THE EDITOR’S DESK :: A Tale of Two Brews

by Harvey Gold on June 3, 2011

On two consecutive nights, we tried two very different beers: one with promising claims at a really affordable price, the other one that would, without question, offer high expectations at a price you’d expect.

Trader Joe’s, at first blush, is someone to take seriously as 1) they have a nice educational beer section on their website, 2) have some interesting looking offerings, and 3) much of it is affordable! The one in question, their Fat Weasel Ale, had a little sign where they stocked it , reading something to effect that the ale was Super Hoppy and, if I recall correctly, a favorite with the staff. Priced at $5.99 for a 6 – and accustomed to paying closer to twice as much for the craft beer we’ve been drinking – this seemed like a good idea, and certainly not a great loss if the experiment failed.

Fat Weasel Ale is produced for Trader Joe’s by River Trent Brewing Co. in Ukiah CA. Some think this is an alias for either Mendocino or Firestone, as reserach finds no brewer by this name. Trader Joe’s farms out everything at present, so it appears they’re just having some fun. I was expecting something more along the lines of an IPA, but it’s presented as an American Strong Ale. It’s strong at 7.1% ABV and I’ll give them credit for brewing something smooth enough that you really do have to check the label or your reflexes to know it’s got that much alcohol, but that’s kind of where it all ends for me. From the nose through the pour, head. lacing and – most important – the flavor, Fat Weasel is an unspectacular beer. There’s a little malt to it and a somewhat disconnected bitter, but no unique qualities to distinguish it.

As I’ve written in the past, I grew up disliking all the “go to” beers: Bud, Miller, Coors, Stroh’s, Schlitz and the like; as time passed, not even a fan of Heineken or Beck’s. My introduction to this world came with Guinness, Bass, and the (very) occasional Dos Equis. Since starting this YBN enterprise, I’ve barely dipped my toe into that world, but have to think that if I were to be thinking about an affordable drinking beer that would offer me more than those “go to” beers, I’d consider Fat Weasel, except that at 7.1%, there’s only so many one could “go to” before becoming gone themselves. So sadly, I’ve got to give this one a pass. Too bad, nice label!

Not giving up on Trader Joe’s either. I like their cherry  preserves and wasabi mayo too damned much! Besides, we’ve got a 22 of their Mission St. 2011 Anniversary Ale to try in a while.

The next night I was introduced to an offering from Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp. The interesting thing about Beer Camp is that if you make a winning creative video you can come and be a brewer. The difference between this home brewer contest and the Longshot, run by Samuel Adams is the criteria for winning. Sam Adams lets you know on the label whose winning recipe it is. Sierra makes it a collaborative effort since the campers as a group determine what and how.

This is where the differences between the two contests end. The Sam Adams beer we lovingly reviewed was their Blackened Hops, created by winner Rodney Kibzey – a dark, dark beer with sweet malt notes and a really interesting hoppy profile.

The offering from Sierra that we just tasted, The Best of Beer Camp #16’s Juniper Black Ale, is also dark – also delicious. Sierra calls it a winter warmer, and it carries an 8% ABV. The circumstances I first drank it under dictated I did so straight from the bottle, making it hard to get a nose and, of course, impossible to speak to the pour. For my part, I tasted “BIG!” There was chocolate and coffee, and a bitterness that could have been any proportion of hops and juniper. What I missed was the piney taste coming from the juniper, leading me to believe that either drinking it directly from the bottle limited what the beer could have done with some air around it, and/or they went relatively light on the juniper. I’ll vote for the bottle effect as this drink didn’t alter much as it warmed, little coming up and stepping out to greet me as is so very often the case.

Juniper Black Ale was a big, solid drink. Thus, suspecting there was lot more to it’s story than I tasted in the bottle, I sought out another and drank it in a glass. I found the nose to still be lacking, a little malty, but nothing much. This time it took a while and had to warm quite a bit, but as it did, the first thing I noticed was a sweetness rising out of the bitterness on the back of the tongue; then almost immediately the bitterness retook the mouthfeel. Next, the chocolate and coffee – which I’ll call the dark and warm elements, as I couldn’t distinguish one over the other – started to show their presence. Delicious, particularly as that rising endgame bitterness now started to reveal the pine of the juniper along with the hops.

I was right—there was much more to Juniper Black Ale, much more of a journey as it moved to the bottom of the glass. An excellent brew for Sierra Nevada…Camp #16 kicked ass.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Juanito Cardissimoahund August 4, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Probably hasn’t occurred to you that your nose, mouth and eyes are actually perfect for soda pop, not beer.


Juanito Cardissimoahund August 4, 2014 at 7:24 pm

“…awaiting Moderation…” (?) Gawd, what pompous posturing…


admin August 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm

We find, increasingly, that “comments” as submitted are, more often than not, here with some sort of agenda other than contributing to the discourse based on the post. Often it’s a spam like interface with the site. This may be a new twist on that, but it appears that Jaunito truly takes exception to, not any of the points I made, any of my opinions but, it would seem, my assuming that what I have to say about these matters is a case of unmitigated and unqualified hubris.
Taking the chance that this is a real person with a reason to have a measure of resentment based on my thinking anyone would give a shit about what I experienced, I opted to approve these comments. Suppose I should have better checked the e-mail trail just in case, but what the hell.
Anyway… first off, great name. Second, the history of critical writing is based on, as the reader, knowing your source, whether you find you agree very often or not, getting a gauge of what is written might mean to you and your experience. That’s it. Credentials, history, backstory, all potentially useful, mainly useless, as it’s all a matter of opinion anyway, so… as you’ve taken the liberty to be simply and purely insult based in your posts, I’ll assume I can also, thus, have the same freedom to tell you to bugger off.


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