Beer Review: Peabody Heights Mr. Trash Wheel’s Lost Python Ale

I learned something today. In Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, there is a large trash-collecting water wheel vessel, featuring big cartoon eyes to give his dirty work a charming appearance. His name, it turns out, is Mr. Trash Wheel. I appreciate the directness in that. I’ve never seen him in person, but maybe I need to change that. Peabody Heights says that a portion of the proceeds from this beer go toward keeping the harbor clean, which is something I can get behind. Beer and cleaner waterways? Yes, please!

There’s still more to this tale. Because of course there is. Because Baltimore has to be a weird sort of place. The second part of the name? The Lost Python Ale? That’s a nod to a five-foot-long African ball python  that found its way onto the water wheel a few years ago.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

This is in the style of a session ale and when I got the pint at Beers and Cheers Too, there wasn’t much of a nose going on. There’s something slightly tropical and a little bit vibrant, not really hoppy- or dank-smelling. There are also maybe some notes of orange zest in a very spring or summer fashion, making it an odd beer choice for the first day of fall. It’s a beautiful marigold color that’s bright and clear in a pint glass covered in condensation on a humid, warm September day.

Right away, there’s a nice burst of flavor – juicy and bold, but not sweet or excessively fruity. There’s plenty of bright hop flavors and just the right amount of dryness on the back end of this beer. It’s tropical, but not sweet, I am sure, thanks to the Mosaic hops. They’re a goldmine of bold flavors and a wonder of modern hop farming.

This beer is supremely easy-drinking, but never exactly mellow; it’s so flavorful! The dry sensation is mild and well-balanced with this flavor punch. Five out of five from me.

Beer 201: Greaves’ Rules

A friend recently introduced me to the drinker’s sort of ten commandments (there are ten pieces, yes, but that’s not why) known as Greaves’ Rules. Devised by now-retired British journalist, these ten rules describe the etiquette of round-buying and drinking conduct in public houses. Now, if these rules are any indication, British drinking culture is a bit different than the American one that I know.

Or maybe my practice of drinking solo to kill time between work and another social engagement means that I just do go out drinking properly. Or, at least, properly in the sense of the Brits. How do these rules strike you? Are they similar to your own drinking habits or do you do something different as well?

Greaves’ Rules

1. When two or more enter the pub together, one – usually the first through the door – will begin proceedings with the words “Now then, what are we having?” He or she will then order and pay. This purchase is known as “the first round”.

2. This player, or “opener”, will remain “in the chair” while other friends or colleagues come through the door to join the round. He will remain in this benefactory role until either (a) his own glass sinks to beneath the half way mark or (b) another drinker finds himself almost bereft of his original refreshment and volunteers to “start a new round”.

3. In the absence of new arrivals, any player other than the opener may at any time inquire whether it is “the same again?” On receiving his instructions, he will then order and pay for “the second round”. (N.B. The second round is the last one to be specifically numbered. Beyond that point, nobody wishes to be reminded how many they have had and, anyway, no-one should be counting.)

4. The round acknowledges no discrimination. All players, regardless of sex, age or social status, are expected to “stand their corner”. (Pedants might like to note that we are talking here of the only “round” in the English language that also contains a “corner”.

5. Any new entrant, joining the session after its inception, is not expected to “buy himself in” but should be invited to join the round by whoever is in the chair (see Rule 2). If, however, he is greeted by silence he may either (a) buy a drink just for himself or (b) attempt to buy a round for all present. If (a) or, worse still, (b) is not acceptable to the congregation then the new entrant has been snubbed and should in future seek out more appreciative company. There is one important exception…

6. For reasons of haste or poverty, a new arrival may insist on buying his own with the words “Thanks, but I’m only popping in for one”. If he is then seen to buy more than three drinks, he will be deemed a skinflint, neither broke nor in a hurry to get home, and will be penalised for his duplicity by being ordered to buy the next round.

7. Although everyone in the group is normally required to buy at least one round before leaving, the advent of either drunkenness or closing time sometimes renders this ideal unattainable. In such circumstances, any non-paying participant will (a) have “got away with it” and (b) appoint himself “opener” at the next forgathering. However, any player who notices on arrival that the round has “got out of hand” and has no chance of reaching his turn before “the last bell”, may start a “breakaway round” by buying a drink for himself and all subsequent arrivals. This stratagem breaks the round in two, keeps the cost within manageable proportions and is the only acceptable alternative to Rule 5.

8. When a pressing engagement elsewhere precludes further involvement, it is wholly unacceptable for any player who has not yet been in the chair to buy a round in which he cannot himself be included. In such circumstances Rule 7 (a) and (b) therefore apply.

9. In the event of any one glass becoming empty, a new round must be called immediately. This should not necessarily be called by the owner of the empty glass, however, because this place the slower drinker at an unfair fund-saving advantage. (N.B. Whereas it is permissible for any member of the round to decrease the capacity of his individual order – “just a half for me, please” – the opposite does not hold good. A large whisky, for instance, may be offered by the chair but never demanded of it.)

10. Regional variations. In various parts of the country, a particular establishment will impose its own individual codicil. In one Yorkshire pub, for example, the landlord’s Jack Russell terrier expects to be included in every round. Where such amendments exist, and are properly advertised, they must be piously observed. We are, after all, talking about a religion

Beer 101: Glassware

There are many styles of glassware that can be used to enjoy beer. While I’m generally a pint glass kind of gal (if I’m not swilling my beverage straight from a bottle or can while running the dishwasher or attending a picnic, that is), I’ve tried and come to appreciate a wide variety of beer vessels in my time. Here are a few of my favorites, which can be found at True Beer (with whom I am not affiliated in any way):

Chalice/Goblet

Nothing is going to make you feel more like you’re in an episode of Game of Thrones than a big ol’ chalice of ale. To be clear: a chalice is the more stout, thick-walled version and the goblet is generally more delicate. The bottom of these glasses are often marked or scored to create imperfections in the bottom of the inside of the glass – this creates a nucleation site to encourage more carbonation and a bigger head. These traditionally pair great with Belgians, strong dark ales, and higher ABV beers.

Pint Glass

The standard American pint glass is a 16oz somewhat cylindrical glass with a slight taper, creating a wider top. These are prevalent, easy to buy, relatively cheap to replace, and good with a wide range of beer styles. Pale ales, witbiers, English bitters, stouts, and more are all a good match for the traditional pint glass.

Weizen Glass

This tall, thin-walled beauty is designed specifically for wheat or weizen-style beers. It’s built to show off the tall, beautiful heads that these beers are known for while also locking in lots of those banana and clove aromas that are signature. Use this to serve hefeweizen, kristalweizen, gose, and other wheat ales.

 Mug/Glass Stein

Sturdy and large with a handle for a good grip (and keeping warm hands away from cold brews), these are great for a rousing round of cheers as they’re less likely to crack or break than their peers. Plus, they can hold a lot of beer. While traditional German steins have lids and were made from stone, modern glass version are less concerned with plague-ridden flies from getting in . Lagers, Ales (I know, that’s basically everything), marzens, stouts, and more can be served in mugs.

Review: Southern Tier Porter

Sometimes, it’s nice to appreciate the simpler things in life. I’ll take a meyer lemon gose or a cardamom IPA or an espresso stout any day of the week and love that variety. But today, it’s back to basics: a simple, standard porter from Southern Tier. I love a good porter and was a loyal drinker of the style for many years. I’ve lately turned away from it and sought IPAs and more exotic beers – but today, I’ll return to my roots and put my fate in the hands of Southern Tier, a brewery that I’ve generally liked in the past.

Again, this is what I get for experimenting with different tea towels as backgrounds.

Poured from a bottle into a pint glass, this is a beautiful, rich, dark brown with a slightly auburn tinge to it. No light seems to pass through it. It has just the tiniest head of a lovely cream color – a puff that dissipates very quickly. There’s a small trace of an island of foam left behind, but it’s not much. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by some recent stouts and porters on nitro.

It smells roasty, like dark bread , dark chocolate, coffee, brown sugar, and raisin. It’s only 5.5% ABV, but it smells boozy to me. Maybe it’s that brown sugar and raisin smell that’s often associated with higher ABV dark beers and brandywines.

Honestly, the taste is really lacking the punch that the nose suggested there would be. It over-promises and vastly under-delivers. It’s a little watery and thin, as porters sometimes are (and which I do not care for). It’s not at all full-bodied in either flavor or in mouthfeel. It tastes the most like that raisiny booziness that I got off of the nose. There is some flavor from the dark, roasted malts, but it’s also distressingly thin. The carbonation is relatively low. And there’s something sticky about the texture.

It’s a fine enough beer, it’s very much signature of the style in many ways, but maybe it’s not the style for me any longer. I think I’d pass up this particular porter in the future. Three out of five mugs for me.

Review: Deschutes Obsidian Stout Nitro

On this fateful day, I decided to try a new little bottle shop close to my work: Beers and Cheers Too in Gaithersburg, MD. They’ve got a decent tap selection for a smaller place as well as some bar, high top, and outdoor seating. I came for a growler fill but stayed for a pint.

And what a nice pint! They had several selections of stouts on nitro and, let me tell you, a velvety smooth stout or porter is a big hit with me. I trust Deschutes, they’ve knocked it out of the park with me plenty of times before, so I went in for this beer.

Obsidian Stout pours a beautiful, opaque, almost-black color with a silky tan head that’s about one finger high. It’s served up pretty cold, so I only got some slightly toasted grain and maybe a hint of cocoa notes. Also, maybe a warm, grain alcohol smell. Can something smell like that alcoholic heat? Maybe it’s whiskey that the smell reminds me of.

The first taste is a hint metallic, but immediately fades off into malty sweetness and roasted coffee. There’s a backbone of bitterness here and it’s like dark chocolate to me – and I love love love 70-80% dark chocolate bars (and cannot stand white “chocolate,” but that untruth which is perpetuated upon Americans regularly is a rant for another day).

This stout might have been a little watery were it not for the richness that the nitro brings to the table. It’s a little but thick, but never heavy. It’s such an excellent experience on nitro that I doubt I’d want to drink it any other way. Five out of five tasty beers for this one.

Review: Trois Dames Sainte Ni Touché Saison

For my part, I was going out for a beer and to watch Caps vs Pens playoff game 5. I decided to don my red Holtby T-shirt and grab a drink at Frisco without realizing one key thing: it was also the Kentucky Derby that evening. So when I arrived, it was crazy-crowded. Luckily, I found one lone stool at the bar (it’s easiest to rad the beer list form the bar and the tasters come faster when you’re not waiting on a server to bring them). When I asked for a sour, I was offered this, but warned it was a little bit pricey ($10 for 10oz). One taste and I didn’t especially care about the check.

The look is a lovely, slightly hazy golden color with some warm, pink notes. There’s a little bit of large-bubbled foam on top, but not what I would call a stable head. Some of that foam grips the sides of the glass, but it’s not really true lacing, either. But it smells so sour and I’m so excited to try this.

While there’s that slight note of that infamous tetrahydropyridine, it’s present without being overpowering. Some sours are unbalanced with this chemical compound and come away tasting like grainy breakfast cereal – not here, though. Just a hint of grain. My notes on this beer read, “Zing. Pow. Huge taste!” There’s cherry undertones and some heat from the 9% ABV (this beer is not messing around). When I lick my lips, I’m still getting sour notes after.

As a sour fan, this Flanders Red is a joy to drink, even if it is a little pricey. It’s worth to me and I’d absolutely drink this again in the future. Five out of 5 delicious beers!

 

Review: Ballast Point East to West IPA

Fresh out of undergrad in 2006, I packed up my life and moved to Japan to teach English for a year. Kind of crazy, sure, but I didn’t know what the heck to do with my life at that point (I had been so sure that I wanted to be an English professor and write and teach and then, while working on my senior thesis, I realized that it just wasn’t for me – so I felt totally lost) so I figured some adventure abroad would be the right choice. I spoke the language well enough to survive – and picked up a ton more through immersion – and was ready to give it a try.

Overall, it was a great year. My health, unfortunately, forced me to come home after just one year, when I had planned to stay for two to three. There are parts of me that regret not having more time there, but then my life would have turned out drastically differently… and I hate the What If game.

Ballast Point East to West IPA has been on a journey as well. It’s a collaboration between California-based Ballast Point and COEDO in Japan , and a close relative of another Ballast Point beer (West to East IPA), which uses sake rice and yuzu peel. This beer, however, uses the same recipe only with brown rice and Meyer lemon. It’s got some roots in Japan, but it’s been given a twist and a home back in the US.

I had this on draft at Frisco Tap House in April. It’s a deep goldenrod-colored pour that’s nice and clear in the glass. There’s no head, really, just a light smear of foam on top. There’s not much clinginess in that foam and so there’s no real lacing, either. The nose is bright, with citrus and floral notes. The hops smell is also fresh and fruity. This is, I think, what’s often referred to as “juicy.”

The taste is fairly tropical with a sharp brightness to it. That fruit-forward taste is balanced with just a hint of dankness from the hops. And there’s that late kettle addition of lemons, giving it a zippy flavor as well. The mouthfeel is light and the carbonation is fairly low.

I think it’s great for a warm, sunny spring day. I’d happily drink this all summer long. It’s just my speed. I sometimes like a big, piney hop flavor, but a nice fruity IPA can win my heart, too. Five out of five.

Review: Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve

This is the story of one beer and 28,000 feet of iconic airport carpet. The Santa’s Private Reserve from Rogue turned out to be my farewell-to-Portland beer, which I drank during a rather solemn morning. I waved goodbye to Mt. Hood, illuminated by the beautiful morning sun, and retrieved my suitcase from James’ truck. It was time to go home.

And though I missed my birds terribly, I was heartbroken to have to leave a city and friends that had been so kind to me. All the same, my Portland vacation was over. I had to return home to a divorce settlement and a move to a new apartment in the following weeks. Perhaps I just didn’t want to go home to so much stress.

Anyway. Beer.

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I decided to relax before my flight with a classy 10am airport beer, as one does. I popped into the Rogue bar and restaurant that was near my gate and browsed the beer list. To be honest, at the end of a Pacific Northwest trip, I was kind of IPA-ed out. The double-hopped red ale called Santa’s Private Reserve sounded like a winner.

It was a draft beer poured into a 16oz pint glass. A beautiful, deep amber color, Santa’s Private Reserve featured a pale, off-white head that melted away and left a little lacing behind. The nose was faintly grainy. The mouthfeel was very dry to me. It was not sweet at all at first, but there was a hint of malty sweetness on the finish.

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It tasted not quite green, but hoppy and fresh in a way. At 65 IBUs (International Bitter Unit), it was a little bitter on the palate. There was something about it that was dank and resiny, but in a pleasant and not-overwhelming way. I’ve had some dank beers that taste like you’re licking the floor of a pine forest; this was not one of those at all. It featured relatively low carbonation and was very drinkable as long as you’re not expecting a sweet holiday red (the title can be deceiving).

After my beer, I trudged back to my gate and stared at the carpet for a while. It’s famous, you see, among the hipster crowd, but not for a good reason. In 2013, the previous carpet was set to be replaced with an updated look – and that look is kitschy in the not-so-charming way. The old carpet, however, was delightfully dated and kind of fun. And it’s a huge hit with hipsters and Portland natives alike. The old carpet pattern has been rebranded and put on beer labels, shoes, leggings, shirts, and even tattoos.

The changing of the carpet reflects the changing face of Portland. It’s a growing city and a lot of the neighborhoods are changing (hello, gentrification) and some residents would argue that Portland is dying. But it’s all just the nature of expanding urban landscapes. That’s reality right now. Just as the two generations before ours fled the cities to take up residence in the suburbs, so does our generation flee the dying suburbs to live in the cities.

The new, ugly carpet also hits me at a time of big changes in my life. I’m leaving a bad marriage behind and striking out on my own, living alone for the first time in my life. In a year, I hope to be trekking across the country and moving to, well, Portland. It calls to me. I think I could be happy there. And no matter what some hipsters say, I think being happy is important and not just good for an ironic laugh.

Review: Great Divide Samurai Rice Ale

Normally, gluten-free or rice-based beers are just not up my alley. Rice is often an additive in cheap, mass-market swill and so it has, to me, a negative connotation (which is maybe an unfair attitude of mine, but that’s another post for another day). GF/rice-based beers have, generally, been fine, but a relatively unimpressive lot. All the same, I have to say that I enjoyed Great Divide‘s Samurai Rice Ale.

Now, I have to clarify: Samurai is not a gluten-free beer; barley is still used in the brewing process.

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I enjoyed this beer on draft at Noraneko Ramen in the waterfront district of Portland, OR. And let me tell you, Noraneko is an experience not to be missed. I know ramen shops are a bit popular these days, but not all of them do an amazing job. Noraneko really does. I ordered their regular  shoyu ramen with the “special egg” (a soft-boiled egg soaked in vinegar and soy sauce, if I know my ramen toppings) and the pork belly chasyu (slowly braised to perfection).  I also ordered kara age (fried chicken) and tsukemono (pickled vegetables) for the table to share.

The chicken and some of the pickles may have been a little too salty, but the ramen itself was very good. A fine portion for $9. Mild broth, not too salty, and with firm noodles that don’t just fall apart. The pork  belly was tender and flavorful and the egg was exactly right (I love a soft/runny yolk). The toppings included some bamboo shoots, green onion, and leafy greens, but the egg and meat are add-ons and will run you about $3 per item. It adds up, but it’s a great meal.

Right! Sorry ! Beer! Good Japanese food just gets me all excited.

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The Samurai was a draft beer poured into a pint glass. It was a beautiful golden color with a smallish white head. Not much of a nose on it – maybe a hint of cereal and something a little floral. It was served quite cold, so the smells may not have opened up yet. It tasted a little sweet at first, but very light overall. There may have even been a hint of something fruity to it. It was lightly hoppy, and a tad citrusy, but not “fruity” I guess. Not compared to, say, something like Mad Fox’s Orange Whip IPA.

It ended up as a very easy to drink beer, perfect for some flavorful food, which is kind of why I ordered a lighter rice-based ale in the first place.

My friend Sara ordered the Pho-style ramen bowl and an Off Color Troublesome Gose (which turns out to be a blend of two beers: a wheat yeast ale with coriander and a second beer brewed only with Lactobacillus bacteria). The Gose had a very sour nose, a zippy lemon taste, and a fairly light finish. James had the special BBQ ramen bowl (he was saddened by the lack of protein in it, save for the little scraps of what seemed to be brisket ends at the bottom of the bowl) and the Samurai rice ale along with me.

Cheers to good beer, good friends, and good food!

 

 

Review: Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Black Butte Porter is the flagship beer of Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon. They call it “the beer that started it all.” For me, it was one of the first west coast beers that I’d ever had and so, in some way, it started a lot for me, too.

I had this beer on draft at Dar Salam, an Iraqi restaurant in Portland, Oregon.It was their only draft option (they only had one tap in the Alberta location) and it was on happy hour special, so it was an easy choice.

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It poured a dark, almost-black brown with a small, light tan head. It didn’t offer much in the way of aroma, but that may be because it was served extremely cold. Cold was fine; Black Butter Porter is a very easy-drinking beer and this temperature works just fine with it. It tasted of roasted, toasty malts. It was not dry (as some roasty porters can be) and a hint sweet. There were subtle notes of chocolate to it.

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Black Butte Porter is a strong, sturdy beer without being overwhelming. It’s an excellent, well-balanced porter that people who want to learn about dark beers should definitely try. It paired well with the strong flavors of the Iraqi food. Flat bread and a fig dip, a salad with feta and sumac dressing, a big falafel sandwich (which was delightful, by the way) – the porter held up. I could definitely still taste it after I’d eaten my flavorful meal.

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Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, several Deschutes beers are readily available in the D.C. area. They travel far to come and bring us east coasters joy. I’ve absolutely seen the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale in local pubs out here. I’m so grateful for the craft beer movement that has made such a variety of beers easier to find with every passing year.

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I’m writing this from home, having returned from Portland a week ago (though I’m still working on a backlog of beer reviews from when I was out there) and I’m pretty determined to live out there in about a year. I’m in a very tumultuous time in my life (divorce, my own health issues, a very sick parent, job hunting), but this blog gives me something to look forward to and enjoy doing. it gives me joy. It gives me hope.