The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Celebrator Good Times

I’m a sucker for little plastic goats. As it happens, the Ayinger Brewery‘s Celebrator Doppelbock just happens to arrive with a little plastic goat on a string. Having picked up a bottle around the holidays, I wondered if it was part of an Xmas promotion. Drink fifty bottles of Celebrator and decorate the tree.

The goat has a greater purpose than just beer-bottle candy, though. It comes from the style of beer – doppelbock.

A bock is a style of German beer that is, essentially, a strong and sweet beer. Not too sweet, mind you. But sweet nonetheless. Bocks are lightly hopped and malty. Bocks were first brewed in the German town of Einbeck in the fourteenth century. Bavarians adopted the style in the seventeenth century. They pronounced Einbeck as “ein bock,” which translates to “a billy goat.”

Goats have since adorned bottles of bock beer. The Thank Heaven for Beer blog notes that the appearance of a goat (or a ram) also indicates that a bock is a strong beer.

And a doppelbock is a stronger version of a bock. Double bock. Doppel bock. Hotcha.

Ayinger’s Celebrator Doppelbock is a mighty fine example of the species. The groupmind over at Beer Advocate gives it an A overall, lauding both its drinkability and complexity. I agree. Served in a bell glass, this doppelbock really opens up. It’s like a buncha monks decided to have a party in your mouth. Coincidentally, monks often drank bocks and doppelbocks during their fasts.

Brooklynites can pick up a bottle retail at Brooklyn Beer & Soda. Watering holes such as the Fourth Ave. Pub, Mug’s Ale House, and Radegast Hall have some Celebrator’s behind the bar.

Filed under: beer history, beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Without Victory There Is No Survival

Pilsners, to me, are a distinctly summery beer, which is why I was happy to have a Victory Prima Pils on a recent September afternoon.

The Prima Pils from Downington, Pa.’s Victory Brewing Co. is brewed in the classic German style. Pilsners are a lager beer – historically stored in caves as a form of cold conditioning – that have a straw-like color and a nice but mild bite of hops with a refreshing finish.

Victory’s pilsner is all that and a little more. This pilsner has a 5.3 percent ABV and is double hopped to give it a sharper bite than most pilsners. The Prima Pils a strong-bodied pilsner that is full of flavor that fully embraces the pilsner style.

Pilsners often get a bad rap from craft-brew aficionados due, in part, to the proliferation of American-style pilsners such as Budweiser, Miller, and the like.

It was in the 1870s that pale lagers like Budweiser began to take hold in America, shifting tastes away from the heavy amber Bavarian beers. These new pilsners were made with corn or rice and were, at the time, more expensive to make than the all-malt beers – and these beers satisfied American beer drinkers more than any other beer. (The process for making them grew cheaper as time passed; at the time of their inception, though, it’s important to note that a Budweiser was actually an expensive beer to produce.)

These pilsners formed the backbone of the industrialization of the brewing industry. And as Maureen Ogle notes in her book Ambitious Brew, many local beers of the nineteenth century were made of poor quality and had an inconsistent, sour, or nonexistent flavor. It was Budweiser and its competitors who produced consistent-tasting beers at a high enough volume to break into markets throughout the U.S.

These sweeter-tasting beers came to dominate the market and thereby defined what a beer was to many beer drinkers.

But German pilsners always remained the same – Pilsner Urquell, Jever, and Spaten to name a few – retained that crisp bitter flavor without the sweetness. They’re mass produced in Germany and imported to U.S., sure, but the style is distinct from a Budweiser, which is a sweet, watery beer that doesn’t offend.

I always find it bold of craft brewers to take a shot at a pilsner. The style might not excite many hop enthusiasts. In my mind at least, the first thing I think of when I think about a craft beer is an amber-colored brew with a strong hoppy flavor and a rich, malty taste. While a golden pilsner seems like the antithesis of craft brewing. But it’s all about the ingredients and Victory doesn’t skimp on the Prima Pils.

And so with that said, when a craft pilsner works out – it’s a victory.

Filed under: beer history, beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nemesis Unveiled! Bring On Autumn!

Today is the day for big beers. And by big, I mean beers with the mighty 12 percent ABV.

The Nemesis barley wine from Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company is available on tap and on shelves today. Founders has been busy tinkering with the recipe since the 2009 Nemesis.

What can change in a year? Quite a bit, actually. The 2009 Nemesis was described by Founders as “a Maple Bourbon barrel aged wheat wine holding 12% ABV and 70 IBUs.”

This year’s brew is a “dark barley wine that pours black with a subtle mahogany hue. Brewed with 5 malts and no shortage of hops for a pleasantly bitter booming flavor. Roasty and toasty with a multitude of tastes that melts on your tongue,” says Founders.

A barley wine is a strong ale that originated in this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this yadda yadda, this England.

There’s a subtle difference between a wheat wine and a barley wine. For one, wheat is a grass and barley is a grain. So, in the last year the raw material of Nemesis changed entirely. Both wheat wines and barley wines have similarly high ABVs, but they have different malts. When you create a mash for your beer, you pull out all sorts of goodies from the wheat or the grain. Those create the basis for the beer’s flavor. So – Wheat and grain!? Dogs and cats living together!?

Anyway, Founders wanted to maintain a strict street date of September 1, but over the summer there was a little distribution burp that found some cases of Nemesis on shelves in July, much to the consternation of Founders’, er, Co-Founder Dave Engbers (scroll down for Mr. Engbers’ post on the Beer Advocate forums). But now it’s here and we’re all the better for it.

So how’s this fucker taste?

Strong! Nemesis is not a beer that I would describe as a thirst quencher. It’s meant to be savored. The color is very deep and rich, while the head puffs up like a good loaf of bread at first pour.

The taste is crisp and sharply bitter. Nemesis is sweet, which is the case with most high-ABV beers. Despite the sweetness, the taste is more like that of molasses than maple syrup. The nose is smoky, and it makes me think of burning leaves for some reason. I can also taste honey and cinnamon. The honey is appropriate. This is a very sticky beer. I spilled some over the lip of the glass on my pour and each time I pick up the glass, my fingers are all tacky.

Halfway through, I noticed that the head remained as a line of suds around the rim of the glass. I wish I’d had more of a snifter glass or a tulip to pour it in, instead I used a crystal glass that has a nice rounded shape but isn’t really an official beer glass. I need beer glasses.

Nemesis is not a session beer. After one, I wouldn’t go back for another. But to linger over just one, well, that’s a luxury. If you’re buying it to drink at home, I could see even splitting a 12-ounce bottle between two people. I could also see drinking this beer with dessert.

September is a great month to release a beer as rich as Nemesis. This is one you want to sit down with on a cold evening. It’s very autumnal, and on a day when the temperature is pushing 100, it’s nice to have a reason to look forward to the changing of the seasons.

Nemesis is on tap at my local watering hole The Double Windsor as well as The 4th Avenue Pub and The Gate. You can also pick up one up retail at Park Slope’s Bierkraft, which is what I did. When I asked the guys at the shop if they’d tasted it yet, everyone was quick to point out their adherence to Nemesis’ release date. Good kids those Bierkraftians.

Filed under: beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , ,

Prohibition Ale: Speakeasies and Craft Beer

Before Prohibition, American brewery companies often purchased saloons in order to ensure that their beers were on tap. Saloons in the nineteenth century could be rowdy, unlawful places. Gambling, prostitution, grifting, crime – you name it, it probably went down in one of these wretched hives of villainy.

So after the first World War, as the Anti-Saloon League and temperance movement grew, these organizations could point to saloons as examples of how alcohol caused depravity, thus placing brewers at fault and eventually helping to cause the sale of alcoholic beverages to be prohibited by law. (The now-defunct Brewing Techniques has a great history of Prohibition that’s worth a read.)

But, Prohibition (also known as the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act) didn’t prevent people from drinking. If anything, it made them drink more. Speakeasies opened up around the U.S. in the early-20th century to serve alcohol made at illegal distilleries and breweries. Weirdly, a lot of the illegal booze came from Canada and was shipped to the Midwest, specifically to Detroit and Chicago, two cities where the gangster Al Capone controlled liquor distribution.

Before Prohibition many lagers and bocks were popular both with brewers and drinkers. These beers were known for their rich flavors and high ABVs. But during the thirteen dark years of Prohibition, a new generation of beer drinkers grew up on soda and other sugary drinks.

So when beer production kicked back into business, the breweries that had toughed out Prohibition were confronted with people who didn’t want the old hoppy bitters of yesteryear and instead wanted something lighter. Much less, once free to produce and distribute beer again, the large industrial brewers still in existence flooded the market with their beers. Hence, the industrialized, mass marketed, watery domestic that we all know and love to bash. (For more info on the history of industrial brewing in America, I highly recommend reading Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.)

A beer that has happily pounced on the notion of Prohibition and the edgy glamor of the speakeasy is Prohibition Ale brewed by San Francisco’s Speakeasy Ales & Lager. The bottle even has some shifty eyes on its neck. It’s a cute presentation. Prohibition Ale

Other beers from Speakeasy (past and present) have included a Bootlegger Black Lager, Public Enemy Pils, Molls Mild, the Mickey Finn Imperial Red Ale, and the Untouchable.

This is a nice and smoky beer, with an amber color and a really thick head. It’s definitely made by some hop fanatics as there are some nice floral and bitter notes going on as well. It reminded me somewhat of a Bass Ale, except with more bite. It’s still very smooth and drinkable.

After Prohibition many breweries were forced to shut down and their recipes were thus lost. That why whenever a craft brewer comes across a pre-Prohibition recipe, they are quick to recreate the beer using traditional techniques. As near as I can tell, Prohibition Ale is not one of these beers. It’s a new recipe, made in a contemporary style but one that looks back to the sweet and flavorful American lagers that went extinct during Prohibition.

The result is a really nice beer – very drinkable, very refreshing, very complex flavor profile – and it’s worth tracking down. The marketing is a little silly.

Speakeasy’s beers can be found in some select locations in New York. You can find bottles at saloons like the Fourth Avenue Pub, the Keg and Lantern, Toast, and at Tom Colicchio’s Craftbar. The Prohibition Ale is also available at retailers, such as Grab Specialty Foods.

Pictured at the top of this post is the Anti-Saloon League in San Francisco. Historically, the Anti-Saloon League was one of the organizations that led the way for Prohibition. Pay no attention to the sign, though. This is actually the location of the faux-speakeasy Bourbon & Branch. We’ve come a long way.

Filed under: beer history, beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pretty Things Jack D’Or Saison: From a Farmhouse to Your House

The Jack D’Or Saison from the Cambridge, Mass.-based Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is one of those beers comes as near to perfection as possible. I had my first three days ago and have been lusting for another since.

Brewed by the self-proclaimed gypsy brewing company Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, the Jack D’Or is a golden Saison that pours with a creamy head. The smell is yeasty and lemony, while the taste is crisp and hoppy, yet spicy. The beer itself is thick and, though best served cold, gains some complexity as it warms up.

Pretty Things is headed up by the husband and wife team of Dann and Martha Paquette. Dann was formerly brewing beer at a family-owned brewery in Harrogate, England. Because the Pretty Things brewery doesn’t have a physical location, Paquette is free to move around to other breweries where he can develop whatever style suits his fancy. The Jack D’Or is being continually refined. You can see that the bottle I’m reviewing is noted as Batch 16 on the label on its neck (see picture above).

Anyway, Jack D’Or is named after the mustachioed grain of malted barley on the bottle’s label. Jack D’Or is also something of a talisman for the brewery. (You can read more about the inspiration of Jack D’Or on the Pretty Things site.)

Pretty Things refers to the beer as a “Saison Americain.” It’s an American take on beers like Saison DuPont and many Wallonian beers. Saisons are beers that are bottle conditioned and top fermented, which means the yeast gets to work once the brew has been contained in its bottle.

Saisons originated in Wallonia originally, a French-speaking region of Belgium. Like many beers of Belgium, the Saison owes a lot to the ethos of winemaking. The Belgians perfected re-fermentation in the bottle. It’s the same process as champagne (or sparkling wine if you make the bubbly somewhere that isn’t in the Champagne region of France).

Saisons are often described as summer beers. But today they can be enjoyed in any month of the year. The theory is that before refrigeration, brewing often stopped during the warmer months of the year, which meant that there needed to beers available that could retain their flavor over a few months.

In Great Beers of Belgium, beer guru Michael Jackson suggests that “a beer in that tradition would have to be sturdy enough to last the summer, and sufficiently satisfying to reward the farm-workers when the harvest was completed. Or were Saisons simply a brow-cooling aid to the gathering of the grain, vegetables or fruit: both a refresher and a restorative; a pick-me-up for the pickers? That view seems to be gaining currency.”

From the bottle to the beer itself, I just love everything about the Jack D’Or. It has a taste that reminds me a lot of a pilsner, but it’s thick like a stout. This is a heavy, golden brew that has the body of red wine. Bottle conditioning creates some really intense flavors that are pulled purely out of the simple ingredients of grain, yeast, hops, and sugar. The page for Jack D’Or mentions that no spices go into the beer. Yet there is a distinct spicy taste.

Other beers available from Pretty Things include a quadruple Baby Tree, a rustic dark ale called St. Botolph’s Town, and American Darling, which is an American Lager. (More on American Darling in a future post.)

If you’re in Brooklyn, Pretty Things beers are available at the Bell House and Barcade, or for take-away at fine merchants such as Grab and Bierkraft in Park Slope.

Filed under: beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cascadian Dark Ales: East Coast Style Meets West Coast Hops

There are times when you have to get away from it all to discover something that’s been staring at you without your notice for far too long. For me, that was rediscovering the glories of an IPA, while tasting beers in Montana.

American IPAs can be some heady brews with bold and bitter flavors offset by strong citric acids. The high alcohol by volume (ABV) means these beers often pack more than just a flavor punch.

Maybe it’s my East Coast-centric worldview, but it’s easy to forget how the Pacific Northwest is such a fertile bed for hop production – hence the proliferation of so many West Coast IPAs. The Pacific Northwest’s Cascades range is one such region, which is thick in hop production. And, ahem, not that IPAs haven’t spread throughout the U.S. and not that I don’t have something to say about it, just that I’m trying to wind my way to a point without mentioning how New York State used to be one of the largest U.S. producers of hops or that Brooklyn’s Six Point Craft Ale‘s Sweet Action is an IPA to inspire.

My point, and I suppose I might have one, is that with so many hops grown in Washington and Oregon – and with craft brewers excited to experiment with new varieties – a trip out West should be one where myriad IPAs are consumed.

Enter the Bozeman Brewing Co.

Bozeman Brewing was founded by Todd Scott, former employee of Spanish Peaks Brewing Co., around 2001. The brewery, a former pea cannery, produces three basic beers and five seasonal varieties. Its logo (pictured above) features elements from historic Montana beers (see New West for a detailed profile of the brewery). Scott has added a tasting room to the front of the business where about five beers are on tap and growler refills are in quick supply. The Bozone Select Amber Ale is its flagship beer.

We tried all of the beers on tap that afternoon. There were four of us in my party, so we were able to spread the beers around to get a full sampling (worth noting because Montana breweries not only have to close by 8 p.m. but also must limit each patron’s sampling to a total of three beers).

Hop-heavy beers dominated the Bozeman Brewing menu, with one hefeweizen thrown in for good measure (in tasting, the IPAs knocked it sadly into submission). Among the beers on tap were:

  • Hopzone IPA (7 percent ABV)
  • Hefeweizen (6 percent ABV)
  • Imperial IPA (9.6 percent ABV)
  • Belgian-Style Wit Beer (5 percent ABV)
  • Cascadian Dark Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

I was impressed by all of them, although, the Hopzone was a little too astringent in its bitterness to me. I can be sensitive to overly bitter flavors at times, which means that after one IPA, I’m usually done and ready to move on to an ale. I’m not into this drive of late to push the alcohol envelope in beers. Give me flavor and I’ll keep coming back.

It was with this in mindset that I dipped my beak into the Imperial IPA (everyone’s gotta have a high-ABV IPA that costs a few sheckels more) and, though enjoyable, didn’t blow me away. I liked the Belgian-Style Wit Beer and have to side with Tim Webb who noted that “American imitations [knock] the socks off certain freshly imported ‘real’ Trappist ales,” in his introduction to Stan Hieronymus’s must-read Brew Like a Monk.

But I’d yet to find “the one” to rule them all. That’s when I had my first taste of a Cascadian Dark Ale.

Cascadian Dark Ales are a relatively new variety of IPA, originated by Shaun Hill at Vermont’s Shed Brewery. Speaking to Imbibe Magazine, Hill described this new style of beer as one that can “drink like an IPA but look like a stout.”

The style was picked up by San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. with the brewery’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which is a double IPA (see this Beer Advocate article on American double IPAs for more info; in America, we go big with everything, y’know). The style has spread like a hop vine from there.

I’d not had the pleasure of drinking a Cascadian Dark Ale until I hit Bozeman Brewing. It was fantastic. Not too bracingly bitter, easy to drink, distinctively stout with a rich roasty malty taste and an IPA’s carbonation. I didn’t take it for an IPA at all at first. I thought it was a just a stout. My initial ignorance made me overlook the complexity going on with this beer. Further sips brought out the hoppy crispness of an IPA.

There’s a lot going on in these Cascadian Dark Ales. Though the style originated on the East Coast, it took a trip out West for me to discover this amazing beer. Expect more on these beauties in the future.

Filed under: beer reviews, breweries, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


• franksmith {at} gmail {dot} com

• Facebook

• Twitter

Twitter Updates

Top Clicks

  • None
May 2020