Archive for the ‘Beer’ Category

Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale

Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale

ABV: 4.39%

Serving size: 12 oz. bottle

Beer Style: English Brown Ale

Information from Lazy Magnolia:

http://lazymagnolia.com/ourbeer.php

Original Gravity 13.5

Final Gravity 5.2

Bittering Units 19

Lovibond Scale 15

Grains: Maris Otter, caramel malt, wheat, roasted pecans

Hops: Domestic nugget and willamette

Ideal Serving Temperature      50 degrees F

Ideal Carbonation Level          2.5 Volumes

As you’ve probably noticed, a lot of our reviews are for beers born in the south. Since we’re in the south, and we like to support the local folks, here comes another, for Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale, which won a Bronze Medal in the 2006 World Beer Cup in the Specialty Beer category. By the way, YES we say pecan the proper way – “PEE-can.” Ya’ll can take your “pu-kahns” and go elsewhere with ’em if you have a beef with our pronunciation. Just kidding ya’ll – we’ll let you stay no matter how wrong you are.

Now for a little background on Lazy Magnolia. Mark and Leslie Henderson began brewing beer at Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, located in Kiln, Mississippi, in 2005. Mark and Leslie are both engineers, and from some of the engineering friends I have, I know that it’s a) common to enjoy beer and b) common to want to take things apart, see how they work and then make them better. Lazy Magnolia happened one Christmas when Leslie bought Mark a homebrew kit. Per Mark and Leslie, “it didn’t take long for this hobby to take over the house and all of their free time…  …the house was completely taken over with 5-gallon glass jugs, copper heat exchangers, and bubbling buckets of beer as they explored dozens of variations on their own special recipes.”  This is one of the reasons why we at RIBR haven’t tried home-brewing – lack of space. The other reason being the fact that we’re very much “instant gratification” types who can’t wait for the brew to be ready.

Lazy Magnolia survived Hurricane Katrina and began distribution in 2006, becoming Mississippi’s first package brewery since prohibition.  Lazy Magnolia beers are now found in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Their current line-up consists of Southern Pecan, Southern Gold Honey Ale, Deep South Pale Ale, Jefferson Stout – a sweet potato cream stout – wow!,  Indian Summer Wheat Ale and Ginger Jaque. We had a little chuckle at a question on their FAQ page that asked “Will you ever offer a light or alcohol-free beer?” and the response was “No, this is the south, ya’ll.” This review is for Southern Pecan, but we’re definitely adding a few of their other offerings to our shopping list.

Temperature of beer at tasting – 52

Appearance: Medium amber. A quarter inch of creamy brown head dissipates quickly. There was no lacing left on the glass.

Aroma: brown bread, nutty, roasted malts, slight esters. We finally determined, as it warmed, that what we smelled was banana nut bread.

Mouthfeel:  Very lively carbonation. There was an impression of sweetness, but it finished cleanly without a lot stickiness.

Taste: nutty, woody, malty, toasty, carmelized sugar, slight bitter/sour finish. Not quite as sweet as the aroma suggested. The bitterness is similar to when you’re actually eating pecans from the shell and get a bit of that harder rust colored woody “stuff” that holds the meat in place.

Drinkability: Very nice. The carbonation held on to the last sip. It wasn’t sticky sweet and had a well-balanced flavor. We think it would satisfy a craving for when you want a brown ale with just a little something more to it.

Pro: Just a good all around brown ale. Very complex for having such a low ABV. A “sessionable” brown ale.

Con: Not exactly a brown ale, so some folks might not care for the additional layers of flavor. The pecan notes were not as forward as I thought they would be.

Food pairings:

Garlic cheddar cheese spreads

Pub foods, such as fish and chips or a big, drippy cheeseburger

Butternut squash ravioli, tossed with a very light oil with a tiny dash of cinnamon

Red Brick Dog Days Ale

Red Brick Dog Days Ale

Red Brick Dog Days Ale

Style: Hefeweizen

Brewery: Red Brick Brewing Company

ABV: 4.7%

Serving size: 12-ounce bottle poured into a pint glass and tested again in a Duvel glass

Served at 50 degrees

The debate about what makes the South distinctive, different from the rest of the country has raged for over two hundred years. And it shows no signs of abating any time soon. But there is one characteristic, however, that all the pundits and philosophers can agree on: It’s hot down here. Brutal, beat down hot. Sure, the mercury rises in other places but are you really ready for three months of temperatures about ninety degrees? Or six months of temperature above eighty-five degrees? And don’t forget the humidity. Remember, it’s this long and grinding combination that – in the works of native son, Tennessee Williams – drives people insane or provokes them to violence.

Leave it to a southern brewery – local Atlanta favorite, Red Brick Brewing – to come up with the right beer for weathering the notorious southern sizzle: Dog Days Ale. Dog Days is the Red Brick seasonal formerly known as “Red Brick Summer Ale.” As we have written before, Hefeweizen (or hefe-weizen if you prefer) is an unfiltered wheat beer, an ale, made with wheat malt, barley malt, hops and yeast (“hefe” means “with yeast”). It is a wheat beer because brewers use at least 50% wheat malt (and sometimes even more) to make it.

Appearance: Honey colored and cloudy. This varied depending on whether or not the sediment from the bottle was added to the glass. With hefeweizens, it is common to pour most but not all of the beer into the glass, then use the remaining beer to swirl around the inside of the bottle to collect the remaining yeast and then add that to the glass. When we intentionally did not disturb the sediment, it was of course more clear but still fairly cloudy. When swirled, the beer appeared very dense and more whitish-yellow. A quarter inch of cream colored head disappears quickly, leaving a fine layer across the surface. No lacing.

Aroma: Lots of esters (which means, it smells like bananas) and cloves. A very slight metallic smell.

Taste: Banana, clove, orange zest, bubble gum, maybe a little pear. There’s a bit of bitterness but that seems to be adjustable by the addition of the sediment. It was a little less bitter with a less aggressive swirl to clear the bottle of sediment.

Mouthfeel: It has a bit of body to it. The medium carbonation clears the palate quickly. Dog Days Ale is very dry compared to other wheat beers/hefeweizens/witbiers we’ve had.

Drinkability: We can definitely drink more than one because it is drier than other hefeweizens. It finishes very cleanly. The alcohol content is low compared to the beers we generally drink (most averaging around 7-8%), so that helps as well. A lower alcohol level is very good for a summertime beer where you could find yourself drinking more than one to help beat the heat.

Conclusion: We noticed some interesting differences with Dog Days Ale. The differences in flavors from the addition (or not) of the sediment was, of course, the main difference. Another difference was the effect of food on this beer. We found that certain foods toned down the bitterness as a happy coincidence while cooking dinner –  a pasta jamabalaya. After eating a piece of celery cut for our recipe, we took a sip of the beer and the celery mellowed the bitterness to a complimentary level.  Just as a personal preferences, we’re not fond of bitter or metallic flavors in beer, so we may be more sensitive to them. Also, if you prefer a bit of bitterness then you will appreciate its appearance in Dog Days.  It’s very drinkable on its own, but the right food really brings it to life.

Food Pairings: Goes well with spicy or strong flavored foods:

Olives, goat cheeses and wheat crackers
Buffalo chicken wings with celery and bleu cheese
Jambalaya/shrimp creole/Cajun dishes.

Here is the recipe for the “pasta jambalaya” I made if you want to try it too:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pasta-Jambalaya-104329

The jambalaya made the flavors of the beer sing and the beer complimented the recipe as well, bringing out the layers of flavors and nuances of the seasonings.

Southern Tier Unearthly Imperial India Pale Ale By Edgar IBU

Southern Tier - Unearthly Imperial IPA

 

Southern Tier Unearthly Imperial India Pale Ale

Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, New York)

ABV: 11%!!!

Serving size: 22-ounce bottle

Served in: Traditional beer glass and fluted wine glass

I’m back and, yes, I’m back with another Southern Tier Brewing Company India Pale Ale. Last time I tackled the Southern Tier IPA, and this time I’m taking on their Unearthly India Pale Ale. I wanted to do another Southern Tier beer because the brewery boasts several IPAs, and I wanted to see what sort of range of flavors their different styles had to offer.

I have to confess, I was afraid of the Unearthly Imperial IPA. The fact that it was 11% ABV was intimidating. Sure, I could handle the booze, but could I handle it and do a decent tasting, let alone write a review? So, it’s been in my fridge for two long weeks, looking at me whenever I opened the door. Staring. Taunting. But today I had the time, and I found the resolve to conquer it. I’m glad I did.

Head: The head was frothy and creamy, and quite persistent. It was a light yellowish – it looked like actual fresh cream – thick, inviting and beautiful.

Color: It was a medium amber/copper color. The creaminess of the head complemented the color of the beer well, and formed a pretty accurate picture of what I see in my head when I think about a having a good beer. It’s very attractive in the glass.

Aroma: The brew had a complex aroma. Interestingly, there was a big difference in the aroma when it was in a traditional 22 oz. beer glass and a fluted wine glass. I got a bit of yeast, and citrusy hop notes in the beer glass. I expected it to smell like alcohol (it’s 11%, people) but detected little or none. This aroma changed dramatically when I put it in a wine glass. Now it was much sweeter, with alcohol much more prominent. The citrusy hops were still there, but they moved into background.

First sip: I was surprised by a strong, sweet, malty flavor accompanied by an alcohol presence. All of it was strong enough to remind me of a good Irish whiskey. The hops bitterness shows up at the tail end, but it gets lost a bit in the other, more prominent notes. The strong malt and alcohol flavors reminded me of Lagunitas “Maximus IPA,” but I liked the Unearthly IPA more, because it managed to be an extremely high-gravity IPA without killing my tastebuds before I could take another sip.

Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel of this brew is a bit heavier than the regular Southern Tier IPA, and seems to cling to the tongue a bit, but the carbonation is moderate, persistent, and lovely, and works to lighten the syrupy-like sweetness and makes the brew quite pleasant over the course of tasting.

Overall impression: This beer is complex. The first part of every sip is sweetish – sweeter than I prefer – but I found that it grew on me with each additional sip. The alcohol flavor is present in every sip, but not overwhelming. It really reminded me of Irish whiskey, but with a nice hop bitterness on the tail end of every sip. At a certain point, I really started feeling the 11% ABV.

Bottom line: The Unearthly Imperial IPA is a good, strong beer (with the emphasis on strong). I wouldn’t drink it every day because it is powerful stuff, and the flavor is a bit heavy for my taste. It is something, though, that I’d be happy to bring out on special occasions, and especially something I’d like to share with friends who love beer as much as I do.

Food pairings: Potato chips, fries, anything salty. I had a few chips with the brew. They made it taste a bit cleaner, less syrup-like, and they brought out the whiskey notes in a very, very nice way. I also think it would go well with desserts, particularly something with chocolate in it, or perhaps doughnuts.

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

Brewery: Breckenridge Brewery

ABV: 4.7%
Serving size: 12 oz. bottle

Served in: Pint glass & balloon wine glass (for tasting purposes only)

Richard Squire, founder of Breckenridge Brewery, wanted to ski all day and drink great beer at night. In order to accomplish this dream, he opened his first brewpub in Breckenridge, Colorado in February 1990. The town of Breckenridge is located just west of Denver and is 9600 feet above sea level. It receives an average of 163 inches of snow, and has only 30 frost-free days per year, so a good brewpub for indoor entertainment was a brilliant idea. As a sign of his success, Squire’s dream has gone from a 3,000 barrel a year brewpub to a 4 restaurant, 30,000 barrel a year operation, a transition that has left Squire with lots of tasty beer but little time for the ski slope.

Breckenridge’s lineup consists of six standard brews – Agave Wheat, Oatmeal Stout, Avalanche Ale, Trademark Pale Ale, Vanilla Porter and Lucky U IP – and four seasonal offerings, Pandora’s Bock, SummerBright Ale, Autumn Ale and Christmas ale. The beers are available in 25 states. We hope you live in one of the states.

Now, to the tasting!

Temp of beer when we tasted it – 48 degrees

Appearance: It poured an opaque red-brown. Just to make sure the color wasn’t due to condensation on the glass, we shined a flashlight on the glass and the porter swallowed the light completely. Astonished we then took our glasses outside to see what it would look like in the sunlight. If we tilted the glass we could see color at the top and the bottom of the glass but not in the thicker part of the glass. Half a finger of root beer-type foam cleared quickly, leaving a scrim of bubbles around the edge of the glass.

Aroma: Vanilla, cola, brown sugar, sweetness, toast, slight alcohol aroma.

Mouthfeel:  The Vanilla Porter’s moderate carbonation helped to keep this porter from getting too sticky.

Taste: Coffee, nutty, sweet, malty, toasty, chocolate, cola, vanilla, caramelized sugar, lingering bitterness, slightly metallic finish. It reminded us of colas or root beer.

Drinkability: It was easy to drink, a pleasant surprise considering its dessert-like fragrances and flavors. The vanilla backs off after the first few sips and, as it melts into the background, the true complexity of this porter shines through. It is a very sophisticated beer. We could drink two in a row  – but not three at a time.

Pro: Satisfies a sweet tooth. We’ve enjoyed it as an aperitif after a meal.

Con: If you don’t like vanilla, you won’t like this. If you’re not sure, give it a try. It might surprise you.

Food pairings:

Cheese pizza  with an extra dash of oregano across the top.  The root beer flavor reminds us of our 1970s childhood. A special treat on a weekend would include going to the mall, visiting the Orange Bowl pizza parlor and getting a slice with cheese and a root beer.

Grilled burger – mushroom and swiss for toppings, maybe a few caramelized onions.

Vanilla ice cream – in the beer. No we’re not kidding.  When buying this we refer to it as picking up a six pack of “cream soda beer.” Some of our local pubs have been experimenting with and offering beer shakes and we could never take the idea seriously until trying this brew. Breckenridge has a recipe on their site for a shake and sometime in the coming summer months, we might just give this recipe a try.

Quick Facts from Breckenridge’s site:

Yeast:  Top Fermenting Ale Yeast
Malts:  Two Row Pale, Caramel, Chocolate, Black, Roasted Barley
Hops:  Chinook, Tettinang, Perle, Goulding
Vanilla:  Real vanilla beans from Paupau New Guinea and Madagascar.
Bitterness Units:  16

Southern Tier India Pale Ale By Edgar IBU

Southern Tier IPA

[Editors’ noteWe are please to welcome Rowdy and Independent Beer Reviews’ first contributing writer – Edgar IBU. The “Bitter Unit,” as he known around the palatial R&I offices, is our blog’s hopsecutioner; he will be tasting and writing about all the high hop offerings that are so fashionable these days. So, without further ado, I give you . . . Edgar IBU.]

Southern Tier India Pale Ale

Brewery: Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, New York)

ABV: 7.3%

Serving type: 12 ounce bottle

Hello, all. I am Edgar IBU, and I will be the Rowdy and Independent Beer Reviews specialist in all things hop-tacular: Pale Ales, Imperial Pale Ales, and anything hopped, hopped some more, and hopped yet again. For my first offering, I’ll review Southern Tier’s India Pale Ale (or IPA for short).

Southern Tier is a small brewery in Western New York. I first became aware of Southern Tier’s line of fine (and I do mean fine) beers when my friend, Jason, brought a Southern Tier Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout to my house a few months ago. It was a striking beer—sweet, complex, and delicious, almost dessert-like. It was the sort of beer I’d want for breakfast with a cinnamon roll or maybe some coffee cake. But, honestly, it was not something I’d drink every day.

I was intrigued by that beer, though, and wondered what else they might have to offer. After investigating their website, I found that Southern Tier boasted an extensive line of perennial and seasonal brews in a variety of styles. The interesting thing about Southern Tier’s brews was the fact that they take beers from many different styles and put their own twists on them. The result is a unique and creative line of beers. So, I jumped at the chance to pick up a couple of their IPAs when I was at Atlanta’s Tower Beer, Wine and Spirits recently.

Southern Tier’s IPA is an American version of the classic British brew. India Pale Ale gets its idiosyncratic name from its origins in the British colonization of India. In those days, transportation of supplies for the British Army (including beer, naturally) was by ship, a long, hot, and perilous journey from the British Isles, around Cape Horn, and on to South Asia. Traditional beers of the time did not take the trip well; they were often undrinkable by the time they reached their destination. Some enterprising but unidentified Brit (Bless his soul!) decided to harness the preservative powers of hops to ensure that the beer remained fresh, and, most importantly, drinkable. Brewing this style of beer required the addition of hops, lots and lots of them, to keep the beer fresh. Whole hops were even added to the very casks of beer sent to the colonies, a process now called “dry hopping.” The result was a very durable brew, and the birth of a new taste profile for beer, one based in the glories of hops bitterness, flavor, and aroma. IPAs, then, are very, very hoppy beers, and tend toward bitterness, with relatively high alcohol content. This New World version of the venerable IPA style is no exception. It kicks like a mule at 7.3% ABV. Unlike its British counterparts, however, American pale ales, including this IPA, are brewed with yeasts that impart much less yeast flavor in the finished brew. The results in a much cleaner finish, one that really lets the hops shine through.

Here are a few observations from my taste test:

Head: Upon pouring, the head was minimal, fading fast, though it left a rim of creamy, white froth hanging around the edges of the glass as I drank it. The foam left virtually no lacing on the inside of the glass.

Color: This beer was a beautiful light amber color, with just a hint of chill haze, fading as the beer warmed a bit.

Aroma: The aroma is dominated by a distinctly citrusy hop character, like grapefruit, against a subtle background of malt sweetness. It’s very pleasant and refreshing.

First sip: I was struck first by the malt character of the brew which is strong at the beginning and then fades as the hops bitterness and flavor kicks in. I also got some wonderful hops aroma on the front end of the first taste. The combination is very assertive, even a bit metallic at the leading edge, though that impression fades almost instantly, giving way to a clean bitterness. This beer wants you to pay attention to it! The first sip was very tasty, and left me wanting another.

Overall impression: I could drink this beer every day. The malt taste is both sweet and a bit chocolaty/smoky, but not in a cloying or overwhelming way. It announces its presence at the outset, and then clears the way to let the hops take over. The packaging says that four malts and four hops are used, and the beer is “triple hopped,” according to the Southern Tier website. The result is a beer with a distinct hop character that combines both citrusy and spicy notes, with citrus dominating. The beer has a light, but not watery, mouthfeel, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The finish is very clean, though the hop bitterness abides for a little while before fading.

Food pairings: It would go well with Buffalo wings, a Carolina style BBQ sandwich, or something similarly spicy and vinegary/salty, which would provide a perfect complement to the balance of sweetness and bitterness in the brew.

Rating: I’d love to put a number on the beers I review, but I think there’s a better way to do it. If I like it, and want to have it again, I’ll tell you so. If not, I’ll tell you so as well. So, what do I think about Southern Tier IPA? Drink it. It’s good.

Up next: Southern Tier Unearthly IPA (Oh, boy! I’m looking forward to that one!)

Schneider Weisse Hefe-Weizen

Schneider Wiesse

Schneider Weisse Hefe-Weizen

Brewery: Private Weissbier-Brauerei Georg Schneider & Sohn

ABV: 5.4%

Serving type: 500 milliliter bottle poured into a pint glass

Hefeweizen (or hefe-weizen if you prefer) is an unfiltered wheat beer, a Bavarian ale, made with wheat malt, barley malt, hops and yeast (“hefe” means “with yeast”). It is a wheat beer because brewers use at least 50% wheat malt (and sometimes even more) to make it. Private Weissbier-Brauerei Georg Schneider & Sohn, the brewery of the beer we are tasting today, has been making wheat beer since 1872.

Right off the bat, we noticed the phrase “Original bottle fermentation” on the label. Why are those words interesting? Because hefeweizen is an unfiltered beer, the carbonation is a result of the natural action of the yeast with the ale while in the bottle. Filtered beers are carbonated by injecting high-pressure gas into the beer in vats because it is quick and cheap. Here is what the Schneider Weisse website says about their bottle fermentation: “When it is bottled, the young wheat beer contains only very little carbon dioxide. Once the bottle is sealed, the pressure in the bottle rises as a result of bottle fermentation and the carbon dioxide thus produced dissolves in the beer and is only released once the bottle is opened and the beer is poured out. This produces the head and the typical sparkling and effervescence in the glass. Flavor maturation, which is absolutely essential, also takes place during bottle fermentation.” Why did we spend so many words talking about carbonation? Because, as you will read shortly, carbonation is one of the joys of Schneider Weisse Hefe-Weizen.

Appearance: It poured a cloudy, cedar brown – the color of unfiltered apple cider. It is an unusual color for a hefeweizen; it was darker and looked like an amber ale. It had a large beige head when poured and a small bit of foam remained during drinking.

Smell: After it was poured, the aromas of bananas, wheat and yeast were rising from the glass even though it was a foot away. Closer inspection revealed fragrances of apple bread, cloves and even baked raisin cookies.

Taste: Fruit and cloves mixed with apple cider and banana bread. The apple and banana bread nuances mellow the sour cider flavors.

Mouthfeel: It is sweet but not as cloying as you would expect. It is actually very light. It is also well carbonated, alive with fizziness that doesn’t fade. It was our impression that the healthy carbonation helped make the ale so light on the palate.

Drinkability: Yes, more please! It is one of our favorites because it is light but complex and delicious. This complexity makes it one to enjoy year round, and shouldn’t be classified as one of those “drink during summer months only” wheat beers. We’ve enjoyed this on cold winter nights as well as springtime afternoons.

Food pairings: Any mellow or nutty cheese like Swiss or Dubliner, a Reuben sandwich with lots of crispy tater tots, or pasta carbonara.

Full Sail Pale Ale Review

Full Sail Pale Ale

Full Sail Pale Ale

Brewery: Full Sail Brewing Company (Hood River, Oregon)

ABV: 5.4%

IBU: 37

Hops: Two “top secret” Northwest hop varieties, according to the company’s website

Malts: Pale and Crystal

Serving type: 12-ounce bottle poured into a pint glass

I read Patrick O’Brian’s novel, Master and Commander, last week. It is the first installment of a twenty volume series that chronicles life in British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. As you might imagine, the book is chock full of nautical terms like larboard, flying jib and mizzen topgallant staysail. I have to admit that when I visited my local beer victualler I had sails and sailing on the brain so Full Sail’s nautical motif and the word “Independent,” which was emblazoned on the packaging, persuaded me to pick up a six-pack of their pale ale to review.

Given the company’s name, we were surprised to discover that Full Sail Brewing wasn’t nestled in some rugged and rocky Oregon coast town. Hood River, the company’s home, is inland about forty-five miles east of Portland. And the sails in the their name don’t refer to O’Brian’s menagerie of brigs, frigates and “ships of the line” but instead refer to the sails of windsurfing fanatics that crowd Hood River because of the winds that blaze down the Columbia River Gorge.

Full Sail is yet another fine example of the American Craft Beer Revolution. It started as a micro-brew pub in 1987. They started bottling their concoctions the next year and the rest, as they say, is history. Today Full Sail offers three “Core Brews”: an Amber Ale, an India Pale Ale, and a Pale Ale.  They augment these core ales with four season specialties and an aged reserve beer. The Pale Ale is the first Full Sail brew we’ve had.

So how was it?

Appearance: It poured clear amber with lots of small bubbles. There was a small (one finger) white head that disappeared quickly and left minimal lacing.

Smell: Sweet, malty, yeasty, honey and citrus with a hint of pine or lemon.

Taste: The attack is sweet, bready and malts with some honey, floral and candy notes, but it yields quickly to citrusy hops. And the hoppy finish lingers.

Mouthfeel: Crisp, medium-bodied with slight carbonation. Smooth and balanced.

Drinkability: Full Sail Pale Ale has quickly become a Spring time favorite in our house. The juxtaposition between the malty attack and the hoppy finish is fascinating. Full Sail Pale Ale is a tasty and balanced daily drinker.

Food pairings: Pizza Margherita, roasted beet salad with a light vinaigrette dressing or chicken with South Carolina mustard-based barbeque sauce.

New Belgium Mighty Arrow Pale Ale Review

Mighty Arrow Pale Ale

New Belgium Mighty Arrow Pale Ale

Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Company

ABV: 6%

IBU: 34

Hops: Target, Goldings, Cascade, Amarillo

Malts: Pale, Honey, Caramel

Serving type: 12-ounce bottle poured into a pint glass

As y’all know, we named our humble blog after our two dogs, a pair of crazy border collie mixes named Rowdy and Indy. The ale we are reviewing today – New Belgium’s Mighty Arrow Pale Ale – was also named for border collie mix, Arrow, who spent a great deal of time roaming around the grounds of New Belgium.

You’ve heard of New Belgium, right? The Fort Collins, Colorado-based brewery is one of the great success stories of the American Craft Beer Revolution. It was started by Jeff Lebesch in a cramped basement in 1991 after a mountain bike ride through Belgium, and it is now the third largest craft beer maker in the country.  Being we are also mountain bikers, it was easy to get behind a brewer who also supports cycling with its “Bike-in-Theater” and the “Tour de Fat” that allows folks to trade their cars in for fancy New Belgium designed bikes. Also supportive of the environment and sustainability, New Belgium has joined the group “1% for the Planet,” whose members give 1% of their annual net revenues to environmental organizations worldwide .

Now on to the really good stuff – the beer!  They offer eight tasty beers year round, including their famous Fat Tire Ale, Mothership Wit (an organically-produced beer) and Ranger IPA, as well as a variety of seasonal brews like their (American) Pale Ale.

“Wait a minute,” you protest, “Why are you reviewing a Pale Ale, a warm weather brew, in the beginning of March?” Well, after a long and cold winter, Spring has sprung down here in the South. Daffodils are up already, tulip trees (a.k.a. saucer magnolias) have bloomed, and the peach trees are blossoming. So it’s the perfect time to break out a Spring cerveza.

So how was Mighty Arrow Pale Ale?

Appearance: The ale poured into the glass alive and bubbly. It glowed golden and clear under a thick, sea foam-like head. The head lingered for a long time and painted our pint glasses with intricate lacing.

Smell: Citrus, yeast, bread, copper, pine and lemon.

Taste: Grapefruit and apricot are the dominant – almost overwhelming – flavors. We also detected the more subtle flavors of Thai basil and lime, though. There is a slightly metallic bitterness at the back of the tongue. Very dry.

Mouthfeel: Light and crisp on the palate. Medium carbonation.

Drinkability: Would we have another one?  Yes. The Mighty Arrow Pale Ale went down easily. We opened another one after we finished our “review” beer. It wasn’t sticky; the ale’s crispness cleared the palate quickly.

Food pairings: Mighty Arrow Pale Ale would go well with hummus with a bit of good olive oil and goat cheese trickled across the top with pita chips. You could also enjoy it with fish (or shrimp) tacos or a dish of pasta tossed with fresh halved cherry tomatoes, a dash of kosher salt, fresh chiffonade of basil, olive oil and garlic. The ale’s citrus flavors would also compliment grilled fruit skewers – apricots, nectarines, cherries, plums simply skewered and grilled – or something along the lines of this recipe for Grilled Plum and Strawberry Skewers with Sweet Mint Pesto: http://www.recipe.com/grilled-plum-and-strawberry-skewers-with-sweet-mint-pesto/

Red Brick Blonde Ale

Red Brick Blonde Ale

Red Brick Blonde Ale

Brewery: Red Brick Brewing Company (Hot’lanta)

ABV: 5.2%

Serving type: 12-ounce bottle

Here is yet another reason to give thanks for being a Southerner: Red Brick Brewing Company, the makers of Red Brick Blonde Ale, Red Brick Brown Ale, Red Brick Pale Ale, and Red Brick Porter (along with a selection of seasonal beers). These fine offerings are only available in the land where Elvis and Richard Petty are still the Kings, where you can find some real college football teams and fans, and where you can go out and catch a mess of bream. In other words, they are available only in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.

Red Brick is Georgia’s oldest craft brewer. It began in 1993 as the Atlanta Brewing Company but, just a few years ago, they decided to change their name. They switched it to Red Brick Brewing Company because most Atlantans had no idea that Atlanta Brewing made Red Brick beers.

We had been tasting a series of big and bold stouts and porters and, honestly, we needed a break from the dense seasonal brews so we decided to support our local beer entrepreneurs and picked up a six-pack of Red Brick Blonde Ale. How was it?

Appearance: Clear, golden yellow with a bright white head which dissipates quickly but leaves some foam around the edges. It left very little lacing.

Smell: The bouquet was more sophisticated that we thought it be. We smelled honey, green banana, hoppy dankness, grass, vanilla, yeast, apricot with a faint trace of pine.

Taste: Grapefruit followed by a bitter, hoppy aftertaste.  It was very dry, not sweet at all.

Mouthfeel: Pleasantly clean and crisp with medium carbonation.

Drinkability: It was very drinkable, a fantastic palette cleanser between the jaw socking darks we’d been tasting lately. We wanted to have another one right after we realized we’d drained the first one. One of us thought that Red Brick Blonde Ale was great springtime beer, one to enjoy sitting outside on those first warm Saturday evenings of the year as the setting sun lit up the young green leaves and redbud blossoms, and the cicadas are still a few weeks from hatching. The other one of us decided that it would be a perfect beer for the brutal but distinctive Southern summers.

As far as food pairings go, this Red Brick offering would be tasty with a cheese plate of lighter cheeses (gruyere, parmesan, brie, goat cheese spread) served with water crackers, pears, Pink Lady apples, Marcona almonds; entrée salad of grilled chicken, with mandarin oranges and/or strawberries, and almond slivers over spinach lightly dressed with poppy seed dressing; jerk chicken with tostones and/or roasted new potatoes.

Left Hand Brewing Company – Fade to Black Ale, Volume 2: Smoked Baltic Porter

Fade to Black Ale, Volume 2: Smoked Baltic Porter

Beer: Fade to Black Ale, Volume 2: Smoky Baltic Porter

Style: Baltic Porter

Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Company (Longmont, Colorado)

ABV: 7.80%

Serving type: 12-ounce bottle

Collaborative beer? Yeah, we had never heard of one either but that is exactly what Left Hand Brewing Company’s Fade to Black, Volume 2: Smoky Baltic Porter is, a collaboration between the Colorado-based craft brewer and the Norrebro Bryghus, a famous brewery and restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The collaboration began in 2009 with Pillage & Burn, a cerveza brewed and sold exclusively in Denmark. The partnership was so enjoyable and successful that, according to Left Hand, Anders Kissmeyer of Norrebro ventured to the arid confines of Colorado in September to help churn out this Baltic Porter. They decided to smoke their own malt for this concoction. It took a month to smoke the malt.*

We have to admit that we like Left Hand already. Why? They take their beer seriously but they don’t take themselves seriously. For example, here is their description of the Smoked Baltic Porter: “This mischievous cousin to Smoke Jumper has a penchant for pillaging and burning everywhere he goes. Smoked malts redolent of the burned thatched roofs in villages and towns all over Northern Europe impart flavors to warm the spirit of invading hordes far from home. You finally have something in your hand darker than the winter night sky.”** We also appreciate the fact that they list the IBU’s (International Bittering Units scale, a measure of bitterness provided by hops), Plato scale (the density of the beer), and they identify the malts and the hops they use in each of their beers on the website. At first glance this might appear to be esoteric information but it actually will help you figure out what you taste and why you taste it.

What is a Baltic Porter? The beer intelligentsia says it is a strong, malty dark brown beer, a pretty useless technical description since it could apply to about twenty different styles of beer, wouldn’t you agree?

So how is Fade to Black Ale, Volume 2: Smoky Baltic Porter?

Appearance: Dark, dark with a side of dark. Not quite as dark as Odin’s Tipple but close. No head at all, not even a slight trace. The handful of bubbles that do appear dissipate quickly like sea foam. The color and carbonation are similar to root beer honestly.

Smell: Wood smoke, tar, malt, vanilla with a slight alcohol aroma. A trace of hops dankness, which makes you think this might be a lighter beer than it is.

Taste: Burnt, bitter, charred wood, and caramelized sugar. Just a hint of hops. And surprisingly given its lower ABV (compare to what we have reviewed recently) a strong alcohol presence. There is a bitter pinch on the back of the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with slight carbonation. It is definitely not a “one after the other” drinker. We feel we should be eating something while we were drinking it – something like a strong potted cheese with crackers. It would also go well with French onion soup, rosemary pork loin or other strongly seasoned, low-acid foods.

Drinkability: Fade to Black, Volume 2: Smoky Baltic Porter is a good beer; it just isn’t the best beer we’ve stumbled across. Would we have another one? Maybe. There are a lot of beers out there in the world – even a lot of other Left Hand brews – we would like to try before we come back to this one.

*http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut/2010/12/01/some-scary-sounding-beers-from-left-hand/j, accessed 1/17/11.

**http://www.lefthandbrewing.com/beers/fade-to-black-vol-2, accessed 1/17/11.