THE EDITOR’S DESK :: A Couple Bargain Brews From Trader Joe’s… or Whoever the Hell You Are!!

by Harvey Gold on November 27, 2012

Every now and then we’ll try an offering from Trader Joe’s. It’s a cool concept store. Good prices, creative in their labeling and marketing, eclectic in what they shelve, always making us want to give them the bidness, if not on principal alone, as an homage to their brilliant Wasabi Mayo, great Cherry Preserves, and the occasional killer frozen oddity.

But the reality of their beers has proved to be, so far, not so much. Paying $5.99 for a 6 of an American IPA, for example, only to find it light on not only the hops, but everything except it’s ABV, thus no bargain whatsoever, is a little dispiriting. But I keep trying, as I feel I need to fiercely battle against my prejudices, generated by the following pet peeve.

Maybe it’s me, but this idea they have of making up imaginary breweries is something I find not as much fun and delightful as intended, and I fear it starts me out on the wrong foot.

This time, a significant sale was being run on a couple 22s from Boatswain Brewing. Cute labels, chuckles, themes, at maybe $2.99 a bottle. Fun, fun, fun! The real brewer is Minhas Craft Brewery, in Monroe, Wisconsin. Minhas is a regional that does their own versions of mass produced low ABV American brews, also running a craft line. None of their offerings from the craft group are critical darlings. Of course, I buy the brew, then research it after tasting. So once again, forewarned only by history, into the breach I go.

For some reason, the label ALSO notes that it’s bottled by Wisconsin’s Rhinelander. The label claims it’s location as the same as where we find Minhas, Monroe. They’re website, however, says it’s in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Sigh… really guys?

Anyway, first up was H.L.V (Heavy Lift Vessel) Ale carrying 80 IBUs, a brown ale boasting lots of hops. I was heartened as the pour was a beautiful deep brown with red highlights, the head a nice tight tan. The nose was that of  big, malty sweetness. The first sip, as a cold brew, offered really the same, a notable sweetness with caramel and, oddly, no bitterness.

Subsequent sipping revealed a lot more, not all good. As this ale spent more time out of the fridge and in the air, I started to detect the bitterness it boasts, and the emergence of the hop component, in this case with a flavor I recall from younger days, drinking (and then rejecting) cheap Cream Ales… SOAP.

As I continued, the sweetness became cloying, sticking to the back of the tongue, the soapiness diminishing some but still there, and the bitterness kind of appearing at the very end, also lingering at the end of the sip… everything a little sticky.

But this was all out of balance, none of these flavor notes – the bitter, the sweetness, the malt, the hop taste (regardless of whether I found it to be good or bad) were integrated, making for an unharmonious beverage. They were just there, clearly apparent enough to describe, but not crafting a singular unique personality as a result. Not smooth, in any respect. In fact, I found the very stand alone nature of the sweetness becoming repellant to the point of feeling like high fructose corn syrup was added in at the end, not the result of the brewing process. It was enough to have me drop out 20 minutes and about 10 ounces in.

Next up was Boatswains Chocolate Stout. At 5.4% ABV, it’s touted on the label as “Stout Brewed With Cocoa Powder.” Interestingly, this was not bad at all. A lower viscosity stout without a notable nose, something I find in stouts more than any other style, it looked standard issue as it poured, very dark, practically no head.

Drinking it was also standard issue, but in this case, standard issue for a very decent stout. Surprise! The chocolate was there but nicely integrated. I also tasted molasses and that distinct flavor of roasted barley. A very dry stout, at this level of alcohol with it’s relatively light mouthfeel, while not distinctive enough to actively seek out, with it’s great price, it most certainly qualifies as what I would call a decent session stout, if that was your inclination. I could easily envision tossing one into the cart again.

So while I’m not really thrilled that I can’t completely write off TJ’s future beer offerings… congrats to Joe, or Sven, or whoever the hell you were this time!

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