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 Review : Atlas Brew Works Ponzi IPA

New-to-me DC-based Atlas Brew Works is, I can tell, a brewery that I will be going back to for more interesting pints. I like to drink local when I can and, while it’s not a guarantee of quality (everything in life is a mixed bag), keeping in a small geographical area can get you to try things you might have otherwise overlooked.

I pulled up a stool at Beers and Cheers Too in Gaithersburg and stared down their sizable beer list. Ponzi was described as being “criminally hoppy” which is sort of my equivalent of “you had me at ‘hello.'” I ordered up a pint and settled in.

I could smell this beer when the waitress set it down on the bar about a foot away from me – big biscuit and wheat smells wafted over to me along with some herbal hops. This IPA pours a rich straw gold color that’s fairly clear in a frosty pint glass. There’s a nice, fluffy, slow-to-fall white head made up of a fine matrix of bubbles. A close-up sniff gives me more citrus notes to go along with the initial hop-forward smell.

The taste is a big, west coast punch of flavor. The male (Munich) is light, yet flavorful and the hops cover a wide range of tastes from bright green on through dank. The finish is dry, yet very balanced. And there’s a sweetness here that reminds me of milk stouts and that made me wonder if there was any lactose added to this brew. The description that Atlas gives doesn’t mention it specifically, but there’s something going on with the malts here that is a little bit brown sugary.

There’s a whole garden full of hop varietals in here: Cascade, Chinook, Centential, Mandarina, and Ahtamun. Just bring the whole crew, why don’t you?

The nose on this beer promised big flavor and the taste delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed this and would definitely order it again. Five delicious mugs out of five.

Review: Oliver Brewing Co Balls to the Wall APA

I love beer and I love food. I’m a simple creature, really. I also love cooking and few things go better with food prep than a cold beer. In this case, I had plenty of time for beer as I was braising a small pork shoulder with some apple cider vinegar. This would eventually become some beautiful pulled pork with a spicy-sweet bbq sauce.

The Oliver Brewing Co website promises “a gratifying hop punch” with this beer, so I had some expectations in place before I even tasted it. No one likes to be disappointed, so don’t get me all worked up for nothing, please, beer.

Balls to the Wall fills my glass with a rich golden color that’s slightly hazy in appearance. There’s a fluffy, energetic white head that falls away fast, leaving behind a few spots of lacing. It smells very hoppy (as promised!) in the family of something very piney and green. It doesn’t smell dank at all, but very bright and fresh, perhaps like mowed grass (which I sort of hate because it sets off my allergies, but in theory it smells really nice).

Seriously, I can’t with this green towel. I thought it was a good idea, but I was sorely mistaken.

The first taste is a hop wallop to be sure. It’s not a palate wrecker, though. It’s still very refreshing on the whole. And – good in my book – it’s not too terribly dry on the finish, so that’s a thumbs up from me. It’s honestly kind of like licking a pine tree… if it weren’t for the sap and bark and other gross stuff, I guess. Imagine with me, here.

I really enjoyed this and found it flavorful and fairly well balanced. Five out of five mugs, I’d definitely seek this out in the future.

Review: Green Flash Tangerine Soul Style IPA

I have an odd combination of a serious sweet tooth, but also a lot of self-control in my weight-loss mission. So, while I might not eat sweets very often, I absolutely love  them. A favorite since childhood are those gummy orange slices with coarse sugar on them. You know them. I know you do.

Right? Those. Keep them in mind when I talk about this beer because, well, they’re relevant.

Green Flash Tangerine Soul Style IPA is described on the bottle as an “India Pale Ale with tangerine” that is “zesty and bright.” That’s a promise that I can get behind – it was a hot day and I was in a mood for something light and refreshing, but full of flavor.

I have some regrets about this green towel backdrop – I’m not sure I’d use it again.

It pours a really attractive orangey-marigold color with a little trace of whitish head, but that fades pretty quickly. There is some decent, fairly sticky lacing from this beer. Made with a blend of Citra and Cascade hops, this should be incredibly tropical and juicy. Oddly, it smells wheaty and not very citrusy at all. I’ll admit that I’m confused. I expected a wallop of orange – and I get some – but I mostly get biscuit malt up front. Not a very hoppy smell at all.

The taste, however, is lots of heavy tangerine up front with some hoppiness on the tongue. The finish is very sweet with a mellow, orangey flavor like canned mandarin slices or fruit salad in light syrup. It’s good good balance overall, but a slightly dry finish. It’s not unpalatable, but definitely notable. The biggest downside to me in this beer is that aftertaste of dryness. Otherwise, it’s incredibly fruit and refreshing.

So, those gummy slices? I’d say this beer matches them for orange-flavored intensity (though it isn’t nearly as sweet). I give it four out of five mugs and would likely buy it again.

Beer 201: Mosaic Hops

Meet the fruity hop varietal that opened exciting new doors for brewers worldwide. By all accounts, Mosaic hops are the baby of the family – they’ve only been around for about four years now. Not so different from what farmers have been doing since farming existed, this hops was cross-bred and selected for the properties that growers were most interested in: in this case, berry flavors, mango, and floral notes.

Bred by the same company that is responsible for Simcoe and Citra hops, Lagunitas and other small craft brewers were early adopters of this big-bodied varietal. A popular example of a Mosaic-forward beer is Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA. It’s becoming popular for single-hopped IPAs and session beers. – and we’re definitely in a single-hopped beer boom right now.

In order to have a successfully executed single-hop, the hops need to be dynamic and distinct – no middle of the road wallflower hops here. Mosaic’s flavor profile is juicy and fruity without being sweet, pleasantly resinous, and it also features a balanced bitterness for a crisp, dry finish.

I”m excited to try more beers that prominently feature Mosaic. The ones on my wishlist include:

Review: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across the World Dry Hopped Berliner Weisse

Somehow, I had never heard of the Beer Camp project from Sierra Nevada. Maybe I’ve been living under a rock. If that’s the case, I still need beer for my dark, dank rock-home. Enter Gilly’s on a fateful afternoon when I went in for a pint and some bottles and stumbled into the Beer Camp Across the World promotion/tap takeover. I was given a little paper passport and told that if I drank seven of the BCAW beers, I’d get a prize (it was a Nalgene-like water bottle plus some stickers and sunglasses, I think). Even seven half-pints is a lot of beer and anyway I had a BBQ to hit later that day, so I couldn’t loiter all day and drink a bunch of beers.

I first tasted the the ginger lager and the Thai-style iced tea and they were both amazing. It was genuinely hard to choose. Then my next door neighbor recommended the Dry Hopped Berliner Weisse, which I had overlooked, so I gave it a try.

It’s a cloudy straw color with a slight foamy head. There’s a touch of lacing, but nothing very strong there. There isn’t much of a nose. Maybe there’s a hint of lemon peel or something else citrusy and similar. It smells sour. Can something even smell sour? I vote yes.

Its taste is not overwhelmingly sour, but it is absolutely packed with flavor. It’s zingy and gently wheaty up front, which makes sense because they use their in-house kellerbier/Hefeweizen yeast. The dry hopping definitely comes through on the back end of the taste with a nice, resinous green hint. It really rounds the beer out. It’s not just sour; it has layers. There’s no dry finish to be had, this is a very clean beer.

Would I buy this again? Over and over. I actually did buy the sampler case for BCAW this year and then brought it to a party and drank the whole thing with friends. So, sadly, no more BCAW beer reviews. You’ll have to forgive me. Five out of five mugs!

Bar and Beer Review: Mully’s Brewery

Located in a little industrial park in Prince Frederick, MD, Mully’s is nestled along the Patuxent River in a sleepy little area. There’s farm land all around with signs announcing fresh eggs , plants, and herbs for sale every mile or so. After Sunday D&D, I followed my DM’s big old pickup truck to his favorite brewery so I could buy him a drink for his upcoming birthday. I’d had quite a few of Mully’s beers since the DM often has growlers from them for us to enjoy during play.

I enjoyed a flight of six of their beers that day and went home with one of their flagships: Patuxent Pale Ale, which is easy drinking while still flavorful. The Shucker Stout was sturdy, but unremarkable. The Jack Straw IPA was a little hoppier than I liked, but well-crafted. They were out of a pepperjack ale of some kind, so this broke my heart a little. Their Belgian strong dark ale was really well-executed.

There is limited seating, some of which faces large windows into the brewery, where massive stainless steel tanks ferment away in the next room over. Pints were all $6 each and, also for $6, my flight was an exceptionally good deal. There’s also a good deal of charming wall art around the small place. I will likely go back again in the future after some game days.

As far as one beer in particular, I especially liked the one-off JedIPA. It was a nerd beer for a nerd day, which is right up my alley. It’s a fairly cloudy, deep golden color with no real head (but a bad growler pour on my part might be responsible for that). It’s hoppy, maybe a touch floral, and a little bit sweet-smelling. There’s a pretty sweet taste up front with moderately hoppy, fresh green (but not piney/resinous green) flavors. Never dry and easy drinking.

Both JedIPA and Mully’s Brewery earn a five out of five mugs even though it’s nowhere near my house!

 

Review: Sierra Nevada Sidecar

I was meeting someone out for dinner, but, true to my fashion, I was insanely early. This usually happens when I use the metro to go into DC – I don’t trust it one bit and always budget way too much time to get anywhere. Oh no! Stuck at a bar with time to kill? I guess I’ll review a beer!

At the City Tap House in DC, I was unimpressed with the selection of IPAs that day; I’d had most of the ones on offer that day and I generally like to try and review a beer I’ve never had before. Enter Sierra Nevada Sidecar.

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This draft beer came to me as a rich, orangey gold colored liquid in the very dim light of the bar. It has no head and just a tiny amount of lacing around the outer ring of the liquid. It doesn’t have a huge nose of any kind, but I could swear I’m getting a whiff of passionfruit. It’s also smelling a little biscuity and hoppy. It’s made (I looked it up because that’s what I do) with Cascade, Equinox, and Mandarina hops – which might be why it tastes so…

Orangey. I looked up the bottle label and, on there, it’s advertised as an orange pale ale. This was not indicated on the beer list’s description. That said “a hint of orange peel” and this is bright and orange from the very first taste. It’s very light, tropical, and has some sweet citrus notes – but the beer itself isn’t sweet. The finish is clean and just a hint dry. It’s very easy to drink. It’s light and breezy at 5.3% ABV and not really hoppy tasting at all.

Would I drink it again? Sure. But now that I know how very orange-tasting it is, I’m prepared to pair it with the right weather or food next time.

Beer 101: Fermentation

I know I’m skipping around a little bit (after all, there are several steps that come before fermentation in the brewing process), but it’s kind of because fermentation is my favorite. After all, it’s responsible for some of the best-tasting things in life: beer, wine, cheese, and chocolate to name a few. It’s a  crucial step, chemically, as it creates the alcohol that we all enjoy (presumably you enjoy alcohol – you are on a beer blog).

Beer 101 Fermentation
Photo from uncommoncaribbean.com

The Basics

Fermentation, at its very simplest, is the chemical process by which yeast converts the malts‘ sugar (glucose) into ethyl alcohol and C02 gas – this yields both the alcohol content and the carbonation that make beer, well, beer.

 

We’ve explained a little bit that temperature is important for this process, depending on the kind of yeast being used and the beer style that is being made – an ale needs to be kept at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks and a lager needs to stay at 48 Fahrenheit for about six weeks. This process creates a lot of heat as a byproduct and so the container in which the fermentation happens generally needs to be carefully cooled.

To avoid contamination by stray, wild yeasts, fermentation tanks are generally sealed off from the air with only a small vent for the CO2 buildup to exit the tank.

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The Details

I’m no chemist, so I’m not going to go into that level of detail! However, there are some interesting things that go on during the fermentation process that need to be addressed. Yeast basically works in two stages during fermentation: the primary stage and the anaerobic phase.

In the primary stage, the yeast consumes all of the oxygen in the cooled and aerated wort mixture. During this stage, sterols (which are a type of cholesterol that make up part of the yeast’s cell wall) are produced. These sterols allow the cell wall to be permeable so sugar and alcohol can move in and out of the yeast cells; they also allow the yeast to survive in an increasingly alcoholic environment

Once that oxygen is gone, the yeast moves into the anaerobic phase, during which most of the sugars in the wort are turned into ethanol and CO2. Additionally, flavor compounds like esters (fruity notes) , diacetyl/ketones (butterscotch notes), fusel alcohols (responsible for a hot or burning sensation), and other chemicals that can make or break the flavor of a final beer.

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Other Uses for Fermentation

Cacao seeds must be fermented (often out in the sun, on large tarps) before being dried and then roasted in order to create the chocolate flavor that we know.

In winemaking, fermentation begins naturally when the skin of grapes is broken and the wild yeast on them and in the air begin the primary fermentation stage, turning sugar in to alcohol.

Fermentation happens several times along the journey from milk to cheese, developing flavors and even creating the famous holes in Swiss cheese.

The workhhorse of bread making, yeast-based fermentation creates the textures, flavors, and rise in bread doughs.

Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee, and more can be fermented during the pickling process, allowing natural bacteria to create acids needed to preserve foods.

 

Review: Port City Brewing Essential Pale Ale

Port City Brewing, based out of Alexandria, VA (right next to Washington, DC for those not from the area), is the very model of a reliable, simple brewery. It doesn’t go crazy or try to show off. They offer five flagship beers year-round as well as a few seasonal and one-offs – and they are all genuinely solid beers. Would I call any of them exceptional? No. But if I want a pale ale or a porter that’s going to be a sure thing, I know that I can turn to Port City.

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Essential Pale Ale is an American Pale Ale and not an IPA (APAs have a relatively even hops-to-light-malt ratio while IPAs are happier by nature) and does reflect that style well. This is a mild beer that still packs a punch of flavor, but doesn’t overwhelm the palate. It’s a great pairing with almost any food.

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This beer pours a slightly hazy honey gold with a short white head that fades and leaves a little lacing behind. The smell is yeasty and maybe with a little citrus – it is balanced and inviting to me. At first taste, it is very mild. Almost more like a pilsner than what I think of as a pale ale. Not much bite, not much in the way of strong hop or malt flavors, and not really sweet, either. It’s pleasantly bready with just a hint of sweetness.

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Based on everything I’ve just written, this beer sounds… bland. But it’s not! While mild in nature, it is really very flavorful. It’s balanced, as a pale ale should be, and it never relies on a hoppy punch in the face as many IPAs do. I recommend it highly, especially if you’re scarfing down a easy burger or other American comfort food.