Monday, December 30, 2013

Beer Review: Cambridge Brewing Company Red God

Cambridge Brewing Company just starting bottling their beers in 2011 and join the growing ranks of popular New England born craft beers available around the greater Boston area. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we can get these out in Chicago and since it took them 22 years after inception just to start bottling their beer, I'd say we might have to wait a bit longer... but who knows! On to the review.

Pours a dark amber color with thin head that sits as a thin filament on the top of the pour. Gorgeous beer as beers go; a vibrant departure from your run of the mill yellowish pale ale.

Big grapefruit hops smell in the nose but you can tell there is a sizable amount of malt there as the sweetness is distinguishably intertwined in the scent.

HOPS of the grapefruit variety, certainly not piney and the fruity hops provide a nice bridge to the sweetness of the malt. I'm not sure what to say about the malts other than they impart a thick molasses taste on the palate; maybe some raisin-y taste in the aftertaste? One thing is clear: a lot of malt was used to mask the 9% abv contained in this imperial red ale. Compelling taste for sure; nice balance of sweet and bitter.

THICK, very sparingly carbonated and heavy on the palate. Meets expectations for a beer of this gravity but I do wish there was a bit more carbonation.

I bought this in the 22oz format for $6.99 at Trader Joe's so the value there is going to be lessened. I wouldn't say there is much remarkable about this beer that I can say “Hey, go out and try this beer regardless of the price” but, to be sure, it is a flavorful, heavy beer that you can enjoy with a meal or after.

Score: B-  3.5/5

Monday, December 2, 2013

Beer Review: Goose Island 312

This review is one that has been a long time coming; truth be told I am appalled that this is not on my blog yet. Shout out to a certain second lieutenant for making this review possible. Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat Ale is one of the first craft beers I ever had and has long set the bar (in my opinion) for affordable, accessible and delicious wheat beer. Even after all the great beers I have tried, I can still go back to 312 and find a perfectly good beer to enjoy with dinner or at a party. Let me qualify all this praise by saying there are many other better alternatives to the american pale wheat style, but very few at 312's price point. Let's explore.

I poured 312 like any respectable wheat beer should be poured, like so:

In all seriousness, this is a great way to make sure your wheat beer gets a [near] perfect pour every time (I would recommend wiping the mouth of the bottle before you pour it since it does touch the beer). The golden, unfiltered haze of the beer is inviting and the head is thick and offers nice lacing around the glass.

The scent is all fruit as sweet citrus dominates the nose. Dish-soap lemon zest finishes off the smell... you get the picture here. Very thin, clean and fruity scent.

The first impression of the taste is the same as the nose, pretty sweet and a fair amount of lemon taste, maybe a pinch of lemon rind in there to make it a bit more bitter. The second taste reveals an old, musky taste that reassures the drinker that there is indeed more to the beer than the nose would indicate. The thin bready malt taste lingers and I am left expected something else at the end of the drink. No hops to speak of here. Aftertaste reminiscent of an adjunct lager.

Very thin, dare I say watery, beer with surprisingly low carbonation. Nothing special here with even more similarity to your generic adjunct lager.

You're a savvy reader, so you noticed the disconnect between my preface and the body of the review. Call it nostalgia, call it frugality but I still have a favorable overall impression of 312 despite its mediocre taste. It is a great value at $7.99/ 6 pack or $11.99/ 12 pack and it does taste good while remaining a very simple beer.

Score: B  3.5/5

Friday, November 29, 2013

Beer Review: Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale

I usually try not to let the name of a beer influence what I think of it, (and I still vow to remain an impartial reviewer for this beer) but Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale certainly evokes some strong expectations. Luckily, it delivers, big time. Read on to find out why.

The beer pours a thick, dark amber color with a light, fluffy head. A thin stream of carbonation slips up the sides of the glass; overall an ordinary looking beer.

The scent of this beer is rather unassuming; there are sweet, malty notes that dominate. It smells pretty thin all-together and not very complex.

The first sip is quite a surprise; hoppy bitterness is the first thing you can taste and only after another sip do I notice the bready malts and a lingering sweetness on the back end. This is a very flavorful beer but not as complex as I expected. After reflecting on the sip, there's molasses sweetness intermingled with the bitterness that pervades the taste (perhaps a mix of hoppiness and roasted malts) but not a whole lot going on other than that.

The mouthfeel is substantial; almost sticky at times. Not overly carbonated, which adds to the doughy feel.

I bought a bomber of Arrogant Bastard for $4.99 plus tax. You can purchase 4 packs of the oaked version widely for approximately $11.99 plus tax but the 22oz bottle format is the only way to get the regular version. It's a great beer so although bombers aren't an excellent value, I highly recommend giving it a try.

Score: B+  3.75/5

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Brief Commentary on Your Personal Beer Palate

I recently got some more feedback from a reader who mentioned, “I feel like I would appreciate the review more if I was drinking the beer while I was reading it.” On the one hand, I am glad that my reviews provoke one's thirst for beer, however I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my readers to this. Why, you ask? Put simply, drinking beer is an activity based largely in personal preference. My fear is that while drinking a beer and reading a review about it, one's personal opinion will be skewed too heavily by my words (if I can presume to be so influential) and they will not be able to form their own view of that particular beer.
What then should prospective (or current) beer drinkers do in order to form their own opinion of a beer such that they gain a great deal of satisfaction form drinking beer? My response to that will be, admittedly, slightly biased by the very fact that I am writing this blog but I truly believe people need beer education in order to be able to begin to think about what beer actually is and how, quite specifically, it tastes. In putting my opinions on beer out on the internet, I assure I am not trying to convince everyone that mine is the only opinion that matters. Therefore I urge you to read my beer reviews and other ramblings, then adapt what you have learned to how you want your beer experience to be.

To develop this point a little more, allow me to give you a little bit of context. Human taste is a very psychological construction and is thus susceptible to the power of suggestion. While there are some basic tastes that I think everyone's palate and then brain can sense in beer, such as hop bitterness, malty sweetness, and alcoholic taste, the more subtle tastes are often filled in based on one's personal experiences in the realm of food and drink. An example: many people (see left) claim to taste figs in imperial stouts and Belgian strong dark ales. I can't remember the last time I ate a fig so naturally, I cannot identify with this flavor. Rather, I describe this “dark fruit flavor” as grapes or dates. This is significant because many times people try to over-analyze the taste of their beer; they have heard so much propaganda or read so much literature about beer that they convince themselves that [such and such] flavor is surely present or they should be smelling [this and that] in their beer. I would remind people that drinking beer is supposed to be enjoyable and relaxing, not an analytical exercise; if you choose to discuss what you are tasting (which I endorse), do so on the basis of how you feel in the moment and not what you think you are supposed to taste.

On that note, go kick back and relax with your favorite beer and don't let anyone tell you how it should taste!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beer Review: Heineken

It has been brought to my attention that many of the beer reviews on The IBU would benefit from some sort of contextual comparison. I understand that how a beer tastes is ENTIRELY subjective and that my palate could be vastly different than someone else's. Therefore, I have decided to review a very popular beer that, in my opinion, most beer drinkers have tried, Heineken!

Officially defined as a "Euro Pale Lager," Heineken is very similar to American "macro lagers" such as Budweiser and Coors. They are well known for their slightly-shorter-than-normal green bottles, an aspect that might be criticized in other beers, but which probably does not affect the taste too much. You will see why in a moment. The beer itself...

I got a Heineken on tap with my meal and it was served in smallish glass with the creamy head that you come to expect from their television commercials. The head dissipates after just a couple minutes leaving a soapy film on top of the golden straw-colored beer. Overall, it looks slightly more appealing than a bud or a light beer but only just.

The smell of the beer is not bad; I get a hint of sweetness and a little dose of  "funkiness." It is difficult to describe this note, though it does come up again in the taste. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that this is a beer from a keg and thus could possibly be different from bottled beer however I have had Heineken from a bottle several times and there does not seem to be a discernible difference.

Upfront, this beer is sweet. There is a slight bitterness that tempers the sweetness but there is a definite and prevailing grainy sweetness to this beer. Typical of mass-produced lager. Let's get back to the "funkiness" I mentioned earlier: if anyone has read my review of Blue Moon, what I am trying to describe is similar to the "musty" scent I described there. In my opinion it is not the most desirable of characteristics though it does seem like this is an intentional flavor and not a product of skunked beer (credit Beeradvocate) given that it is present in the keg beer I am reviewing (not to mention in cans as well).

I would say that the body of Heineken is a bit fuller than Budweiser or similar mass-produced lager but it is not by much. There is a somewhat creamy mouthfeel but, again, these qualities are outweighed by a general wateriness and light mouthfeel. The carbonation in Heineken is nice (read: not over-carbonated like many euro pale lagers), which I guess is a redeeming quality.

Given that the price of Heineken is in the range of some [actual] craft beers, I expect the taste to be much better than it is. I find little difference between this and your generic american lager but I also would not go so far as to say I would never drink it again; it is refreshing and could be a good deal if you catch it on sale.
Bottom line: if it has to be beer and this is the only offering, don't sulk... Heineken will suffice for a good compliment to your meal but it's simply not good enough to be on my shopping list.

Score: C-  2.25/5

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Beer Review: Chimay Blue

I am writing this beer review from Barcelona, the most amazing city I've ever been to, but not particularly known for their craft beer scene. Perhaps an article will be coming soon about why that might be... but I digress. Chimay Blue; I have never tried a Trappist ale until now and I must say, with all the hype surrounding them, it better be good! Let's see if it was...

I drank this at my dorm in Barcelona with no real beer glassware to speak of so instead of the tulip that I would have poured it in back home, this beer gets the generic IKEA glass treatment! Even with the 12oz
tumbler, the head forms nicely though it doesn't stick around for very long. The deep amber hue of the beer is par for the course in terms of a Belgian strong dark ale (which is what this beer is). All in all definitely a great looking beer in keeping with what I've experienced with Belgian ales thus far.

The first whiff of this beer gave me a glimpse as to what this aforementioned hype was all about; intense bready aroma dominates here though you can smell a bit of fruitiness.

To put the taste in context, I have had a Belgian strong dark ale before (see my review of Unibroue's Maudite) but this is the real stuff; straight from Belgium. The first sip reveals a taste profile much like the smell; heavy bready malt taste and a jumbled dark fruit taste. The fruitiness reminds me a little like cranberry-grape juice but I can't be sure. Either way its pleasant but not exactly what I was expecting. Later sips reveal some bite to the fruit flavors, a little spiciness due to cloves maybe? No abrasive, jarring tastes here (still very flavorful).

This beer is smooth. Like Sean P-Diddy Combs smooth. Very easily to drink at 9% abv (which is unnoticeable by the way) and the carbonation is perfect.

I got a single 330ml bottle of this (hooray for the metric system!) for 2 euros (roundabout $2.68 with current conversion rates) which is quite a bit cheaper than a single back in the states. Would I get it again? Absolutely, worth every euro cent. Lots of bars here in Barcelona have bottles in stock for reasonable prices and the same can be said for respectable joints in the states which makes it an easy choice for a sipper when you're in the mood for something smooooth.

Score: A-  4.0/5

Monday, December 24, 2012

Beer Review: Troegs Hopback Amber

Troegs, a brewery out of Pennsylvania, makes some of the best "value" beers out there and Hopback Amber is really the centerpiece of their line of great beers. For some context, this is an "American Amber Ale" but it really tastes like a malt-forward IPA. I'll talk more about that in a second.

This beer pours a medium amber color with a thin head that turns into just a filament shortly after and sits on top for a while. Great looking beer!

The smell is all malt; thick caramel, bready notes dominate here with no real variation to speak of. The smell is pleasant, for sure, but nothing blows you away.

The taste is far more complex than the nose; on the tip of your tongue you get the taste of sweet malts that the nose prepared you for. There's some citrus flavors through the middle of the sip and then a big bite of hops on the back end. I'm not talking about some generic amber ale hop content, this beer's hop flavor is (as I alluded to before) much more like an IPA than anything. Very pleasing taste in every aspect; especially in the boldness of the flavors.

This beer has, I would say, below average carbonation in terms of amount of carbonation. This works well with the caramel flavor which might have been masked by the carbonation bite. Not a particularly heavy beer on the palate but feels reasonably substantial because of the bready malt presence.

At $8.99 + tax, this beer is a bargain for the taste you get. Even people adverse to hop bitterness, I think, will find this beer tasty by virtue of the blast of caramel malt you get when you first taste this beers

Score: A  4.25/5