Monthly Archives: March 2015

From Freeport, Home of L. L. Bean

Maine Beer Company

Peeper AlePeeperGlass

The minimalist approach to bottling and labelling. The bottle is slightly larger than a pint (16.9oz) making choice of glass a little tricky. Having just had a hefeweizen, I repurposed the glass. The beer pours hazy straw with a nice fluffy white head, clinging to the glass on the way down. The nose leads with a nice shot of hops, a blend of resin and citrus, and a hint of yeast reminding me of a Belgian ale, but obviously hoppier. It has a fairly light body and a slight fizziness as streams of bubbles support the head for a while before dissipating. The flavor emphasizes the hops with a distinct dryness. No caramel here, but straightforward malt and hops. The finish is moderately bitter, emphasizing the resiny side, and persists to a medium length. There’s a bit of “Maine meets San Diego” in terms of the hop styles.

On their website, they write:

We worked on a single recipe, over and over, obsessively, until Peeper was born. Our initial plan was to do one beer really well. We would make only beer that we want to drink, period. No market research. Our idea was to do it, do it well, and if people drink it, great. If they didn’t, then we would go back to our day jobs.

RedWheelLabelRed Wheelbarrow Ale

Pours garnet and hazy, with very persistent, foamy tan head. I can smell citrus hops from two feet away, a rich sweet smell like nectarines. One if the best beer aromas, spicy, citrusy hops over caramel malt with bready hints. For flavor, the malt leads with a bit of roasty dark toffee, almost a hint of smoke. Hops follow, spicy and woody with moderate to aggressive bitterness. Soft and mouth-coating with a slight foaminess and a long malty finish, very smooth with some piney hops and a light, persistent sweet note. 7% ABV

I don’t know much about the brewery, but they have some things to say on the label. “Making the best beer that we possibly can. We purchase Green-e certified energy credits for all electricity. We donate our used grain, yeast & grain bags to local farmers. We donate 1% of all sales to environmental non-profits.” So it sounds like they put their money behind their convictions and make good beer.

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To Pan or Not to Pan

I saw the play at a disadvantage. The curtain was up. – George S. Kaufman

There is a place in the world for a good pan, for “informal severe criticism, especially a negative review.” This is even more true when the pan is done with wit and a very sharp harpoon.

Her performance ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B. – Dorothy Parker

Today’s question: is a beer blog that “place in the world?”

You know the feeling. You try a beer because it has a funny name, or a cool label, or both. We all do it, and I’m not knocking the method, that’s how I discovered Stone. Only this time, the new beer is “meh” or outright awful. I guess part of the question is whether you want to recommend, to judge, or to be a Critic, perhaps with that capital “C.”

There was laughter in the back of the theatre, leading to the belief that somebody was telling a joke back there. – George S. Kaufman

One problem with being a Critic is the temptation to be clever rather than to be fair. Another problem is losing sight of the YMMV principle: Your Mileage May Vary. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t.

b2But let’s say you’re getting tastes from the taps, and a buddy says “should I try the Silly Ass Saison?” If you like it, the answer is obvious. If you don’t like it, do you say “it sucks” or do you say “it’s okay, but” or do you say “I like tap #4 better”? Any of those is a recommendation, some more gentle than others, and your buddy expects no less.

What about judging a beer? There’s the Beer Advocate approach:

1.15/5 rDev -61.5%: look: 3.5 | smell: 1 | taste: 1 | feel: 1 | overall: 1
4.47/5 rDev +49.5%: look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I bet you can guess that those are two ratings of the same beer, so YMMV comes right into it. If you go on to explain why you gave those ratings, you’re doing something useful.

Then there’s the BJCP approach:
porterThe Beer Judge is at the competition to objectively rank beers against each other, with bragging rights–and prizes–on the line. This ranges from ten homebrews in a local bar up to the massive competions at GABF. [Okay, I’m throwing acronyms here: Beer Judges Certification Program, Great American Beer Festival.]

So how does a Judge “objectively” rank even though YMMV? First, beers are judged according to very specific style guidelines of Aroma, Flavor, Mouthfeel, Overall Impression, and even History. How true is this beer to the Saison style? It may be a good beer, but is it a good Saison? Further, BJCP judges are judged against other judges, trying to ensure consistency. There’s still subjectivity, but that’s why there are “Comments.”

But back to that Silly Ass Saison. What if it sucks, but you generally like beer from Silly Ass Brewing, or maybe even you’re a friend of the brewer? If you’re a beer judge, you have to do the best you can despite the about-to-be-lost friendship, or recuse yourself from the tasting. If you’re recommending, you may be in this situation:

I worry about being that guy, doing a disservice to the breweries I enjoy and want to see succeed. – Nick Anderson, the Beermonger

If someone is asking you directly, you may point them toward an alternate that you like, or give a quiet “I might skip this batch.” Possibly one of the worst offenses, often hard to avoid, is damning with faint praise.

Now what if you just flatly don’t like Saisons? You may know there’s a category of beer that doesn’t work for you. That might be Berliner Weiss for me. There’s a simple approach available for both judging and recommending:

Tip: don’t review what you don’t like. – Emily Sauter, Pints & Panels

If you decide not to take that tip, be up front and say “Caveat: generally I don’t like this style.” State that bias, but consider why you’re continuing with your comments. It might be like me with Rodenbach, totally new to the style. In advance, I read “Yes, it’s supposed to smell and taste like that!” With that intro, I anticipated and got an intensely sour beer, and tried to review it as such. But then I had a second bottle, this time with a good cheddar cheese, and the beer was transformed. What an excellent pairing! A learning experience.

What about The Critic? Despite my love of a good pan, when it comes to beer I think that he or she should be dealt with as one might deal with a practical joker:

A “practical joker” deserves applause for his wit according to its quality. Bastinado is about right. For exceptional wit one might grant keelhauling. But staking him out on an anthill should be reserved for the very wittiest. – Lazarus Long

b1_02But what if it’s an off batch of a good beer? That’s why we look for consistency as a mark of quality, but everyone has an occasional misfire. What if the bar didn’t take proper care of that tap line? That’s not the brewer’s fault. What if some idiot stored the bottles in a tanning bed, or otherwise zapped it with enough light to skunk a canned beer? Again, that’s not the brewer’s fault.

What if the beer has been sitting on the shelf too long? It *is* partly the brewer’s fault if there is no “drink by” or “bottled on” date to give fair warning, but it’s partly the drinker’s fault if that date is provided but not checked. If it’s a competition, it’s up to the brewer to make sure the beer arrives in peak condition. Otherwise it’s up to the distributor, the store, and the bar to KEEP it in peak condition . . . but it’s hard for the reviewer to know whether the problems arose in the brewery or after the beer got out of the brewer’s control.

For that matter, what if YOU are the problem? What if you’re so stuffed up that any aroma is totally wasted? What if you just ate Thermonuclear Chicken Wings and burned off half of your taste buds? What if you just washed down toothpaste with orange juice and your mouth tastes like toxic waste? I think we can agree: at that point you’re drinking to cool your palette or quench your thirst, and not in any condition for reviewing. Come to think of it, if it’s the 27th beer you tasted in that session . . .

So can I make any conclusions here? If I’m doing a brewery tasting and there’s one clunker in the batch, do I say so or omit that one? If a cute name or label lures me to a mediocre beer, do I review it or forget it? Should I give fair warning? I don’t want you to have to waste your time, money, or taste buds on mediocre–or bad–beer. Still, YMMV.

What do you think? Do you want fair warning?

In the meantime, I might follow this thought:

Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing. – Robert Benchley

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Sam Comes to Nanuet

Boston Beer Company

Sam Adams came to the Growler & Gill, showing off its craft beer street cred rather than its mass market lager and light. Some people pooh pooh Sam Adams as “not really a craft beer” but these offerings show that they haven’t lost that part of their heritage.

samRebelRouserRebel Rouser IPA

A Double/Imperial IPA, new in their Rebel “family” along with the sessionable Rebel Rider and the original Rebel IPA. It’s intended to be an east coast contrast to the big west coast IPA, emphasizing aroma and flavor hops over bittering hops. Pours clear amber with a white head. The nose gives tropical hops over malt and toasted bread. The flavor is a balance of fruity hops and malt along with effervescence. Finish is much more balanced than I would expect from the 85 IBU. No heat despite 8.4% ABV. A nice balanced, strong IPA.

samChocolateBock_12oz_BottleChocolate Bock

This is basically a dessert beer, making kind of an odd segue from the double IPA. However, the other beers are so heavy that it’s hard to fit an IPA into the sequence. This is a lager brewed on cocoa nibs. It pours straight black with a caramel-tan head which leaves great lacing. The aroma isn’t as strong as I might expect, but delivers chocolate and malt and chocolate malt. The flavor is sweet and toward the milkshake end of the spectrum, though not as much as Shake Porter. The finish continues the flavor with a tiny bit of hops. 5.8% ABV, 11 IBU

samMerryMakerMerry Maker

This is a Gingerbread Imperial Stout, a great cold-weather brew, and Boston has certainly had enough snow for it (what is it, eight feet?) It’s dark brown with a nice brief head. The nose and flavor lead with ginger and then nutmeg and other mulling spices come through. Dark malts give a lot of backbone, and they mention a bit of wheat in the grain bill. The hops are standard English, East Kent Golding and Fuggles, kept very much in check. Here’s a brew to savor in a snifter or tulip by the fireplace . . . if only I had a fireplace. 9% ABV, 25 IBU

Black Harbor Stout

Apparently a one-off, aged in Utopia barrels and gaining aromas of oaky vanilla and almost a bourbon impression. Pours black with an off-white head. The flavor gives coffee, chocolate, and a zing of black pepper on the end. The mouth feel is thinner than most Imperial Stouts, but that means it’s easier drinking. However, it packs a punch at 11% ABV but the alcohol heat is moderate. It will be nice if they bring this around again.

SamDoubleBockLabelDouble Bock

It’s a full-bore Doppelbock, a very rich and malty lager that could come from the Belgian-German border. Pours reddish-brown with a generous head (mind the pour or you’ll have generous foam on the bar) which thoroughly laces the glass. This starts with molasses and toast on a very malty nose, then the flavor gives caramel and bread, with a bit of hop dryness to contrast with the sweet flavor. 9.5% ABV, 25 IBU

Images courtesy of the Boston Beer Company
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