The Brooklyn Growler

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

Sampler Pack: Piss Whiskey & Moonshine

New issues of cartoonist Ron Regé, Jr.’s comic Yeast Hoist, come with a screenprinted bottle of St. Sebastiaan Golden Ale from Belgium’s Brouwerij Sterkens [CBR].

If homebrewing is legal, why not distilling? Reason.tv’s Ted Balaker has produced a video about today’s moonshine renaissance [Boing Boing].

Howabout a whiskey distilled from a diabetic’s urine? Sure, why not [The Independent].

Here’s how to bake bread using hefeweizen yeast [Khymos].

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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.

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Why Limes Don’t Chase Away Flies

This was the scene on my kitchen island after a trip to Trader Joe’s and an Associated. I’m back from Montana, though I’ve been playing catch-up with what’s left of the week and feel satisfyingly tired, which is the sign of a nice vacation, I think. There will be another post on some Montana beers in the next few days and then back to whatever it is we do here.

Anyway, so I dropped $3.99 on a two-four of Cerveza La Playa, est. 1968, at ye olde Trader Joe’s. Then for fun, I put it in a fancy Sam Adams pint glass with a slice of lime. Why the lime? Common wisdom (i.e., the crypto-racist ramblings of lazy Americans), says it’s because when you’re drinking a beer in Mexico, the lime wedged in the mouth of the bottle chases away flies.

I’d believe it if I heard the same said about a slice of orange in a hefeweizen.

The reason is just style. Perhaps also to mask the not-so-greatness of the beer. Also, a lime is most commonly seen in a bottle of the Mexican pilsner-style Corona. Y’know, the imported beer that is sold in a clear, glass bottle. There’s a reason why most beers are bottled in dark brown or green bottles – it keeps the sun and other ambient light out while it sits on the shelf.

I’m a big fan of Mexican beers, in general. Never been much for Corona, although the Grupo Modelo Brewery (which brews Corona) makes some of my favorites – Pacifico, Negra Modelo, and Modelo. Cans of Modelo are frequent visitors to my fridge. Dos Equis is also a welcomed guest to my tummy.

However!

One of the greatest beers I ever drank was a Tecate. I was on a bus in Mexico heading back from a day spent touring the ruins of Chichen Itza, a Mayan pyramid. It was a very humid, sunny day in early March. After a day spent in such a hot environment with very little shade – I was all tuckered out. So then about forty minutes into the ride back, the tour bus driver opened up a cooler and started passing out cans of Tecate. No limes. “This is the best beer in Mexico,” he said. I cracked mine open and took a long pull. He was right. He was so right. He was also the greatest tour guide ever. What’s even better, is that I could crack open a Tecate right now and feel the same. I just love that beer.

Right, so, La Playa.

It’s a little sweet. Very drinkable. The head up there in the picture is what was left after thirty seconds of snapping bad pictures, thirty seconds more of bad photography, and the head was gone entirely. Definitely some corn or corn-syrup flavors. Aftertaste can be a little soapy. It’s much improved by a wedge of freshly cut lime.

Unlike other Trader Joe’s beers (Red Oval; Simpler Times), La Playa doesn’t create as much tummy rumbling. Granted, I stopped after two, which isn’t really getting in the spirit of pounding cheap beers and such. But still. This beer is similar to a Corona Light in that it also has a certain staleness of flavor that some watery light beers can acquire – sitting around absorbing too much sunlight.

Cerveza La Playa tastes better in the can, honestly. It’s not one you’ll crave later. So – go fast; go hard.

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Beers of Montana: Pig’s Ass Porter Packs a Punch

Montana is known as big sky country for a reason – the sky as viewed out there just seems enormous. Photographs don’t do it justice. The summer horizon is lined with evergreen trees, receding into a blue expanse of mountain ranges, while an IMAX-wide sky is dotted with cumulus clouds. In towns such as Bozeman, the buildings are kept low and spaced out as to not block out the view.

Snow covers most of Montana during the year. If it’s a powder day, everything pretty much shuts down so the locals can hit the slopes. During the summer, Montanans remain just as active – biking, hiking, fly fishing, and in general getting in shape for the ski season. It’s not a place where one goes to watch the world pass by. There’s just too much to do.

And nothing, but nothing, quenches a thirst after a long, summer day in Montana than a cold beer.

During my most recent trip to Montana, I was fortunate enough to get a taste of the Harvest Moon Brewery‘s Pig’s Ass Porter and, boy, was I lucky.

Another Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph of some beer or something.Pig’s Ass Porter is a light-bodied beer with a tan head that fades into a film on the rim of the glass after a few sips. Harvest Moon’s marketing copy would have you know that it’s a classic-style porter that is brewed with black malts and chocolate to create a creamy ale that offers hints of roasted coffee beans and chocolate (a bottle is pictured to the right; we can credit my complete lack of photography training for its excellence). The beer is named Pig’s Ass because after each batch is brewed, the leftover mash (leftover grain that has been boiled) is given to a local farmer who feeds it to his pigs. Sustainability – who doesn’t dig it?

There’s a hint of hops in each taste of Pig’s Ass Porter as well.

It’s not hard to get a head out of each bottle pour, and I’d also recommend letting it grab some air before you dive in as there’s also a hint of vanilla in each sip along with the coffee and chocolate that dominates Pig’s Ass. It has a nice carbonation and isn’t as thick as a stout, though there’s a nice body to it (for more info on porters, I recommend reading Beer Advocate’s What the Hell Is a Porter?). I also picked up some kind of herbal flavoring going on that gives the beer a nice complexity and offsets its sweetness.

I am not a fan of sweet beers, and I tend to think that bringing out the chocolate in a dark ale is kind of a lazy move. I did not expect to enjoy Pig’s Ass Porter as much as I did.

There are a lot of dark beers out there that fuck up the savory notes and end up tasting like baker’s chocolate. A piece of chocolate (be it from a candy bar, slice of cake, or hunk of brownie) on its own compliments a stout or porter just fine. Let the grain and malt do the talking, y’know. So all that said, a beer that offers this taste combination, while also standing up on its own, is truly a beer worth savoring.

My natural inclination toward darker beers – stouts and porters, fer instance – is to save them the colder months of the year. They just taste better to me then. Summers in Brooklyn aren’t pretty. It’s hot and humid and sweaty and grumpy. Meanwhile, in Montana, the temp barely scrapes above seventy during the day and drops to the forties at night, which makes the livin’ so much easier. And a beer like Pig’s Ass Porter from Harvest Moon just nails what it means to be in Montana. Because –

Even when it’s summer, you’re thinking of everything winter offers.

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Fine Sam Adams Glassware for Non-Sam Adams Beers

A few years back, the Boston Beer Co., which owns Samuel Adams beer, released the Samuel Adams Boston Lager Pint Glass, which as you can see in the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture I took, it’s a unique take on the classic beer glass.

There are some familiar ideas going on – the bell is reminiscent of a snifter; the bow in the glass on the way up from the base of the glass to the bell reminds me of a classic pint glass; the lip is bent outward like a tulip glass. You could also argue that the glass itself resembles some hybrid of a pilsner flute glass and a hefeweizen glass. Actually, it looks a lot like a weizen glass to my eyes, but it’s not as high and thin. In the end, however, the Sam Adams glass is distinctively that – a glass specifically designed to drink Samuel Adams beer.

So what do you do if you don’t drink a lot of Sam Adams?

I’ve nothing against Sam Adams. It’s a fine beer and one I’ve enjoyed many times. But for whatever reason it’s just never been a beer of choice for me. If I’m scanning the shelves of beer at my local deli, I’m unlikely to linger very long on Sam Adams. Lately, because it’s summer, I tend to go for a Mexican pilsner-style beer – Tecate, Modelo, Pacifico, et al – and even in winter, I lean towards a Brooklyn Lager or a Sierra Nevada or a Bass Ale. Even so, once I saw these glasses, I had to have a set.

From top to bottom, the lip of the glass is designed to hold more of a head, while the outward turn of the lip is meant to deliver the beer more smoothly to your mouth. There’s a narrow bit near the top that allows the head to sit on top of the bell. The rounded bell is designed to collect the beer’s flavor and aromas – which are then delivered to the head, making each drink more aromatic – while the thin walls toward the base of the glass are made to hold the beer’s temperature longer because your hand will naturally hold the glass by the base of the bell. Meanwhile, there are laser etchings on the very bottom of the glass that create a constant flow of bubbles that travel the length of the glass to the head.

It’s true that the glass does help the beer release more flavor. It’s helped some not-very-successful homebrews taste a bit cleaner. Overall, I’ve always found the glass to make any beer taste fresher than drinking straight from the bottle.

I did a taste test the other night between a Bass Ale and a Brooklyn Lager in the Sam Adams pint glass. The above pictures are of a Brooklyn Lager in the glass. The Bass, being a lager from the U.K., tasted a bit fresher to me than the Brooklyn Lager, which is brewed across town from me. The glass brought out a nice head in both beers – though stronger in the Brooklyn Lager. I let each rest for a few minutes after pouring, while also giving the glass an easy twirl to help release some of the flavors, and found that the Sam Adams glass delivers what it promises – an aromatic glass of fresh-tasting beer.

Over the last few years that I’ve had these glasses, I’ve found them to be my go-to choice for beer. I’m a fan of your watery domestic in cans as well, and I’ve often found that the Sam Adams pint glasses will give a Bud Light a bit more life as it warms up. The only beer that’s ever truly failed in the glasses is a Miller High Life, but when one of those warms up, it’s pretty much over anyway.

Are they an essential purchase? No, of course not, but you will be happy to have ’em. Are you chained to being a Sam Adams man after owning the glasses? Definitely not. I prefer not to use branded items unless I’m 100 percent comfortable with showing off the logo, and though I think I’ve had a total of one Sam Adams in the brewery’s pint glass, I’d still show off these glasses with pride.

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