Mackeson Triple Stout

Posted by on 30 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

This is the “Original and Genuine Triple Stout” according to the Mackeson label. My love bought it for me to try.

I should pause here for a moment to say how much I love my woman. She is like no other. She is my sunshine. She is my everything. She buys me beer and coffee to try.

She is also my editor. In fact, that’s how I met her. But, we’re drifting off the subject…

So, I have this Mackeson bottle, which looks familiar, but I don’t remember if I’ve had it before. So I pop the top and take a whiff.

Immediately I know I’m going to like it. I smell chocolate and coffee mixed in with the dark roasted malts. My love has picked me a winner.

Did I mention how much I love her?

I really, really, really love her, and not just because she buys me beer.

So I raise this bottle to my lips and take that first luxurious swig, and … it tastes familiar. Very familiar. It tastes almost exactly like Left Hand Milk Stout, which I love, but with extra chocolate and coffee. It’s sweet, full bodied and over-the-top flavorful. The aftertaste is like creamy coffee.

Now, I know not everyone has the same tastes. If you’re a beer purist you may not like these chocolate coffee beers. In fact when I was Googling for background information, I found one guy on who proclaimed this beer to be “Worse than amateur porn.”

I couldn’t agree less. But then again, um, I’m not really sure about the porn reference. Me, I’m looking for the Holy Beer, and this one is a contender. I rate it a solid 6.3 on the Holy Grail scale.

And here’s a heartfelt thank you going out to my love.

ILU x 11

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Xingu Black Beer

Posted by on 29 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!

I saw this down at my local beer heaven and the bottle jumped out at me. Dark dangerous voodoo beer, you must buy me!

Well, not exactly voodoo beer, but close. It comes from Brazil, and is the attempt to recreate the infamous black beer made by Amazon Indian tribes — beer used in tribal religious and social ceremonies. Witch doctor beer. Shaman beer.

Magic beer.

So I get this bottle home and pop the top (it’s a twist off), lift the glass opening to my face and sniff cautiously. Xingu (pronounced ‘shin-goo’) smells like umber malt, brown sugar and molasses. To me, it smells good. In fact it smells fantastic.

I put the bottle to my lips and tip it back.

Ooo. It’s smooth. It’s one of those brews where you have force yourself not to drink the whole bottle down in one long gulp. It tastes almost chocolate sweet, with toffee notes riding strong over the dark roasted malt. The hops give a Cavendish sweet-tobacco aftertaste that blooms late but fades quickly.

Again, I have to force myself not to slurp it down like a kid with candy.

Despite my attempts to savor it over time, the bottle is empty. And while I enjoyed it, and while it’s most definitely a groovy brew, it’s not quite a Holy Beer contender.

Even if it is magic.

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Flying Dog Dogtoberfest

Posted by on 27 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

Last weekend was one of our local Oktoberfests, and I was staying in a hotel right down the street from it. But did I go to it? Did I?


I was previously engaged at one of the area’s premier Sci-Fi conventions as a guest writer, an honor I could not turn down … not even for a beer festival. So I gazed longingly at the Oktoberfest posters and consoled myself with all the free-flowing beer at the after-hour room parties … Sci-Fi fans really know how to party … and I had a total blast.

Then I get home and what do I find in the mail? A big cardboard box full of packing peanuts, and inside that box, amid all the packing, was a single bottle of beer.

My friends from Flying Dog had sent me (and apparently every other beer blogger on the planet) a sample of their seasonal Dogtoberfest beer. I had to laugh, and not only at the wonderfully deranged Steadman artwork on the label, but the idea of a single bottle of beer being UPS’ed around in such a big box.

So today, after a long day of arranging letters in useful patterns, I come home from work and pull this small piece of Oktoberfest out of my fridge and pop the top. Taking a sniff, I’m rewarded with the scent of sweet hops, brown malts, and a hint of butterscotch.

I already know it’s going to be good. Flying Dog has never let me down. Ever.

The first sip not a disappointment. Sweet, delicate, nutty, the hops run with the flavor, chased by the toasty malts. The two play tag to see who is more dominant, but I have to say the hops win. It finishes with a slight metallic ring, tasting like it had come from a can instead of a bottle, but it’s not unpleasant. The beer lingers sweet on the palate with just enough bitterness to tone it down.

I love this beer. It’s a groovy brew. I give it 4.7 on the Holy Grail Scale, and, I’m definitely picking up a six pack this weekend.

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Flensburger Dunkel

Posted by on 24 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

The final entry in my Flensburger quadrilogy of reviews, I saved the best for the last.

I’m guessing, of course … but dark beers have always been my favorite. German dark beers have never let me down.

I have high hopes for this one.

I pop the top, take a nice sniff. Dark malt scents reward my nose, smelling delicious and fresh. There’s overtones of hops and brown sugar. Licking my lips, I raise the heavy bottle to my mouth.

Caramel sweet dark toasted malt with a standing ovation of hoppy goodness. Oh yes. After drinking wheat and pilsners, this is something I’ve been craving. Underneath is a kind of rye, peppery spice note, fading to a dry maltiness that, while good, leaves a bit to be desired.

(Time passes)

Okay, no delayed bloom here. The taste up front is the taste you get. And that is a good front-end sip with a savory middle and a letdown finish.

I shouldn’t have had my expectations so high.

Now I’m really craving something like a Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball.

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Flensburger Pilsener

Posted by on 21 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I’m a solid fan of American craft beers.

Having said that, I also have to admit that the Germans know their beer, and it probably has to do with exacting measurements, repeatability, and all the things that made Germans good rocket scientists.

I’m cheating here because I took a sip before I started writing this review. I already know this brew is good.

Something must be wrong with my nose because I sniffed, snorted, and snarfled the top of this cute little bottle without any reward of scent. Having done my research, I know other reviewers smell good things from the top of this bottle. Unfortunately I’m not getting it, so it must be me.

Color, head, lacing, blah blah blah … I don’t do all that stuff. Let’s go right for the throat. I take a big, healthy swig.

The first thing that strikes me about this pilsner is that it’s spicy. There’s a peppery flavor mixed with green hops over a solid grainy malt base. The aftertaste fades to a sharp bitterness that over time is a bit off balance. To ward it off, take another swig.

Crafty Germans. They formulated it that way to keep you drinking.

That’s my theory, anyway.

Not a Holy Beer, but very good, and definitely good for a pilsner. I don’t have a problem proclaiming this as a Groovy Brew.

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Flensburger Gold

Posted by on 18 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

Gold! So, from what I read on the Internet, “gold” is the code word for “lite beer” in Germany. This is reportedly a German version of a “lite” beer.

(May all “lite” beers rot in Hell.)

I am not expecting much. Being that I don’t expect to like it, I’m glad it is a tiny little 11.2 ounce bottle.

Then again, if anyone can pull off a “lite” beer it would be the Germans. So, who knows? I’m about to find out for myself.

Popping the top I smell … absolutely nothing. There is no scent. I can smell the glass of the bottle itself more than I smell anything resembling that of beer.

Here goes nothing. I raise the thick brown glass to my lips. Tip it back.

The flavor is light and a bit sweet. The aftertaste is very sweet. The beer taste itself is so delicate it’s hard to pin down. I’m not talking absent like in Coors, but … delicate. Shy.

It tastes a bit like grass. Lawn grass. Lawn grass with honey.

So help me, it’s not unpleasant. I am actually enjoying it. The more I drink, the stronger the flavor. This is a delayed bloom beer.

I actually like it.

But, lawn grass? What is this? Beer for cows?

No, the grass taste must be the hops, and the hoppiness is growing as I near the end of the tiny bottle. As the hoppiness grows the honey sweetness fades.

Okay, they pulled it off. This beer is good. Not Holy Beer good, not “Hey guys let’s go buy a case of this and party!” good, but good enough to not turn down if someone hands it to you.

In other words, it’s good but not groovy. And it does not taste like a “lite” beer.

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Flensburger Weizen

Posted by on 15 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

My good friends over at my local Beer Heaven provided me with four — count them, four — bottles of Flensburger to try.

So thus starts a quadrilogy of reviews. It’s like taking a little trip to Germany.

The bottles are cute little 12 ouncers with a resealable stopper, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense beyond a marketing standpoint. Twelve ounces is … what? Four gulps? Who’s going to take two gulps, reseal it, and put it back in the fridge?

As a general rule, I’m against a bottle holding anything less than 16 ounces … unless the beer is horrible.

But if the beer is horrible, then…

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Anyway. Moving along.

I pop the top, take that required sniff. It’s very yeasty. In fact I can’t smell anything else. At all.

Raising it to my lips, I take a swing from the thick brown glass and am rewarded with a sweet yeasty taste. It tastes like bread. Very much like bread.

Good bread.

It makes sense since this is a wheat beer. As the tasting continues the yeastiness fades, leaving the sweet bready wheat laced with light golden hops, and a very slight bitterness, well balanced, which brings this together as a impressive little package.

Emphasis on little.

The beer is already gone.

I daresay this is the best wheat beer I’ve ever tasted, and in so, I’m going to designate it a Holy Beer contender, delicious enough to make it but not enough to rate too high. I’ll give it a 2.4.

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Phuket Lager

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

My love and I were at a Thai restaurant when we discovered this beer. A joke beer, obviously. But after we had our giggle, I had to admit my curiosity was piqued.

Phuket, I thought. I’ll try it.

As it says on the label, it’s “The original island beer.” What island? I had no idea. All I knew is that it was from Thailand.

Phuket, I thought. I’ll look it up on the Internet later.

We got it home, took a picture of it, and I popped it open. It’s going to be horrible, I thought. Like Coors flavored with rusty nails, or Budweiser with frog juice in it.

My ceremonial sniffing of the bottle was more out of fear than pretentiousness. The scent turned out to be a tad yeasty and was brimming with hops. Not bad, really. Pleasant even. Totally the opposite of what I was expecting.

Phuket, I thought. Here goes nothing. I put the bottle to my lips and tipped it back.

I have never been to Thailand. I didn’t know there is a coastal island called Phuket, nor did I know it’s a tropical paradise. Thanks to this beer, I know a lot about it now, and in fact it just may end up being where my love and I eventually spend our honeymoon.

This beer is really tasty. It’s flavorful without being aggressive, giving you a laid back island version of a good German lager, with energetic hops riding over a warm golden sweet maltiness. The aftertaste settles like a tropical sunset. As with many beers, it left me mourning the fact that I’d only picked up one.

Next time I see it, you can bet I’m going to say, “Phuket! I’m getting a whole six pack!”

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St. Bernardus Prior 8

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

I wish more beers and ales came in bottles sealed with a champagne cork. It’s classier than a twist-off yet an opener is not required.

I also wish all brews came in such big bottles. Though with 8% alcohol, I’m going to be well lit by the time I’m done. After a full day of drinking coffee, though, I need the alcohol to wind down.

Yes, tonight I’m saying hello and “down the hatch” to a St. Bernardus Prior 8 Belgian Abbey Ale. Strictly by definition this is already a Holy beer, as it’s brewed (supposedly) by those wily Belgian monks.

That does not, however, automatically qualify it for the list.

I pop the cork. There’s a low key yeasty scent from the bottle. Hard to detect anything beyond the yeast, in fact.

First sip is energetically carbonated, and the fizz is all you get for the first several seconds. Only after it calms do you get a wave of sharp hops, the strong tang of alcohol, followed by a rush of nutty dark malt. The malt seems marred by something, a kind of wood taste, like falling down in on a forest trail and coming up with a mouth full of bark.

Hmm. I have to sit here and savor this for a bit.

It’s drinkable, but the aftertaste is a bit harsh. Probably the alcohol. I’m willing to bet this is one of those brews that takes a while to blossom. One of those “you only get out of it what you put into it” ales that you have to work through to appreciate.

I’m working through it now. Only a third the way through the bottle and I can feel the alcohol.

After finishing the bottle, all I can really say is, “Weeeeeeeee…” I feel good. But unfortunately I’m not overly impressed with the ale itself, and … sorry St. Bernadus, but you’re not making the Holy Beer contender list. The aftertaste never did lose its harsh quality and it did not leave me wanting another. The taste did not blossom.

To be fair, I’m finding that I’m not partial to Dubbel style ales, so those who are may enjoy this one. Personally, though, to me it’s not a very groovy brew.

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Wells Banana Bread Beer

Posted by on 06 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

Bread and beer are kissing-cousins, so it kind of makes sense to have something like a “Banana Bread” beer.

I mean, I saw it at my local Beer Heaven and had to pick it up. I mean, I just had to. I love beer. I love banana bread. It seemed a winning combination.

Later, after getting it home, I began to come to my senses. Banana beer? Oh come on. What was I thinking?

An even better question, what in the world are they smoking over at the Charles Wells brewery in England?

Bananas? Beer?

My friend over at Kegs and Barrels told me there’s no actual bananas in the brew, but he missed something on the back label. It says it right there. The “banana character” comes from English Crystal malt being crushed rather than ground, and then the flavor is enhanced by adding Fair Trade bananas.

Bananas in the beer.

So, here goes nothing. I’m popping the top right now. Taking that obligatory, pretentious sniff.

Low and behold, what do I smell? Banana bread. I kid you not, that’s exactly what it smells like.

I just IM’ed a very close friend of mine from England about it, who commented: “Oh please! Is it as dreadful as it sounds? To start off with, banana bread is SO American. Well? How is it?”

I take a drink.

“It really does taste like banana bread,” I reply. “It’s good!”

It is, too, even though if you think about it too hard it should be considered an abomination. You can taste the obviously beery notes around the banana bread flavor, and this is a genuine high quality English ale — not one of those flavored “malt beverages” — I have to congratulate Charles Wells for doing an amazing job in blending it all naturally together so that it actually tastes like the bread. The carbonation is very light, the body is heavy, and the brew itself very rich, with an alcohol content of 5.2%. The aftertaste is definitely on the chocolate malt side, warm and pleasant.

For you beer advocates out there who are curious about the “mouth feel” I can assure you it’s much smoother than bread.

To sum it up, if you like beer, and if you’re “SO American” that you enjoy banana bread, you will like this ale.

It’s not a Holy Beer contender, but it definitely gets high marks for originality.

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Lowenbrau Original

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

Imported from Munich, Germany, this is not the Lowenbrau from my youth.

For the longest time I didn’t even like Lowenbrau — I was a beer snob even in my teen years — but being that my friends were always buying it by the case — and we’re talking case after case after case … in a single weekend … and we would all be drinking it on the Santa Cruz beach, amid the sand and the surf, the wind and the waves, surrounded by flocks of tanned California girls with their tiny little bikinis … it sort of grew on me.

We’re talking the fake Lowenbrau, brewed in America by Miller.

After 2002 Lowenbrau switched back to an imported beer, but that was long after I’d moved on to other favorites. So I have not actually tasted an imported Lowenbrau, at least not that I can remember. Which means, not anytime within this millennium.

To get into the spirit, I’m listening to something I used to listen to way back when. The Clash. Yes, perfect. “Rudy Can’t Fail!”

It’s Lowenbrau drinking music.

I pop the top, and take a sniff. (Again, why do we do this? Is it not pretentious? Why don’t we also lick the bottle, or chew on the label? Mmm… quality condensation, mixing with the exuberantly bitter twang of gold-foiled paper and imported glue…)

You know what, my friend? It smells like beer! In fact, it smells exactly like Lowenbrau.


I tip it up, lips to glass, toss some back.

Um. Um… Well. Here’s a “Duh” moment. Germans really know how to brew beer.

It’s delicious, much better than my memories of the fake “Lowie” (as we used to call it). Light carbonation, medium body just bursting with a rich maltiness that hints of brown sugar, but the sweetness muted by a perfectly balanced hoppy bitterness.

Oh yeah, and the memories come flooding back. Bear with me my friends, I’m about to quote myself — something I actually wrote while drunk on Lowenbrau in the 1980’s:

Windswept beaches in sweet sunlight
The happy sounds of waves and laughter
Lowenbrau in my hand, buzz in my head
I am complete.

That summed up Lowenbrau back then, and sums it up now, but now Lowenbrau is even better.

Anyone feel like going on a road trip?

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Tongue’s Eye View

Posted by on 02 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Places

Look. Fun with a phone camera…

…when you’ve been drinking too much.

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Flying Dog Tire Bite Golden Ale

Posted by on 30 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

One of the hardest things I learned as a young journalist is that the only person who could get away with being like Hunter S. Thompson was Hunter S. Thompson.

There’s a lot of Hunter in Flying Dog’s beers. His spirit is in the brew, not to mention on the labels. I mean, here’s a brewery who’s actual advertised slogan is:

Good Beer.
No Shit.

This one in particular reminds me of passage from Thompson’s The Curse of Lono, where he describes accidently running over someone’s dog. (I’d intended to quote the passage here, but I lent the book out years ago, never got it back, and the damn thing has become an expensive collector’s item.)

What does this have to do with beer? Not much. About as much as the names “Tire Bite” and “Flying Dog.”

Anyway, moving along…

I popped the top of this one and took a sniff, then a long snort. My younger daughter laughed at me, saying, “Why are you sticking the beer up your nose?”

Good question. Why do beer reviewers bother sniffing the beer? I mean, really? What is the point?

Anyway, sniffing this one rewarded me with a light, unremarkable hoppy scent.

I take the first sip. Light body, but not watery. Not overly carbonated. Good but unimpressive, slightly sweet, mild golden malt.

The strongest initial flavor is the hops, which are refreshing and a bit green. There’s a tangy, lingering aftertaste. Very tasty.

Over time, the beer goes from unimpressive to impressive. By the time I reach the bottom of the bottle I am seriously wishing for another.

The best thing I like about breweries such as Flying Dog is that they’re a kick in the balls to anyone who says all American beers taste like crap. There are a lot of American craft beers that I’d put up against any beer from any country. Flying Dog’s brews are among them.

I have yet to taste a Flying Dog beer that didn’t impress me.

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Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale

Posted by on 28 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

It’s hot outside. Steam-room hot. The birds hop around, mouths open, too weary to fly.

I get home dripping sweat. It’s time for a beer. I would go so far as to say that right now a beer is completely necessary.

I’d been saving this one for a review — so in order to drink it, I have to write this. That’s just the way it is. Even if I’m not in the freaking mood — I mean, really, it’s just too hot.

Lily Allen on my iPod, Mission tortilla chips and a bowl of blood-red salsa in front of me on the table, I pop the top of this Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale.

It better be good. I’m in a pissy mood.

Smells good. Smells, in fact, awesome. The hops are strong but darkened by an aggressive malty bouquet. To my lips I raise the bottle and tip it way back.

Not a sip. I’m going for broke.

Eyes roll back in my head. Tongue tenses into a hard knot. Mouth puckers into a kiss around the lips of glass.

It’s good. It’s damn good. The hops sing a siren’s song, voice clear with a razor’s edge. It curls like smoke into bitter ringlets and rolls around in the dark umber malt. All of this plays out behind a thin yeasty curtain that hints of bottle fermentation.

This brew does its job, either dropping my temperature or making it so I don’t notice the heat as much.

It goes great, too, with the chips and salsa. And it’s elevated my mood.

All said and done, I wish I had more. It’s a groovy brew, and a definite Holy Beer contender. I’m putting it at 4.7 on the Holy Grail Scale.

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Miller Genuine Draft

Posted by on 24 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

You have to wonder why Miller chose to put the word “genuine” on the label. What, has there been doubt that it’s something other than beer? So now they have to say, “Not only is this beer, it’s genuine beer!”

It’s sort of pathetic, in a way.

Then again, you have to admire that, unlike Coors boasting about their water source, and Budweiser spouting nonsense about aging inside Beachwood casks, they’re at least proclaiming their product to be nothing more than it is: beer.

Indeed, it would be refreshing to have Budweiser do something similar. Say like put in big letters: “Not poisonous! Our exclusive Beachwood aging process only makes it taste like poison.”

I’m happy to report that Miller Genuine Draft doesn’t taste like poison, and unlike Coors, it has a strong beer flavor. It’s not a particularly good beer flavor, but it’s undeniably beer.

Maybe that’s why they proclaim it to be genuine? As if, it’s the only positive thing they can honestly say about it?

I find it the least watery of all the common mass-produced American factory brews. It starts off with a beery flavor that tells of over-processed malts and generic hops. It fades slowly to a chemical tang, hinting at vast tanks of metal and large well-oiled gears. The aftertaste fades off into a gentle homogenized bitterness that is not satisfying, yet not that unpleasant.

The back of the label contends that it’s “Cold filtered four times to create a golden, rich flavor with remarkable smoothness.” Well, they have the “golden” part right. But smooth? Hmm. I guess if you compare it to broken glass or sandpaper, then yes, it’s smooth. Otherwise you have to wonder where these people get the idea of what “smooth” means.

Note to Miller: “Smooth” is a baby’s bottom, or the tender skin of a beautiful woman’s inner thighs. Try touching one or the other sometime, then go back and rethink the wording on your bottle’s back label.

To sum up, Miller “Genuine” beer is neither horrid nor good. It’s generic. And with that, I’m finished resetting my palate — I’m dying for some really high quality, worth-every-moment-you-spend-with-it brew.

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Posted by on 21 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

“A brand that has stood the test of time,” says the label. “Brewed with 100% Rocky Mountain water for a legendary taste.”

They’re not lying. You can taste the legendary taste … of water.

I do have to admit, it’s good tasting water. Unlike their nemesis, Budweiser, which I find utterly vile — Coors has no vileness in it. The sad thing is that there’s nothing much there at all.

I am odd in that I like drinking bubbling water — it comes from growing up with parents who loved their scotch and sodas — and so seltzer water, club soda, and even tonic water tastes good to me. Coors is so close to club soda that I actually like it, but I really hesitate to call it a beer.

It’s club soda with a hint — a bare hint, mind you, almost microscopic — of beer flavor. A faint echo of beer flavor. A dim shadow on a cloudy day.

On first sip you can only really detect the tingling of carbonation. Hidden within that is the hint of hops, manifesting as the ghost of mild bitterness. After that sip is done, for several seconds there’s nothing at all. Then, as your mouth rests and your palate searches, it finds the slightest upwelling of beer flavor that lasts, perhaps, 40 seconds. Then it fades, leaving you wondering if you’d really tasted it, or if you’d imagined it.

I have on several occasions treated Coors like a Corona and jammed a lime wedge into the bottle. That and a bit of salt improve the taste by … well, by giving it some taste. Conversely, I can drink a Corona without a lime, and still recognize a strong taste of beer.

I can say this, though. It’s a good beer to use if you want to reset your palate for drinking other beers.

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Organic Wild Hop Lager

Posted by on 19 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I don’t know why but I could swear this was a twist-off cap. It’s not. And, I am in pain.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

So, with the cap off this Organic Wild Hop Lager, I take a sniff and almost fall over. It’s a nasal assault of stinky yeast. Gag.

Not a good portent for the taste, but, I’ve been fooled before. I raise it to my lips and bravely take that first sip.

The first thing that hits me is the hops. The beer is aptly named, these hops are definitely wild. The next sensation is that the beer is watery. That fades to leave a comfortable malt aftertaste that is quite pleasant and lingers a long while.

The smell did fool me. The beer is not yeasty at all. It’s good.

Looking over the label I find the name of the creators: Green Valley Brewing. I cringe. Yes, “green” is in right now — and I hear it everywhere — and maybe I’m a bit ahead of the curve but I sense a backlash coming.

Things shouldn’t be labeled green and organic, they should just be green and organic. It should be the norm. It gets old and annoying when people parade around proclaiming they’re doing the right thing. It starts to give off the feel of someone boasting their scatological excretions don’t smell.

Anyway, back to the beer. It’s still good, but it’s still watery. And it’s not very smooth — in fact it’s a bit rough around the edges. I guess that’s to be expected since the hops are “wild.”

I can’t really mark it down as a Holy Beer Contender. It’s good but not great. The hops are definitely good for you.

I guess I’d simply rate this one as very healthy.

And — shock of shocks — it turns out that “Green Valley Brewing” is owned by none other than the same people responsible for the Beachwood-aged fiasco commonly known as Budweiser.

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Ziegen Bock Amber

Posted by on 17 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

After spending over a month and a half on assignment, I thought the perfect way to celebrate my return to Texas is with a distinctly Texan beer. You can’t get more Texan than this one. Just look at the label. There’s a red and black Texas logo, and at the bottom it states “Brewed Exclusively For Texas.”

By who?

Well, by my old friends at Anheuser-Busch, of course. This is none other than a Texas Budweiser wearing a German label.

Ziegen Bock, y’all! Pay no mind to the tiny letters spelling out Anheuser-Busch. We want all y’all to think of us as a craft beer!

This is not a craft beer. This is a mass produced beer made in a big clunking factory.

It does have a very light, but pleasant bouquet, so it does smell like beer. The first sip is a bit watery but flavorful. There’s a decent maltiness with a touch of ornamental hops, well balanced. For about 30 seconds it has the palate fooled. But then—

Uh-oh, here comes that Michelob aftertaste! The signature metallic chemical tang. It creeps up on you and, halfway through the bottle, has become the dominate flavor.

Don’t get me wrong. This is far better than Budweiser and Michelob, but falls short of what it’s trying to be … which is a good beer. It’s a barely passable beer, but not one I would ever choose unless the only other choice was one of Anheuser-Busch’s much less desirable products.

In other words, this is not a Groovy Brew, and not a very good welcome for me back to Texas.

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Millstream Pilsner

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

All I can really say about this beer is that, if you compare it to Budweiser, this beer rocks. But I’d say that about Coors, too, and I hate Coors.

There’s nothing offensive about this beer. There’s no bottled horribleness to make one’s face scrunch up and eyes water. I can’t say it tastes nasty.

But I can’t say it tastes good, either.

It’s watery, weak, limp, and boring. They claim it’s a simple Pilsner and they’re not lying about that. You can taste simple dry Pilsner malt and there’s an echo of bitterness from some hops that may have touched the brew at one point somewhere in its creation.

That’s about it.

I have no choice but to award this beer GroovyBrew’s first ever Boring Beer Award.

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Full Sail Amber

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

What made me pick up this bottle is that, on the label, it says “Independent Employee-Owned.” Underneath it states you’re buying “12 fluid ounces of ridiculously tasty original amber ale concocted by our massive brewforce of 47.”

Brewforce? Is that a real word? I guess it is, now. I like it.

As it turns out, Full Sail Brewing is a brewforce to be reckoned with, as this beer is so tasty it was gone before I had a chance to finish the first draft of this review.

Upon opening, I was greeted with a very subtle sweet malt bouquet. It was so soft and delicate that it didn’t prepare me for the strength of the taste. I expected it to be watery.

OH NO, it is NOT.

The lightly carbonated amber brew splashing across my happy tongue was strong, edgy, and malty with brown sugar notes. The malt is the pervasive feature, supported by a sturdy hoppiness that somehow manages to be very present yet beneath the toasty malt. It’s robust without being overpowering, and as I stated above, it goes down quickly. This is one of those beers you have to force yourself to not guzzle.

Full Sail Amber is Delicious with a capital “D,” and it easily made it to my list of Holy Beer contenders, weighing in a solid 5.7 on Holy Grail Scale.

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Windmill Wheat

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

This appears to be the Midwest’s answer to Mexico’s Corona Extra. But you’re supposed to drink this with a wedge of lemon instead of lime.

It needs something. The flavor is too subtle to really enjoy.

To me, a craft beer is about flavor. I mean, there are so many mass produced American beers on the market you can get for dirt cheap that feature zero flavor, that it’s a bit surprising to find a specialty beer touting the same thing.

“This beer is so light and wonderful we suggest you drink it with a lemon.”

Yes, well, excuse me, but I think I’ll pass on that.

Life is too short to spend time and effort trying to suck flavor out of a dull beer. While I love Millstone’s Schild Brau, I’d place this Windmill Wheat somewhere in the neighborhood of Coors.

With a lemon in it, of course.

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Lunar Ale

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

With this, Boulevard Brewing has launched its first new year-round beer in ten years. Brewmaster Steven Pauwels designed this brown ale from scratch, going for a balance of flavorful yet easy drinking.

Steven, you did a good job.

I popped the top of this little gem of a beer, and was treated to a light aroma, mainly malt dominated by strong yeast scent.

The first sip rewarded me with a surprisingly bold flavor. Warm toasty malts crashed in like a big wave, with light and sweet hop notes riding in on the foamy crest. It has a tangy, almost citrus finish.

As the name implies, it’s a perfect beer to take with you whilst walking on a summer night under a big bright full moon.

It also is probably the perfect beer for a werewolf.


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Millstream Schild Brau Amber

Posted by on 07 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

Being that I’m away from home on an extended assignment, I decided to take advantage of my travels and try some beers I normally wouldn’t see.

First up is this wonderful Millstream Schild Brau Amber.

With this beer, Millstream is doing something seriously right. Its light malty scent holds no warning of the avalanche of toasty chocolate malt flavor that is about to hit you. After the malt avalanche comes a light dusting of wispy hops, gentle and delightful.

Rarely have I tasted a beer in such perfect flavorful balance. It finishes warm and clean, leaving the palate begging for another.

It has a medium body and light carbonation; very drinkable.

And delicious!

It makes it easily as a Holy Beer contender, landing a solid 5.0 on the Holy Grail Scale.

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Michelob Ultra Amber

Posted by on 05 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

As a continuing effort to keep my palate in reality-check, I’m spending some time with the more common American beers, and today it’s Michelob’s turn to try and surprise me.

So if Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser is the “king of beers,” and they “know of no other beer” that is better, how do they explain their own Michelob line of “premium” beers which, by definition, are plainly meant to be better?

I didn’t realize this was a “light” beer when I picked it up. All I saw was “ultra” and “amber.” In much smaller words underneath, in a color that blends well into the background of the label, there’s the proclamation of its lightness.

It has a pleasant enough bouquet, nice and heavy on the sweet malts. Well … maybe it will surprise me? Here’s hoping. I’m about to take my first sip.

It’s light, alright. Watery. But the initial wave of flavor is quite good, a kind of dusky malty foam with some hop notes floating on top of it. It fades quickly, though, leaving an unpleasant, watery bitterness tinged with a kind of metallic chemical tang.

There is a hole in the flavor of this beer. I have the distinct impression that something vital is missing from the mix. The more I drink, the less agreeable the experience.

It lacks the horrid Beachwood-aged disaster of Budweiser, but it does have a subtle repulsiveness all its own. After finishing the bottle I feel distinctly ill.

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Budweiser “The King of Beers”

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

My brother was about 14 years older than me and so by the time I was 5 he was in college and throwing college parties. My brother and all his friends were drinking this foaming stuff out of tall white cans and I wanted in on it. So I asked, and someone laughed and handed me one. A Bud.

Here I am sitting at a restaurant some 40 odd years later, and I just ordered one and the same. A genuine Budweiser.

I’m doing it as a kind of sacrifice. I need to reset my palate. After too many awesome, fantastic beers, I’ve decided I need a reality check. This is, after all, the self-proclaimed “King of Beers.”

I hated it when I was 5 years old. I hated it as a teenager. Will I hate it now?

Taking a sniff from the open bottle, there’s a very weak hoppy scent and not much else. First sip, I’m not surprised at all. After all these years I still recognize the distinctively weak, over-carbonated barley water masquerading as beer. The predominate taste is that of bitterness. A deep, low bitterness followed by a high light bitterness, finishing off with a nasty cold-cigar-butt aftertaste.

In my opinion, it tastes like they mixed a tiny bit of really cheap vodka with water, then stirred in dirty straw and maybe a bit of lawn clippings, and let it sit in a refrigerator for a few weeks.

I’m not sure what is worse, though, the beer itself or the complete bullshit they print on their label: “This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beachwood Aging produces a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.”

What in the world are they smoking? I mean, where do I start? Even if it really does cost more to brew than any other beer in the world — which I challenge — how do they justify stating it’s the acme of beers when they themselves brew beers they market as even better?

Budweiser sucks. That’s my opinion. It’s the crappiest beer I have ever had, as bad now as it was 40 years ago.

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Oh no, not Sex and Beer!

Posted by on 09 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Beer News

rubbel2.jpgThere is, it seems, a beer called Rubbel Sexy Lager that features labels decorated with scantly clad sex kittens whom, with a coin and a bit of scratch-off effort, you can undress to reveal their stunningly desirable female naughty bits. Because of this, it’s been pulled off the market.

In a newspaper interview, the head of industry regulator The Portman Group said, “Some people might think this is harmless fun but there is a serious issue involved. The industry has set itself strict marketing rules and this drink has fallen short of those high standards.”

Excuse me? Hello? We are talking about the beer industry here, right? Or have I somehow stumbled off into an alternate dimension? Has the Portman Group ever seen a Superbowl ad? In the news reports they claim they fear the name of the beer and the scantily-clad model could lead drinkers to associate the product with sexual success. Is that not what just about every single TV beer commercial would have you believe?

I am calling this a case of out-and-out hypocrisy.

It’s perfectly okay to promote your beer with labels depicting demons, skeletons, and the occasionally busty barmaid, but not the exquisite artistry of a unclothed naked female? That strikes a nerve. What else can you expect, though, from a society that accepts death and violence as perfectly acceptable but sexuality is dirty, nasty, and bad bad bad.

If it weren’t for sexuality, and probably a good amount of beer, I’ll wager that no one at the Portman Group would ever have been born.

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Killian’s Irish Red

Posted by on 06 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I haven’t really had a Killian’s Irish Red since the summer of 1984.

I remember this quite clearly, because I remember everything about that summer clearly. I was a young broke bohemian trying to be a “Writer” in Berkeley, California, and I was head over heels in love with a girl named Karla who lived in San Francisco. That was the year I sold all my expensive, professional cameras just to have money to burn with this girl.

Also, it seems, Killian’s Irish Red was the beer to drink that summer. At least, it was in Berkeley and San Francisco.

I didn’t really care for it, but I was always too broke to buy what I really wanted, and besides all my friends liked it, and it was always around. So I drank it. I mean, at least it wasn’t Budweiser.

So, skip ahead to year 2007. The future. And I am in a luxury suite in an undisclosed northern city, in the middle of a three week assignment. I am now a writer (dropped the capital “W” from it) and here I am, once again, sitting with an open bottle of Killian’s Irish Red in front of me.

I twist off the cap. Take a sniff. Yes, it smells dimly of beer. There’s beer in the bottle somewhere.

Not expecting much, I take a swig.

Well! I’ll be darned. Either this beer has improved over the last 23 years or my tastes have changed. It’s flavorful, and I’m smiling.

For one, it’s hoppy … much more so than you’d expect from a mass produced brew. It makes me picture a bunch of hops dressed as little warriors dancing around on my tongue and poking at it with sharp sticks. “Hops! Hops! We’re hops!” Yes, you’re hops, I noticed. And I keep noticing it because the maltiness is so pale it has problems competing. Another taste swimming around in this beer, one that took me most of the bottle to pin down, is a kind of corn cereal note, not unpleasant … in fact, fairly sweet.

The beer makes a clean finish and leaves me wanting another one. It’s good. Not something to curl my toes and roll my eyes back in ecstasy, but no one — especially me — would really expect that from something bottled by the people who make Coors. I’m simply pleased that it didn’t make me retch.

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Left Hand Milk Stout

Posted by on 02 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I have to admit something up front. This isn’t an impartial review. I already know I like this beer, even if it does have an awkward name. “Milk Stout.” Dairy is not something you really want associated with beer.


Here we have yet another beer crossed with coffee. I’m not sure if there’s any actual coffee in it, but even Left Hand’s website comments on the flavor: “Strong roasted malt and coffee flavors build the foundation of this classic cream stout. The addition of milk sugar mellows the intense roastiness and gives this beer the most incredible creamy mouth feel.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. So, I hereby endorse it. It is what they say it is, and I say it’s darn yummy.

If I was in a scenario where I was, say, stranded on a deserted island with a cargo from a shipwreck, and cases and cases of beer washed ashore, but only one type … this may well be the beer I’d choose to be that one. Why this one? Well, I’m supposing I wouldn’t have any coffee on the island, because the shipwrecked beans would have all been ruined by the seawater. So this would have to be my beer and my coffee.

I have to have both of these things to live, you know. I mean, that’s a given.

No coconut milk for me, thank you. Just Milk Stout.


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St. Sebastiaan Dark

Posted by on 28 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

I opened this St. Sebastiaan Dark and set it on the kitchen counter as I fumbled with the new opener I’d just bought. The smell slithered out like a genie from the bottle and swam right up my nose from over two feet away. Rich beer, the smell said. I took a closer sniff and it punched me in the nostril.

Have you ever made bread? Know how it smells as the dough rises? That is what hit me.

I hesitated before the first sip, but my fear was unfounded. There was no overwhelming yeasty taste. In fact, I felt let down because the flavor seemed weak.

But, no, this is one of those delayed reaction taste bombs. It took a whole minute for the first sip to blossom into a full blown mushroom cloud of flavor. When it did it lit up the sky.

It’s a full symphony with every sip, running a huge gamut from beginning, to middle, to end.

Dark toasty malt gives way to a cereal fugue, replaced by a choir of hops singing, their voices starting out fruity and ending with bitters, under which the malts rise again like a dark tide, carrying the hops off with a big heavy base drum beat. If this beer were a piece of music it would be Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries.

A quarter through the bottle it’s so good that every sip makes my eyes roll back into my head.

I have to stop writing. This beer demands that I go off, relax, and thoroughly experience it. I’ll be back when it’s done.

~ o ~ o ~

Hours later I return. I can still taste it, like the toasty warm remains of a wonderful fresh bread. I’d enjoyed it with a rainy afternoon on the veranda, the air misty and cool.

Ignore the fancy earthenware-like bottle. Ignore the price. Ignore everything but the taste. This is a Holy Beer is there ever was one and I’m going to put it way up the scale, settling in at a solid 8.4. That’s the highest to date.

I can see why — beyond marketing decoration — you’d want a stopper for this bottle. I could have easily stopped half way, putting it back in the fridge to savor later. It’s not something you want to rush, and it’s not something you want to drink while distracted. If you can’t give this beer your full attention, put it away until you can.

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Salvation Ale

Posted by on 25 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

If nothing else, this gets the pretty bottle award. If I get drunk enough I might make it into a lamp or something.

This Belgian style golden ale by Avery Brewing features this inscription on the label: “Salvation is discovering your passion, purpose, meaning in life. We brew. What about you?”

That makes me smile. I like these people.

So here comes the moment of truth. I apply the opener to the cap and carefully pop it off. I take a long reverent sniff. It smells of yeast, strong hops, and a low sweet undertone of cereal.

Putting the bottle to my lips, I let the golden brew slide into my mouth. The bubbling liquid cascades and swirls around my tongue, crashing waves of flavor. This first sip is so good that my eyes go wide.

I think the technical term is “Wow!”

There’s strong fruit overtones with a clear flash of peach. The hops sing a loud and crystalline church chorus of Hallelujah, fading into the rich warm baritone harmonics of the malts. It’s all Gregorian chants from here, with overtones of an angelic woman’s choir. The fruitiness fades to the point where, a third the way through the bottle, it’s nothing but an echo.

I’m only early into it, but I’m almost tempted to out and out declare this the Beer of God right now.

It just goes to show that you don’t have to go to church to find salvation. I found it in a bottle at my local Beer Heaven. This is the key contention of the fantasy novel I’m working on — it was beer, not wine, served at the last supper.

Jesus didn’t turn water into wine. That’s an error in translation. He, like most of the priests at the time, turned water into beer. Brewing was considered a holy art.

As far as I’m concerned it still is.

As holy this beer might be, however, the long term satisfaction has slid a bit. It’s a big bottle and when sipping it takes a long time to finish. By the end it leaves you with a toasty, almost woody bitterness that is quite warm and pleasant, but not anywhere near as spectacular as the beginning.

Still, it made it easily as a Holy Beer contender, weighing in at a highly respectable 7.9 on the Holy Grail scale.

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Black Hawk Stout

Posted by on 21 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

One of a number of beers I selected pretty much at random, this one turned out to be a lucky draw.

You know when you come home after a particularly long day, and you’re bone tired, hungry, and the idea of swigging a beer rates right up there with the desire for that dream vacation? Or maybe the car you always wanted? But you’d almost trade one or the other for the beer if you could have it right then and there?

I’m glad to have had this beer in the fridge. The car and the vacation are out of my reach at the moment, but the beer… It’s in my hand.

I popped the top to an aroma of butterscotch-like maltiness.

The malts are definitely center stage in this one. Hops provide a crisp high note that rings throughout, but never comes fully onstage. There’s a sweet-bitter yin-yang to it, well balanced. The aftertaste features an essence of black licorice.

It tastes a lot like a black and tan mix. It’s yummy good.

Crafted for us beer lovers by the Mendocino Brewing Company, they originally came out with this brew in 1983. That long ago, I thought. Wow. And only now am I trying my first one?

It was worth the wait. Black Hawk Stout makes the Holy Grail scale, weighing in at a solid 5.4.

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Black Jack Porter

Posted by on 18 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I hate moving.

After popping the top of this Black Jack Porter from the Left Hand Brewing Company, I’m sitting here on the veranda with my laptop, enjoying the pleasant breeze and looking down with sympathy at the poor schmucks who are moving out of the apartment complex.

Carrying huge boxes, grunting with pieces of furniture. Man-handling a table that looks way too big to have fit into one of these little apartments. Meanwhile I’m sitting up here with a beer.

Looking down at them, thinking, sucks to be you.

I sniff the bottle, detecting sweetness and deep chocolate malty goodness. Oh yeah. This is going to be a treat.

The first sip does not disappoint. It starts off as sweet as it smells, with some sharp winey notes. Very rich, dark, full bodied. Yes, I like it.

Below me, one of the movers curses as he bangs his elbow against a corner of the truck. Ouch. Poor guy. Wish I could help, but I’m already busy.

There is a sudden upwelling of mocha in the flavor. The roasted chocolate malt comes to the foreground with a most definite espresso coffee taste. What is it with coffee in the beer flavor? Not that I’m complaining but it seems I’m running into it more and more often. If it’s a trend, then it’s one I like. Obviously.

At the tail end the hops come up, but only for a bit. It’s like they make a cameo appearance before the malty mocha takes center stage once more. It makes me smile. I could easily drink several of these in a row.

Meanwhile, the hapless movers have wheeled a washing machine out and are standing around it, dreading the idea of lifting the heavy cube of machinery into the truck. They look up at me. I can see what they’re thinking. They’re about to ask me if I can come down and help.

I grab the beer, the laptop, and slip quietly inside. Yeah. No freaking way.

I hate moving.

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Rogue Mocha Porter

Posted by on 16 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I love chocolate. I love beer. And I love coffee.

Well guess what.

I may have found the only thing I have to drink from now on. We have all three ingredients in one bottle. It was a foregone conclusion I would think it’s wonderful.

You can smell the chocolate and the coffee the moment you pop the top. You can taste them, too, mixed with the rich malts and bubbling hops. The coffee edge is even more pronounced than the chocolate. In fact, the coffee taste blends in and piggybacks so closely with the beer malts that my tongue is thoroughly confused.

Am I drinking coffee with a bit of beer in it? Or am I drinking beer with a bit of coffee in it?

It can’t tell one way or the other.

On the finish, the coffee and the hops battle each other for the control of the bitterness. It’s interesting, kind of like watching a back alley fight.

There are some requirements for liking this beer. You have to enjoy a dark, strong ale. And you have to enjoy drinking coffee black with no sugar. I’m not sure if that’s a problem for some people or not, but I can tell you one thing, as good as this stuff is I’m not going to put cream and sugar in it.

The folks at Rogue really are rogues. So far I’ve liked everything of theirs I’ve tried. And I’m serious, I want to move to Oregon. Perhaps when my love and I make it there, we’ll start up a combination brewery, coffee roasting, and chocolate company?

I can dream, right? Anyway…

This stuff is good. It doesn’t quite make the Holy Grail scale, but I wouldn’t have a problem drinking it every day. The coolest thing about Rogue’s Mocha Porter is that I can actually cross post it on both sides of

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Jack Whacker Wheat Ale

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

I’m babysitting a floppy eared rabbit for my daughter, and so the rabbit joined me on the veranda while I sampled this beer.

It’s Tommyknocker‘s Jack Whacker Wheat Ale, brewed in Colorado.

I kicked back, put my feet up, and popped the cap. Took a sniff. There’s a definite citrus note riding high over that normal malt and hops aroma.

Hmm, I thought. Different!

The rabbit hopped up to me and sat up on its hind legs. “No,” I told it, “you can’t have any. You’re way under legal age.” Indignant, the rabbit hopped away.

Bemused, I tipped the bottle up and took that first swig. It’s light, a bit weak, but after a moment the ale delivered a pleasant earthy taste, blooming with the standard hoppy notes over a low malt base. Gliding through this is the tangy signature of lemon grass, flying like a little yellow flag on end of a beer truck’s CB antenna.

It’s not bad. In fact, this wheat ale would make an excellent poolside thirst-quencher. Yes, actually, that’s perfect. While not being outstanding, it is satisfying, and fits right into a back yard summer scenario. A beer to have with a barbecue, or to relax with after mowing the lawn.

Or, as in my case, sitting on the veranda while babysitting your daughter’s rabbit.

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Fat Tire Amber Ale

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

So, I was at an anime festival with my daughters, and was surrounded by people with wings, horns, cat ears, tails, and swords of all shapes and sizes. Girls were dressed as boys, and boys were dressed as girls. Some girls were barely dressed at all, and me, being a bit advanced in age, felt ill at ease with all the young sexuality around me.

There was this one pair of girls, though, looking in their mid twenties … one was dressed up as a light angel, the other a dark angel. The dark angel had the most stunningly beautiful eyes and a perfectly feminine face. She was gorgeous.

Well, it turns out my older daughter knows them, and so I remarked about how pretty the dark angel was.

My daughter bursts out laughing. She tells me, “Uh, that’s the light angel’s boyfriend.”

“Excuse me?!”

“Yeah, dad. That’s a boy.”

“No way!”

Well, he was in fact a boy. And I was freaked out. So I did what any normal freaked-out gender-confused dad would do — I headed for the bar.

They had several beers on tap, but the one that caught my eye and set me craving was the Fat Tire Amber Ale. I had four in a row.

Yes, that picture up there is an actual cell phone photo of the first of the four. And since I didn’t have anything to keep notes on, I used my phone to call in a review to my own voice mail:

“It’s a beautiful amber color,” my voice mail says, “with a nice frothy head. Decent lacing. First sip is very smooth, with not much in the way of hops but a very dominant and satisfying caramel malt flavor. It’s really good. I’m going to keep them coming.” Of course I mention nothing in the voice mail about why I’m in such a hurry to drink the beer.

Sitting to my right, looking at me like I were nuts for talking about beer into my cell phone, sat Frank the Rabbit. I don’t exactly know what Frank was doing there, as he’s not an anime character. He’s the time travelling portent of doom from the movie Donnie Darko.

“So how do you drink your beer with that mask on?” I asked him.

“With a straw,” he answered, and produced one. But he was not a he … he was a she. Or at least, her voice sounded feminine. She inserted the straw and sucked on her beer like some giant mutant mosquito.

Well … that’s just weird, I thought to myself.

Nobody drinks beer through a straw.

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PranQster Belgian Style Golden Ale

Posted by on 11 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

This one was recommended to me by the new guy over at Kegs and Barrels: “PranQster” Belgian Style Golden Ale by the North Coast Brewing Co.

Golden Ale sounds really good to me. I’m drawn to it like a magnet.

Popping the cap, I take a nice little sniff. And then another. And another.

Odd. It smells almost like a … a marinade or something. I bet it would go good on a barbequed steak. I’ll file that fact away for later.

Tipping the bottle up, I take that first swig.

Hoppy! Happy hops, too, happily hopping about my taste buds. The taste deepens, and swells, and darkens. The flavor is complex like a choreographed set of dancers who are moving in different directions but all perfectly in time. Warm golden malts dance with the hops amid fireflies on a warm summer night. There’s a sweet undercurrent that hints of brown sugar, or maybe a touch of molasses.

Two thirds the way through, the hops get wild and randy. The tone changes. There’s tribal dancing around a bonfire, and sparks are in the air. There’s an edge to the aftertaste like faint smoke from an aromatic wood.

I’m liking this brew!

Good stuff. Made the Grail Scale, coming in at a respectable 4.3. Thank you to North Coast Brewing for making such a fine Belgian style ale, and thank you New Guy at K&B for recommending it to me.

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Horn Dog Barley Wine

Posted by on 08 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

Holy crap, I thought. It looked less like a beer and more like a cover to a Hunter S. Thompson novel. I’d seen these labels before but shied away from them. They were a bit dark for a beer to enjoy while relaxing. It looked like something to drink if you wanted to invite trouble.

Still, I was at my local beer heaven picking up my latest batch of beers, and this one for some reason called to me. Hours later, reaching into the fridge, I pulled it out at random.

Flying Dog Brewery‘s Horn Dog Barley Wine style ale.

Yep. Trouble.

I engaged all the locks on the front door, piled furniture in front of it, and turned off the phone. Closed the blinds. Turned up the stereo.

Popped the cap off the bottle.

Taking a sniff, the barley and malts jump out at you like something with teeth. Do not ignore me, it says. Let’s dance.

Okay, I thought. I’m game. I tipped the bottle up and took that first experimental swig.

Creamy, sweet, and smooth. It’s syrupy, like nectar. The dark, malty nectar of beer. One swig turned into two, which turned in to several, and in less than a minute I’d emptied half the bottle.

Holy crap, I thought. This brew is good!

It took concerted effort to sip. I had to pace myself. I had to actually savor it and taste it, instead of gulping it down like iced tea.

Heading to the computer, I got on the Flying Dog Brewery website. Low and behold there’s a reason for the bottle to look like a Hunter Thompson novel — Hunter was a good friend of Flying Dog owner George Stranahan, and Hunter’s artist friend Ralph Steadman does all the bottle art. The beer is genuine Gonzo Beer.

Holy crap, I thought. Why did I not know this? Why?

Meanwhile the bottle somehow emptied itself while I wasn’t looking. All gone, but it left a lightly bitter and completely delicious aftertaste, not to mention a craving for more. More. This stuff, I realized, is addictive.

It’s also a Holy Beer contender. It has to be. It hit a solid 8.1 on the Holy Grail Scale.

I waited for a while but nothing bad happened … no blood soaked carpet, no swarm of rabid bats. So I relaxed, put the furniture back, opened the windows and unlocked the door. I also took off my shirt and shoes. And pants.

And underwear.

Everything was going to be okay.

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Morimoto Soba Ale

Posted by on 06 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

I pop this open and take a sniff. Hops, like violins, promise a beautiful symphony. I raise it to my lips and take a long sip.

Whoa! What’s in this beer?

I’m not sure what to make of it. It tastes like … flowers, or something. Checking the bottle, I see it has an ingredient called “roasted Soba.”

Showing my ignorance here. I have no idea what that is. So it’s Hello Google, ye olde extension of the human mind. What say you, Google, oh oracle of human knowledge?

Google says… “Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat.” Buckwheat? Okay, that’s the grain undertone I’m tasting, but where’s the strong floral notes coming from?

Read further on the label, Jerry, I tell myself. Next two ingredients listed are “Harrington” and “Metcalf.” Those are types of malts. The only other thing listed besides malts and water are “Crystal Hops” and so that must be it.

Have you ever gone out in the park and chased after a wildly flung Frisbee, and made a heroic dive only to end up with no disc but a mouth full of weeds? And discover the weeds were surprisingly tasty?

That’s what I’m getting from this beer. It’s really good and very different than what I’m used to. I’m enjoying this wild-flower hops and jumbled malt symphony. It’s all flutes, oboes, violins and bass drums, and they’re in wonderful harmony and there’s a good rhythm.

This ale is from Oregon brewery Rogue, and my hats off to them. I don’t think I’ve yet tasted an Oregon brew that I haven’t liked, and — seriously — I intend one day to move there. My love and I want a place near the sea, with enough room for some animals, and perhaps I’ll grow hops and barley of my own. In the barn I’ll set up my brewery, and we’ll have parties and read Shakespeare, and live happily ever after.

Why not? It’s a good dream. So good, in fact, that I’m going declare this ale a Holy contender, and give it a 5.2 on the Grail Scale.

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Special Block 6

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

It’s rumored that there’s pomegranate juice in this beer. At least, that’s what my friends over at K&B told me. I don’t doubt it but I can’t confirm it.

I can confirm that this brew is fruity, at least at first.

Popping the top, I could barely smell anything. There’s a beer scent, albeit a weak one. It smells much like Michelob.

I take that first adventurous swig — that’s when I discover the fruitiness. It’s wild and chaotic, like confused singers on stage who’ve all forgotten where they’re supposed to be standing, and they keep bumping into each other as they all sing lines from different songs.

It’s fizzy and light bodied, and goes down with no resistance. After the initial fruit chaos, a warm upwelling of malt takes center stage. “Bar-la-la-la la-ley!” they sing in a pleasant baritone, all in perfect harmony. Then, over the malt comes a high chorus of hops singing from an upper balcony.

It’s sweet music, it is. Brings a smile to the face.

Alas, things change. Halfway through the bottle, the hops get over exuberant and ignore the director, and begin swarming down off the balcony and onto the stage, shoving the other flavors one by one out of the limelight.

The baritone malts are having none of this, though, and they shove right back.

For a bit I wonder if a fist fight is about to break out, but eventually the hops and the malt come to an understanding (which they usually do) and begin to sing the same song.

But that gets boring, and I begin to nod off.

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Victory Golden Monkey

Posted by on 01 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I have to stop choosing beers based solely on interesting label art.

The bottle of Victory Golden Monkey screamed out to me: FUN! But then I popped the top and took a long swig that, at first, was a rush of pleasure, but a few minutes later left me feeling disappointed and even a bit stupid.

I was looking at the six-armed monkey with the big eye in its belly, but I didn’t actually read the label. “Tripel Ale. All brewed with spices.”

I should know by now I don’t care for spiced beer. At least, not this kind. Cloves are great for ham, and I don’t even mind them in cigarettes, but they don’t belong in an ale.

Halfway through the bottle I’m tempted to dump it out. But, no. I can’t bring myself to do it. I started this journey, and so I must finish it. I must at least describe the taste, because some of you out there must like this stuff.

The first long draw I took was a rush of pleasure because the taste is a Trojan horse. It comes off fruity and sweet up front, riding a rich frothy wave of malty goodness. Then, forty seconds later when your guard is down, Golden Monkey pops open a hidden door and the Trojan army comes pouring out armed with clove. Clove, of all things. It numbs the tongue, making it feel like a big blob of fat that’s lodged in your mouth. Clove, hops, and a mix of other spices that is beyond me to decipher — it’s not a code I speak.

Should I mention at this point that it’s 9.5% alcohol? Now that’s a saving grace, and one that’s keeping me drinking. We’ll call that liquid courage, added to help me fight off the Trojan army I let in. Three quarters through the bottle and the liquid courage is definitely kicking in.

I daresay that, by the time I finish the bottle, I’d be brave enough to drink another one.

Fortunately for me this is the only one I have.

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Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre Ale

Posted by on 29 May 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

What sold me on this beer was the label, which reads: “A deep mahogany ale brewed with Belgian beet sugars, green raisins, and a sense of purpose.”

It was “a sense of purpose” which got me.

The idea of green raisins in my beer didn’t sound particularly attractive, but I thought I’d give it a try. I wasn’t surprised by the sweet aroma after I popped the cap, but I was surprised by the taste.

It was fruity, yes, but not overly so. It was more nutty than fruity, to the point that I couldn’t really tell it was a fruit beer. After the initial sweet/nut rush there’s a nice sharp chorus of hoppy overtones, all very smooth. It gives this ale an edge that I hadn’t expected.

I like it.

A visit to the Dogfish Head website reveals that this isn’t just a brewery but a restaurant, and it features “Off-centered stuff for off-centered people.” They also distill specialty vodka, rum, gin (“jin” as they call it), and tequila (“Ta-kee-la”).

You have to admire people who seriously enjoy drinking the spirits they make. And they also preach the word, as well, as they sell a book on Extreme Brewing for those who’d like to do it themselves at home.

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Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale

Posted by on 27 May 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!

As it turns out, this is the perfect beer to drink after spending the night guarding a spaceship.

(Yes, I did, and I plan on getting a lot of mileage out of that fact.)

Anyway, so, I come home and get some sleep, only to wake up in the early evening and decide it’s time for beer. That’s what the clock said: “Beertime.” Who am I to argue?

A quick trip next door to Kegs & Barrels scored me a grab bag of new beer to try (thanks guys!) and pretty much at random I pulled out the Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale.

Popping the top, there’s not much of a scent. Smells, in fact, a bit watery. But I take that first swig and immediately my sweet tooth is happy.

Happy, happy, happy!

The dark chocolate malt goes perfectly with the pure maple syrup. It’s good. No, it’s fantastic. I have to force myself to pace my sipping — it would be very easy to drink this bottle down in one long draw.

Must sip … must … sip

I’d be happy to fill my refrigerator with bottles of this beer and drink it every day until I was a big fat bloated beer sponge of doom.

And, yes, I’m still a bit loopy from the lack of a proper sleep. Spending two nights guarding a spaceship, I guess, will do that to a person.

This beer is helping immensely.

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Rogue Chocolate Stout

Posted by on 24 May 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

The first thing I did with this beer is baptize my desk and laser printer with it. I don’t know exactly what happened. I guess I twitched or something, and droplets flew everywhere.

No harm done. I only wasted an ounce or so. The printer may smell like beer from now on but that’s a good thing in my mind.

So, my printer got the first sip. I get the leftovers.

You can smell the chocolate. It’s not subtle. In fact the bottle is sticky with it, thanks to my twitching.

First sip … Chocolate. Chocolate and more chocolate. Waves of it, riding high over the base of chocolate malts. It’s freaking delicious. It’s like beer candy.

It crosses my mind that, if Willy Wonka brewed beer, this would be it. Can you just see all those Oompa-Loompas running the Wonka brewery, singing:

Oompa-Loompa doompa-dee do,
I’ve got the perfect beer for you
Oompa-Loompa doompa-dee dee
Wouldn’t you love to get drunk with me?

My fiancée points out, though, that the Oompa-Loompas are very moralistic and probably wouldn’t approve of alcoholic beverages.

Oh well, it was way too freaky to contemplate anyway.

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Sierra Nevada Wheat

Posted by on 21 May 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

Someone near and dear to me said that I review way too many ales, bocks and lagers, and am almost completely ignoring lighter beers. Well, that’s mainly because that’s how my tastes run, but it’s also because the traditional “Holy Beers” brewed by monks are more or less all darker and heavier.

She’s right, though. I do need to mix a few more lighter beers into the picture. So today I’m drinking a wheat beer from the Sierra Nevada Brewery. I picked it mainly because I know I like wheat beers, and Sierra Nevada is a brewery close to my old home town in California.

My expectations were not that high. For one thing, it’s a twist off cap. Should that bode ill? Only if I’m a beer snob … am I? Good Lord I hope not.

But you know I am.

So, off comes the twist off cap, and I take that first sniff. What entices my nose is a sweet hop scent that literally draws a “MMmmmmMm!” out of me.

The first sip hits with a light airy hoppiness, followed immediately by shadows of the mild malt and wheat. It’s a nice, cereal flavor, grainy and wholesome. That fades gradually to a mild bitterness, not overpowering or unpleasant.

Good stuff, methinks. Indeed, very tasty. Drinking the bottle makes me think of a sunny day on the river, with sparkling waves, a gentle breeze, and dragonflies buzzing around. Sitting on the banks with my feet up on a log, holding a fishing pole and not caring if I really get a bite … as long as I don’t run out of beer.

This is not a Holy Beer contender but it is very nice and happily drinkable. I’ll give it a few gold starts on the goodness chart, and invite the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company to send me a couple cases. Just because.

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Old Speckled Hen

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

As it turns out, this is a good after-rock-concert brew.

We just got back from seeing Bowling For Soup in Plano, and they were awesome and hilarious (as usual). They invited us to Taco Cabaña afterwards — the whole audience — but alas, we went home instead.

Sick kid. You know how that goes. Anyway…

I wanted to unwind after the concert so upon arriving home I reached into the fridge and pulled out a bottle at random, and as it turned out, it was “Old Speckled Hen.”

Smells really good, a very balanced blend of caramel malt and hops. First sip, the hops hit first, followed by a warm upwelling of malt, finished by more hoppy goodness. It’s very dry and complex. Not overpowering, not weak, not too bitter and not too sweet. Creamy smooth.

You’re looking at some very highly tuned and well balanced ingredients here.

A light, balanced hoppy aftertaste leaves you craving more.

The bottle states: “The complex flavor reflects skills developed across more than 280 years of independent brewing history.”

I really like it. Old Speckled Hen makes it all the way to 4.8 on my Holy Grail scale.

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Bass Ale

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

Bass. It’s the heavy beat in the music. It’s a fun fish to catch. It’s an ale. It’s the word “ass” with a “B” in front of it.

My friend Tim likes it. My fiancée likes it (and she generally doesn’t enjoy beer). I’m feeling some pressure here to like it.

Oddly, I have never had Bass Ale before, or, at least I don’t remember it. So tonight is the night.

I pop the cap, take a sniff. Smells delicious. Hints of brown sugar and malt.

So far, so good.

I take my first swig. It’s light and pleasant on the tongue, with a warm caramel malt beat emphasized by a delayed hoppy bloom. The bloom fades to a pleasant, mildly bitter aftertaste.

It’s yummy.

So what is with the red triangle on the label? It looks like an icon. I want to point my mouse at it and click. Upon investigation, I’ve learned that this is one of the world’s oldest international trademarks, registered in Britain way back in 1876. The beer itself has been around since 1777, when William Bass opened the first brewery in Burton-on-Trent, England.

Another interesting tidbit: 500 cases of Bass Ale are aboard the Titanic, sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.

Speaking of the Titanic … unfortunately, the more of this ale I drink, the less I like it. The mildly bitter aftertaste continues to grow, sip after sip, until toward the end of the bottle it comes to overshadow the malt and dominate the taste. I’m biased toward sweeter brews, so those of you who like a bitterness in your beer, discount this. I just find it odd to have a beer that lauds itself “A beer that only makes other beers bitter” should end up so … well, bitter.

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Terrible Ale

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

Should I have been forewarned? Even ignoring the name, there’s other things…

For one, I found it extremely difficult to get a picture of the bottle without the label fading into the brown of the glass. Another, I realized that it’s 10.5% alcohol. On top of all this, it’s from Canada.

Exactly what am I getting myself into?

I pop the cork and take a sniff. Not much of a scent. Very low, deep malt. Smells sweet.

Tip it back, take my first swig.


It’s … terrible! Yuck!

No, it can’t be. I don’t believe it. I take another sip. Hmm.

Not so terrible. Take another…

It’s light on the tongue … much lighter than I’d expected. Highly carbonated. A subdued flavor that needs time to blossom. A slow upwelling of dark malt, then a wave of green-tasting hops. Then another wave of the malt swells up under the hops. Twenty seconds later, my tongue is tingling.

It’s not so terrible at all. It’s intriguing. I continue to sip. I have two stories I need to read for a writer’s meeting tomorrow, yet here I am drinking this stuff, writing about an ale instead of critiquing.

Jeeze, I wonder what my critiques are going to be like? Are they going to be coherent at all?

I’ll take a break here and go do them. Be back in a while…

Okay, I’m 2/3 the way through the bottle, and had to take a break from critiquing. This ale has become wonderful. I’m loving it. Of course, I can’t feel my face, and my teeth seem soft and wiggly … but my palate is most definitely enjoying this so-called “terrible” ale.

Is this the alcohol speaking? Maybe so. But really, does it matter?

Terrible is anything but. By the time I reach the end of the bottle, it’s like the sweet nectar of life. It’s made the contender list, tipping in at about 6.7 on the Holy Grail scale.

Why do they call it Terrible, anyway? And…

Where are my clothes?


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Aventinus Wheat-Doppelbock Ale

Posted by on 10 May 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

On first sip I get the immediate reaction: What the hell am I tasting? This is beer?

No, its … cloves or something. This hits hard with a massive fruity overtone and a double whammy of spices. It overpowers the chocolate malt. I seriously wondered if I’d gotten a bad bottle, but no, reading the back label, this is exactly what I was to expect. Fruity, spices, cloves.

It tastes weird. That’s the best way I can describe it. And I don’t think I’ve ever described a beer tasting “weird” before.

According to ye old label, this is Germany’s original wheat-doppelbock, from Bavaria’s oldest Weizen brewery. Bottle fermented, so there’s some yeast still in the bottle (making me wonder, did I shake it up or something?) I am getting a yeasty note in the taste. The weird taste.

But, no, it’s not the yeast. It’s the spices. The cloves. I’m no authority, but what the heck are they thinking putting cloves in a beer?

Being that it’s 8.2 % alcohol, it’s packing a pretty good punch, which probably explains why it’s tasting better the more I drink it. I mean, it’s not weird enough for me to go pour it out. I am, after all, a fairly adventurous kind of guy. I’m just hoping it doesn’t make me throw up.

Why do I have the feeling, though, that if I were drinking beer 2000 years ago, sitting at the table with Jesus Christ, this is how the beer would taste to me. Weird. I’m talking as a time traveler, mind you, not a native of the era. Because of course a native of the era would think it tasted normal.

Yet, I can’t bring myself to put it on the Holy Grail scale. If I did, it would be like negative 3000 or something.

I recommend this if you’re just so jaded with tasting “beer” that it’s all blending together in your head, and you need something to jolt you back to wakefulness. But if you want to taste beer instead of some wild weird German wheat-doppelbock, avoid this one. Step away from it. Ignore the high BeerAdvocate rating.

Shun this beer. Shun it, I say.

It tastes … somehow evil.

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Asahi Black

Posted by on 08 May 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

My old friend Akihito and I had a language barrier. He knew three words of English, and I knew one word of Japanese.

His words were, “sex,” “rock-n-roll,” and “beer.” (To him “rock-n-roll” was one word.)

My word was “sake.” As in, that rice wine you serve hot.

So when I asked him about sake, he thought I was saying “Asahi,” something of which at that point I’d never heard of. It was years later at a sushi restaurant that I finally figured out our misunderstanding. I had my first Asahi beer.

I wasn’t that impressed then, and I’m not that impressed now.

My impression is that it has all the right elements to make a really good beer, but just not enough of each of them. They were afraid to add too much, or they figured economically they could make more money if they added maybe 7% less of this, 4% less of that. What they ended up with was the antithesis of synergy. The whole is even less than the sum of its parts.

It’s a beer that really could almost be good. Through Asahi Black’s watery nature are fine elements. You can taste them. They’re there. But if beer were music, this would be a symphony with too few instruments playing at too low a volume for anyone to really enjoy it.

Asahi, you need to listen to more Grateful Dead: “It takes dynamite to get me up. Too much of everything is just enough.”

Beer is about gusto, not subtlety.

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Breckenridge Remarkable Vanilla Porter

Posted by on 06 May 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

This beer tastes happy.

No, not hoppy. Happy. This is a happy beer. It’s like beer for kids.

I love the label. Not only does it proclaim itself as remarkable, it is also “partakable.”

I agree!

It’s a light, fun beer that has definite vanilla overtones … which it should, being that it’s “brewed with real vanilla beans” (as opposed to fake ones?) … but the part that wins me over is the solid undercurrent of toasty, warm chocolate malt. It’s smooth and friendly, with a gentle note of hops riding up top, almost like it’s hiding in the foam.

Visiting the Breckenridge website I found the most amazing thing. A recipe for using this beer to make a milkshake. I kid you not. A beer milkshake. I’m a hardcore beer lover and even I have a problem with that idea.

I’ll take the beer, but hold the dairy. Thank you.

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