Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Beer

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud and drinking beer.  Christmas beer, that is.

Just like I'd never heard of Beer Nog until my recent post, I have never heard of Christmas beer.  But apparently, there really is such a thing.  I was reading about it on the blogs [1] and thought to myself, now there's something I've gotta try.  So while we were in the greater Pittsburgh area for Christmas, I stopped by Bocktown again (previously posted about them here).  I knew they wouldn't disappoint - they had an entire cooler dedicated to seasonal beers!  So I picked up the most appropriately-named brew they had: Christmas Ale.

So what does a Christmas beer taste like?  I was expecting notes of pine or peppermint, though I can't say I was excited for either one of those flavors in a beer.  Gingerbread would have been good, though (hint to all brewers![2]  Turns out that at least this particular libation was nothing like that. (BA) classifies Breckenridge Brewery's "Christmas Ale" as a Winter Warmer.  What's a Winter Warmer, you ask?  BA describes it, in part, as having a "big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon." [3]

As you can see from the picture above, Christmas Ale had a very dark reddish-brown hue with an off-white, frothy head.  There was nothing particularly distinctive about its smell - it smelled like...well, beer.  The taste was about the same as the smell - nothing special and tasted like a plain ol' beer.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with beer tasting like beer - I was just surprised it didn't have some special flavor to it.  The ale had a medium mouthfeel [4], and it had a slight carbonation-like bite to it.  It was a little bitter and had a bit of an aftertaste, though not unpleasant.  All in all, this Christmas beer was okay, though I don't need to have one every Yuletide [5].

BeerAdvocate rates it a 79, while the Brothers [6] rate it an 83. rates it a 57 overall with a harsh 12 for style, which they classify as an American Strong Ale.

Granted, I've only had one Christmas beer, but I'm wondering - is Christmas beer a gimmick?  What do you think?  Leave a comment to discuss, or send me a Tweet: @BrewReviewMann.

As Jon says on his blog,, Beery Christmas and a Hoppy Holidays!

[1] For readers not familiar with the phrase "the blogs", it is simply a way of saying that authors on more than one blog were discussing this topic.
[2], a favorite reference of mine, lists a few different gingerbread beers here.
[3] Source:  You can also read about the many other styles at this link.
[4] I've never really talked about mouthfeel on Justin's Brew Review before, so a quick tutorial is in order.  Mouthfeel is the perception of body in the beer.  Body is typically classified as light, medium, or full.  Each style has an appropriate amount of body to be expected.  (Taken from
[5] As I was typing "Yuletide", I had the thought that it would make a good Christmas beer name.  So I BA'd it (akin to "Googling" something, but on BeerAdvocate's site instead of Google - okay, yes I made that up...but I'm hoping it catches on!), and sure enough, there are a few Yuletide beers available.
[6] "The Brothers", Jason and Todd Alström, started in 1996.  Read about it here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Taste of Brew Reviews to Come

Quite unexpectedly, I made out on the Christmas gift front, largely due to a generous gift from my wife's cousin, Nick (thanks again!).  I received 18 unique beers, which means you can expect some upcoming brew reviews!  Of course, it'll take me quite some time to get through all these, so please be patient!

Here's a list of the beers (from left to right):

Front row
  • Sixpoint Brewery's Autumnation (6.7% ABV)
  • Williamsburg AleWerks's Tavern Ale (5.6% ABV)
  • Blue Mountain Brewery's Blue Mountain Classic Lager (5.3% ABV)
  • Starr Hill's Double Platinum (8.6% ABV)
  • 21st Amendment Brewery's Fireside Chat (7.9% ABV)
  • Pabst Brewing's Stroh's (4.6% ABV)
Middle row
  • Williamsburg AleWerks's Pumpkin Ale (8.0% ABV)
  • Blue Mountain Brewery's Lights Out Holiday Ale (7.0% ABV)
  • Williamsburg AleWerks's Washington's Porter (6.4% ABV)
  • Williamsburg AleWerks's Coffeehouse Stout (5.4% ABV)
  • Port City Brewing's Monumental IPA (6.3% ABV)
  • Williamsburg AleWerks's Red Marker Ale (5.0% ABV)
Back row
  • Southern Tier Brewing's Pumking (8.6% ABV)
  • Thirsty Dog Brewing's Old Leghumper (6.7% ABV)
  • Stone Brewing's Stone IPA (6.9% ABV)
  • Stone Brewing's Stone Levitation Ale (4.4% ABV)
  • Stone Brewing's Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2% ABV)
  • Stone Brewing's Stone Pale Ale (5.4% ABV)
I look forward to enjoying these brews and sharing my tasting experiences with you.

Trusting that you all had a wonderfully Merry Christmas.  Prost!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Beer Nog

Just in time for the holidays - a recipe for Beer Nog!  I had never heard of such a thing until the November / December 2011 issue of DRAFT Magazine (if you have your own copy, just turn to page 14).

Mmm, Beer Nog!
(Photo Courtesy of
So how do you make Beer Nog?  Glad you asked!  The article and recipe in DRAFT Magazine was provided by Joe Stange of

  • 4 ounces strong ale*
  • 4 fresh eggs
  • 1/2 ounces Bourbon or dark rum
  • 2 dashes ground nutmeg or mace
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • mixer
  • serving glasses [1]
  1. Separate the eggs.  Beat the sugar into the yolks until smooth.
  2. Stir the milk and cream into the yolk mixture.  Add 1 dash of spice and the whiskey or rum.  (Some recipes call for as much as 4 ounces of liquor; here, a bit of warmth is welcome, but too much can overwhelm the beer's flavor.)
  3. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into the nog mixture.
  4. Pour the beer into the serving glasses [1] and add the nog mixture.  Optional: Reserve some of the cream, whip and add a dollop to each glass.  Spring 1 dash of spice on top and serve.
Serves: 4

barleywine, Belgian strong, Christmas beer, or otherwise

I plan on mixing up my own batch of Beer Nog this holiday season -- how about you?  Looking forward to raising my glass - Prost!

[1] In his post on, Joe says that the DRAFT Magazine article said "snifter" rather than "serving glasses" so I made the correction here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Beer Resources

In case you were wondering, it has been a little while since my last post.  I admit - I've been slacking!  But only in the beer blogging arena.  I've got a lot of ideas, so it's time to do a little writing!

Resources - that's the topic of today's post.  Besides Justin's Brew Review (shameless plug), what other sites, books, magazines, etc. are available to us fellow beer lovers (or otherwise interested readers)?  There are a LOT.  Seriously.  I'll name quite a few here and will undoubtedly miss a LOT.  Get the point?  Okay, good.  Here we go.

  • (affectionately known as BA) -- from their website, BA claims to be a "global, grassroots network, powered by an independent community of beer enthusiasts and industry professionals who are dedicated to supporting and promoting beer".  So what does this mean?  It means that if you want to learn about beer and tell others what you think about beer, this is the site for you!  This site appears to be very popular with beer snobs and geeks but is quite accessible to all.  Like most anything these days, they have built a social element in to their site.  (Check out my profile!)    Final item: their motto (read "credo") is "Respect Beer."
  • -- along with BA, RateBeer is highly referenced by beer reviewers.  From their website, RB writes that they are "widely recognized as the most accurate and most-visited source for beer information. RateBeer is an independent world site for craft beer enthusiasts and is dedicated to serving the entire craft beer community through beer education, promotion, and outreach".  This is a good place to visit to see what others think of a certain beer.
  • -- This unique "beerfinder" site helps people to track down, locate, and otherwise identify the right beer for them.  Their database allows the user to filter results by beer, brewery, country, style, ABV, "smart rating", and even calories.  As I suspected, the "smart rating" is a weighted average of ratings from multiple sites (The Opinionated Beer Page,, - unless you've managed to find and imbibe a bottle of the now retired Hazed and Confused, hopefully some of these sound familiar).  The site claims to "present you with the facts - stripped of any marketing influence", which sounds like a good idea to me.  We don't need the marketing hype - we want to know what our fellow beer drinkers think!
Apps for your mobile (and also websites):

  • Untappd -- Their slogan is *Drink Socially*, so you can take a guess at what this app is.  The world of social networking...coming to a pint near you.  From their website, "Untappd is a new way to socially share and explore the world of beer with your friends and the world. Curious what your friends are drinking or where they're hanging out?  Just check out their profile where you can toast and comment on their beers! Untapped will offer you beer recommendations based on what you and your friends have been enjoying, so you'll have no reason to not try something new!"
  • Pintley -- More social beer e-drinking.  From their website, "Pintley is a new kind of beer website--one that only recommends beer you're sure to love.  Unlike other beer sites, Pintley doesn't just know beer; it also knows you. [1] Pintley learns from your ratings and tasting notes to understand exactly what pleases your palate the most, so you can be your own beer expert."


  • The Oxford Companion to Beer by Garrett Oliver -- This is a very new book (published only two months ago in October 2011), and there has been quite a bit of discussion on the beer blogs about it.  The hardcover list price is $65 [2], and at the time of publication, Amazon has it listed for $39.  That's quite a deal for a 960-page book! Also according to Amazon, the book "features more than 1,100 A-Z entries written by 166 of the world's most prominent beer experts".
  • Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher -- This is an excellent reference book for all things beer.  Published in February 2009, this 256-page paperback book is the "insider's guide to the world's greatest drink".  From Amazon, "Mosher explores and explains the tasting experience, guiding readers to a better understanding of how every batch of beer is affected by recipe formulation, brewhouse procedures, yeasts, fermentations, carbonation, filtration, packaging, and much more. Readers will learn to identify the scents, colors, flavors, and mouth-feel of all the major beer styles".
  • Pennsylvania Breweries by Lew Bryson -- You may recall that my last blog post was about Lew.  Not only is he author of this book (and others), but he is a beer blogger.  And hopefully a beer blogger soon to have a TV show about beer blogging [3].  But I digress.  The 4th edition of PA Breweries was published in September 2010 and provides a comprehensive look at PA's 73 breweries and brewpubs [4].  I believe you can also pick up a copy at nearly any of the breweries mentioned in the book - I know for sure I've seen copies for sale at two of my favorite breweries, Tröegs and Yuengling.


  • DRAFT Magazine -- I subscribe to this well-written, bi-monthly publication.  It is an entertaining look at beer throughout the United States today.  It includes articles on beer, food, travels, and a combination of all three.  They always review a handful of beers from a few different beer styles.  At the time I'm writing this, you can subscribe for a year (6 issues) for $20, or you can opt for the more economical 2-year subscription (12 issues) for $30.
  • BeerAdvocate Magazine -- Published by [5], this monthly publication is yours for the low subscription fee of only $15 per year (12 issues).

There is also a multitude of beer blogs available for your reading pleasure.  I encourage you to check out the "Blog Roll" in the right-hand column of Justin's Brew Review.  The "Blog Roll" is simply a list of some of the blogs I follow.  They're pretty good...but you don't have to take my word for it!  Prost!

[1] It's scary when you think about how much information about us is actually "out there" for the whole world. While only slightly off-topic, check out this article (12/15/2011) about the amazing amount of information Facebook collected on someone in a year's time--including information that was supposed to have been deleted or removed.
[2] So that means you pay $75 at a brick and mortar bookstore, right?
[3] He needs our financial support.
[4] Although with the ever-increasing popularity of craft beer, I'm sure that there are more PA breweries and brewpubs around today. In fact, I'm sure of it - I know of three in York County, PA alone:  South CountyMudhook, and LiquidHero.  Lew also chronicles book updates online.
[5] Bet you wouldn't have guessed that if I hadn't told you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

American Beer Blogger: The TV Show

Exciting news announced yesterday on Lew Bryson's blog "Seen Through a Glass" -- a potential, new half-hour television series about the craft beer industry called "American Beer Blogger"!  What a cool idea:  a TV show about a guy who goes around visiting places, drinking beer, asking questions, and writing about it, as Lew says.  If you're not convinced, check out his video (believe's worth the 2:25 of your time!):

But in order to get this show up and running, the producers (Green Leaf) need to raise $60,000.  The money will go toward editing and marketing the idea to a TV channel.  So if the idea sounds good to you (it does to me!), Lew is asking you to help them reach their financial goal by pledging some money to their Kickstarter.  (I've also attached a widget at the end of this post.)

About Lew:  he is a drinks writer from the Philly area.  He has a couple other blogs, including  "Why the PLCB Should be Abolished" and "Session Beer Project".  He also authored the book "Pennsylvania Breweries".  Intelligent, witty, and very real writing - good stuff all around.  I definitely recommend that you check out his work.

A big "thank you" to my in-laws for turning me on to Lew!  Hopefully after this post, I'll have done the same for you all.  Prost!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Yorktoberfest 2011 Follow-up

Here's a follow-up to my "live" post from Yorktoberfest.  I said I was aiming to try all the varieties of craft beer at the festival...and I was close.  Looking back, I only missed one - Tröegs JavaHead Stout - which I already know is an enjoyable brew.

I took my pint glass from tent to tent, and the barkeeps faithfully filled it up.  Each 2 to 3 oz sample provided just enough to fill up the bottom of the glass and for me to savor the flavor.

Here's a comprehensive list of the beers they proffered and some quick tasting notes*:
  1. Tröegs JavaHead Stout
  2. Tröegs HopBack -- "hoppy"!
  3. Tröegs Dead Reckoning Porter -- amazing! not as smooth as a typical porter; it has a bit of a bite
  4. Stoudt's Scarlet Lady Ale -- surprisingly not as complex as other ales
  5. Stoudt's Oktoberfest -- strong-ish and fizzy
  6. Stoudt's Heifer-in-Wheat -- clever name, great taste (banana!)
  7. Stoudt's Gold Lager -- classic golden liquid
  8. Springhouse Brewery Seven Gates Pale Ale -- bitter aftertaste
  9. Spoetzl Brewery Shiner Bock -- not as dark as I expected
  10. Spaten Dunkel -- smooth, almost like you're not drinking anything; would make a good session beer except for the 5.5% ABV
  11. Sixpoint Vienna Pale Ale -- the right amount of hoppiness, just the way a beer should taste!
  12. Sixpoint Brownstone -- similar to a porter but has more of a mild, nutty flavor
  13. Rogue Dad's Little Helper -- a black IPA (mmm!) strong on the hops!
  14. Magic Hat Circus Boy -- a good summer brew, light and refreshing
  15. Lancaster Brewing Company Shoo-Fly Porter -- smooth; light flavor of shoo-fly (my favorite pie!)
  16. Hauser Estates Jack's Hard Cider -- "local Adams County apples put to good use", said the vendor
  17. Dogfish Head Festina Pêche -- love Dogfish Head, didn't love this brew (tart, juicy)
  18. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. Shock Top -- an always enjoyable summer beer

Also, I did some digging into why York's own LiquidHero and Mudhook breweries were not represented at Yorktoberfest, much to my (and I'm sure others') chagrin.  The organizers of Yorktoberfest were not immediately available for comment, but it was rumored that the "big boy" distributors may have pulled rank over the newbies and blocked them from the event (politics, ugh).  LiquidHero was undeterred.  A representative commented, "we supported this fest and we also made alot of new friends this weekend from people coming over to our brewery after this beerfest...we love the revs and we love york county...and we are here to stay".  That's the spirit, fellas!  You truly are our LiquidHero!  Prost!

* recommends not reviewing beers at fests for a variety of reasons: "small sample sizes...loud environments, slew of smells, and tasting of numerous beer styles back-to-back. [...] Doing so does a disservice to the brewer and could mislead others." (Source:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Yorktoberfest 2011

I'm coming to you "live" from the 1st Annual Yorktoberfest in York, Pennsylvania!  The event is being held at Sovereign Bank Stadium, home of the York Revolution baseball team.  Let me tell you - it is a blast!  There are lots of people here enjoying vendors, music, food, Pennsylvania wines, and best of all, craft beers from the region.  There are brews here from Tröegs, Lancaster Brewing Company, Magic Hat, Shock Top, Stoudt's, Sixpoint, Rogue, Dogfish Head, and Spaten.  I'm aiming to try them all!  As part of the beer pass, I received a free pint glass and access to limitless samples of great craft brew.  If you're in the area, you should stop by - the festivities are going on till 5 today.  If you can't make it today, you can stop back tomorrow between noon and 5.

I was looking for beers from York's own Mudhook and LiquidHero breweries, but to no avail.  Both of these breweries are very new to York, and I think it's very exciting that York is being infused with some beer culture.  But I'm very disappointed that they are not represented here.  Why would the very city's own breweries not be represented?  Regardless, I love that the "craft brew scene" seems to be gaining momentum in South Central PA, just as it is everywhere in the US right now.  I'm hoping that it lasts! (Relevant side note: DRAFT magazine has indicated that there are plans to open 600 brand new craft breweries in the US by 2013!)

This is the first blog post I'm publishing via my smartphone, so please forgive me if there are any issues - I just wanted to post this "live" in order to bring you the breaking beer news here in York, PA.  I'm going to attempt to attach photos. (Edit: After publishing this post, I found that all the pictures were at the top. I've since edited them using my PC so that they are now in-line with the text.)

For more info, check out Prost!

The glass is half full, my friend.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bocktown - The Place to Beer

This past weekend, my in-laws introduced me to a wonderful restaurant in the Pittsburgh, PA area called Bocktown (apparently affectionately known as B-Town). They claim that they are "The Place to Beer" and tout many such quippy sayings. I have to say, I totally agree with them. I was impressed by their vast beer offerings. (Oh yeah...their menu was pretty good too. I went with the Bocktown 'Burgher.) From their About Us page:
"We love the artisan efforts of America’s craft brewers. We are completely dedicated to bringing you their products. When you visit, you will find a great variety of beer styles on draft, 16 rotating taps ranging from India pale ale, to imperial stout, as well as fruit beer, and other seasonal offerings. We do not ever offer Coors, Bud or Miller on tap. You will also find 400 different better bottle choices including some once a year offerings! We love rare beers, so don’t hesitate to call us to see if we have something you have been searching for." (emphasis mine)
B-Town's Seemingly-Endless Bottle Selection
Here, here - pass the craft beer! I took the liberty of taste-testing three brews before choosing one for a pint. I tried:

  1. Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin - 8.0% ABV Pumpkin Ale, brewed in Easton, PA
  2. East End Hop Harvest - 7.4% ABV American IPA, brewed locally in Pittsburgh, PA - definitely tasted the hops, which I love, as well as a citrus / grapefruit flavor - readers may recall that I am not a grapefruit fan, as related in this post about Sam Adams' Summer Ale; however, East End's brewski was pretty darn good (i.e. the grapefruit flavor wasn't very strong!)
  3. Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale - 6.5% ABV American Brown Ale, brewed in Portsmouth, NH - this one hit my mouth hard with an absolute burst of flavor (a real ale!) - it had a burnt sugar / caramel aftertaste, which was delightful (is it appropriate to use the word "delightful" for a beer? hmm...)
(From Left to Right) Weyerbacher, East End, and Smuttynose Samples
For the pint, I chose door beer #1:  Weyerbacher's seasonal Imperial Pumpkin.

Its wonderful pumpkin pie flavor mixed nicely with the caramel, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I was pleasantly surprised that our server had dipped the rim of the pint glass in brown sugar - mmm, mmm good! rates this beer as a 96 overall, and rates it as a B+. I give it a solid A. There is no doubt that this delectable pumpkin ale trumps (the only other pumpkin ale I've ever tried) Shipyard Brewing's weakly-flavored Pumpkinhead Ale, which I recently reviewed in this post.

If you are ever in the Pittsburgh area, you'll definitely want to check out Bocktown. I certainly plan on going back. Prost!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Love the "Summer Love Ale"

In tribute to the passing of summer, this review is about Victory Brewing Company's "Summer Love Ale".  It's the first Victory brew I've ever tried, and I have to say, it was a great start!

A light, white frothy head crowned the hazy golden brew, and a fruit smell wafted from the glass.  I was impressed with the complexity of this 5.2%-ABV ale -- the lemon flavor mixed very well with the hoppy taste which yielded an extremely quaffable beer.  The first sip and each subsequent taste was a delight.  I love tasting the hops in a beer, and the mixture of hops and lemony-fruity-goodness in this particular libation was extremely satisfying.

Based on my limited sampling of other beers, I would compare this ale to Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat or Brewery Ommegang's Hennepin.

Overall, I would rate this beer an "A". rates it a "B+", and gives it a 91 overall and a 99 for style.  I was a big fan, and even though I love the fall, I now have a reason to look forward to next summer.  Also, can't wait to try some other Victory brews -- any suggestions?


Friday, September 23, 2011

Pumpkinhead Ale

This amber-colored, 5.1%-ABV wheat ale offered by Shipyard Brewing Company was an alright seasonal treat.  It had very little head, and the little bit it did have was white and frothy.  I was surprised that there was very little pumpkin smell - the waft that hit my nose was all ale.  After the first taste, it was evident why there was little pumpkin smell - there wasn't much of a pumpkin taste either.  The beer had a subtle spiced flavor with just enough bite to it.  Once the aftertaste kicked in, I did notice a faint cinnamon pumpkin flavor, but still not very strong.

I've never tried any other pumpkin-flavored beers, but I'm curious to compare.  Today, Iron Hill Brewery is releasing their Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale (read more about it on Bil's blog), so I'm gonna have to head on over to try it out.  Prost!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Super Beer!

What's that in the sky? It's a's a, that's just ol' Jim flying high from a mere sip of his Super Beer! I stumbled on an interesting article, which led to a couple of other articles.  It all started when I was reading the May/June 2011 edition of DRAFT.  They featured an article about an independent Scottish brewery called BrewDog.  Founded in 2006, they have apparently become quite popular in a relatively short period of time.  The article states that BrewDog's sales increased by 230% after opening a restaurant / bar in their hometown of Aberdeen, U.K.  What was most interesting, though, was the trilogy of ice-distilled beers that they released, each one setting a new world record for highest alcohol by volume:
  1. Tactical Nuclear Penguin, 32% ABV
  2. Sink the Bismarck, 41% ABV
  3. The End of History, 55% ABV
Just to give you an idea, a typical beer is between 4% and 6% ABV (see my previous blog post, How Does Your Beer Measure Up?).  Wine is usually about 13% ABV, while vodka may be about 40% ABV [3].

If you think BrewDog's names of beers are odd, the packaging is even more eclectic:  the highly-intoxicating The End of History was sold stuffed inside of a squirrel -- well, at least it used to be a squirrel.  I won't post any pictures here, but if you are interested, you can find one posted on the Consumerist's website and on an LA Weekly blog.  According to a Reuters article, only 12 bottles of The End of History were made, and they sold for over $700 per bottle (1/3 liter [1], which is less than 12 ounces).

So I got to wondering if The End of History was still the highest-ABV beer available.  After all, it was released a whole year ago in mid-2010.  It turns out that only a week after BrewDog introduced their limited-time offer, a Dutch brewery announced a new 60%-ABV beer [1], [2].  In a friendly competitive way, the 60%-ABV was given the moniker Start the Future.  The Dutch brewery, 't Koelschip (The Refrigerated Ship), offered 1/3-liter bottles of their 120 proof brew for the competitive price of only $45 [2].

I have not been able to find anything stronger than the purported 60%-ABV beer by 't Koelschip, but that's not to say it doesn't exist.  If you find one or see a news article about a new high-ABV beer, let me know - I'd like to include it here as an update.  I did find a nice image on, which I've posted below.  It shows some of the high-ABV beers that are available from various breweries.  As you can see, ABV increases over time.

Photo courtesy of
I suppose it should go without saying, but this isn't the kind of beer that you chug or otherwise drink "normally".  This is the kind that you "enjoy" -- in a small glass.  BrewDog even goes so far as to place a quasi-serious disclaimer on their website for the Tactical Nuclear Penguin:  "This is an extremely strong beer, it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whiskey, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost."

Need to be rescued from a boring night?  Never fear -- Super Beer is here!  Prost!


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Smoked Beer: Good or Gross?

A while back, I thought I'd try what's called a smoked beer (or in German, Rauchbier).  I didn't know what to expect, but after some preliminary research, it sounded like it would taste like some kind of meat.  Granted, I prefer my beer to taste like beer, but I was intrigued!  So in the name of learning, I took the plunge.

In addition to trying a new type of beer, I had read about food pairings in a DRAFT magazine article, so I decided to try cheese with the beer.  During a trip to a Giant Eagle Market District, I picked up a cave-aged Gruyere, which was listed as a pairing recommendation for smoked beers.  I also bought Aecht Schlenkerla's Rauchbier Märzen, which is an import from Bamberg, Germany.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen -- imported from Bamberg, Germany
Märzen is a type of lager that has its origins in Bavaria.  Originally, it was a beer that was brewed in March and laid down in caves or cellars before the summer weather rendered brewing impossible. Stocks would be drawn upon during the summer and finally exhausted in October. [1]

Post-Pouring, Pre-Partaking
Now for my tasting notes.  The almost-black beer had a frothy off-white crown.  The aroma that met my nose was a wonderful bacon or smoked sausage, which literally made my mouth water.  Surprisingly, the first sip that met my tongue was less meat and more lager.  As the crisp flavor began its descent, the aftertaste was reminiscent of that first smell of bacon, this time with a hint of wood.  I was impressed that while the brew had a definite meat flavor, it was still very much a lager.

After a few more sips, I tried pairing it with the Gruyere and found that they indeed mixed well together.  The blend of beer and cheese made for a sensational burst of flavor in my mouth with the Rauchbier fizzing around the cheese.  The cheese enhanced the flavor of the smoked meat but in a refreshing way.

Bottle Cap from the Rauchbier
All in all, I was glad for the chance to expand the horizon on my journey to learn more about beer.  If you've never tried a smoked beer before, it's definitely worthwhile to experience the flavor at least once.  However, I would recommend picking up a single bottle to try.  While I would partake of a smoked beer again, it's not on my "must drink again soon" list.  So many beers, so little time...



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Brews - featuring Leinenkugel's

Looking for some good "summer brews"? Leinenkugel's has a summer sampler case with four different flavors:
  1. Classic Amber
  2. Sunset Wheat
  3. Honey Weiss
  4. Summer Shandy
While they are all tasty, the "most unique flavor" award goes to Summer Shandy.  Why?  It's got lemonade in it!  Thanks to it being a wheat beer, the Shandy has a low bitterness factor (IBU = 13.5).  Combine that with the lemonade, and man!  Talk about a doubly-refreshing beer!

As far as other brands go, I always recommend Tröegs. They have a good, thirst-quenching beer formally called Sunshine Pils, but commonly and affectionately known as Sunny Pils.

As far as other types of beers go, you can't go wrong with a wheat beer (often combined with a fruit flavor), Belgian, weiss or witbier (white), or any "brisk" lager (mmm, Yuengling!).

There are a number of other "summer brews" that I hope to try before the season is out, including: Magic Hat's Wacko, Lancaster Brew Company's Strawberry Wheat, and Dogfish Head's Festina Peche.  Let me know if you've tried any of these or if you have other suggestions!

Cheers to beers!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sam Adams' Summer Ale - or is it Ail?

Tonight, we stopped by the Conewago Inn in Manchester, PA.  We always enjoy the ambiance and tasty food, and of course, I look forward to a pint of frothy brew.  I was just in time to try Sam Adams's seasonal Summer Ale.
Image courtesy of 
The golden-colored liquid had very little head and looked to be a refreshing beer.  Scents of zesty lemon wafted up from the glass of this 5.3% ABV wheat ale.  Upon first sip, Summer Ale was a real taste-pleaser.  The citrus combined well with the spicy Grains of Paradise to produce a flavorful sensation.  After savoring its essence in my mouth, I swallowed - and that's when it hit.  The spice-and-citrus mixture left a grapefruit aftertaste.  There are those who like grapefruit, and then there is me.  The sour suggestion didn't leave until I washed it down with some water.

While I choose not to partake of this particular draught again, I would recommend it to anyone that has a predilection for grapefruit.  I was disappointed by Summer Ale, but Sam Adams has a good selection of some other, fairly palatable pilseners and beers.  Prost!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shock Top - A Beer with a Twist (of Orange, Lemon, and Lime)

We visited Coakley's Restaurant and Irish Pub in New Cumberland, PA this weekend and had quite an enjoyable dining experience on their sidewalk cafe.  I was in the mood to try a new beer with an intriguing-sounding name, and "Shock Top" fit the bill.  Little did I know what was in store for my taste buds!

When the waitress delivered my Shock Top, I admit that my expectations were low because there was an orange slice on the glass (the nerve!).  This is the very reason that I've always shied away from ordering a Blue Moon - you serve orange slices with fruity beverages with even fruiter names, not beer!  At any rate, I decided to keep an open mind, and I'm glad I did.

The yellow-gold-colored beer had a light, frothy head and a mouthwatering aroma reminiscent of a fruit basket.  When the first sip of brew hit my tongue, I immediately understood where this drink got its name.  The flavor shocked my taste buds with orange, lemon, and lime.  As I washed it down, I was left feeling refreshed.  This Belgian-style wheat ale is low on the bitterness ("hoppiness") and has plenty of flavor to go around.  The quaffable libation really hit the spot on a warm day.

My First "Shock Top" at Coakley's Sidewalk Cafe

I was surprised to find that Shock Top is brewed by Anheuser-Busch.  I tend to overlook mega-breweries when I'm searching for a new great-tasting beer.  I feel like they are all about production and not so interested in creating innovative, flavorful varieties of beer.  Thank you, Anheuser-Busch, for making me drink my words.  I'll be back for more.  Prost!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chinese Beer Bags

Yes, you read that correctly.  In China, you can get fresh beer - in a plastic shopping bag from a street vendor!
He must be thirsty.
(Photo Courtesy of
A co-worker recently shared this information with me (thanks, Ben!).  He said that he actually witnessed this when he was in Qingdao, China on business.  When Ben asked his translator, "what's with the bags?", I don't think he was prepared for the answer.  Apparently, brewery workers are partially paid with beer, and they take their kegs to the streets.  People like it because of how fresh it is, so it is customary to see people walking the streets with their bags of beer.

I'll take a bag to go, please!
(Photo Courtesy of
Qinqdao is home to China's "largest and most prestigious" brewery, Tsingtao, which was founded by German settlers in 1903.  (I think there's a German phrase that goes something like, "Beer. Never leave home without it.")  Not only is it China's largest brewery, Tsingtao Lager is China's #1 consumer product exported from China.  (I think the exported beer is bottled though.)

Tsingdao Brewery
(Photo Courtesy of

So what do you do with beer in a bag?  I suppose you could take it home and transfer it to a mug, but that just doesn't seem like a whole lot of fun.  I mean, we're talking beer in a bag here.  I did a little bit of digging around on the Internet, and it appears that most people choose to consume their beer on the spot with a straw.

How do you drink beer from a bag?  One sip at a time.
(Photo Courtesy of
While you may never find another place on earth that sells beer in a bag on the street, you don't have to travel all the way to Qingdao, China just to try their lager (#1 consumer product export, remember?).  I have not yet had the privilege, but the next time I see Tsingtao Beer somewhere, I think I'll have to try a bag glass.  Prost!
(Photo Courtesy of

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Alehoof, Ivy, and Hops

I have a desk calendar called "Forgotten English" by Jeffrey Kacirk, and there was an interesting entry for April 11th.  It was a word called "alehoof", which is apparently a botanical word.  Kacirk quotes Daniel Fennig's "Royal English Dictionary" (1775) which defines alehoof as "the ground-ivy [Glechoma hederacea], so called by the Saxons because a chief ingredient in their malt-liquor instead of hops".  Kacirk then talks about an interesting event called the Kent Hop Stringing Championship (see photo below).  He says:

"At this time of year, English hop plants begin to awaken from their fall and winter dormancy and need to be strung, allowing them to twine upward to heights of more than fifteen feet.
"Until the 1960s, a contest was held in Staplehurst, Kent, in which contestants secured the delicate hop shoots to poles for the title of Britain's Champion Hop Stringer.  Judges awarded points for speed and neatness based on the principles of the time-tested 'umbrella method,' in which string was run up to overhead wires and bound by a 'bander-in' worker forming a 'hill.'  Stilts were once employed by hopyard workers, but now most of the elevated work is handled with ten-foot-long poles tipped with piping, through which the string is fed.  Silver trophy cups were awarded to the winners, and pints of ale were distributed among all participants.
"Before the 1520s, which is when hops came to England from Holland, various bittering and flavoring herbs were used for beer, including dandelions, hay, pine needles, balsam, mint, tansey, wormwood, coriander, and even ivy."

Who knew??

Hop Stringing Competition
(Photo Courtesy of )

A Hop-Stringer Named Johnny Hook (Pseudonym Anyone?)
(Photo Courtesy of

Hop Stringing on Stilts
(Photo Courtesy of

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How Does Your Beer Measure Up?

Yes, believe it or not, you can actually measure your beer.  No, I'm not talking about "give me a tall glass".  I mean that when you want to describe a beer, there are three things you can talk about:
  1. Bitterness - International Bitterness Units (IBU)
  2. Strength - Alcohol By Volume (ABV)
  3. Color - Standard Reference Method (SRM)
Of course, this is all very technical, so after taking a gulp, you wouldn't say "yep, that had a IBU of 30".  IBUs, for example, are measured by using a spectraphotometer and solvent extraction.  That doesn't sound like something I'll be able to do without some intense training!  Actually, you can have a lab analyze the beer (for about $10) and provide you with the IBU.  One such lab is the actual organization that developed the IBU scale - they are called the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC).  Yes, that's right - chemists.  Who knew that those "general education" courses you had to take in college could have actually have gotten you a job working with beer?!?  (Note to chemistry professors: you may get better performance from your students if you advise of this career path.) One last note about bitterness: the apparent bitterness of a beer is subjective to the drinker, not to mention that malt content often makes the beer taste sweeter. That being said, IBU is not necessarily a good measure of the beer's "hoppiness". (source)

The worldwide measurement of a beer's strength is ABV. With the right tool (a hydrometer, which measures the density of liquid), this is something you can measure and calculate easily - homebrewers do it all the time. (source)  A beer's ABV is typically between 4% and 6% but can range from 2% to 12%. (source)  For example, the Constanza that I tried at Iron Hill Brewery recently was 6.2% ABV, but the ever-popular seasonal brew from Troëgs called Mad Elf Ale has a staggering 11% ABV. (Some restaurants actually have a limit on the number of Mad Elfs you can order in a sitting!)  For a list of some common beers and their ABVs, check out

Last is the color of beer.  The unit of measure, SRM, is an index value that speaks to the intensity of the beer's color.  The best way to describe this is by using a picture:

Chart courtesy of (SRM)
For the exceptionally-interested reader, check out for more information about beer color measurement than you'll ever need to know.

So how do you measure a beer's taste?  It turns out that this is a unique, personal unit of measure which takes a lot of practice and years of honing.  Hope you're up to the challenge!  Prost!

(Main source:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


So you may be wondering why I always end my postings with "zum Wohl!", and you may have guessed why.  It's a German phrase for "cheers!" that is literally translated as "to the health".  I was doing some reading online tonight and found out that "zum Wohl!" (pronounced "zoom vole") may be more commonly used in a formal setting when toasting with wine. The German word for "cheers!" that is more commonly used when drinking beer (in any setting) is "Prost!" (pronounced "proast") or its variant "Prosit!".  (Honestly, I knew this at one point.  I studied German for 8 years and minored in it in college, but when you don't use it, you lose it!)

For how to say cheers in just about any language you can think of, check out or (includes some sound bytes of words pronounced in the native tongue). My favorite is Zulu: "oogywawa".

Thanks for reading - Prost!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

An Iron Hill Brewery Birthday Bash

My wife took me to Iron Hill Brewery for my birthday again this year - it's a perennial favorite of ours. I would say that it has the ambiance of a Houlihan's or Ruby Tuesday's but with a brewery attached. The menu is extensive, but I always gravitate toward the burgers. Of course, I enjoy trying some of their many beers. They have monthly-release beers as well as six house beers: Iron Hill Light Lager, Vienna Red Lager, Ironbound Ale, a seasonal Belgian Ale, Pig Iron Porter, and Raspberry Wheat. Over time, I've tried the red lager, the porter, and the wheat beers, not to mention the Belgian ale and other monthly releases. I have to say that the Raspberry Wheat is almost more of a "fruity beverage" than a beer. It had a good raspberry flavor, but I forgot I was drinking a beer!

During this particular visit to Iron Hill, I tried a total of five different beers:

1) Overload Stout (ABV 9.55%)

From the Menu: "This imperial Oatmeal Stout is brewed with locally roasted coffee beans and local Wilburs chocolate for an overload of flavor."

Tasting Notes: A full-bodied dark beer with lots of flavor and a bit of a bite; had a vanilla aftertaste / overtone. My wife (who is not a beer drinker) tried it and said she could really taste the chocolate and some coffee.

Overload Stout (served on nitrogen)
2) Russian Imperial Stout (ABV 9.5%)

From the Menu: "Full-bodied Stout that starts with a complex malty sweet and high roasted character that is wonderfully balanced with the generous use of citrusy American hops."

Tasting Notes: A strong, dark beer. Stouts and Porters seem very similar to me. (Consider researching the difference in a future blog post.)

3) Constanza (ABV 6.2%)

From the Menu: "This amber colored ale is brewed with a significant portion of rye malt and spiced with caraway seeds. A bready malt center with a dry spicy finish. Pairs nicely with the most 'sensual of the salt cured meats - pastrami.'"

Tasting Notes: A great flavor! Malt and caraway give this a good flavor, though not extremely strong. There is a light spice flavor - there is just enough to give it some zest, but it's not overpowering.

4) Cask-Conditioned Constanza

Tasting Notes: Warmer than the non-cask-conditioned version (i.e. it's not served cold). There is less of a spice flavor after the cask conditioning, though it is still very good. (Consider researching the reason for cask conditioning and what it is supposed to do for a beer in a future blog post.)

Samplers - Russian Imperial Stout and Constanza (Regular and Cask-Conditioned)
5) Bonzai (Seasonal Belgian Ale) (ABV 7.0%)

From the Menu: "This Belgian Saison is a collaboration beer brewed with our head chef Mario Romero, spiced with a variety of the kitchen's secret Asian spices."

Tasting Notes: "WOW!" That is exactly what I said after trying the first (and second, and third) sip of this powerfully tasty ale. It was literally a blast of flavor in my mouth! It had a citrusy flavor, but not a strong citrusy flavor. It was fizzy - my wife described it as being like a carbonated soft drink and tasting like a "Spree" candy. This was a really light-colored ale compared to other ales that I have tried (though the picture that I took and posted below makes it appear more yellow that it was). The best way to describe this drink: happy-tasting.

Bonzai (Seasonal Belgian Ale)
If you've never been to the Iron Hill Brewery, it's definitely worth visiting. Check it out - I'm sure you'll find it to be a real treat!

Zum Wohl!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Yuengling Bock is Back

And man, is it good!  I tried some for the first time last night at Houlihan's in Hershey, PA and was quite impressed.  I heard of Yuengling Bock for the first time about a week ago and was immediately interested.  After doing some research, I was surprised to find out that Bock was only recently reintroduced by Yuengling.  In 2009, Yuengling made Bock again for the first time since the 1970s! (source)

If you followed any of the links I included in my last post, you may have run across the definition of Bock: it's the German term for a strong beer and likely indicates a bottom-fermenting brew made from barley malt (source).

Photo Courtesy of

Yuengling's Lager is one of my all-time favorites, so I've been working on trying all of their brews.  If you like a dark beer, which I do, the Black & Tan is really good.  Bock is even better!  Bock is a seasonal brew, so if you're interested, you should plan on checking it out in the near future.  I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Zum Wohl!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Beer is a Beer is a Beer

Except when it's a pilsner, lager, ale, porter, or stout! These are all beers, just different styles. I've always wondered what the difference was but never took the time to look it up. So here we go:

Any beer can typically be classified as either a lager or an ale (1). A lager is any beer made with bottom-fermenting yeast and may be golden or dark in color. Conversely, an ale is any beer made with top-fermenting yeast and typically has a "fruity" flavor. Lagers are cold-brewed for longish periods of time and are typically paler, drier, and less alcohol-tasting than ales. Ales are brewed at warmer temperatures for less time, are generally higher in alcohol, and are more robust and complex than lagers.

A pilsner ("pils" for short) is golden-colored beer made with bottom-fermenting yeast (which makes it a lager). This conventional strength beer is considered by some to be a "super-premium" quality (2).

A stout is an extra-dark top-fermenting beer made with highly-roasted malts (2).

A porter is a lighter-bodied version of the stout (2).

For other types of beers, check out this website:

Thanks for reading! Zum Wohl!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Terrific Tour of Tröegs (Truly!)

So the tour at Tröegs was pretty sweet. I have to admit that I felt a bit out of my element when I first walked in - everyone there appeared to have been there before and was very comfortable with the whole experience. Since it was my first time there, I wasn't quite sure what to do first, but I adapted quickly. There were three main areas: the Gift Shop, the Tasting Room with seating to sit and sample, and the Growler Bar. First, I headed toward the Gift Shop, since that's where I was supposed to check in for the tour. I also walked away with a new Tröegs pint glass.

Next, I headed toward the Tasting Room where they had just about every beer Tröegs produces available to try. On the way in, I had passed about 5 people that were leaving, and each one of them was walking out with a case of Nugget Nectar. Considering its apparent popularity, I was a bit curious what it tasted like. So I asked the people in the Tasting Room to try some Nugget Nectar, and they handed me a sampling glass with some in it! I thought I was ordering a pint to try - I had no idea they actually let you sample it before you buy it. It was decidedly sweet - a bit sweeter than I'd like a beer to be, but I wouldn't have said "no" to a pint. However, I really wanted to try the JavaHead Stout, since I'm an avid coffee-drinker. So I got a sampling glass with the JavaHead in it, and I was hooked! I immediately ordered a pint of the dark brew. I was impressed with how tasty it was - you could taste the coffee flavoring along with a hint of chocolate. It was not nearly as bitter or "dark"-tasting as I thought it would be, considering its black coloring. I would definitely recommend this one.

JavaHead Stout
After the tasting experience, the tour began. I was impressed by the fact that tour was given by Chris Trogner himself. Chris and John Trogner are the two brothers who conceptualized and started Tröegs.

I think it's amazing that they both give tours each and every week. The brewery itself is not huge, but it gets the job done. I enjoyed Chris' presentation of the brewing process. He didn't use lingo or jargon - he gave an informative talk that anyone could understand. He actually passed samples of barley and hops through the tour group and invited us to taste the barley - he said he didn't recommend tasting the hops, as you would then taste it for the rest of the day. There were three different types of barley in the samples - a light, a medium, and a dark. He recommended we start with the light and proceed to the dark, making note of the different, progressively bolder flavor of each one. He said that the barley flavor very directly translates into the final flavor of the beer. They also talked about the importance of yeast and how it plays a major role in the beer's final flavor as well.

Yeast Tanks
One of the great things about Tröegs is that they are a craft brewery, so they focus on making a limited amount of great beer. To that end, they are also constantly experimenting with new and innovative techniques and ingredients. Hence, their "Scratch Beer Series". Right now, they are on Scratch #39 and # 40. Additionally, they are experimenting with the use of barrels and the different types of woods or previous contents (such as whiskey). They call this their "Splinter Series".

Barrels Used to Make the Limited "Splinter Series" Beers
Tröegs has more information about the brewing process on their website. If you live anywhere near Harrisburg, PA, I definitely recommend taking a half-hour of your Saturday to visit Tröegs. Even my wife, who does not like beer, enjoyed the tour. You need to make reservations for the tour, but they make it very easy by allowing you to sign up online, which is what I did. I'm sure you won't want to leave without picking up a case, too - I chose the Anthology 2, which includes a mixture of HopBack Amber Ale, DreamWeaver Wheat Ale, Pale Ale, and JavaHead. Zum Wohl!