Review: Captain Lawrence Barrel Select Green

Can I just say: the soundtrack at Gilly’s is always so, so good (even on the days where one of the bartenders gets a wild hair and plays nothing but Phish – this is rare, but it does happen – be warned). There’s always lots of classic rock or indie playing. This day, the siren sounds of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream were a treat for my ears. I love that song and it even inspired a short story of mine (heyyyyy anybody want to buy a 6,000 word time travel/Weird West tale?). Anyway.

The Captain Lawrence Brewing Company brings us the Barrel Select – Green, a sour ale with a nice flavor to it. This beer is a blend of several brews, which are being aged in Italian oak barrels, some for up to three years. It sports a low IBU (bitterness rating) of 15 and a moderate ABV (alcoholic percentage) of 6.5%. The taste, however, isn’t quite what I had expected.

I had this in a 10oz tulip glass at Gilly’s (I love those 10oz pours so that I can try even more beers!). It’s an faintly orange  golden color that is very appealing. It is slightly hazy in appearance, but I can’t be confirm on the brewery’s website if this beer is filtered or not; other reviews talk about its haziness as well, so this is a feature, not a bug. It has a very small, whitish head with a few streaks of lacing to be seen. There’s not much nose to it. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of flavor, but I do tend to like sours/wild ales that also have a sour smell to them. This does not have that, though it smells faintly of green apple to me.

Upon tasting, there is no sour punch. I was bracing for one, but this didn’t deliver – not much of a surprise considering the lack of a strong smell. It is, however, gently bright and fruity. It’s crisp. It feels more like a dry cider than a beer to me. The carbonation is pretty high on this one. It’s refreshing.

This could be a very enjoyable beer for someone intimidated by too much sourness in a beer. It might go over well with dry cider drinkers. It’s very drinkable and wonderful for warm weather. Three out of five glasses, mostly because I was looking for a greater saturation of flavor in this one.

Review: Old Dominion Grapefruit Pale Ale

Old Dominion Brewery started life as a humble brewery in Ashburn, VA, way back in 1989 (this is fairly old by craft brewery standards, considering that much of the craft movement didn’t gain traction until the 2000s). They lovingly crafted beer and sodas for many years, supplying the Mid-Atlantic with reputable products in bottles and kegs. In 2007, they joined up with Fordham brewery out of Annapolis, MD – and in 2009, the breweries consolidated and moved their base of operations to Dover, Delaware. These two breweries are partners with the Rams Head Tavern in Savage, MD, who keeps several of their beers on rotating taps at all times.

I was meeting friends for dinner at Rams Head one April evening and, as per usual, I was heinously early. I grabbed a pint of this Grapefruit Pale Ale, their summer seasonal, which had just premiered earlier that week. Worth noting, I really don’t like trying to snap pictures of my beers in this venue because the lighting is so dark and kind of red-orange saturated. It doesn’t make for good photography.

This is (probably) a pretty, honeycomb gold color (again, those lights make it hard to tell) with a fluffy, off-white head on its beery shoulders. There’s plenty of full-bodied lacing remaining inside of the glass as the head settles. The nose is faintly hoppy, fairly grainy, and with some light notes of citrus fruit in it.

The bartender described it as “bright” and I agree: it’s very easy to drink and nicely crisp. Now, I don’t really usually like grapefruit anything, so this beer was kind of a risk – but it paid off. It’s great served cold on a warm day. It’s a little piney and reminiscent of an IPA in that way. The finish is a little dry (probably the number one complain that I make on this blog…), but not so dry that I’d never get this again. I think I would order it in the future, especially to support local craft beer.  Four out of five frosty mugs!

Beer 201: Tetrahydropyridine

I like to call this one, “Excuse me, waiter? There’s some Cheerios in my beer.”

Time to drop some knowledge. So, remember the sour beer festival that I went to a few months back? Well, I ran into something that I hadn’t really been able to pin down before: sometimes, some sour beers tasted… weird. There was an aftertaste there. Something wheaty and kind of unpleasant. But I couldn’t place it.

Then my friend M said, “Ew, this one tastes like Cheerios” and everything fell into place. Cheerios! That was exactly the weird taste that I’d been getting! But what the heck would cause this kind of strange flavor that, in my opinion, clearly didn’t belong there? It was time for some Google fu.

There is a chemical compound called Tetrahydropyridine, produced by some yeasts*, that is responsible for this imperfection in the flavor of beers – and it is generally considered by brewers and wine makers (who battle this off flavor, too) to be a flaw. Brewers usually abbreviate it to THP (thank goodness, because that is not a word I feel like typing for a second time) and it is considered a ketone (which is something I actually know a bit about because of a diet I followed for years… ANYWAY). It is responsible for the Cheerios, biscuit/cracker, or – according to some people – urine-like “off” flavors in sour beers.

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What I have experienced the most is a Cheerios/dry wheat taste on the back end of a beer taste or as an aftertaste that lingers. This is apparently a pretty common experience… except I’ve read that not everyone is able to detect this funky flavor. The acidity/low pH of sour beers can mask or overwhelm the flavors (and usually the aroma, too) of THP. Since everyone’s tongue has a slightly different natural pH level itself, some folks’ mouths will cause an increase in the pH of the liquid and they will be able to taste the THP’s effects; some people’s natural pH levels won’t cause enough of change in the beer to reveal this flavor. I have a pretty attuned palate, generally speaking, so I’m not surprised that I’m sensitive enough to detect this kind of weirdness.

It sounds like aging beers will reduce or remove this flavor, in bottles, kegs, or fermenters. But this can take a few months’ time and small breweries, especially, don’t have the money or time to just sit on a beer – they have more beer to make and ship as soon as possible. I would bet money that sour beers from smaller breweries with more limited storage are more likely to have this problem.

Now, I wouldn’t say that this is a common problem; most sour beers I’ve tried don’t have this flaw. But the ones that do? Well, they stick out in my memory as being particularly off-putting. Would I send back a beer with this taste? Probably not. But I also just might not finish the glass and move on to something else.

*Brettanomyces, which is popular for sour beers and wild ales, is a common culprit for producing THP. Lactic Acid Bacteria and Acetic Acid Bacteria can also yield the compound.

 

Review: Elysian Punkuccino

Pumpkin beer! How I love pumpkin beer! Sure, there are some watery, metallic-tasting, total stinkers out there that call themselves pumpkin beers – but there are also some fantastic brews out there, too. Elysian, in my experience, makes damn fine pumpkin and autumnal beers.

Punkuccino by Elysian is not only a pumpkin beer, but it’s a coffee beer as well, made with Stumptown coffee – a Pacific Northwest classic. The hits just keep on coming! This beer sounded like it was checking all of the boxes on my list of I Have To Drink This. Frisco in Columbia, MD, was happy to oblige.

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This very handsome beer pours a deep, dark brown with a reddish undertone that lit up when light hit the glass. The’s no head at all save for a creamy smear of foam on the top of the liquid. It leaves some clingy lacing behind as it goes.

It smells like roasted cocoa, pumpkin pie, graham cracker crusts, and even sweet iced coffee. The taste is definitely pumpkin beer right up front, but it’s backed up by brown sugar, some heavy cinnamon, rich chocolate, and coffee stout as a sturdy backdrop. It’s not tinny like some pumpkin beers/pies/canned pumpkin can sometimes be. It’s not watery at all and has a decent mouthfeel, low carbonation, and is very smooth.

As both a pumpkin beer fan and a coffee stout fan, this beer is seriously everything that I could want. It is so rich and full of flavor and is perfect for a cool weather beer. I’ m so into it.

Review: New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA

Spontaneous movie night with friends – we opted for Beetlejuice, which is generally the right plan. I brought over a selection of beers that I’d picked up at my favorite bottle shop and, when the host, J, saw the bottle of Voodoo Ranger, his face lit up. He told me that it was a fantastic beer so of course I had to crack that open.

This beer pours a rich honey straw gold with a very clear appearance – not cloudy at all. There’s a generous head, though I definitely poured a little too aggressively and caused some of that to form. There’s at least three fingers of fluffy, off-white head that trailed lacing behind as it settled down into the beer.

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It has a piney, dank, hop-forward nose. And yet it smells a little bright, almost tropical, to me. There’s also a whiff of sweet malt in the background as well. Based on the smell, though, I was anticipating a hop punch in the face.

The first sip is bright with tangerine and features a smooth hop finish. Then there’s that slight tropical aftertaste mixed with green pine. It’s very clean-drinking, immensely enjoyable. The mouthfeel is smooth and just a little thick. It’s a seriously excellent beer. I would absolutely buy this one again!

Review: DuClaw Mysterium

DuCaw Brewing Company is another local, area craft brewery – this one based in Baltimore, MD. Founded in 1995, DuClaw has been making a wide range of creative beers for over twenty years. While they have a brew pub not too far from me, I haven’t actually been there in years. I do buy their bottles sometimes at my bottle shop and definitely owe them a visit sometime soon. Some friends even tell me that Tuesday is all day happy hour at the Arundel Mills location. Worth checking out!

At Gilly’s in Rockville, I had a draft pint of their Mysterium brew (and failed to take any pictures). DuClaw calls this beer a light amber Belgian spiced ale, and I’ll buy into that pigeonhole. It’s pretty different and I like that – spiced and herbal beers are hit or miss, but when they hit, I really get into them.

It pours a crystal clear deep golden/copper color. There was no head on this beer for me and no lacing, either. It’s a spiced/herbal beer for sure. The smell is Belgian yeasty, very zingy, with some cinnamon and nutmeg accents. It has a sweet, malty, almost bread-like taste with a very flowery finish. There’s a hint of clove and banana in there, which I’ll assume is due to some Belgian yeast. There’s also apparently chamomile in here, which is likely the floral herbiness that I can’t quite identify.

This was really enjoyable and I would absolutely buy it again. It’s floral, but refreshing.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 2

Continued from Part 1

On the Saturday that I visited for my brewery tour, I had the chance to try two more beers. One of those beers came free along with the brewery tour ticket, along with a Jailbreak pint glass. Bonus! I definitely recommend checking out the tour if you have about an hour, and I’ll be talking about some of what I learned in Part 3 on Friday the 10th.

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The first beer that I tried – when I’d arrived way too early for the tour (which I always, always do) – was their other amber ale, The Infinite. It pours a rich, red-brown color with a handsome, off-white head of about 1/2 inch. This leaves behind some rich lacing behind. It smells, to me, like caramel and some hops and maybe even with a touch of apricot as well.

The taste starts out very sweet, but then finishes dry on the palate. You also get the hops on the back end. And while I like hoppy reds and ambers, this one is maybe bordering on too dry for me. I still like it, but it is pushing its luck in my mind. It has a graham cracker-reminiscent sweetness to it – the plain kind, not that business with cinnamon sugar all over it.

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The second beer I had, after the tour had finished up, was the jalapeño IPA called Welcome to Scoville. It pours orangey gold with a very thin head that generates a little lacing over time. It smells like a broke spike of spice or heat, like a freshly cut open jalapeño pepper. It doesn’t have a bold flavor, though it’s maybe a little sweet, because it is primarily about the heat. And that heat grows as the beer warms up. There’s a sharpness to this beer that’s hot, but refreshing. Very different from smokier chipotle beers that I’ve had before.

Finally, there was a delicious steak and cheese sandwich! Jeno’s operated a food truck (parked in the handicapped parking spots, which I was very displeased about) out front, which served up a tasty sandwich that I would definitely buy again – after lodging a complaint with the brewery and the truck owners about their parking behavior.

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.