Chase Cutting

Chase Cutting

Hard to say if this one is more a review of an ale or a review of the reviewer…. sigh. In any event let’s just cut to the chase.

I recently sang the praises of Clown Shoes, loving the name, the labels, the humor, and, of course, the beer.

So I was pleased to pick up a 22 of their Ride the Lion Wee Heavy Ale. Yes, tediously, once again, this takes me back to my days in Scotland when my virginal bloom concerning beer was happily removed by Caledonian Heavy. I’ve written enough about this, linking back to all my pieces about this type of brew, but I mention it again to underscore my enthusiasm level when I see a label reading “Wee Heavy.”

As I tend to do when the tasting is more than a pint, I had a pal over to share this with me, a guy who likes dark, complex and, as he puts it, “long” mouthfeel beers, ones who’s flavor notes hang on and offer up plenty of activity well after the swallow.
This poured nicely, a reddish brown, a little cloudy, with a short white head appearing as I pressed the point with the pour.

The twist on this tasting started with the nose. Big, sweet, caramel? So much so, I checked the bottle for what turned out to be the fine print telling me the obvious. This was aged in bourbon barrels, the nose, and everything following, propelled by a jet fuel 11% ABV.

This caught me off guard, as I’d just had a meal and was not expecting to dive into anything so NOT “wee” in it’s heaviness. First sips were, indeed, heavy with vanilla and butterscotch, sure signs of bourbon barreling. It was tasty but, for me at that moment, a bit much. Bringing some balance to the occasion, my pal happily found it formidable with that great length he was looking for.

photo credit:

photo credit:

With a purito and conversation, I forged on, trying to orient myself and be reasonably objective. I wasn’t tweaked in, given my predisposition to have been drinking a non barrel aged Wee Heavy, to compare it to a favorite of mine, Thirsty Dog’s Wulver.

But as it warmed… probably more correctly observed “as it had a chance to breathe” the heavy bourbon vapors leveling out, I found this to be a delicious brew. Everything lightened up, presenting a great balance between the malty goodness we love in a Wee Heavy, with that hint of sweet aroma and undercurrent of bourbon and oak. My friend also noticed changes in it as the session continued, but based on the intoxication of the cigar smoke and the high alcohol level (felt almost on the first sip this particular night), I can only remember all of his notes were favorable ones.

I’m looking forward to trying this again, but this time, letting it sit for a bit so I can pleasurably bathe in the entire draft. Oh… and predictably, on the label there’s a warrior woman with a great mane of red hair and a sword charging through the woods at you atop a ferocious lion. Y’know, standard fare. I won’t say she has a face vaguely suggesting clown makeup, but y’know…

nb : Always read the fine print.


Craft Beer, Hops, and the Beautiful Blue Danube

Craft beer in Germany? Craft beer in Austria? Why, I ask, would anyone bother, since the beer is already so good? In the US, the craft beer industry grew up as a grass roots movement, a reaction to the predominance of lower quality beer offered by large brewing conglomerates. By contrast, beer in the German-speaking countries is consistently of high quality, with many unique, regional beer styles. What, then, is the driving force for craft beer in places where the beer is so good? Because, thanks to US influence, craft beer is becoming an international trend, with consumer demand for small-batch, artisanal beers. It has become a “destination drink”, one that you seek out, like a fine wine from a small vineyard. American breweries have begun to seek out international markets; for example, California’s Stone Brewing Company recently announced plans to site a brewery in Berlin. It is no surprise that breweries like Austria’s Ottakringer are anxious to participate in this trend.

The Beer Doctor and Brewmaster Martin Simion, at the Ottakringer Brewery.

The Beer Doctor and Brewmaster Martin Simion, at the Ottakringer Brewery.

And here we are at the Ottakringer brewery in Vienna on a private after-hours tour, with Martin Simion, the new craft beer brewmaster. Martin, an energetic young man, has us running up and down multiple flights of stairs, from the now-defunct wooden barrels in the basement, up to the mash tuns and bottling area. He was almost apologetic for the large size of the brewery, but as he points out, Ottakringer is the largest brewery in Vienna, and it makes a lot of beer. We reach the well-appointed tasting room and start sampling.

The brews are glorious! We tasted everything from their lighter Helles, to the Dunkels, and Pils, and everything in between. Later, we had dinner with Martin and his girlfriend Carmen at the Apostelkeller, a wonderful old place tucked away in a cellar, which featured live music (strolling accordion and violinist), excellent Viennese food, and lots of Ottakringer to wash it down.

I asked the question that has been on my mind since we got to Europe — how can mass-produced lagers taste so good… especially in comparison to their American counterparts? The answer, according to Martin is simple– the German Beer Purity Laws of 1516, still in force in most of German-speaking Europe, which stipulate that beer can only contain malted barley, water, and hops. Ottakringer goes one step further, ensuring that it brews only with the highest quality, Austrian ingredients. No corners are cut, no additives or alternative grains are used. This sounds remarkably like the US craft beer philosophy.

The new Artisanal Beer unit at Ottakringer, in its final stages of completion, June 2014

The new Artisanal Beer unit at Ottakringer, in its final stages of completion, June 2014

Martin will be following the same philosophy as the master brewer of the new “craft beer unit” at Ottakringer though he prefers the term “artisanal beer” since the brewery is too large to brew “craft” beer according to standard definitions. He will, however, be brewing beer in small batches of 100 gallons. This enthusiastic young man is a good choice for the position. He has an excellent background for the job, having learned his trade at the Munich-Weihenstephan Technical Institute, one of the premier brewing schools in the world, and then working as a brewer at the Viennese landmark brewpub, 1516. Martin’s tour took us to the nearly-completed Ottakringer artisanal brewery, scheduled to produce its first beer (an American-style session IPA) in time for the annual Ottakringer summer beer festival in July, which we would miss by a week. Note the architecturally stunning cylindrical glass building, built to the same size and shape as the adjacent brewing tanks. The location will have a beer-garden feeling, and will feature events with local bands and guest brewers.

Can “The Lands Where Beer Began” challenge their 500-year old traditions and produce new styles to fill this demand, yet stay within the Beer Purity Laws? I have no doubt that the new wave of brewers like Simion will make excellent beer in the American craft styles. But can the Austrian and German palates learn to enjoy these beers, with their emphasis on ales, high alcohol levels, and flavorful hops?

Developing their consumers’ taste for hops is going to be the biggest challenge that Simion will face. Most beer drinkers in German-speaking countries are used to noble hops, such as those grown in Tettnang. Noble hops are bitter because they are high in humulene– which is responsible for their antibacterial properties–but low in beta acids. They don’t have the aromatic compounds responsible for the flavors that we love in IPAs: fruity, floral, citrus, pine. Ironically, noble hops were bred over the centuries to remove these flavors; American hops were bred from English hops to increase these flavors, and they are relative newcomers on the beer scene. There is no European tradition of their use.

Aromatic hops are an acquired taste, like juniper (gin), or peat (single malt). But once that taste is acquired through good experiences–often accompanied by good music and good times–you will seek it out. Worse yet, I’ve heard a few brewers say they don’t care for the taste of American hops; if that is the case, I imagine these poor souls will have difficulty brewing a good IPA, if they don’t enjoy the flavor themsleves. There is nothing more unpleasant that a badly-hopped, or over-hopped IPA. On the other hand, there is nothing more delightful than a good, hoppy ale where the flavors are in balance with the malt and alcohol.

We tried a few bottled IPAs during our European trip to see how they fared. Progusta is a craft IPA from the Bräufactum label, the artisanal subsidiary of Radeberger, in Saxony (noted for excellent Pilsner.) This is a heavy, malt-forward beer, 6.8% ABV, with an unfortunate hodge-podge of noble hops and some Americans: Magnum, Hallertauer, Mittelfru and Citra. It was bitter, and not well-rounded. As Rick put it, “drinking this beer is a lot of work. And even the name is a bad choice, it sounds like a medical condition, not a beer you want to drink.”

The Hopfenstopfer (nb This website is written in German) label, from HäfnerBräu in Bad Rappenau, did somewhat better. Their Comet IPA, at 6.8% ABV, is much more palatable. It boasts 55 IBU, but these are mostly noble hops (Hallertauer Comet, Hallertauer Saphir, and Hallertauer Taurus), resulting in a taste that is primarily bitter, without much citrusy taste; furthermore, it’s a bit on the light side. But it was smooth and much easier to drink than I expected.

Dark Red Temptation, with authentic Bavarian pretzels

Dark Red Temptation, with authentic Bavarian pretzels

The Hopfenstopfer Dark Red Temptation, on the other hand, was well put together. It is a double IPA, at 9.0% ABV and 50 IBU, hopped with Hallertau Taurus, with some Cascade hops used for aroma (I presume dry hopped). The Cascade added a great deal to the flavor. It’s heavy, with dense malts, giving it a red color, but we really liked this one. It went well with food, especially the traditional pretzels.

So Martin, the competition is not bad at all — yet.

Since I finished this article, Simion’s first artisanal beers have been released. His Session IPA was brewed with Amarillo, Citra and Centennial hops, with an ABV of 4.3%, and it was advertised to be “brewed with Love and Music.” Martin reported, “we started pouring our Session IPA… I expected it would be much more difficult to introduce people to those beers but they enjoy it straight away!”  Next up — a Belgian Blond.

I look forward to seeing how these beers fare. And I leave you with a tune that will stick in your head for a week, the sound of Vienna. Click the link for the Blue Danube Waltz, in its most memorable rendition:

Blue Danube Waltz

Also available from Dr. Westbrook: images


{ 1 comment }

So I’ve got this guy…. Matt at Havana House West, in Bath Ohio. I sometimes buy cigars there and have done a piece on a terrific beer/cigar pairing I did at their other location in Warren, Ohio. We’ve also been privileged to post their fun and informative “Vice Picks” series of videos as Videos of the Week (oddly ensconced in our Beer Dinner archives). So when I drop in, we often chat for a bit. Matt, also of eclectic tastes, will turn me on to a an interesting brew from time to time.

Cutting to the chase:

Chase Cutting

Chase Cutting

This time it was a goody, shared with a friend, a 750 ml of Belgian vintage sour cherry Kriek Lambic from the Zenne Valley, imported by Vanberg & Dewulf. Brewed in 2011, bottled in 2013 after being aged in Oak and Chestnut casks, I got to crack open one of 9867 bottles issued, sharing it with a friend.

From the brewer:

Lambics are truly the “wines” of the beer world. Just as wines vary by season, soil, climate, and aging method, lambics (unlike any other type of beer) vary by season, brewery location, barrel size and woodtype, and length of aging.
With wines one talks of “gout du terroir” because the land (terroir) so influences a wine’s flavor. With lambics one must speak of “gout du tunneau” because each cask (tonneau) produces a lambic that matures and tastes different. Thanks to this variation, a lambic’s character comes not only from the base beer made by the brewer but from the casks selected and blended together. And because lambic is lightly sparkling, the flavors and nuances developed through cask aging can be fully tasted and appreciated; not masked by intense carbonation, like in gueuze, which is highly sparking but much less complex….

The beer you hold in your hand reflects the specific conditions present when it was brewed and during its years of aging in cask. Those conditions cannot be replicated and this beer can never be made again. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience…

unnamedTo be fair, there are many beers crafted today, particularly barrel aged ones, that are subject to many of the same variables that the brewers refer to above as being unique to the lambics. But that being said, we take no issue with recognizing the singular and delicate shifts that come in the production of a premium lambic.

This one poured super dark, deep red, almost purplish in the glass, true to the brewer notes, presenting minimal carbonation.

The nose was fruity and musky, which intrigued me, as I’m one of those people who likes stinky cheese, fish, and Belgian sours.
At first sip, the flavor was of very tart cherries, with something “brown” as an undertone. I’m thinking this is the oak and chestnut of the barrel, as “dark and woody” makes far more sense as the source of, what would be viewed in deconstructing most other beer styles, a subtle molasses and/or caramel presence.

I started by sipping, and as I was jotting down a couple notes, my friend suggested, first, that this would be excellent with food, and if you drank some down, without exaggerated respect, as you might any other beer, it offered different flavor notes.
I agree about food pairing with something like this. We had a sour cherry Cerise accompanying a sweet and savory dinner salad at a Founders Beer Dinner and it was wonderful. The Cerise presented more natural sugars, but here, the lack of sweetness and the tartness of  the LambickX– qualities that could cut through any spices– would welcome a food pairing, though I think this truly special brew merits one’s exclusive attention.

I then, as he had done, took a real draw as opposed to respectful tasting sips, and a nice bitter appeared on the middle of the tongue. This decision also either triggered my palate, or at least ran concurrent to the appearance of a sour musk, becoming more reflective of the nose and a significant component of this brew for the rest of the session, absolutely winning the day for me.

Very happy to have had the opportunity to try this, knowing, by their own definition, the next one is likely to be markedly different. Every time an adventure… a $30.00 adventure, that is. Well, you buy a nicer bottle of wine every now and then, yes?


This summer we visited two of our old friends in the Midwest: Constant Springs, in Goshen, IN, and The Map Room, in Chicago. Back when I lived full time in the Midwest, we were regulars at both of these bars; now, as tourists we visited with high expectations–and we were not disappointed.

Our very own mugs

Our very own mugs

Constant Spring hasn’t changed much since we left Goshen in 2011. Our favorite bartender, Mark, remembered us, and he even found our old beer mugs, though he had to go down to the cellar to retrieve them. The bar crowd was congenial as usual, but it was quiet, since there were no college students (or faculty) around in mid-summer. As usual, their 18 taps featured a selection of regional craft beer, craft ciders, and of course PBR (in deference to the hipsters). I was pleased to see that rotating spots on their draft list were filled with Michiana-based IPAs, all of which seemed to be in contention for the sacred spot held by Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, from Kalamazoo. Since Two-Hearted is my favorite IPA, and I judged the beer accordingly.

First we tried Dark Horse Brewery’s July release for its”Crooked Tree” line, #eertdekoorc. Don’t let the name put you off, it is just “crooked tree” spelled backwards. The current release of #eertdekoorc was hopped with Falconer, a proprietary hop blend consisting of Northwest hops, at 6.7% ABV. This is a strong hop mix with pronounced citrus flavor. The only tasting note I jotted down “weird but otherwise drinkable”.

Next, Flat 12 Bierwerks’ Unicycle IPA, 6% ABV, a single pale ale from Indianapolis. This brew claims to have an IBU of 104, but I don’t believe the alpha acid content is that high, it just doesn’t taste it. In fact, I found it was quite bland even for a Pale Ale. It was not in contention.

Room at the bar at Constant Spring

Room at the bar at Constant Spring

Founders All-Day IPA, from Grand Rapids Michigan, was also on draft, and it’s an excellent session IPA, at 4.7% ABV. Yes, you can drink it all day, and it’s widely available; we didn’t taste it today, too many others to cover. It still doesn’t beat out Two-Hearted, in my opinion.

Finally we tasted the dubiously named Starchicken Shotgun IPA from Greenbush Brewery, in Sawyer Michigan. Brewed with five different hops and a solid 73 IBUs, it was an IPA through and through. At 6.8% ABV the pour looked identical to Two-Hearted, and was similar in bitterness and aroma as well. But, the hops were a bit sharper, and the flavor was more intense and delightful, with a profound finish. In our somewhat biased blind comparison it beat out Two-Hearted!

As the evening wore on, we felt more and more at home, we saw a few familiar faces, and we washed our beer down with the always-available free popcorn. Besides the popcorn, Constant Spring has a fabulous menu, all locally sourced; much of it is organic, with good vegetarian selections. They also serve a highly regarded burger produced from beef raised locally in small farms. All in all, we had great time savoring Indiana and Michigan IPAs.

The Map Room, Chicago

The Map Room, Chicago

At our next beer stop, The Map Room in Chicago, we went from regional to global, sampling beers from both coasts, Germany and The Netherlands, with a bit of England and new Zealand thrown in. The Map Room is Chicago’s premier beer bar. With its 27 taps and a beer engine, and its emphasis on draft barrels from around the world, The Map Room is a must for visiting beer geeks. Since it opened, the surrounding area has gentrified, and the Map Room now has the same shortcomings as many popular Chicago bars — it’s too crowded, difficult to get a seat at the bar, a beer-knowledgeable bartender who is too busy to talk, it’s a long walk to public transport, and parking is virtually impossible. Worse yet, it has no kitchen, so if you are planning on a night of serious drinking you will have to dine before you go, or order food to be delivered from the now-yuppie surrounding restaurants. In spite of this, the place was jammed, as usual. Make no mistake; the reason to go to the Map Room is to taste beer. And that we did.

Our first pour was a very good Trappist ale, LaTrappe’s Isid’Or, an unfiltered amber ale, with a classic sweet flavor, with the Belgian yeast coming through but not overwhelming. It was served in a small pour, though I’m not sure why because at 7.5% ABV it was not as strong as many of the IPAs. Strictly speaking, this is a Dutch (not Belgian) ale, but LaTrappe is affiliated with an active monastery, and is one of only eight remaining Trappist breweries.

indexOur next beer was the room’s featured draft for the month, Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack. This was a wonderful beer from Paso Robles, CA, a beautifully hopped session IPA (4.5% AV). It was crystal clear, light colored, sparkly effervescent; the malt balance was a hodgepodge–American Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Malted Wheat, English Carmel-35, Cara Pils, Rolled Oats–but it worked, with a crisp taste without overpowering malt taste. The hop blend was challenging: Bavarian Mandarina, Hallertau Melon, Blend of New Zealand, and American Mosaic. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the German-origin hops are not noble hops, in spite of German names, but rather are German cultivars of American hops. They are part of the recent move by Hallertau growers to come up with very flavorsome high alpha hop varieties to try and compete with new world growers. The big surprise was the aroma, which the brewers describe as “massive.” I have to agree, and also wonder which hop carried the day for the aroma. This is a helluva beer.

Speaking of Germany, I was pleased to find Bamberg ale on draft, since I hadn’t had the opportunity to try one while in Germany this summer. I was expecting a Marzen (smokebeer) but the Schlenkerin Helles was a helles (German lager) made without smoked barley. There was a surprising bit of smoke in the flavor, though, which the brewer attributes to the fact that it is boiled in the same copper kettles and uses the same yeasts as the Marzen. At 4.3% ABV it can be considered a session helles, though I would be hard pressed to drink more than one, since the smoke flavor gets tiring after a while.

imagesFor session ales, nothing beats an English bitter. I totally love traditional English bitters, but they are hard to find on draft even in England, let alone the US, because they don’t travel well. I was anxious to try the The Bitter Brewer Ale, from Surly (New York), created in the style of an English bitter. Although a very good session beer, at 4% ABV, it missed the mark for a bitter because it was a bit too heavy and sweet for the style. On the other hand, Surly’s web site claims that this is “not really a British bitter,” probably because it is hopped (and heavily dry- hopped) with American hops to an IBU of 37. That’s about twice what I would expect in an English ale, and I would expect an assortment of English hops, such as Fuggles and Kent Golding, rather than American. Still, it was a very good tasting malt-forward beer, and sure to appeal to the non-IPA crowd.

By now, we had tasted 4 drafts, and it was time to leave. At this rate it would take us a week to finish sampling all of the Map Room’s offerings. For me, this is reason enough to return to the Midwest.

Also available from Dr. Westbrook:



Had an interesting time at favorite watering hole The Lockview the other night. First off, I ordered a Black Butte porter from Deschutes Brewery out of Portland, Oregon. We’ve had some very nice offerings from these folks of late, big fans of their Inversion IPA. This one, at 5.2% makes for the rare session porter. Here, in a short clip, brewer Veronica Vega talks about it… My thinking is that what makes it a really accessible beer is the low alcohol profile, making it eminently drinkable. The first impression I got, based on the malt components (Pale, Carapils, Chocolate, Crystal, Wheat), was that it impressed as something of a Rogue Mocha Porter, a longtime favorite, but in this case, even though the ABVs are pretty much the same, a lighter version of it. This was definitely not a bad thing. It served as a terrific beverage to accompany the Lockview special of the day, the Lockview BBQ Burger, “8oz. blue ribbon burger, tender BBQ pulled pork, crisp onion straws, shredded lettuce and pickle on a Kaiser roll with Muenster cheese.”
The burger was oh so tasty with, no doubt, a pretty solid soldium content. The Black Butte quenched and quenched. The low ABV helped me a lot, as I, uncharacteristically, gulped down the first and finished off my burger with a second, with no ill effects, and a great taste in my mouth from the BBQ pork and the roasted, coffeeish flavor of this excellent brew.

Searching for dinner conversation?

Searching for dinner conversation?

Another fun moment came when I looked at the Heinz Ketchup bottle on the table. Many jokes have been made, doom & gloom social commentary, and pics taken of people sitting in a group interfacing only by shouldering up while all eye-locked on their smart phones and tablets. Here there was a reason, yet more evidence that, flying cars be damned, we ARE living in the age of The Jetsons. Scan the label with your smart phone and up pops a trivial pursuit game to play. The upside? At least we’re sitting together with our PDAs AND flapping our lips! Yay, humanity!!!

Cool as a cuke!

Cool as a cuke!

One quick postscript: last night, dining at the Bistro on Main, I had yet another really refreshing beverage. Described as a Cucumber Cooler, it was muddled lime, mint, and cucumber, lime juice, soda water, and my choice of Gin, Hendricks, though they also offer it with a cucumber vodka, Very dry, very refreshing. I think of it, today, as MY martini.

Cheers, George and Judy!


Figure 1I am strolling through the hop fields of Tettnang, in southern Bavaria, near Lake Bodensee (Lake Constance), one of the major hop growing regions of Germany, which itself is the largest hop producer in the world.  I am looking forward to visiting a local brewpub (Brauereigasthof Schöre) to enjoy a Sunday luncheon that will no doubt contain some form of pork, spaetzle and of course, beer.

Bavarians and their beer! People here drink beer as I would drink water or diet Coke–and it’s comparable in price to either. It’s a part of everyday life. For lunch…for dinner… as a late night snack in hotel vending machines, at almost every fast food counter. They even drink beer for breakfast! (I was told this by a number of non-Bavarians, but I don’t believe it since they didn’t serve beer at our hotel breakfast buffet) But it does reinforce Bavaria’s reputation as being the center of brewing in Central Europe, and the place where beer began.

Bavaria was the starting point for our beer tour this summer, and the focus was lagers. Up until now I have not cared for the lagers that I’ve tasted in the US, most of which were brewed by large breweries for mass-market tastes. I am a hop-hear. But I went into this trip with an open mind, hoping to learn about and appreciate European lagers.

Bavaria didn’t actually invent beer, but from my perspective it invented breweries. Though beer has been brewed since prehistoric times, large-scale brewing for distribution beyond the kitchen most certainly began with religious institutions. After all, beer is a gift from the gods, isn’t it? Monasteries had large cultivated fields and a ready supply of labor with little to do except pray. The oldest continuously operating breweries in the world began in monasteries, which were also responsible for the implementation of hops as an essential component of beer.

Our beer tour began in Munich, following a few delightful days in the Rhine River valley of Alsace drinking French wines. We drove the 220 miles from Strasbourg to Munich in our rented BMW on the autobahn, reaching speeds up to 200 km/hour (122 MPH)– except when traffic slowed to a crawl due to roadwork, which was about three-quarters of the time. Fortunately there were rest stops along the autobahn with restrooms, refreshments, and of course beer. After a week in the French countryside, Munich seemed crowded, busy, and a manufacturing center–obviously a successful economy, but not much fun for tourists. So we made a beeline to the biggest tourist attraction in town, the old town center (the Marienplatz) with its medieval buildings, its spectacular Glockenspiel, shops, restaurants, beer halls, and… the world famous HofBräuhaus, ground zero for Oktoberfest.

Figure 2Yes, it’s a tourist attraction and we were treated like tourists–long waits and poor service. But if you are a local, and a regular (i.e. “Stammtisch”) your experience is different. Stammtisch have reserved tables, familiar waiters, and good service. So I quickly made friends with a nearby table of Stammtish, who have been coming to the beer hall, and sitting at the same table for 35 years. Pretty soon we were at their table, having a great time, exchanging stories, and raising our steins with “Prost!”

My first sip of HofBräuhaus Helles was wonderful! The brew contained only 5% alcohol, but there was a lot of body and a long-lasting head; hops were present but barely discernible. A helles is the traditional Munich blond lager, closely related to the Czech Pils, but a bit more subdued and in balance with malts. “Helles” is German for “bright.” And it was. I could drink it all night, especially with food. This beer was so much tastier than American light lagers that I was left wondering how a lager made by a huge, mass-market brewery could taste so good. I hoped to find out at the end of my beer trip.

A word about German beer styles. Forget everything you ever learned in American Craft Beer School; you will need to consult the German Beer Institute.

Drinking HofBräuhaus Helles like a local

Drinking HofBräuhaus Helles like a local

Compared to American craft beers, the beers in Central Europe are primarily lager-based, that is, brewed at lower temperature with lager, bottom-fermenting yeast. The flavor profile relies more heavily on malt than on hops, including body as well as taste, and the brews tend to be lower in alcohol than American crafts. There are hundreds of beer styles in German-speaking Europe, and many are regional. It would take me months of touring and tasting to get a handle on all the beer styles. (It is very tempting to try!). With its 620 working breweries and over 4000 beer labels, Bavaria is the center, brewing about half the beer in Germany. There are about 40 Bavarian beer styles, from Alts to Zwickelbier, but some are more common than others. In most of the country, at any restaurant, or food concession, you will always have your choice of a helles or dunkel (light or dark), and frequently a Weiss bier as well. A dunkel a dark lager, very malty with only a gentle hop bitterness and almost no nose. Extremely easy to drink, I found it to be rather undistinguished and low in alcohol– certainly the best choice for breakfast.

On the second evening we visited another beer hall in the Marienplatz, Schneider’s Weisse Brauhaus, to sample Weissebeirs (wheat beer). Less well-known to tourists than its famous neighbor, we found that this brauhaus had much better food and service. There was an extensive selection of beers, all of which were wheat-based ales. I was pleasantly surprised by these brews, as I generally don’t care for American wheat beer with its citrus and spice flavorings added. These were thirst-quenching drinks, with a higher alcohol content and more hop flavor than most American wheats. While some varieties had subtle hints of clove and fruit that is characterized as either “banana” or “bubblegum,” these flavors are created by the yeast, rather added condiments. As a matter of fact, the German beer purity laws forbid addition of flavorings to beer.   And heaven forbid, never drink this with a lemon slice! It will mark you as a tourist for sure.

German Weissbier is usually cloudy, due to unfiltered yeast and wheat malt proteins in suspension, though a few are filtered to produce a sparkling, effervescent “kristal,”such as the Schneider’s Mein Kristal which I tasted. I liked this one; it’s bland and effervescent, goes extremely well with food, and probably a good pick for an American beer drinker who might otherwise be put off by the cloudiness of weissebier. I tasted the Hopfenweisse, which is closer to an American IPA in terms of hop bitterness and its high ABV of 8.5%. It didn’t quite suit my tastes, as I didn’t care for the hop-malt balance. The Unser Aventinus Tap-6, on the other hand, was excellent, at 8.2% alcohol, with mild hop flavor and strong, well-balanced malt. It was a wheat doppelbock, a style we don’t find at home. This one is a keeper. And I guess I am not alone, because it is the oldest of its style in Bavaria. It has some availability in the US, so I’d look for it if I could.

Don’t get the impression that all we did in Munich was drink beer.   There are many other sites to see. I would highly recommend a trip to BMW Welt (BMW World), and take the hard-hat tour if you can spare the 3 1/2 hours. It is definitely a unique and fun experience. If you are a beer geek there is a good chance you are also a car geek.

View from Our Hotel

View from Our Hotel

Leaving Munich, we drove through the stunningly beautiful Alps of southern Bavaria, stopping for a night in Oberammergau, a boisterous spot during the ski season, but a sleepy town in the summer. We were hard pressed to find an open bar after 10 pm, though our hotel conveniently had a vending machine that dispensed beer and cocktails. We finally managed to locate one of Rick’s specials — a bar that is open late, where the bartenders from other establishment go after closing time. These are generally a good spots for beer, camaraderie, and conversation (albeit in German).

Continuing toward Lake Constance, we came across the small town of Ettal, which boasts a beautiful 500-year-old monastery (rebuilt in 1744), the Kloster Ettal. It is very baroque, and elaborately painted inside. Monastery = Brewery, correct?   The gift shop sold bottles of the monks’ beer, and even the nuns from the tour buses couldn’t resist. We bought a couple of bottles of the Benediktiner Dunkel and we found it to be a very, very good, traditional lager. Too bad you can’t find any of this Klosterbier (Cloister-brewed beer) in your local beer shop.

The Kloster Ettal gift shop, waiting for divine inspiration to select a beer

The Kloster Ettal gift shop, waiting for divine inspiration to select a beer

Our last beer tour stop in Bavaria was the Hop Museum in Tettnang. Tetthang is the second largest hop-growing region of Germany, producing the highly-prized Tetthanger hopfen (hops), also known as “Green Gold.” These are premium noble hops, prized for their floral aroma and mild bitterness, which are used to finish off premium beers and to flavor the spicier lagers, such as Pils. Most German beers are flavored with Hallertau, but my American palate cannot tell them from Tettnang, attuned as it is to hoppy, floral, citrusy American hops. For that matter, most Germans can’t distinguish American hop varieties, either.

Restaurants open on Sunday are hard to find in rural areas, but the museum gift shop attendant recommended one in a nearby town, Schöne Braueriegasthof (brewery + restaurant + hotel), where “everybody goes for Sunday luncheon.” She was right. Everybody and his family was there, probably because the food was quite good; I had pork schnitzel and Rick had a pot roast of beef with a heavy sauce. And spaetzle on the side, of course. The beer was brewed on site, fresh out of the keg and unfiltered, with your choice of helles or dunkel, (light or dark), and brewed with Tettnang hops. Though a bit rough, this beer is the closest thing that I found to a German craft microbrew.

Finally it was time to leave Bavaria. I am leaving a new-found appreciation and love of lagers. Next, on to to Vienna, craft beer, and the beautiful blue Danube. We will try to answer the question posed above: “How can a lager made by a huge, mass-market brewery taste so good?”


{ 1 comment }

unnamedI was having some friends over, which always gives me, still a cheap date, the opportunity to buy interesting new offerings in 22s and 750mls and share, sometimes getting interesting takes from my friends, sometimes ignoring them, but being able to try a couple or three without getting hammered.

On this occasion, of my three pals, none of them were IPA aficionados, one a fan, almost exclusively , of big dark malty ales and stouts, the second happy with quality “whatever,” the third a drinker of almost anything, period, with the exception of IPAs. So I picked up, as the baseline beverage of the evening, a six of Rail Dawg smoked black lager, a tasty treat I discovered from Thirsty Dog Brewing when it was released in a bottling alongside their Citra Dawg, both having been reviewed here, both very much liked. So everyone was happy.

But the two bottles that piqued my curiosity for tasting were IPAs…sort of. The first was Muffin Top from Clown Shoes in Ipswich, Massachusetts. A few years ago the name Clown Shoes was submitted to a Beer Advocate contest by Ringmaster Gregg Berman…and lost. Undaunted, one day while driving around, Greg decided he would brew his own (funny?) beer, hoping it would be tasty, but KNOWING it would be called Clown Shoes. Fortunately, his was a proper Clown Car, as the beer was, indeed, tasty, so he packed a bunch of his pals in to help and started spewing out a lot of beer, all crafted with a sense of whimsy, a quality that floats nicely in the world of craft brewing.

2012-05-28-clown-shoes-intNow the label alone, a sure Hall of Famer, would have been enough for me! I would have been happy just knowing Greg created a Clown Alley for the purpose of brewing! But, in Muffin Top he created a Belgian-Style Tripel IPA that is delicious. As noted here more than a few times in the past, I have become a real fan of Belgian beers, and the IPA is what originally sucked me into the world of craft beer, so this combo is always intriguing. This one poured with a nice IPA nose, and a solid creamy head. The flavor is wonderful. Big at 10% ABV, this has a balance that belies the big alcohol. While the name presumably speaks to the calories, the meatiness and the yeast, the flavor is one of citrus. As a tripel, not so much the coriander and cloves we associate with such beers, but enough spice and orange intertwined with the big hop floral citrus that it presents far far more than what I view as the pretty pedestrian orange Belgian-esque Blue Moon and Shock Top. They don’t publish an IBU number, but it is surprisingly smooth on the end with less bitterness than one might expect, leading us to think of it first, less as an IPA and very much as a super hoppy tripel, and fondly so.

Next up was a “new” brew from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon—Hop in the Dark C.D.A. at 6.8% ABV, described as follows:

“From the Nothing’s Sacred Pacific Northwest comes a whole new beer style: Cascadian Dark Ale. Welcome to the curious place where the velvet dark of roasted malt meets the hop snap of IPA.”

indexAnother cool label, The nose, for me was hoppy but with a hint of malt. One pal immediately sniffed, sipped, and chirped “IPA!” While this is true, for the most part, I found the malt influence going beyond just darkening the brew as is often the case of dark lagers and IPAs. The mouthfeel was relatively light, very much in the area of a staunch IPA or heavier dark lager, and the nature of the sweetness certainly spoke some to the malts. There was a moment, however, when the bitter (75 IBU) hit on the back, particularly following the low bitter Muffin Top, presenting as an IPA with dark black coffeee coming up from underneath. Whether this was a correct read or not, I found it made this an interesting and recommended offering. I don’t know that this establishes American Black Ale as a new genus, but Hop in the Dark is definitely one such ale worth drinking.

One final Belgian IPA experience came at the very nice brewpub of the highly awarded Hoppin’ Frog Brewery. A couple years ago we reviewed The Art of Ale, a tasting at The Akron Art Museum. On that night there were two brews sampled from Hoppin’ Frog that knocked me out, and these I wanted to revisit. So while waiting for one pal to arrive, I had a little 5 ouncer of their Barrel Aged Outta Kilter Scotch Red. I’ve always been a Wee Heavy fan and recalled my delight in seeing the fresh version of this at the tasting, later coming to appreciate it more when I discovered, while touring Scotland, that this designation of beer has become old school rare.

Jerk Chicken Tacos

Jerk Chicken Tacos

This iteration was unusual in that they took this Wee Heavy and aged it in Kentucky Bourbon barrels, but barrels that had already been used to age their (again, award winning) big bad stout, Boris the Destroyer. This produced a really unique flavor, the barrels offering that bourbon harmonic, but only a harmonic, the big bourbon sweetness modified by the dryer stout that had been in residence in these barrels prior to the Wee Heavy. Delightful and not heavy handed at all, coming from a brewer that typically offers BIG beers in BIG bottles. An excellent beverage.

When all had arrived I ordered wonderful, filling, jerk chicken tacos with a mango salsa, served with homemade chips (much tastier than the pic I took here). To accompany it, after working their brains around my request, the bartenders found the beer I was looking for, again originally tasted at the Art of Ale. This was my first Belgian IPA, and it was in the brew pub’s lovely “Vintage” section, Hop Master’s Abbey Belgian style Double IPA. I offered tastes to my mates, but THIS was one 22 I was going to drink! I remembered it as a pretty spicy Belgian with the lovely cut of hops, the wonderful mix of the spice, the citrus, and the floral. Interestingly, on this night, aged as it was (5 years), it had changed.

unnamedA quick digression. This brew pub is great. Music is played, people are happy and responsibly respectful of the remarkable quality of these high alcohol beverages. A true craft brew pub. Chef Shawn Sweeney, a very nice guy, came out and we talked about the tacos.The dark meat chicken had been prepared in such a way that, amazing flavor aside, there was a dry, meaty texture to it, more like duck than what can be, for me, a little too wet and slippery of a texture in dark meat chicken. Then master brewer and owner of Hoppin’ Frog, Fred Karm also came by and sat with us as we dug into this Double IPA. We all (Scott, our bartender had a taste as well) agreed the ale had changed over the years, traveling from having been a very spiced Belgian to more of an Abbey style, the yeast playing a bigger part, the hops dropping back in the mix as well. At this point I really didn’t think in terms of it being better or worse for the wear, but wondered over how greatly the ale evolved based on it’s components. Delicious, refreshing, and most of all… really interesting.

So from dancing with Clown Shoes in the dark, from IPAs to CDAs, Clown Cars to vintage beer “cellars,” these were some successful, fun, and colorful drinking adventures.

{ 1 comment }

unnamedHad this great, multi purposed funfest recently, attending Comic Book Heritage Night at the Great Lakes Brewing Tasting Room , sponsored by the brewery and Carol & John’s Comic Shop.

There were about 100 interesting folks to rub shoulders with, a gaggle of artists, known as the Rust Belt Monster Collective  in attendance, a line of them offering to customize a blank comic book cover. Carol and John had plenty of merch, both to sell and to give away.

The guest of honor was cartoonist John Backderf, derf , author of the highly acclaimed (and sold) My Friend Dahmer, and his (this, of course makes me think of Jerry Lewis and the band, Citizen Dick from the movie Singles) recently super-popular-in-France, Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, in which your humble Editor is depicted as a character.

derf, probably considered, with the passing of the legendary lovable curmudgeon Harvey Pekar, the grand old man of Cleveland comics (though only 54, his worldview fits the bill), gave a fun guided trip via power point through his career, focusing on his tenure as a newspaper cartoonist, the part of his career he’s retiring from in order to concentrate on publishing more books and web series.

For the price of admission, there was a table with cheese, crackers, fruit, warm pretzel nuggets, a couple kinds of mustard and a pile of 2 different kinds of grilled sausages, one spicy, one not. All this was tasty and easy to put together as Great Lakes is just down the street from the wonderful West Side Market, two long one story buildings filled with produce of all kinds, butchers, bakers, candy, prepared foods… just check the link, all in the cool and getting cooler Ohio City section of Cleveland.

unnamedOn tap, Great Lakes offered their standard year round fare, Dortmunder, Burning River, Edmund Fitzgerald, Commodore Perry, and Eliot Ness, and one summerseasonal, Wright Pilsner. But this night, for this event, a new brew, served up by Pub Brewer Joel Warger, was debuted, called Truth, Justice & The American Ale. The name was, as explained by Joel, based on the desire to honor the night, but without any threat of D.C bringing a copyright infringement suit to the festivities, Feds potentially seizing the sausages!

The tasty beverage is described as a session American Pale Ale. We all acknowledge that such a name isn’t really recognized as a breed in the beer version of The American Kennel Club, but we get it. It’s not technically an IPA, though it’s made with Simcoe, Cascade, and Mosaic in the cook, and additionally dry hopped, thus described by the brewer as having “heroic hop flavor disguised as a mild mannered session beer.”

There’s been a trend and an effort on a number of brewer’s parts to create session IPAs. We’ve tried a couple that we found to be less than interesting. This one broke the mold. The hops gave off a great floral nose, the flavor naturally (at 4.9% ABV) on the mild side, but rather than coming off as “weak” there was a smoothness to it. Enough of a malt presence to give it some sweetness in the middle and enough of a bitter on the back end (35 IBU) to deal well with that spicy sausage we were pounding.

unnamedI’m always interested in a session strength beer that is interesting as I really won’t drink the normal American mass produced lagers and most tasty craft beer comes at you with a pretty high alcohol content. This is why I’ve been a strong advocate of Stone Levitation Ale, yet another ale that could call itself a session IPA based on hoppiness and nose, yet doesn’t.

Sadly, there are no official plans in the works to bottle TJAA at present, but it can be had, seasonally at the pub at Great Lakes. Check for availability.

And on top of all the above at this lovely fest, we got a free Archie Digest!!!! Win, win!


GUEST POST :: Pasteurization in Brewing, The Conversation Continues – Jaime Jurado

by admin 06.03.2014

One of our more visited posts is titled  Pasteurization in Brewing 101, featuring some thoughts and valued information from Mark Phipps, Technical Director at Alltech Brewing & Distilling Company, widely known as  the brewer of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.  Recently, as a follow up, we received a question from a reader asking about the whys and wherefores of the temperature at which beer […]

Read the full article/watch the video →

THE EDITOR’S DESK :: A quickie – Domaine DuPage, Lively & Alive

by Harvey Gold 05.26.2014

At the end of a very physically active holiday weekend, a little dehydrated from all the play and salty BBQ foods, I sat down with a nice Ashton Esquire, a Dominican purito, and a 12 oz. bottle of Domaine DuPage from Two Brothers Brewing, a French Country Ale, at 5.9% ABV. It poured a medium […]

Read the full article/watch the video →