Friday, March 27, 2015

Week 5: 40 Beers 40 Nights (Pioneer Week)

There’s an attitude among beer nerds (snobs?) that big equals bad. If I can get your beer at the 7-11, it’s just toilet water with a pretty label. This is often true and that’s why beers from evil, giant multi-national beer conglomerates were not included in the 40 Beers 40 Nights list. That gets tougher as big companies dress up brands to fool you and InBev (Anheuser Busch) buys breweries like Goose Island and Elysian. However, it’s not always true. Some of the breweries that started the “craft beer movement” have become major independent corporations with huge distribution arms while still brewing delicious beverages.

I live in New York City and that makes it easy for me to find a wide variety of beers. I've learned that if there is something I want a store in some hipster neighborhood or some weirdo on the internet will have it. Not everyone is so lucky. In some places Sierra Nevada is as crafty as it gets and that’s just fine because Sierra Nevada still makes really good beer.

That’s what this week is about. It’s about the breweries a lot of people have written off for being too big when instead we should be thanking them for reminding us that not all beer has to be Coors. It’s about the breweries that are putting quality beers in stores across the country that everyone can buy. For each brewery, I tried to pick a beer that shows these breweries are still trying new things and still have something to offer beside the flagship style for those who like to be a little more adventurous.

WednesdaySmoked Porter With Vanilla BeanStone Brewing Company (Porter 5.9%) – You can buy Stone’s Arrogant Bastard at a gas station on the interstate and if the situation presents itself you should seize the opportunity. This "limited edition" (whatever that means) winter porter was picked out for me by a friend and it’s been sitting in my cabinet since December. But with two days left in the season, now seemed like a good time to drink it. If I have learned one thing during this experiment, it’s that I like porters more than I thought.The smoke and vanilla tastes in this beer came through well and even though it was a 22 ounce, I had no problem finishing it all since it is relatively low ABV. I probably would have never picked this out on my own, so I’m glad I someone else did.

Thursday – Bigfoot Ale – Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Barleywine 9.6%) – This is another “winter” beer and it definitely warms your core. Barleywine is always strong and intense so no surprise that one bottle of this beer left me asleep on the couch with Netflix cycling through episodes of “Parks and Recreation”. Bigfoot Ale starts off sweet and hoppy then hits you with a pretty boozy finish. I am just starting to get into this style. So far, I like it and am curious to try some other examples. I wish I had bought two bottles so I could age one for a couple of years.

Friday – Breakfast Stout Founders Brewing Company (Stout 8.3%) – Perhaps Founders doesn't
belong on this list. I can always find this beer and several other Founders styles in any store I walk into. Maybe that’s because I am actively looking for it. It didn't crack the top 25 on the American Brewers’ Association list of biggest craft breweries by volume. In retrospect, I wish I had given this spot to Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale which is also from Michigan and comes from a brewery that is 7th on that very same list. Not that I regret drinking the Breakfast Stout which is absolutely on my top 10 list of favorite beers. It is simply the best representation of the style I have ever had. The coffee and chocolate flavors come through so nicely that I can see myself actually drinking this with breakfast. Maybe I will.

Saturday – Palo Santo Marron Dogfish Head Brewery (Brown Ale 12%) – Breweries like Sam
Adams and Seirra Nevada started the craft beer movement. Dogfish Head took it to the next level. 60 Minute IPA is the beer everyone has had. I went with one I had never even heard of. It wasn't until I got home that I realized this brown ale has a 12% ABV. Good thing it was a Saturday night. Aged in some sort of rare Paraguayan wood, Palo Santo Marron (Translation: Holy Tree Brown) pours very dark and thick. It has a smoky, sweet, almost caramel taste combined with the obvious alcohol taste. It’s hard to mask 12%. It tastes and feels much more like a strong stout than a brown ale. This is a sipping beer and I’m not really sure how I will finish my four-pack.

Monday – Brooklyn Blast!Brooklyn Brewery (Double IPA 8.4%) – In New York City, parties with an open bar have Bud Light, Heinekin and then a Brooklyn selection for those who want something good or for those who want to hold something that says “Brooklyn” on it. Nothing from Brooklyn belongs in the same sentence as those other two beers, but their flagship selections aren't anything to go crazy over either. In fact, Brooklyn Brewery lags far behind it’s younger Brooklyn neighbor Six Point when it comes to the quality of its year-round offerings. Still, when Brooklyn is on, it’s on. Local 1, Local 2 and Cuvee’ Noir are spectacular. I had never tried Brooklyn Blast! This is in part due to the fact that its name contains an exclamation point. That aside, this is a surprisingly solid Double IPA. It’s a little bitter, but it belongs in the conversation with other widely-available top notch DIPAs.(!)

Tuesday – Rebel Rouser – Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) (Double IPA 8.4%) – Sam Adams epitomizes everything I said about breweries getting too big to be considered good. To be fair, it deserves a lot of the heat it takes. Boston Lager is like Starbucks coffee. It’s fine but you’ll find something better and more interesting across the street. But like Starbucks it was groundbreaking. Starbucks was mass-produced good coffee in a time of Folgers. Boston Lager was mass-produced good beer in a time where options were limited. Sam Adams was the first brewery I felt any loyalty toward. In the early 2000s, I’d always go back to college with a 12 pack of their seasonal lager. I still buy Summer Ale if only for nostalgia. As the industry boomed, Sam Adams stayed stagnant. Every once in a while, they put out a winner, but why mess with what’s working? Sam Adams is the top selling craft beer in the country by a mile. They don’t have to get creative to make money. But the Rebel series launched last year shows they still have a couple of tricks up their sleeve. The Rebel IPA is a solid every day IPA. The Rebel Rouser is a very solid second-tier Double IPA. It's crisp with a pleasantly bitter finish that lingers a bit. I have a list of beers that I’ll buy six packs of just to have when I’m looking for something satisfying and refreshing, but not overly fancy. I'm happy to discover this belongs on that list.

Lagunitas, my favorite of the “too big to be cool” breweries is not on this list only because I drank its Cappuccino Stout last week. It pained me not to include Goose Island, but now that it’s owned by InBev, I just can’t get excited about it.

Next Week: Is it too early for witbier? 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Week 4: 40 Beers 40 Nights

If you follow me on Instagram (I'm sorry), you know I am attempting to get creative with my nightly beer photos. I've included a screen shot of “Better Call Saul”, babies and even videos that always show poor pouring technique because I’m holding the camera with one hand and pouring with the other. But, I’m running out of ideas. This is partly because there are only so many ways to photograph beer in my living room or kitchen and partly because I’m not at my most creative after a full day at work. Oh, and also because I don’t think about it until the last possible second. So, if you have any ideas let me know.

Wednesday – Second FiddleFiddlehead Brewing (Double IPA 8%) – As you know, I bought a
bunch of Vermont beer from a guy on Craigslist. I wasn’t going to buy Fiddlehead because I had never heard of it and really just wanted Heady Topper. The guy ended up talking me into getting two cans of Second Fiddle and I am glad I did. All three beers I bought from him (Sip of Sunshine, Heady Topper and Second Fiddle) were double IPAs and all three were fantastic. I paid $90 for eight cans and I will tell you it was worth every penny. Seeing as how they were all the same style of beer, they were easy to compare. Sip of Sunshine was the clear winner, but Second Fiddle was a respectably distant second. It’s less citrusy and more hoppy than the Sip of Sunshine, but equally as refreshing. Actually, Second Fiddle is a lot more like Heady than Sip of Sunshine in presentation, smell and taste however I think it hides the ABV better making it a bit more drinkable.

Bfo seen in this file photo
Thursday – Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale – Boulevard Brewing (Saison 8.5%) – For months, I have patiently awaited the NYC arrival of Boulevard beers. My buddy Bfo who lives in Kansas City raves about them and the rest of the beer-drinking internet seems to agree with his assessment. They finally arrived last week and since Tank 7 is their flagship brew, I thought I would try it first even though it’s a saison. It definitely has the Belgian spice taste which is the taste I don’t enjoy in saisons, but it’s not overwhelming and it’s not the only thing happening with this beer. It’s pretty full-bodied for a saison and it’s grapefruit and orange flavors come through nicely. It’s still a saison and thus, not something I would order off a menu, but for folks who like this style it’s a must try. I also picked up a Boulevard IPA (The Calling) so I could try a style I actually enjoy, and it was very solid.

Friday – Bon Bon 2x TNT Single Cut Beersmiths (Double IPA 8.2%) – You can’t really say you've tried a beer if it’s your 6th or 7th beer of the night. The only other time I tasted Single Cut was at the end of a Christmas party that turned into a massive beer tasting. I remembered absolutely nothing about it. So, when I saw it was on tap at Amsterdam Alehouse on the Upper West Side I was eager to give it a second go. Single Cut is in Astoria, Queens which gave it a boost before I even tried it. At 143 IBUs, it could pack a real punch. Instead it’s a very balanced mix of bitter and tropical. I’m starting to think I’m a Double IPA guy.

Saturday – Cappuccino Stout – Lagunitas Brewing Company (Stout
9.2%) – There are a couple craft breweries that I think of as patriarchs of the industry and so far, none of them are on the list. This is the first. Sure, they may be a big, widely-available brand, but I have never been disappointed with their stuff. Plus, Lagunitas sponsors “This American Life” (Keeping the ‘pub’ in ‘public radio) and that earns huge bonus points with me. I put a 22 ounce bottle of Cappuccino Stout in the fridge before heading out for an 18 mile workout thinking it would be the perfect recovery drink on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I was right. My two go-to post-run drinks are beer and coffee. This combines the two perfectly. The coffee taste is immediate and lasts throughout. It's creamy and smooth. This is also a super-affordable beer, so I’ll be buying it again.

You can and should cry over spilled beer.
Monday – Citra Mantra Otter Creek Brewing (IPA 5.75%) – Plain old IPAs have sort of become the least-exciting style of beer. What? No jalapenos, coffee or grapefruits in this brew? That said, I love drinking a basic, no-frills IPA. That’s what this is. Sadly, I spilled half of this bottle trying to open it with one hand. What I was able to salvage was very nice and refreshing. It wasn't amazing like a Ballast Point Sculpin or a Bells Two-Hearted Ale, but it has a solid spot among second-tier IPAs like Lagunitas and Great Lakes. If I see it again, I’ll buy it and try not to spill it.

Tuesday Low Life  -- Evil Twin Brewing Company (Pilsner 5.5%) – There was a time in my life where St. Patrick’s Day was a day on which I’d drink Guinness until I couldn't stand up straight. Then, I’d do some shots. To show how far behind me those days are, I chose a Pilsner (a PILSNER!) as my St. Patrick’s evening beer. I don’t like to generalize, but Pilsners suck.  I don’t know if it’s that American breweries are bad at brewing them, or it’s just a crappy style. Even Evil Twin, which is a great brewery, makes a Pilsner that conjured up all sorts of memories of beer pong, bars with sticky floors and drinking in the back of a $1 cab. When I think of the gross last sip of warm cheap beer no one wants, I think of pilsners.  No matter who’s dressing it up, I’m always going to feel like I’m drinking Beck’s and no one likes Beck’s. No one. Afterthought: Six Point makes a pilsner called “The Crisp”. It’s not bad, but drink it fast because a warm pilsner is not your friend.

Next week: A nod to some trail-blazing breweries.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Week 3: 40 Beers 40 Nights

It dawned on me this week just how many beers I’m going to be drinking. Am I going to be sick of beer by Easter? Am I going to be able to go back to NOT drinking a beer when I come home from work? Am I going to grow a beer belly? Will I have trouble finding new beers? The answer to all of these questions is probably “no”. So far, I have not had to force myself to drink a beer at night. I’m pretty much always in the mood after a long work day. However, some nights it tastes better than others. A friend told me this week that he never drinks alone. Without an ounce of shame and perhaps a bit of pride, I was able to tell him that I drink alone every night.

Wednesday - Sip of SunshineLawson’s Finest Liquids (Double IPA 8%) – I’m ready to say this is the best beer I have ever had. Maybe I got an extremely fresh batch. Maybe I was particularly thirsty every time I have had it, but it goes down easier than any beer I've ever poured. Sip of Sunshine gets overshadowed by its Vermont neighbor, Heady Topper. It doesn't have the cult status or the adoring fans. However, people who know beer better than I do (which is to say a lot of people) will tell you that if you had a choice between the two, this is the one you choose. I drank my last can of Sip of Sunshine on a cold night and was immediately whisked away to summer. It has a citrusy taste (although it’s not as citrusy as it smells) that is both refreshing and hoppy. Trying to taste sunshine? Mission accomplished.

Thursday – Sweet Action, Sixpoint Brewery (Cream Ale 5.2%) – I made a rather disparaging comment in week one about the low potential of cream ales. When I made the comment I had clearly forgotten about the delicious cream ale made by Brooklyn's Sixpoint. Sixpoint is available at any place that sells beer in New York City, but I have been told it is not readily available outside this area. That’s a shame, because they have an excellent line up. Sweet Action has a nice cream taste and sessionable qualities (you could drink a couple and not get drunk/full). I had it on tap at the new bar in my neighborhood, but I've had it in a can too and it’s equally as good.

Friday – West Coast IPAGreen Flash Brewing Company (Double IPA 8.1%) – I've mentioned this beer two weeks in a row, so it’s time I put it on the list. From a brewery that prides itself on powerful, hoppy beers, this is their best brew. It goes down pretty easy for an 8% beer. First you taste the malt, then you taste the hops and a nice flavor lingers. When it comes to widely-available double IPAs, this is your best bet.

Saturday – Hop Drop and Roll, NoDa Brewing Company (IPA 7.2%) – We moved out of Charlotte nearly four years ago. Since then, approximately 150 breweries have opened up in the Queen City. When we lived there, it was Old Mecklenburg and that was it (Try their Copper if you’re ever down south). Like any city with a pop-up brewing scene, there are hits and misses. Hop, Drop and Roll is a hit. There a lot of really good IPAs out there, but this one stood out to me especially for an IPA that is a little on the sweeter side. I’d love to see this distributed outside of North Carolina.

Monday – Baby Maker, Triple C Brewing (Double IPA 8.0%) – I had the t-shirt for this beer before I ever actually tasted the beer. That felt wrong to me. It’s like wearing the t-shirt for a race you didn't run. It’s not for lack of trying. Once I tried to ship myself a bottle of this and it shattered in transit. Instead I ended up getting a beer-soaked shoebox full of glass in the mail. A name like Baby Maker implies the beer is so potent it is going to make you contribute to an unplanned pregnancy. But, I don’t get that vibe from this beer. This beer is unremarkable in the sense that nothing about it really stands out. That said, it’s a fine choice and one I would drink again. It goes down easy, doesn't offend and hides its ABV pretty well. Now that I write that, I see where this beer could get dangerous. It comes in 22 ounce bottles and I could see polishing off one or two of them solo without even noticing.

Tuesday – 2X Stout, Southern Tier Brewing Company (Milk Stout 7.5%) – I believe it’s impossible to make a bad stout. The style itself, especially the texture, makes it inherently good. Nothing has proven me wrong yet. As I said last week, I’ll still happily drink a Guinness if given the choice between that and some fancy pants saison. Of course, some stouts are better than others and Southern Tier’s 2X Stout falls into the “others” category. Stouts are often lower-ABV or mask their ABV. This tastes like every bit of a 7.5% beer. When I drink a milk stout, I want a sweet, milky finish, not a boozy finish. There’s a really good coffee taste with this beer that I wish stuck around a little longer.

Next week: Another saison tries to change my  mind about saisons.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Week 2: 40 Beers 40 Nights

Wednesday - Heady Topper, The Alchemist Brewery (Double IPA 8%) – Let me start by saying that Heady Topper is a really good beer. Exquisite actually. I’m not an expert, but it’s one of the best beers I have ever had. If I had access to it, I would drink it a lot more often. Now that’s out of the way, let me say Heady Topper is not the best beer in the history of mankind. I don’t even think it’s the best beer coming out of Vermont and it won’t be best beer on this list of 40. However, if you go on the internet, you will be lead to believe that Heady Topper is perfection and it possesses magical powers. You can only buy it at select retailers in Vermont on certain dates and people wait in long lines for it. Its cult status was recently profiled in the Boston Globe. The beer geek website, Beer Advocate, which I visit roughly 50 times a day, lists Heady as the number one beer among its users. Tracking down a couple cans in New York City was not easy. I searched Craigslist every day and communicated with more than one jabroni who wanted to charge me more than $50 for a four-pack (ironic since the phrase “Don’t Be a D-Bag” is actually printed on the can). I finally found a guy who was selling it a reasonable price. Heady retails for $80 a case, but I understand a mark-up for the convenience of not driving to Vermont and waiting in long lines. I can’t tell you how Heady pours because the instructions on the can say not to pour it in a glass. So, I didn't. The mark of a good IPA or DIPA is how well the “hoppiness” balances with other flavors (in this case citrus and pine) and Heady balances very well. It has a very smooth finish and…listen, I’m not going to go on and on about how Heady Topper tastes. It’s all over the internet. It’s good. If you like IPAs it’s a must try. But after you've tried it, you can go back to something easier to find and equally as good like a Green Flash West Coast IPA.

Thursday – Grapefruit Sculpin, Ballast Point Brewing Company (IPA 7%) – Fruit beers get a bad rap thanks to Budweiser’s line of “-aritas”. I generally approach all fruit-flavored beer with skepticism since even some of my favorite breweries make fruit beers that I have poured down the drain. But nothing goes better in an IPA than grapefruit. If you like your beers bitter, the combination of hops and such a sour fruit is pure perfection. Plain old Sculpin is one of the best easy-to-find IPAs you can buy and the addition of grapefruit pushes it over the edge. This is an incredibly delicious and incredibly drinkable brew.

Friday – Big Bear Black Stout, Bear Republic Brewing Company (Imperial Stout 8.10%) – My introduction to good beers started with Sam Adams and Guinness. Guinness was the first beer I became a regular drinker of and even today, I’ll defend it to the death against its many detractors. It’s also the reason the stout is my favorite style of beer. I seek out good stouts now and when I found this one on the shelf of my local grocery store, I grabbed a bunch. Big Bear gets a 100 on Beer Advocate and rightfully so. It has coffee and licorice smells and malty, caramel tastes. At the same time, it’s not overly sweet and it doesn't mask the alcohol so much that you could drink several in quick succession.

Saturday – Void of Light, Gun Hill Brewery (Export Stout 7.90%) – Two days. Two stouts. I’m embarrassed that this is the first New York City beer of the 40 Beers 40 Nights challenge. I first tried Void of Light at a bar in the East Village as we drowned our sorrows over being rejected from a surprise Foo Fighters show at Irving Plaza. This beer nearly single-handedly made up for missing the show. You can only get Gun Hill on tap locally or at the brewery in the Bronx. They brew a bunch of different beers, but I like this one too much to try another when I wander into a bar that serves Gun Hill. Void of Light is a fitting name because this stout is very dark. It tastes like black coffee and chocolate, two things I like almost as much as beer. I want to drink more of this because I am not sure I can even describe it at this point because it’s so complex.

Monday Nugget Nectar, Troegs Brewing Company (Amber Ale 7.5%) – Troegs makes some great seasonal beers. What’s Christmas without a Mad Elf? This is their spring beer that does not taste at all like spring. But, I’m not sure it’s supposed conjure up thoughts of flowers and birds. This is a very malty tasting Amber that is neither remarkable or offensive. On a warmer night, this would be good to drink on the patio after a long day at the office, but it’s not something I’ll actively seek out.

Tuesday – Gonzo, Flying Dog Brewery (Baltic Porter 9.2%) – When I want a dark beer, 9 times out of 10 I’ll go for a stout. I ended up with this porter because I had been staring at the beer selection at the grocery store for far too long and I was about to get slapped with a loitering charge. I grabbed it to complete my six pack and didn't even notice it was a porter until I got home. That’s not to say there aren't good porters out there. I have just always found porters to be more “bubbly” and not as “thick” as stouts. That’s super complicated beer terminology I just used. That said, this beer surprised me by how heavy it was. It was hoppier than a stout, yet still had a really nice coffee taste. It worked very well on a night where it felt like winter just won’t end.

On tap next week: Perhaps the best beer I’ve ever had.