Friday, June 03, 2011

beer update

Back in April I solicited Gameblog readers for new beer suggestions, as I am a novice in the field. Based upon telling you I like Guiness and recently tried and enjoyed a Newcastle Brown Ale, you all suggested a great many beverages to try. A few people also suggested I check out beeradvocate.com, which has been very useful in smartening me up on the subject. Wikipedia also has a beer portal that I found helpful at times. Anyway, here are my results of a month and half of getting beer instead of soda pop when dining out, as well as hitting up local merchants that will sell you six-packs that you can fill with whatever singles are on the shelf.

Any English-style brown ale, porter or stout I've tried has been a solid hit for me. Last week I tried a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale and it was either the best or second best beer I've ever had. Newcastle and Guiness still remain excellent choices in my opinion and are much easier to obtain locally than many others in there respective categories. I was at a drugstore the other day and there were twelve-packs of Newcastle in the refridgerator. And Guiness seems to be the default "neither American nor pale" on-tap option at a lot of places. By the way, does anybody else think bottled Guiness and the tap variety taste noticeably different? I like the bottled stuff but it seems better from a tap. Or maybe I'm just tricking myself, getting into the scene more than the drink.

Since my last beer update the family and I took a weekend trip to Indianapolis to visit the Children's Museum there. That's a heckuva cool place. My wife and I went once before we had our daughter and loved it. While we were in the Big City I decided we should eat lunch at someplace spiffy, so we went to the Rathskeller. I've never seen them outside the Midwest, but around these parts instead of going to stereotypical fancy French restaraunts, normal folks tend to go upscale by visiting German restaraunts with lotsa dark wood and shelves festooned with Old World knick-knacks. Jumer's in Peoria, Illinois was the closest one when I was a lad. We'd visit there only for very special occasions. They had a stuffed bear in one hallway and a faux suit of armor holding a halberd. And really great sausages, as I recall.

Man, this post has gotten rambly. Anyway, the Rathskeller had a killer beer list. I was overwhelmed by the available choices, so I just picked the first one my eyes alighted on, which was Orval Trappist Ale. I assumed that the Trappist part meant that a bunch of German monks brewed this stuff the same way they had for centuries. Turns out I was part right. Orval is still made by Trappist monks, but the monastery is in Belgium, not Germany. Either way, it was a truly exceptional beverage, the only one I've tried so far that is in the same league as Samuel Smith's Nut Brown.

Upon returning from Indy I started fishing around for a cheaper alternative to Orval, the way Samuel's Smith is great but Newcastle is a cheaper but still enjoyable brown ale. So far the best resemblance I've found is in New Belgium Abbey. Colorado-based New Belgium seems to be the hippiest brewery around: they're employee owned and eco-friendly. Their Abbey dark ale is one of the two new beers I've tried where I could see myself buying a sixpack to take home, as opposed to just an occasional one-off drink.

New Belgium's flagship brew, Fat Tire, was recommended by several folks in the eariler beer posts. (I haven't had a chance to try New Belgium 1554, which was also recommended.) I tried Fat Tire and didn't much care for it. In fact, I haven't had much success with anything you could call a red ale, amber ale or pale ale. India Pale Ale, which I know a lot of beer nerds love, is particularly harsh on my tongue. I'm new to this and still filling out my vocabularly, but I'm thinking that anything with too much hoppiness is putting me off. Does that make sense, given I seem to like dark ales a lot better than lighter ones?

I've found two exceptions to this simple "Dark good, light bad" set-up. Anchor Steam Beer is the other new (to me) beer which I'd buy a six-pack to take home. Since I was having no luck with lighter-colored beers, I really wasn't expecting to like it. I tried it mainly because "steam beer" (a.k.a. "California common") is the only truly American beer style I have been able to identify other than "American adjunct ale", which I'm pretty sure is beeradvocate.com's polite term for the watery stuff we call beer that all the other countries laugh at.

The other lightly colored beers that interest me are witbiers. As I understand it, Blue Moon, pretty much the one mass-produced American beer I've ever drank more than one of, is based upon the witbier style. So I've tried several more legit witbiers. I can't quite bring myself to say I like them, but I don't hate them. All that I've tired so far have this weird sour note that's muted in Blue Moon and I'm not sure if it's an aquired taste or just something that hovers on the good/bad line for me personally.

One oddball beer I tried is Professor Fritz Briem's 13th Century Grut Bier. Devised by some sort of German beer R&D guy, it's an attempt to recreate a pre-hops beer recipe. It came in a large bottle so I split it with my buddy Pat. We both agreed it tasted like fermented sweet pickle brine. It wasn't bad, just weird. Another weird one was New Grist, which uses sorghum and rice as it's basis. I swear to Grodd, if you poured this stuff into stemware and hid the bottle you could trick people into thinking it was white wine. Not bad, but I don't see the point, unless it was designed for people who are allergic to both gluten and tannin.

So that's everything I've learned so far about the wide world of beer. I now know enough to have some embryonic opinions, a few ideas for what I want to drink next and a couple of "regulars". Thanks again for all the advice.

One last question for those in the know: Are Black & Tans (a mixture of one part stout and one part something lighter, like Bass Ale) considered gauche? I ordered one with supper at an Irish type pub on Monday and as I was drinking it I started to wonder if a Black & Tan was considered as crass as mixing white wine and red in the same glass. I won't stop getting them now and again even if they take away my Beer Snob license, I just like to know when I'm committing transgressions against good taste.