Fall Seasonals for the Sceptic

And you wonder why I shy away from pumpkin ales...

Fall and winter bring with them a plethora of seasonal beers: Oktoberfest, pumpkin ale, Christmas ale, and all the hybrids in between. Most of them I view sourly as marketing stunts to take up more shelf space to sell more of the brand. Rather than bitter prematurely, though, I tasted a sample of fall beers to try to prove myself wrong.

Oktoberfest, as a style, is synonymous with the Märzen style. Märzen is German for March, which is around when this style is typically brewed. Back in the days before refrigeration it was too difficult to brew in the summer, so this beer was brewed in early spring, stored in a cool spot over summer, and brought out in time to celebrate Oktoberfest. How better can one celebrate the approach of winter than by getting blitzed?

Oktoberfests are known for their full-bodied, roasty toasty-ness. I often find the American take on them too malty or sweet, but lucked out with two excellent examples recently. Fat Head’s Oktoberfest and Victory Brewing’s Fest Beer are both lagers and both a gorgeous shade of carmely brown. Both also have a quality the popular lagers in America fail to achieve, in that they both taste really good.

I don’t know how far afield Fat Head’s distributes, but if you ever have a chance to pick one up, do so. Their Oktoberfest had a serious hop finish that was in no way bitter, but rather cleansing. (Ben noted that the beer was quite nutty, opening wide the opportunity for me to explain that that’s how I like ‘em.) The nuttiness was balanced though, leaving a rich, almost marzipan-like fullness in the middle. The complex malt base was well-balanced by the hops, revealing a full, smooth character one doesn’t find in run-of-the-mill lagers. Continue reading

Bottled Sunshine: a Summer Beer Sampler

Southern Tier's Hop Sun: the last & best beer we try...coincidence?

Last summer we discussed a variety of styles typically put out as summer beers. This year it’s time to get down to brass tacks (whatever that means!) and sample some breweries’ summer offerings.

We pick the first beer to try because its label was the most summery: Brooklyn Summer Ale. Its initial sharp bite brings you right out into a sunny summer afternoon picnic before it smooths out and takes you to a shady place. In fact, these exact words float through my head as part of the Pixie’s hit, Gigantic. Though an ale, the beer is pilsner-esque with that taste in the back of the mouth that borders on skunky. Must not be too bad though, because I quickly forget to taste it and instead debate the relative creepiness-level of this song: like, is the singer a voyeur or envious or both? And then admit that, man, it took me a long time to get that whole “hunk of love” line.

Up next is Victory’s Summer Love — far from a beer you’d get at a baseball game, despite the game-themed label. The perfect juxtaposition to Brooklyn, its bright sunny taste began smooth and ended dry. Reminiscent of a good pinot grigio. Suddenly and inexplicably I’m watching Liam Lynch’s This Town Sucks which I immediately recognize as my own teenage anthem to summertime doldrums. I think I quite like this beer and ponder what a difference a little Summer Love would have made to my seventeenth summer. Continue reading

Pennsylvania Beer Kicks Sweet Patootie

Me hiking, pre-shellacking

Ben sat the tulip glass gently on our table and looked at me seriously. “This is strong…like, really.” I hiccuped and snorted a little in agreement. We were sitting on the lower patio of the Shawnee Craft Brewing Company, near the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which looked out over a small waterfall and a river that flowed away into a lush forest. Wildflowers. Delicate breeze. Bird song.

We were on our honeymoon and we were thoroughly shellacked. I’ve heard that’s normal. We had ordered a flight of Shawnee’s beers and a glass of the extremely potent Triple Pale Ale on nitro, and that 32 ounces of beer kicked our respective asses.

To be honest, Pennsylvania beers just kick ass, in general. I recognized several of the breweries while browsing the state store a few weeks ago and we took the opportunity to try new varieties.

Victory, out of Downingtown, may be best known for its Prima Pils but my favorite is Hop Wallop, an IPA that does, indeed, pack a wallop, whatever that is (I think it’s equivalent to about one kick in the pants). I also enjoy their Hop Devil, which tastes sharper than Wallop to me, despite the lower abv — maybe more of a smack on the head. Continue reading

Imperious Imperials and Sexy Stouts

Spoiler Alert! This one wins.

“You can really taste the chics!” Ben quips after his first sip of Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. Upon review, this means nothing, and was in fact a harbinger of the nonsense to come. This tasting of stouts was brought to you by Ben and me and only Ben and me. The pressure to keep witty banter aloft between us while maintaining lucidity nearly buckled my resolve to try all six high-powered beers. Fortunately I’m known for both my resolve and my ability to handle alcohol.

When tasting beers it’s wise to begin with the brew with the lowest percentage of alcohol by volume (abv) so as to not blow out your taste buds immediately. We tried the aforementioned Dogfish Head (5.2% abv), with high hopes for this perennially good and weird brewery, but unfortunately all we got out of it was a puckered face and a mediocre pun. The next was unremarkable enough to skip here. I began to question the prudence of taking this project on all by ourselves.

I was already feeling a bit warm at that point, which reminded me to follow my own advice. We took the next four beers out of the fridge to ensure we got the most of their flavors. The next stout was from Weyerbacher, a brewery I highly recommend. That said, this is when I began to suspect imperial stouts were just not to my taste. Old Heathen Imperial Stout (8% abv) was sweet with a taste somewhere between licorice and raisins. Dry hop back, but little bitterness — too sweet, like those soccer moms you suspect are popping Valium in the back of their minivans. It is a good beer, but not my beer.  Continue reading

Lunch at the End of the Line: An Oasis in Bay Ridge

An Oasis in Bay RidgeAfter last week’s ocean of loneliness, I thought that perhaps it was time to admit some basic facts about human nature—strangers in New York do not seem to want to eat lunch with me and asking them fills me with dread. As I headed to Bay Ridge, the end of the R line, I decided upon yet another strategy. I would canvass the streets, asking people what their favorite lunch spot was, and when a consensus emerged, I would go there.

This new plan filled me with fresh optimism and brazenness, and I immediately got a few recommendations for a couple of Irish restaurants on 3rd Avenue (O’Sullivan’s and Chadwick’s). And then I happened upon John, a sad-eyed Syrian man who considered my question long and hard.

“What country are you from?” he asked.

“Um, America,” I replied.

“No, no, I mean, what kind of food do you eat?” He eyed my dark hair and made a tentative guess. “You like Italian food?” Continue reading