Sunday, April 27, 2008

Humboldt Red Nectar Ale

A / 4.3
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4.5

ABV: 5.5%
Style: American Amber Ale
Purchased: $1.99/bottle at Sumdat Farmer's Market in Roanoke, VA

Pours a murky, sediment-filled auburn color with a finger of beige head that covers the glass fairly well. The unfiltered characteristic gives the impression you're drinking a homebrew, but I wish I could make 'em this good. Very jazzy label by the way.

Smell is lively, citrus hops blended with candied, buttery caramel malt. Chocolate presents itself with warmth.

Candy on the palate as well, with a chocolaty caramel flavor, and it goes very well with the citrusy hops. For me, the most distinguishing character is the chewy, tangy, and slightly bready mouthfeel. This beer definitely has it's share of specialty malts, which give it a soft, unique flavor, but it is balanced with the hops enough to be quite drinkable.

I hadn't seen this one for a couple years so I picked it up when I found it in town (at Sumdat Farmer's Market). Still impresses now as it did then. Excellent version of the style.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

A- / 4.15
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4

ABV: 10.8%
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Purchased: $6.99 at Sumdat Farmer's Market in Roanoke, VA

Pours darker than a black steer's tukus on a moonless night. Attractive caramel cap of fine bubbles which thin out a bit but gravitate to the edge of the glass where they leave their mark copiously.

Aroma is roasted and toasted malts and some earthy hops.

Big and bold, imbibing this beer feels more like eating chocolate birthday cake with caramel icing, at least in body. The taste exhibits some of this, but leans more heavily on toast and nuts. Starchy and bready on the finish, the mouthfeel is silky up front.

Butter presents itself on the nose and palate as the beer warms, and with it a more prominent booziness. And this one will have ample time to warm, as it's a very slow sipper. No room for seconds; more like dessert for two.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Boscos Nashville Brewing Co.

1805 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37212

/ 3.35
vibe: 3 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3 | selection: 3.5 | food: 3.5 - $$

I first heard about this place in an airline magazine listing the supposed best brewpubs in various states, so decided to check it out as I visit Nashville a few times per year. We went on a Saturday afternoon after lunch hour. The bar was small, tucked in a corner, and filled up so we grabbed a booth. The greeter appeared kind of quiet and sullen and made me wonder if I should worn something better than shorts and sandals into this place. The server was more upbeat and attentive at first, but less so after we were served.

A friend and I had the 8 beer for $8 sampler, which was hit or miss. In particular, the "stone" beer tastes little better than a Budweiser, the IPA was a corn sugary disappointment (for me, my friend liked it better) and some of the others were unremarkable. The dunkelweizen was my favorite so I ordered a pint of that, although the Irish red was the epitome of a session fightin' ale and would have been great if we decided to spend the rest of the evening here.

We also ordered a spinach and artichoke dip that was good and ample for the four of us. Beers were $4.50 a piece. The restaurant was spacious, with paintings on the walls, half of pears, half other things. I got some snobby vibes but it could have been a lot worse. Not a bad visit, probably good for a date, but not necessarily a place I'll seek out again.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Legend Brown Ale

A- / 4.2
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | drink: 4.5

ABV: 6.5%
Style: English Brown Ale
Purchased: $3.99 at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Three plus fingers of creamy head, dense bubbles slowly settling, leaving 1/4" of head over the mahogany-amber body. For all the froth, lacing is minimal.

Watermelon, yeast, bubble gum on the nose. Fruity, malty, refreshing and light, but complex.

Fruity, candied malts up front, while light citrus hops provide a dry finish, and round out the malts.

Mouthfeel is spot on for a brown. Wet at first and dry on the finish.

Easy drinker, sits well. Perfect with some hot dogs watching the afternoon ballgame.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Boulder Hazed and Infused

A- / 4.15
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 3.5

ABV: 4.85%
Style: American Pale Ale
Purchased: $2.19 per 12 ounce bottle at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, Va

This beer pours about 3 fingers of thick-foamed off-white head, so much so that I can't fit a whole 12 ouce in my oversized Maudite snifter. Head sticks around the whole way down the snifter. Impressive looking.

There's a hefty amount of piney, citrusy hops on the nose, as well as a light apricot aroma, and it reminds me of HIPA and other Magic Hat hoppy beers, in the way it is dryhopped with sweet, pungent hops. The smell has an aggressive, sharp, and clean bouquet that just overtakes your olfactory nerves.

The taste is light citrus and almost lemon. The hops are juicy rather than overly bitter; they taste and smell very fresh. So thick with hops it resembles perfume and oil.

Mouthfeel is light but it's full of flavor. I can't believe this beer is under 5% ABV. I don't remember the last beer I had at that level but it tastes 2% stronger than it really is.

Very impressed by this and the Mojo I've tried from Boulder Beer Co. They know how to do their hoppy beers and they are all better than average. Hops are definitely in excess for a beer of this strength, but are still constructed in a refreshing and tasty manner. For Hop Heads Only.

Boulder Mojo IPA

A- / 4.15
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 4.5

ABV: 6.8%
Style: American IPA
Purchased: $2.19 at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke

This beer is a very attractive sunflower color with a tight two finger beige head. It's sticky and retains about 1/4" the whole way down, with good lacing.

Aroma is thick and resinous, citrus, grassy hops, maybe Columbus? Nope, the bottle says Amarillo, and I can see it now. Some candy-like malts in there as well.

Flavor is big and hoppy, herbal with citrus notes. Hop-heavy like an IPA should be. The bitterness on the finish is near perfect for the style. The lingering herbal pine taste makes a nice touch.

Sits pretty evenly on the tongue, dry and full-bodied but not syrupy.

This is a very nice offering, true to style and bold as the label claims. My first beer from Boulder, and I'm impressed.

North Coast Brother Thelonius

B+ / 3.95
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | drink: 3.5

ABV: 9.4%
Style: Belgian Style Abbey Dubbel
Purchased: Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

I settle down on the warmest afternoon of the year so far with one Brother, as I wait for my own to arrive from Boston. The note on the bottle couldn't be more fitting: "CARPE DIEM VITA BREVIS." Life is short, seize the day.

It pours a very hazy auburn brown with a finger of tan head that thins out, not quite covering the chalice. The bubbles are very fine and foamy. Lacing is sparse, but it gets extra points for having such a cool bottle and label.

Caramel is most prevalent in the aroma but it is complemented by fruity esters, raisin and prune. Some earthy, woody hops are involved. With warmth, buttery notes show up, and finally some booziness when you get to the dregs.

Raisin, prune and caramel again on the tongue, but in that order. It's a bit sour but not very bitter, and this eases up a little as you drink more of it, or have a bite of cheese (I'm having muenster). Earthy hops are there as well.

The hops add an abundant spiciness to the mouthfeel. It's very light-bodied for such a strong beer and the only thing really keeping me from chugging it down is the sourness. I'm not overly familiar with the style but I'm sure the sour characteristic was intended. The alcohol itself isn't very noticeable but there is a sharp acidity that can be a little overbearing. Overall pretty enjoyable.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

La Crosse City Brewery Moe's Backroom Pale Ale

C+ / 3.1
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | drink: 3.5

ABV: 5.7%
Style: American Pale Ale
Purchased: Kroger in Roanoke, VA

Pours with a rather large foamy beige head and translucent amber body. The head retains itself pretty well, covering the body comfortably, and forming a modest patch or two of lacing.

There isn't much in the way of an aroma for a pale ale. Ever so subtle citrus notes and not much else.

The flavor is actually decent for a pale ale at this price. There's a nice thick, slightly resinous citrus flavor and a touch of grapefruit bitterness - seems like a Cascade-heavy beer to me. The one drawback is the obvious use of sugar adjuncts, which impart a slightly cidery, ultimately ersatz flavor and aroma to the beer.

There's not much wrong with the mouthfeel - it's maybe a little thin on body and a bit overcarbonated but finishes dry and refreshing as a pale ale should.

Drinkability suffers a bit from the sugary flavor, which gets old pretty quick and doesn't sit very well in the stomach. For $5.49 a six-pack, this beer definitely serves it's purpose well, and may top the list of beers you can buy for under a dollar a piece. I'm sure I'll return to it next time I'm low on cash.

Anheuser-Busch Wild Blue (Blueberry Lager)

F / 1.05
look: 1 | smell: 1 | taste: 1 | feel: 1 | drink: 1.5

ABV: 8%
Style: Fruit/Vegetable Beer
Purchased: Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Well, they did it, they conned me into buying an A-B beer. Intrigued by an 8% blueberry beer, I picked up a single at the local wine and beer shop and was looking forward to trying it.

Then I saw the label and looked it up: Anheuser-Busch product. Crap. Then I poured it out. It's a sickening bright fruit juice purple color with a purpleish-pink head that can't wait to vanish. You can smell the fruit juice from a foot away.

Tastes like a blueberry Spark's or something. Just sweet, syrupy juice with no real hint of anything resembling hops or malts anywhere.

Mouthfeel is thin and syrupy, so sweet it makes you pucker, a slight bite on the finish the only thing resembling actual beer.

No, I do not want to drink any more of this. I suppose this could be a decent choice for an alternative to juice at breakfast, but unless you're used to wine cooler and are looking for something stronger, avoid this beer!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hops and Barley Shortage

You may be wondering why your favorite 6-pack just went up in price a buck or two, and some beers are reaching $1.50 to $2.00 and up per bottle. This mostly has to do with the hops and barley shortage that literally every brewery has had to deal with over the past year, and will continue to have to do so for the foreseeable future.

A lot has been written about the topic and most brewmasters have addressed it on their own websites, but basically what is happening is that supply of ingredients is dwindling while demand for craft brews has dramatically increased. Farmers, through no real fault of their own, have failed to honor contracts to provide hops and barley to suppliers, in most cases opting instead for corn or canola (rapeseed), from which larger profits can be gained due to the emergence of ethanol, which is being touted as a "green" additive to gasoline.

Less room in fields and less interest from farmers leads to less barley and hops for brewers, at a time when new breweries seemingly spout up weekly, and brewers seek to fuel the public's desire for bigger, stronger, extreme beers. As an example, this recipe for a 5-gallon homebrew clone of Pliny the Elder, which is probably my favorite beer ever as I write this, uses over a pound of hops and nearly 16 pounds of barley per batch, which will produce about two cases of beer. Don't get me wrong, I loooove this beer, but when you consider a normal batch of wheat beer, golden ale, Irish red or the like uses more like 2 ounces of hops and maybe 10 pounds of barley per 5-gallon batch, imagine how tough it is for breweries like Russian River to produce these beers on a national scale.

Other factors have led to the shortage: a warehouse fire wiping out about 2% of American-grown hops last year. A below-average growing season due to poor weather. Brewers will probably lean towards more modest recipes in the coming months. Homebrew supply stores like mine in Roanoke have notified customers that hops will only be sold by recipe, with a maximum of about four ounces to be sold only when customers purchase their malts and yeast at the same time. Ingredients for the IPA I am currently brewing ran me close to $70 for a 5-gallon batch, while in the past I had rarely topped $50. The Irish Red I brewed in February, which contains significantly less ingredients, was under $40.

It will be an interesting year ahead (and probably more), as we watch brewers practice conservation and discretion in their own ways. Sam Adams recently sold off 20,000 pounds of hops to smaller microbreweries that were not able to obtain them due to lack of supply. From all accounts within the industry, however, the beers we enjoy will continue to line the shelves, as long as we continue to buy them. We may just need to shell out some more dough to make that happen.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brouwerij De Musketiers Troubadour Blonde Ale

A / 4.35
look: 4.5 smell: 4 taste: 4.5 feel: 4 drink: 4.5

ABV: 6.5%
Style: Belgian Pale Ale
Purchased: Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Served this last bottle of a four-pack in a tulip glass. Three fingers of clumpy, sticky, white head settle slowly leaving large patches of lacing on the edges of the glass. A solid thick later of large-bubble head sits atop a hazy straw body.

Smells exactly how a Belgian blonde should smell: clovey, yeasty, with a touch of banana. Also smells like yellow cake batter when it warms.

The taste is again clovey, phenolic with bready yeast and banana flavors. Spicy on the tongue and slightly sour on the finish. Lots of flavor for a modest ABV.

Mouthfeel is fairly spicy and sharp, but also leaves a bit of a silky coating on your tongue. Nevertheless, pretty light and certainly very drinkable. Recommended.

A Few Basics

This post will contain some basics regarding the beer rating system, what to look for in a good beer, what makes up a beer, etc., and I will probably come back to it in the future to add things. If you have any questions about anything I write, please let me know and I'd be more than happy to clarify.

Beer ratings are based on Beer Advocate's beer rating system. This is a scale of 1 to 5 based on the five main components of tasting a beer, and the % of rating contributing to overall score:

Appearance: 20%
Aroma: 20%
Taste: 40%
Mouthfeel: 10%
Drinkability: 10%

To save myself from republishing everything Beer Advocate has already quite ably written, look here for descriptions of each category. There's a load of good information on this website, so we'll keep that website for basic reference and this one for my thoughts.

As you check out the ratings I give, keep in mind that these are relative to style. What this means is that if I give an Imperial IPA a 3.8 and a wheat beer a 4.4, it doesn't necessarily mean that I liked the wheat beer better than the IIPA, it just means that the wheat beer is great compared to other wheat beers, and the IIPA is not quite as great compared to other IIPAs. Cuz I like my IIPAs.

Head: The foam you see at the top of a beer is referred to as head. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually a good thing to have a lot of. Head can be fluffy, pillowy, foamy, sticky, non-existent, etc. Generally, I pour my beer right down the center of the glass and let the head do it's thing. If the head sticks to the side of the glass, that's a good thing; it's called lacing, and the more of it the better, in most cases. Great beers tend to form intricate patterns down the side of your glass. Sometimes you'll get a heavily carbonated beer that is 80% head when you pour it vigorously. Here you can cheat and start by pouring it down the side of the glass, straightening it up as you go. Whatever you do, don't pull the old frat party trick where you wipe your finger on the side of your nose, then stir the head with it (unless it's a Beast Light or likewise). That kills the head, which can hurt the aroma and mouthfeel of the beer.

Also, make sure you have a "beer clean" glass. This means wash your glass out using non-scented, powder detergent that doesn't leave any residue on the edges of the glass. Generally, this excludes all liquid detergents. Either clean your glass with a basic powdered dishwasher detergent, or just rinse it with water after you drink a beer. I don't know how sanitary the latter is, but I do it a lot and it treats a head well, and I'm not dead yet.

Glassware: There are all kinds of options for glasses you can pour your beer into. Certain beers require special glasses to be appreciated to their fullest. Most beers, you can get away with pouring into a typical pint glass, mug or stein. I prefer a snifter for beers with more intricate aromas, and generally those with higher ABVs. It's a good idea to get yourself a nice snifter if you like beer. You'll be glad you did. For more on glassware, check out: BA Glassware .

Great Divide Old Ruffian Barleywine Style Ale

B+ / 3.95
look: 4 smell: 4 taste: 4 feel: 4 drink: 3.5

ABV: 10.2%
Style: American Barleywine
Purchased: $7.99/22 oz. bottle at Wine Gourmet in Roanoke, VA

Pours a murky fig color with a couple fingers of creamy khaki head that leaves strong layers of lacing down the snifter. It hangs around in a clump at one side and a ring around the glass.

Caramel malts hit the nose first, then dark chocolate, toffee, and roasted malts. The fruit talked about on the label begins to shine with warmth - mostly of the dark variety like fig and prune. Some earthy hops round things out.

Flavor is far more bitter than the nose lets on, a great swath of which expands across all corners of the palate with the first sip. Again, these hops are earthy and woody, developing some floral and slight grapefruit character as it warms. Caramel and chocolate are still prevalent all along. Five degrees or so of warmth makes all the difference. With the second pour out of the bomber, you're now drinking a vanilla caramel praline ice cream cone with chocolate sauce, albeit still with a bitter backbone, but more subdued.

The mouthfeel is massive and robust, and the hop bitterness is relentless. I'd recommend cellaring this one for a while. Alcohol only shows up both in nose and on tongue towards the final 20% of the beer, but it's so full-bodied, it's one and done per sitting for this one. It's a great version of the style but a bit too bitter for me at least at this age.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I want to keep this short so I can get into the stuff I really created this blog for - well, in short, BEER. This blog will probably be updated fairly regularly, considering I'm pretty much always drinking, or brewing, or buying, or reading So crack open a cold one, bold imbiber of the barley 'n' hops blogosphere, because you've come to the right place if you want to know what to drink, where to drink it, or how to make it (don't worry, that will be the last Bud Light reference in this blog). And since it just took me a half hour to come up with that zinger, on to the posts.