Friday, May 27, 2011

State of this blog......

This weekend is Memorial Day, and Man Drinks Beer is running in a half marathon on Sunday.

Accordingly, new beer reviews will be delayed until Sunday afternoon/night and Monday (this is assuming, of course, that I survive running 13.1 miles in 80+ degree heat).

In the mean time, check out this great entry on 99 Bottles today. Sam Adams has released a 12 pack of IPA that allows the drinker to compare and contrast several different single hops ales in one 12 pack. I see this 12 pack in my immediate future...

I am constantly tinkering with the layout in my spare time, but if you have suggestions to make it more user friendly, please let me know. I do want to work in more photos, and more craft beer event related items.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The blog that almost was...

This was very nearly a blog about running. Yes, you read correctly, I said running. I love running. I'm not particularly fast,  but its great fun, keeps me in shape, and I love being able to stay competitive on some level, even if my biggest competition is just a clock and the arbitrary times I try to hit.

When I was pondering the idea of blogging, I went back and forth between beer and running. If I wrote about running, what would I write? I envisioned lots of posts about time- mile splits, 5K times, 10 K times, etc. To my running friends, it would probably be cool. But I felt like it would have a limited potential readership, and if I was going to write, I wanted subject matter where the research was a little less exhausting and audience limiting. So I chose beer for my blog, but I continued to run. Which brings me to Sunday..

This past Sunday was the 10th Annual Harpoon 5 Miler to benefit the Angel Fund. I had run 7 of these races previously, only missing year 1 (because I didn't hear about it), and year 8 (because my wife was due with our first child on race day). But this year they threw us all a curve ball, moving the race date up a few weeks, from its usual June date.

As usual, I was there at the start, running solo this year. My usual running buddy chose not to run this year (she had recently run a marathon in a pretty stellar time, and was entitled to some rest).

The gun sounds, and I take off with the crowd. The weather is cool, the crowd is awesome, and I'm just feeding off the adrenaline. I abandon my strategy and go out waaaay too fast. I decide to keep running until I see my wife and daughter and mother in law, who are somewhere near the half way point, then I plan to slow down and crawl to the finish. Mercifully, I see them at the halfway point, wave, and figure just as soon as I'm out of sight, I'm walking. But something odd happened. Once I got out of sight, I just kept running. Oh, it hurt like hell. I kept yelling out about how bad my legs hurt, how I had nothing left, but I kept going. Mile 3 on 1st street? Still running. Mile 4, just inside the Marine industrial Park? Still running.

I turned that final corner behind the brewery, expecting to see a 44 or so on the clock. And what I see is 3....8? No, is that really a 7? 37? No f*cking way! I get closer, yes, the clock clearly reads 37 minutes, suddenly I feel great (odd how that works, ain't it?) and I just start sprinting to the finish. I finish in a new personal best of 37:31, which blows away my previous best of 40:24 big time. I strut around the finish area, my arms raised in personal victory, clapping my hands. I needed to celebrate, obviously. So I went to the store and bought....

Hop Back Amber Ale
Troegs Brewing Company, Harrisburg, PA
6 % ABV
12 ounce bottle poured into a glass

The label describes this beer thusly: "Each batch of HopBack Amber Ale flows through a bed of whole flower hops creating a fresh aroma, spicy taste, and rich caramel note that defines our signature beer."

This beer pours a nice dark amber, just as the name suggests. Two fingers of nice, creamy white, thick head forms, and dissipates fairly quickly. Smell is nice- malty, spicy, some hops, as advertised, but not overwhelming. Mouthfeel is awesome. Creamy, velvety, warm, smooth, light- as good as it gets. Taste is great. Its malty, with some sweetness from the caramel malt, nicely balanced out by spicy hops, and a very, very slight bitterness at the end. I love it. Absolutely love this beer. 4 out 5, and I might be under rating this.

This is the second beer from Troegs that I've drank, and its as awesome as the first. This brewer is worth watching.  Check them out at Jacob Wirth on May 31st as they do a tap takeover as part of Boston  Beer Week.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What is "good beer"?

A few days ago I announced this blogs existence on my Face Book page. I debated announcing it for a week or so, not being overly confident in the contents, and wondering how people would react. It gave me a whole new world of respect for those who blog, especially those who talk about far more personal things than beer. So I threw it out to the FB world, and reaction was good, people were supportive, which was cool. But an old friend checked out the blog and asked a great, albeit simple question. He asked "what do you mean by "good" beer? Good price? Good taste?".

It was a brilliant observation on his part, to point out a glaring flaw with this blog- being that if I want to spread the gospel of "good beer", I should probably define "good beer".

I acknowledge here that "good" is a completely subjective term. Whats tastes "good" to me, might not taste "good" to you. (But boy, doesn't that Guinness look very "good" to Prince Philip? shown here with Queen Elizabeth at the Guinness Brewery on their recent trip to Ireland)

To me, "good beer" is beer that tastes good. That means it has flavor, color, smell, and is usually brewed in a traditional style- ale, larger, stout, etc. For me, that usually means beer made with the classical ingredients- malt, hops, barley, wheat (not to say that I don't respect brewers who push the envelope and add insane ingredients- Hello Boston Beerworks Jalapeno Black IPA).

I am not a fan of "malt style beverages" made with rice and corn. To me, good beer smells super hoppy, is a healthy color of some sort (usually amber, copper, orange) and has a bitter finish. Clearly,  I prefer IPAs.  To me, good beer has a distinguishable texture and mouth-feel when you drink it. It doesn't feel like carbonated water in your mouth.

I don't consider price at all when defining a beer as "good". Good beer comes in all price points, high and low.

This is in stark contrast to my college days, when "good beer" was any beer you can afford. Ah, the days of Natural Light, Black Label, and Red White and Brew. I drank these happily in college. Back then, these were good beers to me. I never complained about the taste of these mass produced, pale, and somewhat tasteless (by comparison to days craft brews) beers. It was all that was available to me, I drank them, and was happy.

Then one day I got a phone call from a friend who had recently joined a frat. He and his brothers had gone to the newly opened Boston BeerWorks on Brookline Ave. He was all excited about a beer he had tried that was made with oatmeal. He loved it, raved about it. I was totally confused. "Did you need a spoon to eat it?" I asked, envisioning a bowl of oatmeal soaked in beer. My friend tried to explain- "no, its brewed with oatmeal, not served in it. They pour it in a glass, its a stout, very thick". Brewed with oatmeal? I didn't grasp it all all. Al I knew of brewing was what I saw in tv ads. Budweiser clearly brewed beer with wheat, corn, rice, all the best ingredients. They never mentioned oatmeal. This was the very first clue I was given that perhaps there was more to beer than what I was being told by tv. This was my first clue that perhaps there was better beer out there. Seemed ridiculous. Budweiser was the biggest brewery in the world (to my knowledge, at that time. Boy was I ignorant..), who made better beer than them?

A few weeks later, I turned 21, and this same friend brought me the Boston Beer Works. I tried the Buckeye Oatmeal Stout. It did not taste like oatmeal with beer. It tasted awesome. And so began a 16 year beer passion that would eventually lead to this blog. 

But enough about me. What is a "good beer" to you?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Karma Chameleon

Ah, 1983. I was 9. Culture Club was taking America by storm- their first single, "Karma Chameleon" (off the Color By Numbers album) was roaring up the charts. It would spend 3 weeks at number in the US. And none of that, really,  has anything to do with this weeks beer- Avery Brewing's Karma Pale Ale. (Hey, if you give me a beer with a name that easily lends itself to an 80's music reference, I'm gonna go there folks. Every time)

After 3 weeks of "big beer" reviews, I decided I needed to give my palate a chance and start drinking some more typical ABV brews. A good friend suggested that I may be ruining my palate with the strong beers, and I read on 99 Bottles that the true test of a brewer is how well they can make a 5% ABV brew, as higher alcohol content can mask inferior flavors. This made sense to me, so off the liquor store I went...and I came home with....

Karma Pale Ale
Avery Brewing, Boulder Colorado
12 ounce bottle, 5.4% abv

This label describes this beer as a "Belgian Style Farmhouse ale". This required me to take a quick trip over to beer to look up "farmhouse style" ale. Basically, it means beer brewed in the winter to drink in the summer. Expect fruity and dry, an almost endangered style.

Newly educated on this new term, I poured the first beer.

This beer pours a beautiful amber/dark orange gold color, and gave a surprising two fingers of creamy head that dissipated quickly but still left a nice ring on the glass. Nose was full on Belgian- strong fruit, but not sweet. No other style stands out so profoundly to me as Belgian when it comes to smell. Mouthfeel is nice- a light, creamy texture on the tongue. Perfect level of carbonation. Taste is surprising- the typical Belgian fruit notes are very muted here. You definitely get some, but I can't say exactly what- maybe orange, something citrus is present, but very modest. I am usually turned off a bit by the strong character of most Belgians, but this one is great. Finish is smooth and dry, no bitterness at all.

This beer is perfectly balanced, superbly sessionable, and great for spring evenings on the deck watching the Sox take on the Yankees.

That all said, I'm not usually a big fan of Belgian style ales. Maybe I just haven't found the right one. But this is a great beginners Belgian. I did find the finish a bit dry, which isn't my preference, so I give it a 3 on a scale of 1-5.  But this is an extremely well made beer, so if Belgian ales are your thing, give it a shot.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Kickin' it Olde School...

Sometimes its good to forget that you have beer in the basement. Especially when its a bottle conditioned brew that gets better with age.

With the hustle and bustle of Mothers Day and my wife's b-day this weekend, I neglected to leave enough time to go out and select a new brew to review.  Somehow asking for time to go buy a beer to review for a blog didn't seem very important in relation to these other things. This left me high and dry on Sunday night, until I brought some laundry down to the basement and saw that one last bottle of 2010 Olde School Barleywine, just sitting there all alone on the book case. I dusted it off, popped it in the fridge for 20 minutes, and was ready to drink.

Olde School Barleywine
Dogfish Head Brewery, Rehoboth Beach, DE
15% ABV
12 Ounce Bottle, poured into a snifter

This beer pours a gorgeous amber/copper color, with a thin head that grabs the glass. The smell is intense-pungent, flowers and alcohol. It smells almost sweet, which is one of my favorite things about this style of beer. It there was a beer flower, this is what it would smell like.

Taste is equally intense- alcohol coats the palate like syrup-lots of malt, very subtle hops (the hops recede with aging, and this beer aged for about 6 months in my basement) and some kind of earthy sweetness registers. The dogfish web site says this beer is brewed with dried figs and dates, maybes that what I'm getting. But as I don't eat dates and rarely eat figs, I can't say for sure. Whatever it is, its awesome. Finish is very, very smooth- surprising for a beer with  85 IBUs of bitterness (or perhaps my palate is absolutely dead from the alcohol, your guess is as good as mine).

I thoroughly enjoyed this beer. This bottle was noticeably smoother than the ones I drank when I first brought it home in December, and that's the beauty of this style. It ages like fine wine. I only wish I had the patience to wait another 6 months before opening my last bottle.

I give this beer a 3.5 out of 5 rating.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Monks Blood

In coming up with the concept for this blog, I had to work through a few things.

First and foremost was the habit I have of sticking with the same brewers and same styles of beer. Like most craft beer lovers, I tend to stick with my favorites. But that would make for an exceptionally boring blog. So I created a few rules.

1) I cannot review the same brewer two weeks in a row
2) I cannot review the same style two weeks in a row
3) I must not limit myself to bottles

The rules in place, I set about trying to find a new beer to review. This is not so simple when you have to follow rules, and when you stumble on a new liquor store with an absolutely awesome selection of craft brews (This in itself is a post for another night). As I wandered the aisles of this craft beer super store, my beer senses were overwhelmed. IPA? No, did it last week. Barely Wine? Stout? Wheat beer? Rice beer, I've never even heard of that....

Style was one thing, then another issue reared its ugly head. Domestic or import? US or Belgian? I decided on domestic. Then another question- should I support local brewers, maybe focus on them? As I wander the aisles, more than one customer asked me "do you work here?". "No, sorry, I'm just a big fan" was my response as I wander by with that confused, glazed over look on my face. I cannot count how many brews I picked up, only to place back on the shelf. And then, like a religious revelation, I saw the box (yes, I said box)..

21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA
4 twelve ounce cans in a BOX

The thing that caught my eye was the small square box and the words "MONKS BLOOD". Kinda have to stop and read after that. This is described as a 'Belgian Style Dark Ale brewed with cinnamon, vanilla, oak chips, and dried figs".  I took this super intriguing box of cans home and began my work.

This beer pours a dark red/mahogany color, and it look almost cloudy, something I would suspect would have to do with the oak chips it aged on. Nose was surprisingly tame, a little fruit and malt was all I really got.
Mouthfeel was lighter than expected for Belgian style dark, with more carbonation than expected. Now to taste...

Recall how I said that I don't have a very refined palate? Well, here's where that creates an issue. As I taste, I'm trying to pick out all the subtle flavors, of all the ingredients that this beer is brewed with. I get the vanilla and oak right away, and I love it. However, my experience tells me that oak aging mellows beer and muddles the flavors. So as I drink the first 8.3% ABV 12 ounces I'm sitting there trying to taste the cinnamon and dried figs. No, no, not getting it. No luck, lets have another. So I crack open can #2 of this lovely 8.3% abv brew and continue my taste study. Vanilla? Check. Oak? Check? 8.3% alcohol? Check. Gee, that vanilla is really strong, I can feel my tongue numbing. Getting some wheat and bread notes now, but still no fig or cinnamon. Hmm, better crack open #, this one is pouring really cloudy compared the first two......

Suffice it say, this being only my second session of drinking after taking 46 days off for lent, perhaps I should have picked a "smaller" brew, something closer to the more traditional 5% ABV. I never did taste the cinnamon and figs, but this is a one very, very good beer. And it comes in a can.

I give this beer 3.5 on a scale of 5. Definitely worth a taste. And thanks to the guys at 21st Amendment Brewery for proving that good beer can actually come in a can.