March 2007

Monthly Archive

Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale

Posted by on 22 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

There is no way I’m going to give a bad review to Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale, even if it sucks. After all, as the label says, it’s “Tempered over burning witches.”

Besides, what self-respecting website that’s searching for the Holy Beer would pass this up? How could you ignore it? The GR in grail is crossed out, after all. It says “Holy Ail.”

And so, is it?

Is it the Holy Ale?

No. Sadly, the wee bunny with the big, sharp, nasty pointed teeth must have killed the alchemist who had the Holy Ale recipe, so the brewer — Black Sheep Brewery of Yorkshire — pulled this one out of a bottom drawer somewhere.

The novelty of the label alone will sell the beer. Why put any effort into actually making it good?

Like I said, though, I’m not going to give it a bad review, because to tell the truth, it does not suck. It’s not wonderful, and it’s not Holy, but it’s not that bad. It won’t turn you into a newt.

It’s dark, rich, a bit rough, and a bit too bitter for my tastes. A nutty flavor prevails. There are some nice hoppy notes, which is good because that lets you know you’re drinking something that prevents cancer. The malt drives a heavy bass beat underneath. The more you drink the better it tastes.

It’s only got a bit of rat in it. And it goes really well with SPAM.

My friend at the local Beer Heaven told me more people buy this bottle to keep unopened on a bookshelf than they do to actually drink it. I can see that. It looks great next to your Monty Python DVD collection, just to the left of the penguin.

You know, the penguin on top of your telly?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and you have no idea what happens to this penguin, then don’t bother buying this beer. Otherwise the knights may say “Nee!” to you, or the French people with the outrageous accents may taunt you a second time.

Wink wink, nudge nudge. Say no more!

Beer Is Good For You

Posted by on 21 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer News

Drinking beer in moderation — one a day for women and two a day for men — can deliver protection against heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and dementia.

We’ve known about the benefits of wine for years, but studies are now showing that beer is even better, and it’s because of the ingredients.

One of course is the alcohol, the benefits of which it shares with wine.

Another is vitamin B6. Beer drinkers show a 30% increase of vitamin B6 in their blood. Wine and other spirits also give you a B6 boost, but not quite as much, and for not as long.

The real clincher is the hops. Hops contain a unique anti-cancer micronutrient called xanthohumol which hinders tumor growth, inhibits enzymes that activate cancer cells, and also helps make other unhealthy compounds more water-soluble so that your body can get rid of them … instead of having them hanging around and causing you health problems.

The best beers are usually ales, porters, and stouts, because they have more hops and therefore much higher levels of xanthohumol.

Oregon’s microbrews rank particularly high in this regard.

So rejoice my fellow beer lovers! Your beer drinking is no longer a vice — that is, as long as you can keep it to one or two beers a day.

Any more than that and the health benefits are outweighed by the risks of overindulgence.

Barbar Blonde

Posted by on 20 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

It’s a good thing I keep notes.

I had a four pack of this Barbar Blonde, and drank the first three recreationally. I wrote down this about the first sip: The spices hit first, quickly followed by honey, then hops. It finishes with the orange peel. Very well balanced. Solid 6.0 on the Holy Grail scale.

I distinctly remember thinking about how much I liked it, and how I’d give it a rave review. 6.0 on the scale is high praise from me.

Tonight, on bottle number four — which I saved to drink while writing the actual review — I’m not liking at all. I don’t know if it’s because of something I ate earlier or if it’s because I’m drinking this out of a glass instead of straight from the bottle. But the pictograph on the carton clearly states to drink from a glass at 40° F.

The ale has an interesting history, at least according to the packing text. “With Barbar you are going back to the beginnings of the brewers art. During centuries, the only sweetener known in Europe was honey…” It goes on to tell about it being an early version of a barley-beer, brewed with artesian well water in the south of Brussels using a secret recipe containing a harmonious mixture of yadda yadda yadda.

Damn. I just wish this one tasted as good as the other three. I don’t know. It’s weird.

Anyway, I’m ignoring tonight’s bottle, and finishing this review on a positive note. This ale went very well with Chipotle chicken fajita burritos and Jack Black’s movie Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny. I daresay the ale enhanced the movie, not the other way around. I enjoyed both immensely.

I’m honoring my notes and leaving Barbar Blonde at 6.0 on the Holy Grail scale.

Samuel Adams Hefeweizen

Posted by on 17 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

By pure chance I’ve picked a good beer to end Samuel Adams week here at The Hefeweizen is still cloudy with yeast, which sounds a bit gross, but it’s not. It’s not like it’s going to give you a yeast infection. Indeed, it’s crisp and light and very hoppy, hitting you with a sweet medley like a happy jazz riff (thanks again to Grant Wood for that music simile — it really works).

Doing my homework, it’s said that Weissbier (from which Hefeweizen came) may be one of the oldest styles of beer. This puts it down as a candidate for the Holy Beer just by definition, and the taste supports it. There’s a quality to it that I find really hard to describe, some late mid-riff notes that scream for a word that unfortunately I lack. It’s a positive word, whatever it is. It’s very good.

The Hefeweizen finishes clean and leaves the mouth watering for more. And … yes fortunately enough, I have more. The second is as tasty as the first, and so I suspect would be third.

I give it a 4.7 on the Holy Grail scale.

The Music of Beer

Posted by on 16 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer People

I had a great chat today with Grant Wood, the Brewing Manager of the Samuel Adams Boston Beer Company. He’s the man in the know and the keeper of beer secrets.

I’d done a bit of research and discovered that Grant went to Siebel Institute of Chicago, oldest among America’s brew schools, and was also a native of Irving, Texas — not far away from where I live now. The idea of a School of Beer had me intrigued, and that was the first thing I asked him about. “So, what is it like? Is it a studious experience or more like a scene from Animal House?”

He laughed. “No. Not quite like that.” Grant went on to say they spent most of their 12 weeks in lectures about the various ingredients, methods, etc., as one would expect in any learning environment. But he says the highlight of the experience was the field trips to various breweries and pubs of the area, to see different methods of brewing and, of course, to go beer tasting. He learned a lot and made good connections — some of his fellow classmates went on to hold high positions at other large breweries across the country.

“I’ve noticed that at my local beer heaven,” I said, “all the beers now have cards showing what beers go with which foods. Is this an industry wide thing?”

“I’m not sure if it’s industry wide, but it makes sense.”

“Do you believe beer goes better with food than does wine?”

“Yes,” Grant said, “I do. It does, and for a variety of different reasons.” He went on to talk about how beer’s large variety of ingredients make a much more diverse array of flavors. More flavors mean better matches with different foods. “Also, because there’s less alcohol content, the flavors in the beer compliment the food instead of overwhelming it. Not only that, there’s the carbonation which serves to scrub the pallet.”

“I always felt beer went better with food than wine,” I told him. “I just didn’t know why.” I went on to explain about how I’m searching for the Holy Beer for my novel, and asked what he thought it was that makes some beers extraordinary.

“Complexity, and depth of flavor,” Grant said. “A really good beer hits the pallet with a succession of flavors, similar to notes in a song. And like in music, these flavors have to be delivered rapidly and in harmony, without sounding any discordant notes. When the beer is finished, the very last taste should fade pleasantly. It doesn’t matter how good a beer is if — when you’re finished with it — it leaves you searching for something to remove the final taste from your mouth.”

“The Westmalle Dubbel Ale I had the other night did just that,” I said. “It finished up bitter and nasty, kind of like a cigar butt.”

Grant laughed. “No, that’s not something you want to have happen. Ideally at the end of a beer its flavor should leave you wanting another.”

“You guys are good at that. Especially the Old Ale. The one from your LongShot pack — I loved it.”

“Yes. Don Oliver did a really good job with that one. That’s a good recipe.”

“I’ve got one final question for you. What do you see for the future of beer? Any new directions, new types of beer?”

Grant said he couldn’t speak for the brewery, but from a personal perspective he thinks we’ll see a more blurring of lines. “Jim Koch wants to push the envelope of what a beer can be. We see it already with fruit beers and barley wines, and in the future I think the market will see more hybrids. People want new flavors — but at the same time they still want a sense of authenticity.”

“Hybrids such as those ‘buzz beers’ on the market today?”

“Well, yes, but hopefully something more elegant. We’ll probably see beverages where you’re not really sure if it’s a beer or a wine. Things that really push the envelope.”

“How about packaging? With the big push to be ‘green’ I was wondering if the industry might resort to reusable bottles and the like?”

“We’re experimenting with that. There has to be a balance between a container that can be reused and still looks good enough to put your product in. We’re doing some of that now, trying to use recycled glass and also paper in our packaging.”

With that, I thanked Grant and told him I didn’t want to take up any more from his busy day. After all, the beer must flow. Once we said our goodbyes and hung up, I opened up a bottle of their Brown Ale — the next beer on my list to review — and thought about Grant’s musical analogy for beer’s flavor.

Each flavor a note, each beer a different song.

I like that.

Beer And A Haircut

Posted by on 15 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Places

For my lunch break today, I walked over to the “Men’s Grooming Center” next door, and found them a bit pricey — but the barber pointed out “We serve free beer. All you can drink.”

I got me a haircut!

The place is called Roosters, a part of a new chain of shops where they try to bring back a more traditional style of American barbershop — or at least a 21st century version of it. You don’t get “just a haircut” here. You can get just about everything you can at a woman’s salon, except with and extra side of testosterone. Hair coloring, hi-lighting, waxing, facial shaves, and even a “MANicure.”

…why are you looking at me like that? No, I only got a haircut!

(And beer.)

They hand you a tall cold glass of brew, set you down and proceed to give you the royal treatment. Their normal haircut includes neck shave, hair wash, a hot steam towel for your face, a brush of powder around your neck, Bay Rum aftershave, and even a head massage.

If it were guy barber I would have passed on the massage, but considering she was a she (and a quite attractive she at that) I said, yeah. Sure. Okay.

And all this while sipping on a beer. Heck yeah it’s worth the extra price. It only set me back about $10 more than usual, and you know … even a guy needs a little pampering every once in a while.

Samuel Adams Brown Ale

Posted by on 15 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I popped open a bottle of this beer right after chatting on the phone with Sam Adam’s Brewing Manager, Grant Wood. We’d just been talking about beer as music, and in the spirit of that thought, this beer is rock and roll.

It hits with a nutty flavor like a loud, buzzing power chord played on a guitar with the amp cranked to 11. Drums pound out a malty beat that drives the beer along. Then there’s some guy in back with a bassoon or something, playing this weird note and turning the whole thing a bit bitter.

It’s not bad. I mean, it’s not awful. It’s not great, either. It’s probably a question of personal taste, but I much preferred their Black Lager, and I really enjoyed their Old Ale.

Sadly, this Brown Ale is the least favorite of any of their beers I’ve sampled this week.

Fifteen minutes after the beer is done, my tongue’s “ears” are still ringing from this performance.

Samuel Adams Black Lager

Posted by on 14 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

It’s violent thunder and lightning right now outside my window. A wall of air and vertical rain just blew all the furniture off my patio. So what do I do?

Grab a beer and enjoy the show.

This afternoon’s beer is Samuel Adam’s Black Lager. As I listen to the sound of emergency sirens wail between the cracking and rumbling of thunder, I pop one open and take that first reverent sip.

Yum! Rich and smooth, it’s got a thick malty taste with a dark nuttiness that is bold but not over-powering.

I’ve been drinking beer since I was about 5 years old. My brother and his high school buddies handed me a tall can of cheap brew and laughed at the face I made. Drinking that crud, it’s a wonder I ever learned to like it. Tasting the brews that I drink now, I find it hard to even call that other stuff “beer.” It’s more like bitter alcoholic tea.

I like dark beers, beers with some real flavor. This Black Lager has it. It’s not the best, and I wouldn’t consider it even a candidate for the Holy Beer. It’s solidly good but not outstanding.

And it goes really well with a lightning storm.

Samuel Adams Old Ale

Posted by on 13 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

Okay. Samuel Adams hasn’t disappointed yet. This, the third beer from their LongShot mix 6-pack, hits ye olde taste buds with a thick, rich wave of malty goodness that to me has a definite overtone of honey — though not overly sweet. As flavorful as the other two were, this is my favorite of the pack, and it is a tempting candidate for the Holy Beer taste for which I’m searching.

Another winner of the 2006 American Homebrew Contest, this recipe is the creation of Don Oliver who hails from my old home state of California. According to the label, he says this is a “full-bodied, heavy ale good for a winter night by the fire.” Yes indeed, it is, but I could also imagine drinking it after dinner on the back deck of a boat, or even cuddled up with my sweetheart during a good movie. The 10.6% alcohol by volume might even facilitate a romantic mood.

What is it that famous poster says? “Beer: Helping ugly people get laid since 800 A.D.” Something like that.

Yeah. Anyway, I’m finishing the first bottle right now, and by the time I down the second, I’m not going to want to be driving anywhere. This is good, strong “old” ale is best enjoyed at home.

I give it a 6.5 on the Holy Grail scale.

Samuel Adams Boysenberry Wheat

Posted by on 12 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

The first thing that hit me with the initial swig is, this is not a beer! It tastes more like one of those beer-based flavored wine cooler things. But no, the aftertaste tells you quite clearly you’re drinking a beer and a good one at that. Sweet, strongly fruity, it’s light yet has a satisfying wash of hops. I like it.

Another 2006 Homebrew Contest Winner, this recipe is from Ken Smith of Colorado and is found in the Sam Adams LongShot mix 6-pack. Ken is actually an employee of the company, and he describes the beer as (and I’m quoting the bottle) “…a refreshing light taste and cereal crispness…” It also goes on to state this is not a beer, but an unfiltered ale.

It finishes clean and my mouth says, “More please.” Happily I have another, and so off I go to the fridge.

The second one goes just as fast as the first, and my mouth is still saying, “More please.”

Bummer. I only had two. 🙁

Samuel Adams Dortmunder Export

Posted by on 11 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

It’s Samuel Adams week here at GroovyBrew, and this just happened to be the first beer I pulled out of the sample pack. I popped it open and took my first sip, and it turned into a really long sip. Mmm … beer. Beer good. Mmmm… Of course I’m like that with just about all beer, so, onward.

I can’t stop drinking it, and it’s nearly gone, and I’ve hardly written anything. Of course that has a lot to do with my teenage daughters being right behind me, poking each other and screaming “OW!” at the tops of their lungs, then laughing hysterically. By the way they’re acting you’d think they were the ones drinking.

This light lager is not the Holy Grail beer, but it is tasty. Rich, almost chocolaty, with a lightly sweet edge, the taste is followed by a dancing bitterness. Afterwards, you’re left with a nice smoky aftertaste … and an urge for another.

Fortunately for me, I have another!

Home brewer Bruce Stott’s recipe is one of two who won a competition over 1500 other entries, which is how this beer ended up in Samuel Adam bottles. You’ll find it in the LongShot mix 6-pack (along with others which will be featured here this week). Presumably that’s Bruce’s smiling face there on the label.

Halfway through the second bottle I’m noticing the sweetness has faded, leaving the bitterness in control. Still good, but I don’t think I’d drink more than two before moving on.

Which it is now time to do!

Westmalle Dubbel Trappist Ale

Posted by on 09 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

Okay, so I’m writing this fantasy novel about the beer that was in the Holy Grail, and for this novel I have to do research. Part of the research is finding a beer so good I would say that it’s The Beer, the Holy Beer. Today’s candidate is the Westmalle Dubbel Ale brewed and bottled by the Trappist Monastery of Westmalle in Belgium.

I bought one bottle. I just opened it. Is this the beer? Pouring the dark amber brew into a glass, I’ll tell you one thing, it looks delicious.

Hold on while I take that first reverent sip…

It is good! Very good! Sitting here savoring the aftertaste, it’s getting even better. This ale has a complex flavor that hits you smack dab in the middle of the tongue, a chaotic combination of fruity and mocha, and a deep malt double-whammy that brings on — at least in me — a rush and an afterglow.

So now I’m just sitting here smiling. Is it the beer of God? Could be. It’s definitely a contender. Let’s have a moment of silence and I’ll meditate on it.

…several moments of silence later…

Hmm. No. It’s not the Holy Beer. It’s good, and it’s brewed by monks for God, but … sorry guys, it’s not the beer I’d put in the Grail. Toward the end of the bottle the flavor starts to fail. Sad, but we don’t have a winner.

So the search goes on.


Posted by on 03 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

When I’m not writing about beer, or coffee, or lizards, I write science fiction and fantasy, and in the fantasy novel I’m working on now my character is searching for the beer that had been in the Holy Grail. In this story they discover it was beer, not wine, that Jesus drank, and there’s a 2000 year old conspiracy by the wine growers to hide that fact.

Like I said it’s a fantasy, and darn it, it’s my fantasy. Beer was in the Holy Grail.

Tecate was not that beer.

I’m not saying I don’t like Tecate. No, I love it, and that’s weird. To me Tecate is very unique in that it’s the only beer I actually prefer in a can instead of a bottle. I like it with lime and salt on the rim. I’ll drink it straight but I prefer it all set up as if it’s tequila.

The beer that was in the Holy Grail would have been … correct me if I’m wrong, you experts out there … a dubble style, dark and rich. That is normally what I like, something with a lot of flavor. A heavy beer with history.

That’s not Tecate.

Again, it’s weird that I love it so much. I am in fact drinking some right now. It’s a light lager with some decent flavor, a subtle one, much like finding the flavor in some delicate Asian food … where you almost have to meditate on it. The after taste is tangy, and you get that metal edge from the can which — again weird — is in this case pleasant.

So if you add up what I’m saying, I find Tecate a delicate Mexican zen beer that goes better in the can, and which is enhanced by lime and salt.

Weird. And definitely not something you’d get from the Holy Grail. But still, good.