Review: Goose Island Oktoberfest

If I had to pick one beer style to drink basically forever, I think I would have to go with Märzen. It’s generally a really well-balanced brew with some maltiness, but without being sweet and without being hoppy, either. One of my all-time favorite beers is Sam Adams Octoberfest; I used to buy a few cases of it in season and then store it for the spring and summer time to enjoy then.

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Goose Island Oktoberfest sounded like a beer that would suit my needs and wants! I’ve had the Goose Island IPA a thousand times at Capitals hockey games, but I couldn’t remember for certain if I’d had the Oktoberfest so I grabbed one from my local bottle shop and brought it home in a build-your-own-six-pack arrangement.

Poured from a bottle into a Perfect Pint Glass, this beer is a nice, strong, dark golden color. It has a decent off-white head that dissipates in a few minutes’ time.  It has a very bready nose, malty and sweet, very indicative of a classic Märzen.

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It is, as this style should be, balanced in flavor. It has a slightly sweet finish with maybe a hint of apricot or orange. It has, I would say, moderate carbonation and a good mouthfeel. It’s very mild on the hops front, really more malt-forward, but not sweet, really. I drank this while eating some spicy chicken fajitas that I’d made and the beer held up just fine against those – maybe fajitas aren’t traditional Octoberfest fare, but pretty tasty none the less.

Review: Port City Ways and Means

I had to run some errands in Crystal City/Arlington a few weeks ago and ended up with some free time between two appointments. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to grab some lunch and a beer! I was right near a place I’d been once before, Highline RxR, which had a decent beer selection. I was hungry as heck and walked by their place, where an outdoor sign proclaimed that it was Taco Tuesday – they won me over so fast.

With a list of 32 craft beers on draft, Highline strikes me as a place with a lot of potential. I went to a birthday party there a few years ago and enjoyed good beers, decent food, and some of the board games that they keep in house for entertainment. It’s kind of inconvenient to get to, and in a more city-like area than I prefer (meaning I may have to pay for parking, which I take as a deep, personal offense).

I can’t remember my first choice of beers, but they didn’t have it, so the waiter suggested Port City Ways and Means, which I’d been eyeing up as well. Easy-peasey. It pours a handsome, rich golden hue that was maybe just a little bit hazy. It has almost no head, just a smattering of white across the top of the beer, which stuck around as I drank the beer down.

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It struck me as a sort of tropical, fruity smell, sweet, with a mild hop smell. I think there’s some orange in there, too. It has a bright, hoppy taste with a dry, slightly bitter finish. It tastes balanced at first, but ends up being a little drier than I prefer my beers to be. It’s bright and easy to drink, but I just don’t like that finish at all.

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I liked it less and less as it warmed up. That dryness just came forward more and more. It was a fine beer, I guess, but I wouldn’t order it again. It was refreshing, paired with an order of chicken tacos. For $8 for three beef, chicken, or fish tacos (or a selection of all three), Taco Tuesday is a solid deal.

Review: Elysian Dark O The Moon ’15

Like so many wonderful things in life, Elysian Brewing Company‘s Dark O The Moon only comes around once a year. I’m a big fan of fall and all things that come along with it: crunchy leaves, cool weather, pumpkin flavored everything, and Halloween. I’m down with pumpkin. I’m on the pumpkin train to Flavortown. And I like me some pumpkin beers.

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Photo via BeermanceNW

Not all pumpkin beers, mind you; there are some real stinkers out there, but pumpkin stouts, especially, are on my to-drink list just about everywhere. This isn’t the first year that I’ve enjoyed Elysian’s pumpkin brew and it certainly won’t be the last. Noteworthy: this is the 2015 edition of the beer, not the 2016. I’ll admit, I didn’t ask Frisco’s why they had last year’s version instead of this years. I just cheerfully ordered up a beer that I remembered fondly.

Poured from a tap into a pint glass, this beer is a dark black-brown pour that no light seemed to pass through (just how I like it!). It had almost no head at all, just a touch of light tan foam. The nose is all cinnamon. Aggressively cinnamon. It’s brewed with pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, and cinnamon.

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Photo by BeerSnobChick

Tasting notes with this beer are chocolate and a dark, sweet bread. It is pleasantly autumnal in every way – color, smell, and taste. It tastes much less like cinnamon than the nose would suggest. I didn’t get a really strong punch of pumpkin, per se. The chocolaty nature of this beer isn’t sweet, it’s more on the roasty end, resembling baker’s chocolate.

As far as texture goes, it has a really good, sturdy mouthfeel. There’s weight there, which is, in my opinion, how a stout should be. I remembered this beer fondly for a reason: it’s well-balanced and full of the flavors of my favorite season. It’s not my favorite fall beer (that would be Warlock – another review for another day), but it is a sold contender.

Review: New Belgium Brewing Company Fat Tire

If you’re on the east coast like me, this is a pretty prevalent beer. It’s easy to find six packs of it, even in convenience store fridges, and it’s not hard to locate it on tap at many bars. Even if you’re at a dive bar or sports bar, which may not serve the widest variety of brews, Fat Tire is becoming a more common option on draft. For me, it’s a solid go-to beer in bars that I might otherwise be very unhappy in.

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New Belgium Brewing Company, based out of Fort Collins, CO, has been brewing since 1991. They opened a second location in 2012 in Asheville, North Carolina, a notoriously beery town. This opened up their ability to distribute in the east and southeast of the US and the beer has spread like wildfire since then. As of October 2016, New Belgium beers are available in 45 states.

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It pours a dark golden color with a slight reddish hue to it. There’s a small, off-white head that sticks around for some time. The beer smells grainy and bready to me, but doesn’t have a particularly strong nose to speak of.

The taste is malty and balanced with almost no hops at all. It’s sweet (but not cloying or unpleasant) with caramel and toffee notes. I’d say that the mouthfeel is a little on the thin side and with a higher carbonation level. It paired well with chicken breast roasted with Turkish spices (garlic, cumin, oregano, paprika, and sumac) and some roasted root vegetables. I’d say it stood up fine to some of those stronger flavors and continued to be refreshing as it warmed up.

Beer 101: Yeast

Yeast is one of the four main ingredients that go into making beer, beautiful beer. The others are hops, malt, and water (this post is next in my Beer 101 series). There are certainly other ingredients that can be added to the beer process, but these four are the core pillars that hold up the whole thing.

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These itty bitty single-celled microrganisms are technically classified as a fungi. They reproduce by an asymmetric division process called budding. Their job is to convert fermentable sugars from the malt into alcohol and other byproducts. There are hundreds of varieties and strains of yeast out there, some of which are commonly used to brew beer.

Yeasts are generally put into one of two categories: ale yeast (top fermenting) or lager yeast (bottom fermenting), depending on how they behave during the fermentation process. There’s also a nebulous third category, known as spontaneously fermenting yeasts, which result when beer is left exposed to the air and is literally infected with wild yeast strains as they wander by – this is what creates sour beers.

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Ale yeasts generally sit on top of the beer-to-be, fermenting away between temperatures of 10° to 25°C (though some yeasts won’t activate below 12°C). These guys rise up to the surface, forming a thick raft of a head as they bubble away. These yeasts tend to yield beers higher in esters, which are the chemicals that give fruits their characteristic flavors. In the case of Hefe Weizen beers, the yeast produces the ester iso-amyl acetate, the same one that is found in bananas. Other esters include ethyl acetate, which can be flowery, and ethyl caproate, which is kind of wine-like and fruity. Top-fermenting yeasts are used for brewing ales, porters, stouts, Kölsch, Altbier, and wheat beers.

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Lager yeasts create much less of a head and tend to settle at the bottom of the tank as fermentation nears completion. They grow less rapidly than the ale yeasts and don’t create that layer of thick foam on top of the beer. These yeasts work at lower temperatures, around 7° to 15°C.

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In addition to making beer the alcoholic beverage that we so enjoy, it also has a large impact on the flavor of the final beer. The flavor and aroma of beer is complex and is influenced by  many factors, including malt, hops, and the yeast strain. The synthesis of yeast creates many byproducts, including ethanol (alcohol), CO2 (carbon dioxide), and also some flavor compounds like clove, butterscotch, and green apple.

Yeast may be tiny and invisible to the naked eye, but it plays a huge role in making beer what it is.

 

 

Review: Founders Porter

My house is full of birds. No, really. This isn’t a euphemism for anything. There are seriously just a lot of birds in my house right now.

I’m currently bird-sitting for a friend, so I’ve got two more birds in addition to my usual two. That’s 100% more birds! And one of them (Stewie, the beautiful yellow-orange bird) is a screamer. My poor ears. In all of the chaos of packing up to move house and being screamed at all the time from 5:30 am until about 8 at night, I needed something reliable.

In my county in Virginia, it isn’t always easy to get the best variety of craft beer. Founders, though, abounds here. They’re a given. I hadn’t had a Founders Porter in a year or two, but something felt comfortable about this beer, which I used to drink when I clung dearly to dark beers and didn’t try a lot of varieties. Hey, I was still learning! I got better!

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I know that I loved Founder’s Breakfast Stout back in the day, but I just couldn’t for the life of me remember what impression their Porter had left on me. Well, there’s a reason for that: it’s just not very interesting.

It pours a brown so dark it’s almost black with a deep burgundy head that’s just barely there. A whiff of the beer gives off molasses, bread, and roasted grain notes. The taste is honestly a little metallic to me; this is something that I’ve noticed in a lot of porters, actually. Maybe it’s my taste buds interpreting something weirdly, but some porters taste a little like I’m licking aluminum foil. There are still hints of brown sugar and molasses on the back of my tongue. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but that’s kind of common with porters.

Generally, I’m unimpressed. I guess my inability to remember something interesting about this beer is due to it just being not interesting. 

Review: Dogfish Head Namaste White

It’s always good to have things that we know we can rely on. People we trust, that pair of jeans that always fits just right, cell phone service in emergencies. One of the things that I know I can rely on is the consistently good brews that come out of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. If you’re on the east coast, you’ve probably heard of them. They’re kind of a big deal in the craft brewing movement. They’ve been doing their thing since 1995 and, if you ask me, they’ve been doing it well.

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I grabbed a six pack of Namaste White recently at my local grocery store for $9, which is a price that I sure like. They’ve been brewing this beer since 2009, but I could swear that this is the first  time I’ve seen it for sale in a six pack in a grocery store fridge.

Poured from a bottle and into a Perfect Pint Glass (how I sing the praises of thee), this beer pours a light golden yellow color with a minimal head. It smells a little bready, a little citrusy, and there’s maybe some spice there, too – it could be the coriander that I’m smelling.

It’s a nice white ale with a light mouthfeel and an overall light taste. It’s has a grain taste to it, some orange, and a little peppercorn, too. I poured and drank it pretty cold, so it’s possible that I’m not tasting a ton of the subtler flavors. It wasn’t until the beer warmed up a little bit that I started to taste the peppercorn and spice as it came forward.

I enjoyed this beer while making a green apple and cherry chutney to enjoy in the cold weeks ahead. I feasted on a grilled cheese with my freshly made chutney for dinner and really like the refreshing nature of Namaste White with the vinegary, spicy flavors of the chutney.

Review: Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA

This Union Jack IPA is described as a double dry hopped India pale ale and let me tell you, it is pretty aggressive! I wouldn’t call it a palate destroyer exactly, but it has punch to it.

If I’m remembering my early beer drinking days correctly (and they involved plenty of beer, so maybe I’m not, to be fair), this IPA by California brewery Firestone Walker might have been one of my first IPA experiences. At that time, I was still pretty new to beer in general and tended to prefer roasty, dark stouts so an IPA was a pretty big long shot. I would bet that I didn’t like it very much. It’s no wonder it might have scared me off of the style, considering its big, bold hops flavors.

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I decided to give it another go now that I’m older, wiser, and very much into IPAs. I poured this from a bottle into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint Glass. This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a beer! These glasses have a laser-etched bottom inside, which generates activation sites for the CO2 bubbles in beer to form up. These bubbles are part of what delivers the flavors of beer to us, as well as what creates the experience of carbonation. Sadly, I did not get these glasses in the divorce. Dang!

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This beer poured a rich golden yellow with a significant head that stays for days. There’s a very green, grassy nose that’s hoppy as well. It’s maybe even a little bit bready, too. The taste is all hops! Hops, hops, hops! It never got too dry, though, and there was maybe just a hint of citrus on the back end. It’s odd, but I’d even say that this beer gets a little sweeter as it warms up. Very strong hops flavor, but a very drinkable beer to be sure.