part, to the fact that Sierra Nevada has had such a hand in establishing the standard in American pale ales), and the smell is a strong, fruity hop smell–again, Cascade hops.

(A good friend of mine has told me more than once that he’s not a fan of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He’s a bartender, so I’m always (even though I’ve heard the story before) interested to know why. (His response to the question brings up an issue that I’ve not yet really addressed on this here blog, so let’s get into it briefly here with the agreement that we’ll tackle it at length later.) As a bartender, his experience has been that some beer drinkers (of the slightly higher-held nose variety) will ask for a beer that the bar doesn’t have. (Given the place I live, it’s not hard to imagine a bar not having whatever specific beer you want to drink–we’re pretty limited by alcohol level in this state.) When they can’t get what they want, they’ll apparently ‘settle’ for just a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, usually with the stipulation that they be given a glass. And while this seems like a perfectly reasonable request, the problem is that it’s always presented as the kind of third-string, ‘if you don’t have anything else’, last resort of the beer drinker instead of a good alternative to whatever beer they’d initially had in mind. This kind of passive aggressive snobbery is likely to be enough to turn anyone off to a beer, and it’s not exactly a positive reflection of Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale in terms of quality. I’m not sure I’m explaining this that well…

Basically, Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is a first rate beer. To have to condescend to drink it implies a certain amount of insecurity on the beer drinker’s part (yes, I’m talking about being an insecure beer drinker). Sorry that the bar doesn’t carry the specific style of beer you had in mind when you sat down. Life’s a real bitch, ain’t it? Guess you’ll just have to pick another beer and suffer through it. If you can’t order a good, well-made beer without indirectly pouting about it not being your first choice, well, then I’d rather not hear about your first choice, much less actually drink a beer with you. I have a feeling you’d make my brain hurt.

To get back to my friend, I think a large part of why he doesn’t like Sierra Nevada’s pale ale is that he’s just not nuts about the way it tastes. Which, good. If you just don’t like a beer, then just don’t like it. That’s the inarguable position that is every beer drinker’s right.)

So this pale ale is a good, solid example of what’s really good about American beers.  And in particular, American pale ales.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Thumbs up. This is the Fender Telecaster of American pale ales–does exactly what it does just as well as any other beer (guitar) and does it simply without a bunch of hoopla. There it is: this is a hoopla-free beer.

Drinking It All: #39 Stone Brewery’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard 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.

modesty's overrated

Today I’ve got another Stone Brewery beer to talk about–the Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale. The Arrogant Bastard Ale is one of the more renowned craft beers, as far as I know, and I’ll admit my own lack of broadness in beer drinking because I’ve never actually tried the Arrogant Bastard Ale before. But my buddy Scooter has gotten pretty interested in craft beers lately and brought back a load of good stuff from his last trip to Louisiana. I traded him a Dogfish Head Palo Santo beer for this Oaked AB Ale. So I actually get to try a special type (i.e., the oaked version) of the AB Ale as my introduction to it.

The Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale is a strong, malty ale that doesn’t skimp on the hops. The malt gives the beer a heavy feel and taste, but the hops (I’m not sure what kind they’ve used) add a little bit of bitterness (not too much) and a little bit of floral-ness that kind of breaks up the heavy sweetness of the malt. Think of how when Mario busts bricks on Super Mario Bros. and the blocks pop into 4 (I think) little smaller bricks that explode out. Mario’s the hops, and the bricks are the malt flavor–it’s still there, but it’s broken down into smaller pieces that are easier to comprehend. It’s practical, applicable deconstruction within a beer tasting–don’t tell John M. Ellis. Or do, I don’t know. (Apologies for the wide gulf between references that may or may not add anything to the review itself. And for any mixed metaphors I manage to toss in.) The alcohol level’s at 7.2 ABV, which isn’t that crazy high. We’re still in the range of a beer you can drink one or two of in a sitting, but the alcohol, to me, for whatever reason, seems to add a warming character to the taste of the beer. In this case, it’s a good warming character.

The beer is a good rich wood color–somewhere between a red ale and a dark brown ale. I’m not up on my Lovibond scale quite yet, but I’d say it’s about the color of a Newcastle. But it seems darker. The smell, to be honest, I can’t give a good report of. (The pollen’s been gone for probably a month here, but nobody gave my nose the memo. So I have to basically try to inhale the beer when I lift the glass and I still can’t get a good idea of what it smells like.) I do think it smells like oak a little bit though.

Quick editorial aside: the AB ale bottle makes it clear that the ingredients of the beer are “[n]othing but the finest Barley, most aggressive Hops, clearest Water, our proprietary Yeast strain and abundant Arrogance…all with oak chips” (capitalization and lack of terminal comma sic), which fuckin’ awesome. Good beer, like good food, is 95% a result of good starting ingredients–it’s the brewer’s job just to not mess it up. But then I noticed this odd little caveat on the bottle: “WARNING: Some materials used in the colored decorations on this container contain cadmium [,] a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.” I guess as long as it’s not known in other states to cause these effects, we’re good to go. Maybe that gargoyle is ominous for a reason.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Thumbs up. Arrogance is not a deterrent in the case of it being well-founded.

Drinking It All: #38 Terrapin Rye 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.

a modest IPA

Even though I know I said I was taking a break from IPAs and PAs, I’ve got a fantastic Pale Ale to write about today.  A friend brought me back a few Georgia beers a few weeks ago, 2 0f the 3 I’ve already written about here and here, but he also brought me back a couple Terrapin Rye Pale Ales. I’ve had these beers before on tap in Birmingham and possibly Atlanta, and I’ve always liked them. I’ve just never picked up a 6-pack of them.

I’m going to try to start getting these reviews in under 750 words, so I’ll forgo the rest of the background/context.

The Terrapin Rya Pale Ale is a basic pale ale (e.g., Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, Anchor’s Liberty Ale) but with a nice little addition of rye grain. This rye grain might seem at first inconsequential, but it adds a good bit to the beer. And the first thing you’ll notice is the smell. The hops are super-prominent and the rye grain adds a little sharpness to the smell, I think. When your nose gets inside the glass, you can’t help but notice how this beer smells. It smells good. It smells like a pale ale should smell, and I’ve had several many pale ales that I couldn’t really provide a clear description of a smell. (Since so much of our sense of taste relies on our sense of smell, it seems important that a pale ale (i.e., a beer that kind of lives or dies by its hop profile, much of which is identified by smell) actually has a noticeable smell. Terrapin’s RPA has it covered.) The hops are up front, and the rye is a definite part of the smell. You don’t even really have to try to smell this beer when you take a drink–I’ve gotten very used to having to actively smell the beers I drink, so I like not having to in this case.

But what about taste? Well, it ain’t all nose on this beer. The beer has a very clean taste, like Sierra Nevada’s PA, that shows off the bitterness of the hops, and the sharp rye taste lends a kind of woody taste that fits well with the grassy hop flavor. The beer has enough of a malt profile to leave a sweet taste in the mouth, so the amount of hops do well to cut the sweetness.

My one, arguable, criticism is that I’d say there are more hops in the beer than are necessary for a standard PA. It seems hoppy enough to be an IPA. But then, don’t misunderstand this as a complaint–I’m just taking issue with adherence to the form. Which I could easily be completely wrong about, but, to be honest, I’d rather it be exorbitantly hoppy anyway. So it’s not like I’m unhappy with how the beer tastes.

So the beer’s a good one. If you find it on tap, it’s worth a try. Like I said, I’ve had this before on tap, and I liked it then. There’s no reason I shouldn’t like it out of a bottle. Ergo, assuming you find your own beer-liking tendencies rather comparable to mine, there’s no reason you shouldn’t like this beer on either tap or in bottles.

(Kept it well under 750 words. Look out now.)

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Way up. Try this beer before any other PA that you don’t have strong feelings about if it’s (i.e., Terrapin’s RPA) available.