UNFINISHED Review: Green Flash Sea to Sea Lager

San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing Co. is best known for their West Coast IPA, which I’ve seen in bottles and cans and on tap here in Maryland. Many years ago, I tried their West Coast IPA and, not yet being a hops fan, didn’t find it to my liking. I need to put it on my To Drink list. They’ve been around since 2002 and it was that aforementioned IPA that really put them on the map. They’ve been reaping craft brewing awards regularly since then.

Today, we’re going to take a quick look at what a Zwickel lager is… other than just being what the Sea to Sea Lager is classified as. The German Zwickelbier is a subset of the Kellerbeir (cellar beer), which is a kind of unfiltered lagered that tends to be low in carbonation and high in vitamins (from the boatloads of yeast found in it). It’s traditionally unbunged (that is, left open to the air) and fermented in deep vaults or cellars. The Kellerbeir is an old style of beer, from the Middle Ages, and the Zwickelbeir is its more modern, more subtle cousin.

The can says, “Unfiltered crisp” which has my attention; I like both of these things. I poured this from a can into a pint glass, revealing a really lovely orangey/warm yellow color. My notes say, “looks very carbonated,” but I not believe that what I was seeing was a slight haze from being unfiltered. There’s minimal head here with just a touch of lacing.

It smells bright, wheaty, citrusy, and with a rich, herbal hop impression (this last part is probably the Saaz hops, which I don’t know well). There’s even a slightly sour smell that makes me think of lemon.

The taste is very crisp with a moderately dry finish on the tongue. There’s something like a light, white bread taste to it, but I don’t really detect much maltiness to speak of. For perhaps a second, it reminded me of a gose, but it is, in fact, neither sour nor salty. Those herbal, floral-tasting hops are nice and mellow.

Review: Stillwater Artisanal Classique

The last time that I had a Stillwater Artisanal brew, it was from a bomber that I bought while in Portland, Oregon. That’s a little far to have traveled for a local beer. So, close to home again, I picked up another of their beers. And, I have to state the obvious here: their label art is always eye catching to me. It’s great design work.

Classique – which calls itself a Post-Modern Beer, but, let’s be honest here, is a farmhouse or a saison – pours a beautiful golden color that looks slightly hazy to me. There’s two generous fingers of fluffy, white head that falls pretty quickly after pouring the beer out into a pint glass. I didn’t see any lacing on this one. While pouring, I get a big, biscuit nose and some yeast funk from this. With a deep sniff, nose in the glass and everything, there are even some lingering notes of tropical fruit and a whiff of some malted grains as well.

Stillwater Artisanal Classique 005

The taste is bigly yeast funk right up front. It’s light and kind of dry with something that makes me think of pink peppercorns. There’s even a light lemon tartness there. Toward the end, there’s a kind of “heat” sensation that I often get from Belgians. The mouthfeel is pretty light, with decent carbonation. It’s crisp and drinkable in general, but there’s this dryness in the back of my throat that I don’t love. Not bad, not great. I don’t think I’d buy this again, though. 3 mugs out of 5.

3 Mugs

Review: Union Craft Brewing Rye Baby IPA

Frisco’s, a favorite of mine, has a fun new machine. It means you can get any of their beers on tap and take two pints home, sealed airtight in a big, tall, silver can. This changes things! I’m just one person and I can’t always finish a growler in the two days before the beer loses its freshness/carbonation. This can is just 32oz ad that I can handle solo.

Union Rye Baby 001

Well, I cracked that thing open one evening – after about two days in my fridge – to test it out. Union Rye Baby IPA pours a rich, warm honey color with coppery hues. There’s a light cream-colored head that is fluffy and a little over one finger high with some sturdy lacing.

Union Rye Baby 003

It smells hoppy right up front, green and foresty, with maybe a little bit of pine resin to it. There’s maybe something a little fruity, as well. The piney nature of the nose gives me a strong idea of a west coast influence.

The taste is good and rye for sure! Rye IPAs ted to be malty in my experience, often showcasing the rye malt flavor profile. This, however, is hop forward, but with a sturdy malt backbone. It’s not a palate wrecker, but it skews a little better (though pleasantly so to my tastes).

Union Rye Baby 006

There’s a dry, bitter finish, but not a lingering, unpleasant aftertaste. Though, as it warms, the bitter flavor does get a little more zingy. Still, two whole pints of it in one evening was a pleasant experience. I’ve seen this come up on menus since then, and hopefully will continue to see it more in the future because I’ll absolutely order it.

Beer 201: Tetrahydropyridine

I like to call this one, “Excuse me, waiter? There’s some Cheerios in my beer.”

Time to drop some knowledge. So, remember the sour beer festival that I went to a few months back? Well, I ran into something that I hadn’t really been able to pin down before: sometimes, some sour beers tasted… weird. There was an aftertaste there. Something wheaty and kind of unpleasant. But I couldn’t place it.

Then my friend M said, “Ew, this one tastes like Cheerios” and everything fell into place. Cheerios! That was exactly the weird taste that I’d been getting! But what the heck would cause this kind of strange flavor that, in my opinion, clearly didn’t belong there? It was time for some Google fu.

There is a chemical compound called Tetrahydropyridine, produced by some yeasts*, that is responsible for this imperfection in the flavor of beers – and it is generally considered by brewers and wine makers (who battle this off flavor, too) to be a flaw. Brewers usually abbreviate it to THP (thank goodness, because that is not a word I feel like typing for a second time) and it is considered a ketone (which is something I actually know a bit about because of a diet I followed for years… ANYWAY). It is responsible for the Cheerios, biscuit/cracker, or – according to some people – urine-like “off” flavors in sour beers.

453844

What I have experienced the most is a Cheerios/dry wheat taste on the back end of a beer taste or as an aftertaste that lingers. This is apparently a pretty common experience… except I’ve read that not everyone is able to detect this funky flavor. The acidity/low pH of sour beers can mask or overwhelm the flavors (and usually the aroma, too) of THP. Since everyone’s tongue has a slightly different natural pH level itself, some folks’ mouths will cause an increase in the pH of the liquid and they will be able to taste the THP’s effects; some people’s natural pH levels won’t cause enough of change in the beer to reveal this flavor. I have a pretty attuned palate, generally speaking, so I’m not surprised that I’m sensitive enough to detect this kind of weirdness.

It sounds like aging beers will reduce or remove this flavor, in bottles, kegs, or fermenters. But this can take a few months’ time and small breweries, especially, don’t have the money or time to just sit on a beer – they have more beer to make and ship as soon as possible. I would bet money that sour beers from smaller breweries with more limited storage are more likely to have this problem.

Now, I wouldn’t say that this is a common problem; most sour beers I’ve tried don’t have this flaw. But the ones that do? Well, they stick out in my memory as being particularly off-putting. Would I send back a beer with this taste? Probably not. But I also just might not finish the glass and move on to something else.

*Brettanomyces, which is popular for sour beers and wild ales, is a common culprit for producing THP. Lactic Acid Bacteria and Acetic Acid Bacteria can also yield the compound.

 

Review: Elysian Punkuccino

Pumpkin beer! How I love pumpkin beer! Sure, there are some watery, metallic-tasting, total stinkers out there that call themselves pumpkin beers – but there are also some fantastic brews out there, too. Elysian, in my experience, makes damn fine pumpkin and autumnal beers.

Punkuccino by Elysian is not only a pumpkin beer, but it’s a coffee beer as well, made with Stumptown coffee – a Pacific Northwest classic. The hits just keep on coming! This beer sounded like it was checking all of the boxes on my list of I Have To Drink This. Frisco in Columbia, MD, was happy to oblige.

Punk

This very handsome beer pours a deep, dark brown with a reddish undertone that lit up when light hit the glass. The’s no head at all save for a creamy smear of foam on the top of the liquid. It leaves some clingy lacing behind as it goes.

It smells like roasted cocoa, pumpkin pie, graham cracker crusts, and even sweet iced coffee. The taste is definitely pumpkin beer right up front, but it’s backed up by brown sugar, some heavy cinnamon, rich chocolate, and coffee stout as a sturdy backdrop. It’s not tinny like some pumpkin beers/pies/canned pumpkin can sometimes be. It’s not watery at all and has a decent mouthfeel, low carbonation, and is very smooth.

As both a pumpkin beer fan and a coffee stout fan, this beer is seriously everything that I could want. It is so rich and full of flavor and is perfect for a cool weather beer. I’ m so into it.

Review: New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA

Spontaneous movie night with friends – we opted for Beetlejuice, which is generally the right plan. I brought over a selection of beers that I’d picked up at my favorite bottle shop and, when the host, J, saw the bottle of Voodoo Ranger, his face lit up. He told me that it was a fantastic beer so of course I had to crack that open.

This beer pours a rich honey straw gold with a very clear appearance – not cloudy at all. There’s a generous head, though I definitely poured a little too aggressively and caused some of that to form. There’s at least three fingers of fluffy, off-white head that trailed lacing behind as it settled down into the beer.

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger

It has a piney, dank, hop-forward nose. And yet it smells a little bright, almost tropical, to me. There’s also a whiff of sweet malt in the background as well. Based on the smell, though, I was anticipating a hop punch in the face.

The first sip is bright with tangerine and features a smooth hop finish. Then there’s that slight tropical aftertaste mixed with green pine. It’s very clean-drinking, immensely enjoyable. The mouthfeel is smooth and just a little thick. It’s a seriously excellent beer. I would absolutely buy this one again!

Review: Sierra Nevada Sidecar

I was meeting someone out for dinner, but, true to my fashion, I was insanely early. This usually happens when I use the metro to go into DC – I don’t trust it one bit and always budget way too much time to get anywhere. Oh no! Stuck at a bar with time to kill? I guess I’ll review a beer!

At the City Tap House in DC, I was unimpressed with the selection of IPAs that day; I’d had most of the ones on offer that day and I generally like to try and review a beer I’ve never had before. Enter Sierra Nevada Sidecar.

Sierra Nevada Sidecar 002

This draft beer came to me as a rich, orangey gold colored liquid in the very dim light of the bar. It has no head and just a tiny amount of lacing around the outer ring of the liquid. It doesn’t have a huge nose of any kind, but I could swear I’m getting a whiff of passionfruit. It’s also smelling a little biscuity and hoppy. It’s made (I looked it up because that’s what I do) with Cascade, Equinox, and Mandarina hops – which might be why it tastes so…

Orangey. I looked up the bottle label and, on there, it’s advertised as an orange pale ale. This was not indicated on the beer list’s description. That said “a hint of orange peel” and this is bright and orange from the very first taste. It’s very light, tropical, and has some sweet citrus notes – but the beer itself isn’t sweet. The finish is clean and just a hint dry. It’s very easy to drink. It’s light and breezy at 5.3% ABV and not really hoppy tasting at all.

Would I drink it again? Sure. But now that I know how very orange-tasting it is, I’m prepared to pair it with the right weather or food next time.

Review: Max’s Taphouse Sour Beer Festival

While drinking IPAs with a friend at Gilly’s several weeks ago, I lamented the lack of sour beers that day. Now, Gilly’s does have sours pretty often, but didn’t this day. And my friend says, “I think there’s a sour beer festival in Baltimore next weekend.”

I WAS SO IN.

I hadn’t been to Max’s in probably 10 years, so I didn’t remember anything about it other than the plethora of taps. There are 102 of them to be exact. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The sour beer festival took place on Monday, February 20th – President’s Day. I may not celebrate the holiday, but I’ll celebrate some great wild ales or sour beers!

Max's Sour Beers 002

We got there early – 11am – and grabbed one of the very last tables. The Belgian Beer Festival, which took up the previous three days, often results in a line out the door before the doors open. I’m grateful my friend knew that arriving early was the right choice. There were pencils and paper slips on every table along with a massive list of beers (on something like 18″ long sheets of paper) and my goal was to pick several, take my paper to the bartender, and get my many small tasters. It was possible to get full pints, but I was in it for the variety.

Max's Sour Beers 004

Unfortunately, the bartender said she handed my my tasters in the order I wrote them, but some were almost certainly mixed up. I did my best to sort the mess out, but my notes on these beers are all wrong, so this review is moot. I had a great time trying 8 different sours that day and, while the crowds weren’t exactly to my liking, I would definitely go back and do this again next year.

 

Review: BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse

Let’s be 100% honest here: it doesn’t matter which of the BJ’s locations I was at because they’re a chain and chains strive for consistency above all else. Not that that is inherently a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a big key to success in places like Starbucks (notice how they all look pretty much the same no matter where in the country or world you are?) and other big companies. BJ’s has 192 locations in 24 states. They’re pretty sizable. But the good thing? They don’t feel too much like a big chain.

BJs

I’ve been to a few Happy Hours here and the deals are good: $1 off drafts, $2 off select appetizers, and half price 4″ deep dish pizzas. There’s always a selection of their 11 house beers/cider plus a bunch of guest taps. This is the sort of place with something for everyone.

I started with the Nutty Brewnette as I was in the mood for a brown or amber ale. Something slightly sweet. It was rainy and cold and an IPA just didn’t feel right. This beer is a medium chocolate-brown with just a little light passing through around the outer edges of the glass. It comes with a little over a finger of foamy, cream-colored head. This fades quickly, leaving slight traces of lacing behind. It smells nutty, toasty, sweet, and with a hint of cocoa maltiness to it. The taste is sweet on the palate, but it is easy to drink. Not overpowering in any way. Clocking in at just 5.9%, this is a balanced brew that’s not too heavy on alcohol/heat like some browns I’ve tasted can be.

BJs Nutty Brewnette

The Jeremiah Red was next (see? I just wasn’t feeling straight up IPAs that day). This is called an Irish Red Ale, which tends to be a little sweet, but with some hoppy dryness that almost comes off like tea sometimes can. This beer arrived a medium red-amber with golden hues, through which light passes pretty well.

Jeremiah Red

I think I take a lot of stock of this whole light thing because I had an ex who said that a sign of a good beer was one that was totally opaque. He was a stout drinker through and through and rarely strayed when it came to style. I’ve since opened myself up to tons of different beer types and don’t really have a litmus test for “good beer.” Other than that I like it, that is.

Anyway, Jeremiah Red has almost no nose, in part because it’s served quite cold (as all BJ’s beers are). There’s maybe  a whiff of something bready there. Its taste starts sweet with a nice hop finish. There’s caramel and brown sugar sweetness throughout this thing. At 25 IBU, it’s not really bitter at all. Very middle of the road. It stands up to food and I feel like anyone could enjoy this with a meal.

Pizza

Review: Diamondback Wack

Another Gilly’s review (you think they’d be a sponsor of mine by now or something) – and a quick one at that. Diamondback Brewing Company is Baltimore based and has been brewing since 2013. They’re based out of a handsome brick building in the Locust Point area of the city, just off of I-95. And yet I haven’t visited them so far. We’ll have to change that.

Their standard brewing lineup favors IPAs and pale ales, but they definitely went outside of their comfort zone with Wack. This is a weird one: a black gose (which I will admit that I had never heard of before). A black gose’s signature color is dark and this comes from the malts used to brew it. In the case of Diamondback Wack, these are Midnight Wheat and Dark Chocolate Malts. The hops used are Ella (which I’m not really familiar with), and the yeasts are a house yeast for Diamonbdack as well as additional lactic acid.

IMG_3434

I had a 10oz pour this particular Monday. It was a deep, dark brown color with a hint of ruby hue to it. There’s not-quite-a-finger of tan head, which vanishes quickly.  I didn’t get much of a nose off of this, probably because it was very cold. There might be a slightly zingy and sour smell and – I know that this sounds odd – I could swear that it smells slightly salted.

It’s malty for a few moments up front, roasty but not sweet at all. There’s a great deal of complexity in this beer. Diamondback’s website says it’s brewed with coriander, which is part of the nutty, layered flavors. It’s very sour. It has a nice pucker punch to it. The salty finish is also pleasantly strong, which is a great taste for a gose – very signature of this beer style. Even when I lick my lips after, they’re still sour and salty tasting. This is a style of beer that I love and this was a really good example of what I think it can be should be.