November 12, 2014 0 comments
I feel I'd be pretty confident in saying that my seasonal beer drinking habits are probably in line with most serious beer drinkers. After a summer-full of lighter pilsners, lemon-and lime infused beers, wheat bears and other hot-weather styles, the shorter days and falling leaves lead me to darker, heavier, more full-flavored beers and ales.

Not having to worry about sitting for hours in the hot sun, brown ales, smokey porters and rich stouts get added to the shopping list--along with pumpkin ales, spicy holiday brews and even some hoppier ales, depending on the activity and the menu choices. This is also the time of year I make more trips to the grocery myself, where I can usually put together a "build your own" 6-pack of individual beers I'd like to try (keeps me from making $10 "mistakes") and also grab an occasional 22oz bottle of something special.

Most fall and winter weeknights, I'll enjoy a bottle or two while reading or watching TV; often checking the Twitter stream and surfing for beer-related news and commentary. I generally don't do in-depth beer reviews (there are enough of these already) but I will usually tweet a brief comment on what I'm tasting, some initial impressions and also--whether I might drink it again. 

So far, I've come across few beers I would describe as "bad." If I express any negative comments about a beer, it would be more likely that it's not particularly true to stye, or that I don't find it quite as "remarkable" as some other people do. In other cases, I mind not find  a beer's taste so pleasing, but I am also willing to chalk that up to personal preference--especially where high IBUs are concerned.

Weekends are a little different. I'm a big NFL and NCAA football fan, so that naturally pairs with beer-drinking. If I'm at the neighborhood sports bar--to which I can thankfully walk--I might settle in with a Yuengling (buck a bottle on Thursdays) and if I am home, a sessionable brown ale or dark lager. Regardless of how good the game might be, I wouldn't try to pound a lot of heavy, high ABV craft beers, and I don't think you would, either.

It's early in this "dark season." My favorite so far has clearly been Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout, which was incredibly rich and dessert-like. In fact, I know I will be serving a small glass of this this along with dessert at some holiday dinner party. I found Breckenridge Brewery's Vanilla Porter to be quite good as well; very smooth and subtle.

I have just started checking out Christmas ales as they are now coming out. Locally, Akron's own Thirsty Dog puts out an excellent 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale, though I found Great Lakes Brewing Company's Christmas Ale to be just slightly smoother in terms of the spice combination. What that really boils down to is that I might drink two of one and three of the other at Christmas dinner.

Happily, Hoppin' Frog Brewery is about a mile from my house, and it wouldn't be winter without a few of their Imperial Stouts, Porters and Scotch Ales. They've always been major belly-warmers; the perfect thing for a cold winter night in front of the fireplace, nodding off during an episode of Brew Dogs.

Though I am not a particular fan of most IPAs, I am intrigued by some of the darker, so-called "black" IPA's I've seen, and am determined to give them a try some time soon. In fact, if you have any good suggestions, let me know.

This time of year, the beers are lovely, dark and deep.  But there are so damn many to drink. 
Let's get to work.
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November 1, 2014 0 comments
I came across a ridiculous rant the other day on Deadspin, where Will Gordon (does he pronounce that "Gor-DON" - like in the Sprint commercials?) rails against Stella Artois being a disgrace to Belgian beer. Apparently he was disappointed in getting an older sample, which may have been a little skunky. It happens, although getting a truly bad bottle is a little less common than it was in the past.

I've had a decent Stella or two over the years - mostly on tap - and anyone who knows beer clearly knows that Belgium produces a wonderful array of beers that are far superior, by anyone's standard. Of course, that's pretty much the case in any country, including the USA; there are plenty of smaller breweries delivering a better product than the larger, more popular brands. So much for stating the obvious.

What I really found irritating in the article is that he seems to be basing his opinion primarily on the simple fact that since the brand is owned by a large beer holding company like InBev, it must be horrible. Most of the post is spent trashing big beer in general - about three paragraphs. Eventually, he gets around to actually, "reviewing" the beer, which he usefully describes as "skunked and awful."   Nuff said; I'm all for tight editing.

He ends the article with this out-of-breath zinger:

Belgium's continued production of Stella Artois is an affront to human decency. All the waffles and Westvleteren in the world can not make up for this crime against beer.

Well, then...
"A crime against beer?"  Really? All in all, Godon's take is really sophomoric, and typical of so many rants I hear from hipsters about how terrible any product must be if it's from a "large" brewery. Or more accurately, ANY brewery - small or large - that happens to be owned by a big, international holding company.

This seems to be the prevailing attitude: Is your brewery producing beer by the same methods it was before you were purchased by that big international conglomerate? Doesn't matter - the minute you signed on the dotted line, your beer became swill. At the very least, it's not "worthy" of our consumption, and the hard-working people who have been making your beer are traitors to the craft beer movement.

Now, I am sure there are examples where the perceived quality, or the formulation, may have been compromised for "the product formerly known as craft." It can happen. One supportive commenter on the article I am mentioning pointed out that Red Hook is now a shadow of its former self since being taken over by Craft Brew Alliance. I have to wonder if that's view is based on his "beer politics" or a blind tasting.

It's similar to a guy I know who, upon occasion,  used to drive over to PA to bring back a couple cases of Yuengling, because "it's really good beer" and you couldn't get it in Ohio at the time. Today, success allows those folks to also claim the title of "largest American-owned brewery" in addition to being the oldest.  The result? Yuengling's popularity has now earned the disdain of some craft beer sophisticates. That seems a little unfair.

Before I go any further, let's get this straight: I support and love Craft Beer. The movement here in the US and in other countries is providing beer lovers with access to an incredible array of great beers and ales, better overall beer knowledge and lots of good jobs. I've been drinking beer for forty years, and I remember when -- if you wanted something better than a Bud, your only other choices were a Molson, a Heineken, a Bass Pale Ale, or a St. Pauli Girl.

Hell yes, things are way better now.

We're getting more variety, improved quality, new flavors and more freshness. The interest in beer, the non-stop calendar of beer-related events, the increased appreciation of beer as a food product, and even the realization of beer as a cultural phenomenon makes this an exciting time.

But let's not get lost in the reality of what's in the glass. I'm not buying into this need to automatically "rip" some beer because it's not made by a handful of bearded guys in an old warehouse, or cooked up in a farmhouse and sold in 22oz. bottles. Even the so-called "craft wannabees" are way better than the swill we had available 35 years ago.

In the end, the question for me is not so much - "is it really a craft beer?" - as is it is" "Is it really a good beer?"  One seems to be a question of production method, philosophy and marketing. The latter is a simple result, and not exclusively dependent on the former.

I don't drink beer as a political statement. I drink it because I enjoy it, and it [usually] tastes good. Just because a beer brand may be owned by a big company, doesn't automatically disqualify it from my appreciation. For the same reason - any so-called "Craft Beer" doesn't get a free pass just because it was produced in a small quantity, by seemingly dedicated beer-lovers. They can make nasty beer, too - and I've had a few.

Having made beer myself, I can appreciate the time and effort that goes into it, and the skill required to brew up a drinkable product - several dozen or several thousand barrels at a time. It's all I can do to knock out five tasty gallons.

Producing a great beer can be a serious matter. But it is beer, after all. No need to take it's enjoyment quite so seriously.

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