Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale: It's Pretty Delicious

It occurred to me while in the grocery store recently, that while my efforts to be cost-conscious and buy my beloved Cheap Beer are good for my budget, they weren't helping promote my efforts to write a beer blog. I mean, I love me some Miller Lite, but even I wouldn't read a Miller Lite Blog.
This epiphany came at just the right moment, too, because what should appear on the beer cooler's shelves but the autumn seasonal from Sierra Nevada--a brown ale called Tumbler. I didn't even pause to read the description - brown ale? Hell yeah!
I'm a sucker for labels. I keep my favorites (that St. Somewhere Saison bottle is still on the kitchen windowsill). While Tumbler doesn't live up to sill-worthiness, it is a very pretty label. Lovely fall colors, a scene right out of New England--or some other fairytale place where the leaves actually change color and the air turns cool and crisp.
It poured with a lot of decent head; I tended to dinner (lasagna) while I waited to finish pouring the bottle. And it's the prettiest color: deep brown, but not completely opaque. After the head settled, it actually looked like a slightly flat Coke.
I was pleased with how malty it was. Of course it was still a bit hoppy--it is Sierra Nevada, after all; hops are their crack, I think--but not nearly as herbal-perfumey as their pale ale. Very smooth, pretty damn delicious! Out of all the Sierra Nevadas I've tried, this Tumbler is my favorite by far.
I first thought to write, "What a shame that it's a seasonal!" But as with the seasons, and more so the holidays, the anticipation and waiting for something truly heightens my pleasure of finally experiencing it. Christmas all year long would be a drag; but I look forward to the holiday season (that I officially put at Halloween, screw the marketers and their September pumpkins/costumes/candy). That could be part of the reason Sam Adams' Octoberfest didn't quite feel right in AUGUST, even as I drank it in my local watering hole anyway. So while I'll be sad when the winter Celebration beer takes Tumbler's place on the shelves in a few months, it will give me something to look forward to in next year's dog days of summer.
(Which, this being Florida, are actually still upon us. It's been in the low 90s during the day here. Although it seems to be warm Up North as well. Heck, it was warm enough in Philadelphia last night to make the players of the Atlanta-Philly game sweat their asses off. Damn Phillies.)

P.S. I hear (via the Brookston Beer Bulletin) that Guiness Foreign Extra Stout is finally returning to the U.S. - I will very interested in trying it, although with a description like "GUINNESS Foreign Extra Stout (FES) is brewed with the highest hop rate of all the GUINNESS variants," I'm a little wary.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Congratulations to the one Florida brewery that won in the GABF

Jay (hope that's not too familiar) at the Brookston Beer Bulletin listed the winners at the Great American Beer Festival, held earlier this month in Colorado. I can't say that I'm surprised, but it was still a bit of a bummer to see that Florida is only listed once. But, as I noted on his post, how many Florida entries were there?

  So, on the sunny side, let's give some big congratulations to Cigar City Beer in Tampa for its Humidor India Pale Ale, which won a Silver in Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer (out of 32 entries in this category)! I have yet to try any of the Cigar City Beers, although their Bolita Brown sounds interesting.

  I did just come back from New York City (cue the cowboys: "New York City?!?!") where I didn't get to try as many beers as I would have imagined. I ended up drinking Guinness more often than not (oh, poor me, I know). I'll have to get my notes together for a real post on my trip, because I did get to try one very interesting beer...

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Major Beer Birthday

Today - Sept. 17 - is beer writer Stan Hieronymus' birthday. His blog, (sorry, I'm typing on my phone from the airport) was very influential in me becoming a beer blogger. I have learned much of what I know about beer beyond Miller Lite from him. Happy birthday, Mr. Hieronymus! I'm traveling to New York this weekend to visit friends - hopefully I'll get to try some new and exciting beer!

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Maine beer, interrupted

My parents go to Maine every year for two weeks to visit my mother's family. If you've never been to Maine, put it on your list of "Beautiful places in the United States I Should See Before Spending Tons of Cash on Europe." In my humble opinion, it's the most beautiful place in the world--in the summertime*.

I've been hinting to my husband that we need to go to Maine, but he's not really good at picking up hints of things he's not particularly interested in (strange, what husband doesn't want to be trapped in the boonies with in-laws he's never met?). So when my parents told me they were heading up, I got a wild hair and booked a flight. Just me, a couple of days, during the week, Sky-Mile-ing-it.

I would be at the mercy of my parents, so I didn't have much choice on activities. I had but one request: on the day we headed back to Portland for my flight out, I wanted to stop by the Allagash Brewery. I've been hearing awesome stuff about their beer for some time, and have been wanting to try it, even before I realized it was brewed in Maine. It's Belgian style! It's bottled conditioned! What's that, you ask?

Bottle conditioning involves adding yeasts to the beer once it's bottled, sometimes with added sugars for the yeast to feed on. It's not filtered or pasteurized, like most mass-produced beer. This is "living beer," and it actually allows the beer to last longer than filtered/pasteurized beer. In fact, some bottle-conditioned beers are meant to age for a while, allowing the yeasts to change the character of the beer. It also adds natural carbonation to beer. There's a good article on Tastings, the web site of the Beverage Tasting Institute.

So excited was I! And my parents were intrigued (they drink a beer here and there, especially while on vacation). Little did I know that a storm was brewing--literally. Hurricane Earl was threatening the East Coast and many projected paths had it hitting Maine on Friday. The day I was scheduled to fly out. Portland (and thus its airport) is right on the coast. Delta was offering travelers the chance to reschedule flights free of charge. Reluctantly, I rescheduled to fly out a day early--squashing any plans of brewery tours or tastings. Of course, as we know now, Earl petered out and became a tropical storm, dumping rain and churning up the sea, but nothing worse. Figures.

So I had just one full day in Maine. We went to Camden, a lovely coastal town, and hung out with Jim (one of my three uncles) and his girlfriend. If you only have one day to do Maine, this wouldn't be a bad way to spend it - lobster roll and beer at Bayview Lobster Company on the wharf, perfect view of Camden Harbor, strolling around the quaint shopping district, another beer at Camden Deli on their rooftop deck - another fantastic view.

It was at the Camden Deli that I had my one local brew: Geary's Summer Ale. Geary's is also based in Portland. Here's their description: "full bodied with a spicy hop tang and a rich, crystal clear golden color." This reddish-blond ale was definitely full bodied--a little more than I'd care for in the crazy, unseasonably hot weather Maine was experiencing (in the upper 90s!). Maybe a little too spicy? Perhaps it's my Florida summer palate, but this struck me as a beer to be savored in slightly cooler weather. Then again, who in Maine would make beer for 90-degree heat?

Geary's calls their Summer Ale a kolsch-style. Kolsch (there should be two dots over the "o" there) is an ancient German style of brewing. In fact, only beer of this style brewed in Cologne, Germany is allowed to be called Kolsch (the name of the town is actually Koln, again with the two dots over the "o" - Cologne is the Anglicized way of saying it). I'd never really heard of this style before. It's made with all barley (no wheat), and is very light in color and flavor. Unlike the ubiquitous lagers, there should be a subtle fruity or tangy aftertaste. The German Beer Institute website has an excellent entry on Kolsch, and Carolyn Smagalski at Bella Online has a great article, "The Seductive Style of Kolsch" that includes a list of American kolsch-style beers, including Geary's Summer Ale.

The Beer Advocate folks don't think Geary's Summer Ale adheres to the Kolsch style very well; I'd have to agree. It's more amber than gold in color and a little too full bodied. Not that that's a bad thing. It's a tasty beer.

Interesting label note: Geary's asks Maine College of Art students to submit entries for each year's summer ale marketing and awards the winner a scholarship. That's pretty cool, even if I wasn't too impressed with this year's effort. (The photo on Beer Advocate is of a different year - cuter, in my opinion).

* That last part is very important, especially for Southerners. I spent much of my childhood summers in Maine--my mom, little brother, and I would spend three months with my grandparents in BFE, Maine, whilst my poor father toiled away in the sweltering heat of Florida. Hey, somebody's got to work! Anyway, Maine is fan-freakin-tastic in the summertime - warm during the day, cool at night, dry. It's covered in nature, from the rocky coast to the gorgeous forests. HOWEVER. It is cold as hell frozen over any time not called "summer." I went up in March/April a couple years ago for my grandmother's funeral--may she rest in peace--and it was FRIGID. I was MISERABLE. ALL CAPS MISERABLE. I went again a few years later for my sainted grandfather's funeral in October - guess what? FRIGID.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Caracole Amber Ale: Delicious

Happy September! (Can you believe it's September? Where'd the year go?)
A couple weeks ago, I was at a friend's house, celebrating his upcoming 30th birthday (yes, I hang out with the chil'rens). He's a bit of a good 'ol boy: hunter, owns a big truck and has several dogs running around, and is a proud fan of Natty Lite. But for some reason, he always seems to have one or two bottles of unusual brew hanging out in his refrigerator. I'm not sure how they get there; he doesn't drink them. But true to his oversized heart, he's happy to share.
So it was with great excitement that I discovered, lonely and forgotten in the refrigerator door, a bottle with a familiar image on the label. Looking handrawn, it was of a snail standing (yes, it has legs; it's a cartoon snail) in front of a lit candle set in the ground.
One of my favorite beers ever is Nostradamus, a Belgian brown ale from Brasserie La Caracole, in southern Belgium (the Wallonia region). At 9.5% ABV, it's a heady, sweet beer. It's also the only beer I've ever seen from Caracole.
But here, in my friend's refrigerator, was a beer labeled simply "Caracole." It was 8% ABV and lighter in color, a Belgian amber ale (the label says as much). Not as sweet as the Nostradamus, it still had that sherry-like alcohol taste. It was a little like a heavy wheat beer - I definitely tasted citrus and spice.
While I couldn't find a web site for the brewery, D&V International, an Belgian and French beer importer, has a good deal of information on Caracole. From their web site:

Truly artisanal Brasserie La Caracole is located in a small village Falmignoul, Province of Namur, Wallonia in southern Belgium, close to the French border.  All styles are bottle conditioned (second fermentation with yeast in the bottle), unfiltered and unpasteurized. The recurring theme on each label is that of spiral snail shell from which the brewery takes its name. Apparently the snail is the emblem of Namur and the word for a snail in local Namurois dialect is "Caracole".
The brewer also make a white beer called Troublette and a blond called Saxo.

  The only retail establishment I've found Caracole's Nostradamus in is The Wine & Liquor Shoppe of Jonesville, right on Newberry Road. And they didn't actually have it, they ordered it for me. This is not a beer you find just anywhere. Stubbies in Gainesville has had it on tap before. So where in the hell did my friend find this one bottle of Caracole amber ale? I asked, and he had no idea how it showed up in his refrigerator.

  Foiled again. Oh well, at least I had this one. I'd love to have another.

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