Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Smith Comes to Visit

Samuel Smith

The Old Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire

There’s a certain ring to that, straightforward, better than slogans and mottos. But old? Established in 1758? These are newcomers . . . but only compared to continental breweries like Weihenstephan (1040) and Brasserie de Rochefort (1595).

_1s307011SamuelSmiths_012For the tasting at Growler & Gill, Dave Rodriguez and his colleague Scott represented the brewery. They described a fascinating old school operation, emphasizing the unique “stone Yorkshire squares” fermenting vessels, huge slate vats.




_1s307011SamuelSmiths_003This is not a slick, modern, stainless steel operation.




“The brewery still has its own cooper making and repairing all its oak casks. All Samuel Smith’s naturally conditioned draught beer is served from the wood,” _1s307011SamuelSmiths_004 and that wood is delivered locally by horse-drawn wagon. By the way, if you want to try Samuel Smith on draft you’ll have to travel to Yorkshire, or at least England, to pubs that serve only Samuel Smith products. From this you may gather that this tasting was exclusively from bottles.

1sam_smith_indiaLeading off was India Ale, their IPA, a traditional English style with more malt than hops, smooth and well balanced. Caramel follows malt and is almost–but not quite–sweet, held in check by hop bitterness. This has a nice finish, quiet, but the floral hops assert themselves on the end. It pours with a light head which dissipates quickly. In the realm of “nothing new under the sun,” at 5% ABV you can think of this as a sessionable IPA, just an old-fashioned sessionable IPA. In fact, all six beers in the tasting are 5% ABV, so this was a nice sessionable session.

1sam_smith_nut_brown_aleNext was the Nut Brown Ale, the only one of these that I had had before. It pours a slightly pale brown, with over an inch of tan head which lingers. Malt & yeast come in firmly on the nose with maybe a touch of chocolate malt. On the palette it is very caramel right up front and continues with a bit of malt backbone and a bit of effervescence. Again it’s smooth and balanced. A roasted, almost smoky tang creeps in on the finish, but mostly the caramel persists . . . and a hint of hazelnut.

1sam_smith_oatmeal_stoutOatmeal Stout followed. While the head persists there’s a hint of toffee and almost of nutmeg, but once the head dissipates there’s not much nose, just a touch of chocolate malt. Roasted barley arrives strongly on a bed of malt, still with a bit of spiciness. The stout is silky smooth without bitterness. The malt gets nice character from 25% oatmeal. It’s easy drinking with a very long finish.

1sam_smith_org_choc_stout_550_300x993Next was the Organic Chocolate Stout, one of many organic offerings from Samuel Smith. They note that these are “USDA & UK Soil Association Certified Organic” so tradition can meet modern concerns. This stout starts with a big head which gives strong cocoa on the nose. This is big time chocolate, almost milky in flavor but stout all the way in character, very nice smooth stout. Long finish without bitterness.

1sam_smith_organic_cherry_ale_smMoving on to the fruit ales, the Organic Cherry Ale is pretty intense fruit with pale ale underneath…fairly far underneath. This is not as intense as a Kriek lambic but it’s up there. You have to be in the mood for fruit, and this would be perfect in a flute glass. If you like lambic you’ll like this.

1sam_smith_organic_raspberry_ale_smWrapping up, the Organic Raspberry Ale is also really intense, like raspberry preserves on the nose and palette. This was the dessert of the session, a most satisfactory session.

The evening was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I had a slight prejudice against Samuel Smith dating back twenty or more years ago. At that time, Sam Smith was almost the only craft beer out there, or at least the only one readily available on the shelves of the liquor stores of Hoboken. The problem was that it tended to sit on those shelves for a long time, and in clear glass bottles, so the skunk sometimes attacked. Most of the time it was very good, but once you get burned a couple of times, the memory lingers. Today? Brown bottles and quicker turnover deliver bright, fresh goodness.

An interesting p.s. from their website: “All Samuel Smith’s beers and ciders are suitable for a vegan diet (except cask conditioned Old Brewery Bitter and bottled Yorkshire Stingo).”

Images courtesy of Samuel Smith Brewing and Merchant du Vin
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Gone Clubbing Again (2)

Here’s my current beer club installment:

cRebelCzech Rebel Beer

If I needed to say the name of the brewery, I would be dead of old age before getting it right. Things would be even worse if I had to spell it: Měťanský Pivovar Havlíčkův Brod. Fortunately it’s much easier to drink! This beer pours very clear with not much head, and what there is dissipates quickly. It’s toward the brown end of light amber. Good lager nose with a little malt and a sort of zesty, herbal hop aroma, spicy rather than floral. Very dry and very similar to a pilsner. There’s a nice effervescence; it’s a good hot weather beer, and a good fill-a-stein beer, but not something that I would especially seek out. The malt is somewhat neutral and there’s a light breadiness, not sweet and even giving a hint of sourness. The finish is very mild. [You can tell that I didn't do a good job of cleaning the glass; there shouldn't be a coating of bubbles on the inside of the glass.]

cBad WaterBad Water Brewing Western Lager

Gives a nice 1″ slightly tan head, pours medium amber in the glass. There is yeast on the nose with a hint of cracker and some light spicy hops. This lager is richer than I expected with a fairly complex mix of honey and malt and cracker and caramel. I sense a hint of fruit, maybe mango, in the gentle hops on the end.

cBlack IPAMendocino Seasonal Black IPA

This is an LBB, a Little Black Beer, topped with about 3/4″ of nut-brown head, quite persistent. This has a nice chocolate malt nose with a little coffee and a hop tang. Nice mouthfeel, smoky with a hint of residual sweetness. There’s just a bit of citrus from the hops (and apparently some orange peel in the recipe), and a sort of graininess that floats above the malt. I’d like to try this with some barbecue.

cTrappist WitteLa Trappe Witte Trappist

Here we have the only Trappist witbier, from La Trappe, one of those young breweries at a mere 130 years old. This gives a massive head, maybe 4″ to start and still 2″ several minutes later. [OK, it must have been a clumsy pour.] The nose gives yeasty, malty goodness. On the palette the good wheat beer comes clearly through with a little hint of citrus and a sort of gentle cotton candy. There’s a spiciness too, though no citrus or spices are used. This is followed by a dry line, and then caramel oozes over that. It wraps up with a long malty caramel finish.

I must say I’ve enjoyed The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club. Each shipment has been interesting with some intriguing choices and some surprises like the Rodenbach, the Kronenbourg 1664, and the La Trappe Witte Trappist. My thanks to Lori and Les for the birthday present!!

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The Worst Beer in Baseball

You may have—but probably haven’t—seen the article from The Washington Post’s DC Sports Blog which states “The Yankees have the worst beer list in baseball.” The only progress is that the Yankees were finally humiliated into changing the name of the “Craft Beer Destination,” where there was no craft beer, only Miller/Coors products. [They changed it to the Beer Mixology Destination, a stupid name which probably implies dumping their cider into Blue Moon or Batch 19, or into their Shandy.] There are many blogs out there where die-hard Yankee fans lament this state of affairs. Your intrepid reporter had to investigate. Here I am, ostensibly a Yankee fan, but I had never managed to get to the “new” five-year-old stadium. Then I won a pair of tickets at a charity event. (Where the name “Tricky Tray” comes from, I have no idea.) So now I had no excuse, and 35 bucks for parking later, Janet and I arrived at the House Next Door to the Park Where the House That Ruth Built stood.

yphoto 1 (click to enlarge)

As a venue for baseball, the place is beautiful, but so was the old Stadium (or rather the Renovated Stadium, since I moved to New York during the renovation). The amenities are better, especially so if you have wads of cash to spend, but it wasn’t going to be The Stadium Club for us, just the vendors for the plebians. There’s a lot of variety to be had, at least compared to the old Stadium, though those wads of cash do come into play. [I stopped at the ATM before going and I was going to take out $200, and then I figured that would be enough for a hot dog and a soda. I had been warned.]

But we’re talking about beer (we were talking about beer, weren’t we?) so back to business. Let me apologize now for this awful picture, and I don’t mean just the beer selection. The light wasn’t great and I wasn’t that close.

ybeer list (click to enlarge)

So let’s translate that fuzzy mess. At a fast glance you might see over 30 choices, but 14 of them are duplicates. The remainder, in bottles: Amstel Light, Blue Moon, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Platinum, Bud Black Crown, Corona, Dos Equis XX, Guinness Black Lager, Heineken Light, Hoegaarden, Redbridge Gluten Free, Yuengling, and O’Douls. On draft: Goose Island IPA, Guinness, Heineken, and Stella Artois. First of all, some credit to them for providing a gluten free option, and as the Washington Post noted, the list does include one “Craft Beer” – Yuengling. Most notably, the list does NOT include any New York beer! Not only is there no Captain Lawrence or Six Point, there isn’t even any Brooklyn Brewery. Hell, there isn’t any BRONX Brewery.

Out of all that, I figured that the best option was the draft Goose Island IPA for a mere $12. At least that’s better than in Aruba where my best option was the Stella. Now I added something that IS a New York classic, and I could sit back and contemplate.

yphoto 3

What does it mean that the Yankees have the worst beer in baseball? Well, as someone who loves craft beer, it’s a freaking travesty, but I think there’s a more important lesson here. Go back ten years (maybe 20 if you live in Seattle). Can you imagine having *any* IPA available? Anything like a Blue Moon or a Stella? Anything like 18 different beers?  When I was a kid at D.C. Stadium (check your history books), I think there was precisely ONE choice: Schlitz.

The “Worst” list in 2014 is infinitely better than the “Best” list would have been 20 years ago. Bravo to the growth and development of Beer!

But as for the Yankees: get some goddam New York Craft Beer!

The Yankees Have the Worst Beer List in Baseball

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Through the Drinking Glass

The NBPLF is normally concerned with the contents of a beer glass, but what of the containers which bring the libations to our lips?

Glassware is key nowadays when it comes to beer. It’s not imperative, but would you drink wine out of the bottle? No, you’re going to pour in it a glass. The same treatment and respect should be done for your craft beer. When you do that, you get the opportunity to have full enhancement of the aroma and the flavors in that beer.

Julia Herz, Brewer’s Association



So let’s start with the contrary opinion.

It says it right there in big block letters: “DRINK FROM THE CAN!”

0HeadyCan

First and foremost…I want beer, especially Heady Topper, to just be considered a beer. It’s nothing elevated, it’s nothing more than what it is, and what it is is the perfect drink for the working person…so what better way than to put a world-class beer into a common container and still make it taste fantastic? The other reason…is because if you pour it in a glass you’re inundating it with oxygen, just slammin’ it in there and it smells wonderful for a short time and that’s fine, but when you get down to the bottom of your glass and it sits there for 20 minutes it’s just a completely different beer. Whereas when you drink it from the can there’s this little layer of CO2 that hangs on top of the beer and protects it.

John Kimmich, The Alchemist



But let’s assume that you DO want to drink from a glass, what then? Let’s start with:

The Humble Pint

0Pint4This is the American Pint or Shaker Pint. You’ll find this in almost any bar in America, even craft beer bars (as an option). It stacks fairly well, though you may have the devil of a time getting a stack of them apart. It’s fairly durable, so it will take some abuse around the bar. It’s cheap to make, and wide so it’s easy to slop things into your mouth. You’ll find absolutely everything served in it: American lagers, European lagers, American ales, European ales, damned near anything.

The biggest examples of improper glassware presentation = Imperial styles in pint glasses and High-gravity Belgian beers in pint glasses. Pint glasses, in most situations, are not the appropriate or preferred vessel, especially with beers boasting high levels of alcohol and extremely complex flavor profiles.

Ashley Routson, DrinkWithTheWench.com



Or in video detail, from craftbeer.com: The Right Glass

So what *does* belong in a pint glass?

Well, the obvious thing is the American Adjunct Lager, a.k.a. Yellow Fizz, and also the dreaded Light Beer. For that matter, it works reasonably well for many American ales and pale ales. In its nonic form (of which more later), it’s the classic British pub glass, so your “pint of bitter” will be served this way. The milder IPAs (like Bass) fare pretty well in pints. Porters and Stouts can do well, and the classic Guinness glass is a simple variant. Still, many of these might be better in more specialized glasses, such as

The Pilsner (or Pilsener)

0konig1
Here’s a tall glass, tapered and relatively narrow. This is much better than a pint glass at forming and sustaining a nice head. This is best for clear beers and shows off their clarity and color. The narrow glass contains the carbonation and focuses the aroma.

Obviously, the Czech Pilsener belongs in this glass, along with its cousins from Germany and farther afield. That American Adjunct Lager will improve (slightly) in this glass. Higher-quality American and European Lagers will do well here, as well as Bocks and Dopplebocks and the Helles Lagers or Bocks.




0weizen4The Weizen Glass

The Witbier or Wheat Beer looks good in a pilsner, but it looks better in its classic vessel, the Weizen Glass. These are tall, flaring, and perfect for the generous head characteristic of the style. The glass is typically very thin and ideal for showing off the hazy goodness of Wheat Ales (dark and light), Dunkelweizen, Kristalweizen, Weizenbock, and of course this is the natural habitat of the Heffeweizen. One other thing: I think these glasses feel fantastic in the hand. [After all, there is a tactile element to the beer experience.] However, be very careful with higher alcohol brews, because the typical Weizen holds about 23 ounces, or almost two standard bottles of beer without the head.


The Tulip Glass

0tulipThe Tulip Glass is perhaps the most versatile of all beer glasses, after the pint. The glass has a stem, an enlarged body, and a flared top. This configuration encourages a generous head and focuses the volatiles right where they belong, at your nose. You can either hold the glass by the stem to maintain the current temperature as long as possible, or you can cradle it in your palm like a snifter to deliberately raise the temperature. If your beer came too cold from the refrigerator (one of my biggest sins), this is a way to reach cellar temperature, after which you can retreat to holding the stem.

What beers belong in the tulip? The IPAs lead the pack, especially the stronger ones like the Double or Imperial IPAs. Almost any Belgian works well in a tulip, but again especially the stronger ones like the Tripel and the Quad. The Scotch Ale is almost perfect here, and completely perfect in the similar Thistle Glass. The sour ale probably belongs in a tulip, though I am not yet convinced that it belongs anywhere at all. You might serve a Saison in this glass, but I might prefer that in a Pilsner or a Weizen. A Lambic will work well too.

The IPA Glass

0ipa2A new entry in the world of beer glassware is the dedicated IPA Glass. This is a real newcomer which emerged from a collaboration of Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada with the German glassware maker Spiegelau. The smooth body of the glass truly channels hops directly to the nose, and cherishes any head. Meanwhile, the base is ideal if you want to grasp it to raise the temperature, or to hold lightly if you got the temperature right the first time.

Obviously this is the natural home of the IPA in all its forms, India Pale Ale, Belgian IPA, Double IPA, and Imperial IPA, but for that matter it will work fine for the Imperial Pale Lager and some of the other hoppy variants.




A Basic Set

This set of glasses: pint, pilsner, weizen, tulip, and IPA will leave you prepared for almost any brew.

In fact, craftbeer.com has a Style Finder designed to pair various characteristics with the appropriate glass from a list similar to this: Style Finder – craftbeer.com



No Solo! No Solo!

There’s one thing on which I think we can all agree.

0NoSolo

OK, maybe at a picnic or pool party or occasions where the risk of broken glass outweighs the risk of diminished beer. That’s another one of John Kimmich’s reasons for drinking from the can. If you’re out camping or something, broken glass sucks. Moving on . . .

The Nonic Pint

0Nonic_PintMoving on to more complex glassware, you may have noticed that the Style Finder never shows you the Shaker Pint. Instead, it shows you the Nonic or British Pint. This is a similar glass except for the bulbous ring below the top of the glass. This makes it easier to get the damned things apart when stacked behind the bar. It also concentrates the head and the aroma. It is alleged to make the glass less likely to chip, and may fit better in the hand. It’s also a 20-ounce glass as opposed to the 16-ounce pint, so this leaves room for more of a head . . . or for more beer! In any case, the extra shape gives it more style than the Shaker Pint, and part of the point of glassware is esthetic. Clearly this is ideal for English ales.

The Guinness or Irish Pint

0Pint of GuinnessThe truly iconic pairing of brew and glass, with the slight flare and slight taper to channel the head as the pint builds in the glass. Guinness–in the form of Mark McGovern of media relations for the Storehouse–describes a 6-step method to correctly pour a Guinness. The first step, of course, is using a Guinness glass, but the key step is to fill the glass to the three-quarter mark, and then let it sit for a minute or two before filling it the rest of the way.

0Ayinger Willibecher050_vollThe Willibecher

Another more advanced pint variant is the Willibecher, which is as common in Germany as the Shaker Pint is in the United States. The slight taper supports a generous head and slightly concentrates the aroma. Obviously this is the natural vessel for a Bavarian Helles or other German Lager, and for any beer that works at all well in a Shaker Pint.




The Stange

0StangeAnother German variant, this time on the Pilsner, is the Stange. This is traditionally tall, narrow, and small, perhaps 200 ml, with very thin glass. The ideal contents might be a Kölsch or pretty much anything that also belongs in a Pilsner.



The Snifter

0snifterThe Snifter is not only for brandy, it is excellent for many beers. For beer these are generally small glasses rather than vast balloon glasses. These are ideal for high alcohol brews, if only for portion control. If you put a 4% Wheat Beer in a Weizen, and a 12% Quadrupel in a small snifter, you end up with about the same amount of alcohol per glass.

The Snifter can be excellent for Double and Imperial IPAs and Stouts, for Strong Ales, for Tripels and Quads, and for Barleywine. The snifter can also emphasize the color of a lambic, and concentrate the fruity aroma, but I think there are better choices, such as . . .

The Flute

0flute. . . the Flute Glass. Just as Snifters are not only for Brandy, Flute Glasses are not only for Champagne. Start off with Biere de Champagne or other elegant brews. The narrow flute concentrates and prolongs carbonation. This also shows off a lambic, both emphasizing the color and forcing the rapid production of the fruity volatiles. This can also be used to show off other colors, or the clarity of other brews such as Gueuze, Helles style Lagers and Bocks, Red Ales and Schwarzbier.


0Ayinger_480The Pokal

Less common, at least in the United States, is the Pokal, a stemmed Pilsner variant. It serves well for the same brews as the Pilsner, while potentially isolating the beer from the warmth of your hand.


The Stemmed Pilsner

0stemmed pilsnerAnother versatile glass is the Stemmed Pilsner, something of a cross between the Tulip and the Pokal. It can serve for any of the brews that use those two glasses, but I find it ideal for the less hoppy ales like the classic Pale Ale.



The Chalice or Goblet

0GobletDouble

The Belgian Chalice or Goblet is classic for–you guessed it–Belgian Abbey Ales like Dubbels and Tripels, but also Farmhouse Ales and Belgian IPAs. It also looks very dramatic, and the heavier Chalice can feel somewhere between weighty and pretentious in your hand.

The Stein or Mug

0Stein HofThe Stein or Mug is beyond classic, where the Stein is stoneware and the Mug is glassware. Both come in a variety of shapes. The basic point of the Stein is high volume, so it’s best for lower alcohol beers like Bavarian lagers or for getting completely destroyed by a couple of rounds. Some Steins come with a hinged cover so that you have access to your beer and flies do not. There are also ornate steins of various sizes depicting various topics, from hunting boar in the Black Forest to, well, a more modern topic . . .

0PilotStein

0BiggestStein. . . and then there is the largest stein in the world, a mere 32 Liters, 35 pounds empty weight, available for your purchase at:

Largest Stein

for a mere $5221.99. Prost!









To Conclude

We have completed our little glassware tour, but let’s give the last word to John Kimmich:

Once you buy it, you can drink it out of whatever the hell you want! Drink it out of your shoe if you want!

Well, maybe if it’s a glass slipper. A clean glass slipper.

Ayinger images courtesy of Brauerei Aying
Chimay image courtesy of Chimay Trappist Beers
Guinness image courtesy of GUINNESS&Co
Orval image courtesy of Merchant du Vin Corporation
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