Archive for March, 2011

Well, I’m writing my very first post from the Land of Freedom.  Our trip across the Atlantic Ocean went off without a hitch, and now my family and I are hanging out in the Chicagoland area before heading off to Ohio.  One of the first things I did once arriving in the States was find the closest specialty beer store.  I was able to pick up a few miscellaneous brews to kick off my American beer experience!  So, this Mash Tun will look at two American craft beers – one from right here in the Windy City and another from the Bluegrass State.

Goose Island IPA
I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I have never had an India Pale Ale.  It’s awful, I know.  Unfortunately, it’s a style that’s not very prevalent in Germany, so there hasn’t been much opportunity for me to get my hands on one.  Needless to say then, I was looking forward to finally experiencing this beloved brewing tradition.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would like the hoppy profile of the IPA.  German brewing is not known for their heavy use of bittering hops.  Well, I had the chance to try my hand at the IPA my first full day back in America.

Although Goose Island wasn’t on my list of must-drink beers during my trip to the US, the brewery has been on my radar for a while.  During my initial beer shopping excursion, I had a slot left in my “build your own 6-pack”, so I picked up their take on the India Pale Ale.  This brew pours a slightly hazy orange color with light, quickly dissipating head.  The nose is citrus including orange and a little lemon plus sweet malts and nice dose of grass and floral hops. With orange and sweetness being balanced by grassy and floral hops flavor dominating, the taste resembles closely the aroma.  I was really pleased with the nice strong hop flavor which was not overly bitter. The brew had an amazing mouthfeel with light crispness, lively carbonation, and smooth aftertaste.  With one IPA now under my belt, I can definitely say that I’m looking forward to many more to come.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
I’m noticing that it is a huge trend in craft beer right now to brew using casks from liquor distilleries.  By far the most popular is bourbon barrels, but I also seen beer from brandy and other whiskey casks.  Personally though, I have never experienced beer from this unique brewing art.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I have even had bourbon before.  It just so happened that the friends we were staying with in Chicago were big fans of a particular barrel aged beer – the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale from the Lexington Brewing Company.  According to my friend, it’s actually illegal to export the beer out of Kentucky making it a particularly distinctive acquisition.  I’m skeptical of the accuracy of my friend’s information, but I was nonetheless excited to give it a try.

I like cool bottles.  For some reason, beer coming from a cool bottle just seems more drinkable.  This brew comes in a classic, almost antique style bottle with a black silhoette of a horses head on the label.  Out of this bottle pours a rich copper beer with medium off-white head. Of course, you get the strong whiskey scent right off the bat along with a nice malty sweetness. The taste is heavy on the bourbon with some vanilla and a slight fruity sweetness as well. The really nice thing about this beer, in my opinion, was how it felt on the palate.  The brew is very smooth – almost silky – as well as well-balanced with a medium body making it very drinkable.  It wasn’t the mind-blowing experience that some people might make it out to be, but the bourbon barrel-aged beer is a definite must-try.


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If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that my wife and I have been living the expatriate lifestyle here in Germany going on two years.  Living on this side of the Atlantic has afforded me the opportunity to delve deeply into European beer culture – particularly Germany and Belgium.  In fact, it was a trip to Belgium that first inspired me to learn all that I could about the brewing arts.  Although I’ve really loved experiencing all that Europe has to offer beer-wise, I regretted the fact that I didn’t discover true beer enjoyment while I lived in the States.

I have always enjoyed good beer though.  Even when I knew nothing about the craft beer scene, I was aware that there was a difference between the BMC stuff and the high-end, quality brewing.  However, the most exposure I have ever had to the American craft beer world was a memorable trip to New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Aside from them, I have virtually zero experience with true American craft beer.  Fortunately, that’s about to change.

This coming week, my family and I will be making our very first trip back to America since we left almost two years ago.  Since I’ve last seen those amber waves of grain, I have become an entirely different beer drinker – hopefully, a bit wiser and more discerning.  So, I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of our time in the States to become more acquainted with amazing American beer.  I have even come up with a “most drink” list of particular brewers that I want to concentrate on while I’m there.  Since all of our time will be spent in the Midwest, I’m focusing on some of the most well-known breweries from that region.  So, without further ado, here’s my American Beer Tour 2011 road schedule:

1.  Three Floyds Brewing in Munster, Indiana. We will actually be flying into Chicago and from there making are way across the Midwest visiting friends and family.  Luckily, my aunt lives a mere 10 minutes away from Three Floyds brewery and pub in northwest Indiana.  This world-renown brewery is going to be my first stop.  Unfortunately, I’m going to miss Dark Lord Day by a few weeks, but that’s not going to dampen my excitement for getting my mitts on some of their other beers.  In particular, I’m looking forward to trying out their Alpha King pale ale and Dreadnought IPA on top of anything special they might be serving at their brewpub.

2.  Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Originally, we had planned on making a stop in Michigan which meant that a side trip to Bell’s would have been warranted.  Unfortunately, plans change and we won’t be going near Kalamazoo.  That isn’t going to deter me from making this awesome brewery a priority.  I’m hoping to procure various beers from the brewhouse formerly known as Kalamazoo Brewing Company over the course of our trip.  At the top of my list are, of course, the famous Hopslam Ale and Expedition Stout.  But, anything else I can come across, I’ll probably pick up too.

3.  Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Being a native Ohioan, there’s a good amount of pride knowing that one of the best breweries in America can be found in good ol’ Cleveland.  What I like most about this brewery is their excellent pale offerings.  In a craft beer world, where the heavy hitters like Stouts and IPAs seem to get all of the glory, it’s refreshing to find a brewery that can make some mind-blowing pale brews.  I’m especially looking forward to GLB’s Dortmunder Gold and their Burning River Pale Ale, both of which have earned high praise over the years.

4.  Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron, Ohio. Just south of Cleveland is the old rubber capital of the world, Akron.  In this rust-belt town of some 200,000 people, you’ll find this small but quality brewery.  It’s definitely the least known of all the brewhouses on my road tour, but it’s definitely got some great beer.  In particular, I’m hoping to try their B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout as well as their intriguing sounding Hop Master’s Abbey Belgian-style Double IPA.

Well, those are the highlights.  Of course, there will be specific entries in the weeks to come sharing my experiences of these various breweries.  Aside from these four, I’m hopeful that I will also encounter a few random surprises along the way.  If you have any suggestions of Midwestern breweries or beer that I have to try, feel free to point me in the right direction.  Bottoms up!  We’ll see you in America!

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For this week’s post, I had originally intended to review a well-known local microbrewery and brewpub here in Cologne.  At the last minute though, my plans to visit the locale with a friend fell through, so I’ve been scrambling to find something to post for this week.  Therefore, I’m going to do what every good college student does when they’re up against a deadline – find something you did in the past and recycle it!

Well, it really isn’t a complete recycle job.  I’ve been a fan of the Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus for a long time.  However, I’ve only ever sampled their Pils, which is incidentally one of the finest German Pilsners out there.  Just recently though, Rothaus’s seasonal spring beer, their Märzen Export, has started showing up on store shelves.  I figured this would be a good pinch-hitter for this week’s entry.

Like so many other German breweries, Rothaus was original founded as part of a monastery.  In 1791, the abbot of St. Blasien Abbey, a certain Martin Gerbert II, established a small brewery in the upper Black Forest region of southern Germany.  In this economically challenged district, the dutiful abbot wanted his new brewery to help support development in the surrounding area.  The monastery’s brewing activities did not last long though.  In the wake of the Napoleonic invasions, the region was secularized in 1806, and ownership of the brewhouse was transferred to the Grand Duchy of Baden.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the small Rothaus brewery remained confined to this remote and picturesque country.  Through the years, the brewhouse survived revolutions, fires, depressions, and wars.  After World War I the monarchy was abolished, at which point the brewery found itself again under new management – this time the new federal state of Baden.  As a state-owned operation, the brewery didn’t make many waves in the German beer scene.  This all changed in the 1990s, when under the leadership of a former state official the brewhouse doubled its output.  Rothaus, still owned by the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, enjoys a sterling reputation that extends far beyond the Black Forest.

So, what about the beer?  As part of my sampling, I was able to snag their classic Pils, their Hefeweizen, as well as their seasonal Märzen Export.  While Rothaus beers are not the kind that are going to turn a lot of heads, there is some really quality in this line up.  Let’s start with the Märzen!  This brew pours a nice deep golden color with medium, somewhat fizzy head.  Sticking your nose in the glass, you get an aroma that is sweet malts with a particularly fruity emphasis.  The taste is mostly the corresponding sweetness including some nice fruity notes, particularly grape. The hop flavors are grassy but subdued with very little bitterness.  All in all, it’s a nice representative of the Märzen.

From the bottom-fermented, we move now to the ale arena and Rothaus’s take on the Hefeweizen.  The appearance on this sucker is a relatively clear orange color with some sediment and a huge, creamy head.  The nose is dominated by the Weizen notes – banana, clove, and some floral elements with a flavor profile that is heavy on the banana on the front end.  In contrast, there is a light, herbal hop bitterness that moved the beer into a crisp finish.  The palate was the most disappoint part of this beer.  The mouthfeel was pretty watery, especially for a Weizen, with a distracting fizzy carbonation.  The brew had some amazing flavors but couldn’t quite deliver on the palate.  Regardless, it was a pretty delightful Weizen.

If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you know that I’m on an ongoing search for well crafted German Pilsners.  Rothaus’s version is one of my favorite brews in this style.  The beer has all of the characteristics of a great Pils.  There’s the classic clear, golden appearance along with the sweet bread and malt aromas.  The taste is sweet with the bread and slight floral elements coming through.  But, there’s also that crisp grassy hop flavor that balances the sweetness very well.  This is definitely the kind of beer that you want to keep stocked in your frig.

I’m a sucker for breweries that have not only quality beer but a long history.  After over 200 years of brewing great beers, Rothaus has proven that they’ve got the stuff.  Although these brews aren’t super flashy, they are definitely quality.  In a country that is slowly loosing its grip of its brewing reputation, Rothaus is steadfast holding the line of good brewing craftmanship.

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The good times keep on rolling in beerland.  I’m in the process of researching a very unique beer locale in my adopted home of Cologne.  On top of that, my family and I are preparing for our first trip back to the States since we moved to Germany a year and a half ago.  Needless to say, my plate is pretty full.  What a perfect time for a new Mash Tun!  This edition explores some beer geek terminology as well as a tasting from a rather famous Munich brauhaus.

The Animator
One of the most storied breweries in the Munich beer pantheon is the Hacker-Pschorr Brauhaus.  This renowned brewer can trace its history all the way back to 1417 when the Hacker brewhouse was founded in Munich.  For several centuries, the two brewing families of Hacker and Pschorr remained distinct entities although they were related through intermarriage.  After surviving world wars, economic crises, and the ever turbulent changes in the beer market, the two houses finally merged in 1972.

I’ve been able to sample a few selections from this famous Munich establishment recently including their Münchener Hell and Sternweisse wheat beer.  The other day though I came across their Animator Doppelbock in the store, so I decided I had to do a write-up about this one.  Their take on the Doppelbock is one of their best rated brews, which meant I had some high expectations going in.

Out of the 500ml bugel bottle the beer poured a reddish-brown, hazy color with only a little off-white head.  The aroma was grainy with some fruitiness and hints of caramel.  The taste was mostly those malted grains with a corresponding sweetness that included some slight hints of fruit (perhaps peach?).  The most disappointing aspect of this beer, in my opinion, was how it sat on the palate.  For a Doppelbock, it seemed a little too watery and light.  Along with very weak carbonation, the mouthfeel didn’t leave much to be desired.  So, on the whole it was a pretty average Doppelbock – certainly enjoyable, but not nearly what I was hoping for from a brewery with such a reputation.

Not Quite NA Beer
I’ve been exploring the vast universe of beer now for about six months.  In that time, I’ve learned that there is a very specialized vocabulary when you’re talking about beer.  Whether it’s phenolic or a growler, if you’re going to be a beer geek, you gotta learn the language.  One such phrase that particularly interested me lately was the term “session beer”.  Usually, you find it a sentence like:  “Wow!  I’ve just downed 4 pints and I’m not totally wasted.  This would make a great session beer!”

BeerAdvocate defines a session beer as “any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters and, typically, a clean finish – a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability.”  The goal of a good session beer is that it permits the drinker to indulge in multiple glasses without the messy consequences of intoxication.  Apparently, the term is rooted in blue collar England where factory workers were only allowed a certain period (or “session”) in between shifts where they were allowed to drink.  Therefore, they would seek out particular beers that could quench their thirst without leaving them shnookered when they returned to their jobs.

From the craft beer perspective, a good session beer needs to be light on the ABV but still meeting a high standard of quality and drinkability – meaning Miller Lite need not apply.  To this point, I’m not sure how many true session beers I’ve come across.  Typically, the high-octane brews are the ones that get the most attention in the craft beer world.  But, the next time I’m at the brew pub with friends, I’ll know what to look for.

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