Daily beer project

Beer #17: Bohemian Viennese Lager

Posted in American Craft Beer, Bohemian, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on January 30, 2010

Frequent commenter BradK suggested that I check out Bohemian Brewery, a local operation that I didn’t know existed until yesterday.* Turned out to be a good tip. They’re a bit of a smaller operation and keep four beers on tap plus a seasonal selection. Their signature Pilsner is available locally in cans as well.

*OK, I knew they existed–I’d seen their canned beer in the stores–but I didn’t realize they were local.

Brad suggested I get samples of all four and then order a pint of what I liked best. When I ordered the four samples, they actually brought me five beers: pilsner, Viennese lager, Bavarian white, cherny bock, as well as their bonus seasonal selection, a black wheat (schwenkelweiss) nitro.

If you’ve been following this project, you may recall that some of the darker beers have been overwhelmingly bitter. In fact all of them have. Moreover, the Bohemian Viennese lager is very hoppy. So if my bitterness sensitivity is to the darker beers or to the hops, it would have been evident when sampling from Bohemian. I think I can safely say the bitterness is coming from the alcohol, because these were all 4% abv beers, and none of them were unpleasantly bitter. In fact, they were all very good.

The Bavarian white was my favorite wheat beer I’ve had so far, but the black wheat was probably my second favorite wheat. Both were delightful. And the Pilsner and Viennese were the two best lagers I’ve had so far. I did not expect to like the cherney bock, but even that was enjoyable and something I’d consider ordering. More than anything, this suggests to me that I prefer the lower alcohol content beers available locally (referred to amusingly as non-intoxicating beer if you’re in Missouri), and I also prefer beer served on tap over beer served in bottles.

After sampling all five, I ordered a pint of Brad’s favorite, the Viennese lager. As I mentioned, it was hoppy, enough so to have some bite, but in a pleasant way. It had just a slight hint of sourness at first, followed by the bite of the hops and the carbonation, with a smooth finish, and little if any aftertaste. I was just about ready to dismiss lagers altogether, but this one changed my mind.

As an added bonus, while out with my wife last night, I had occasion to order a Uinta Solstice Kolsch-style Ale. So I’ve now sampled from four of the seven local brewers I’m aware of. I think I’ll continue sampling local and regional beers for the next six just to get more exposure. The Solstice was a pleasant golden ale that I selected specifically because of its similarity to my favorite beer so far, Squatters Chasing Tail. The Solstice was good and a good option when that’s what’s available on tap, but I prefer Chasing Tail. Can’t put my finger on any one thing other than there just seems to be more to Chasing Tail than to Solstice.

Summary thoughts: I’m glad to have found a lager I like–I won’t give up on that style. Also pleased that I’m enjoying local beers so well. Just over half way through and I’m pretty much ready to call the project a success based on the fact that I can now order a beer on social occasions and be confident I’ll end up with something I like.

Beer #16: Squatters Nitro Cream Ale

Posted in American Craft Beer, Squatters, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on January 29, 2010

After tonight, I’m more confident that the bitterness is coming from alcohol and not from hops or CO2. The Nitro Cream Ale is a 4% abv beer served on tap. It’s called Nitro because it’s forced out of the keg with nitrogen rather than CO2. Beyond that I can’t really tell you much about the technical differences between nitro and other beers.

The head was really foamy and the bubbles in the head were really tiny. The head lasted a long time, but the beer itself was not particularly bubbly. I’d read before I went that nitrogen doesn’t actually dissolve in beer, so it produces a nice head while leaving the beer itself almost flat. My observations were consistent with that, but I didn’t consider it a drawback in any way.

The beer itself I quite liked. In fact, it was one of my favorites. I seem to be preferring the light/golden/blonde ales above everything else. It’s also nice that the local beers have been what I’ve enjoyed most. Interesting that three of my favorites have all come from the same brewery. And incredibly convenient that that brewery is just a few blocks from where I work. I’d be perfectly happy meeting friends there for a beer, but I’ll also admit that sitting down alone with a magazine and a beer was a really nice way to unwind after work. I don’t usually come home from work in the best of moods, but today I did.

I think the biggest benefit of this project has been the no repeats rule. I’m discovering over time what I do and don’t like in a beer and can hopefully order intelligently based on that information. They haven’t all been winners, but I’ve found a few and drinking those few makes me happy.

Summary thoughts: if ever there’s a movement to change our local liquor laws and allow stronger than 4% abv beer to be served on tap, I won’t support it. I’m such a lightweight that I don’t mind the weaker beer, and for whatever reason it doesn’t taste as bitter to me. That being said, I’ll be traveling the end of next month and will be sure to try something on tap while I’m on the road. For the sake of science, of course.

Beer #15: Wasatch Winter Ale

Posted in American Craft Beer, Utah Beer, Wasatch Beers by dailybeerproject on January 28, 2010

Since this project has everything to do with science and my own enjoyment of the beer is only a secondary consideration, I decided to further my efforts to determine whether my bitterness sensitivity was to hops or to alcohol with tonight’s selection. I chose the Wasatch Winter Ale because it’s a fairly potent, 7% abv beer that has a lower hop content than the IPA I had last night.

It was more bitter than the IPA, which leads me to believe that the sensitivity is to the alcohol in beer more than it is to the hops. The thing I don’t understand is how the alcohol in beer can taste so bitter when the alcohol in fruit-based beverages is not even slightly bitter. Perhaps I’m wrong and it is the hops.

More likely though, (and I’m really speculating here, so take this “more likely” assertion with a grain of salt) is that I’m sensitive to something in grain-derived alcohol. Actually, I think it could be barley-derived alcohol since I haven’t noticed much if any bitterness in wheat-based beers. I’m going to try the Wasatch Belgian White, which is 6% abv, either tomorrow or Friday to make sure. But past forays into wheat-based beers have not yielded the bitterness that seems to plague me with their barley-based counterparts.

Further efforts, again for the sake of science, to figure out what was going on and how to cope with it led me to drop a few grains of salt into the last 3-4 ounces of beer. This diminished the bitterness to the point of making the beer palatable, but I have no idea why this works. Of note with this beer is that the head was so thick, initially the salt was trapped therein, and I had to swirl it around in the pint glass to get it to settle into the liquid so it could dissolve.

Summary thoughts: BradK commented that I’m going to come to embrace the bitterness by the time this is through. I certainly hope that’s the case. Even if it’s not, I’ve found enough beers that I can enjoy as a result of this endeavor that I feel like it’s at least been a small victory, and I’m only half way through.

If the stars align tomorrow as I hope they will, I’m planning to head to Squatters after work (5:30ish) to give the Nitro Cream Ale a try. If you’re in the neighborhood and want to join me, leave a comment. Given the low traffic lately, I’ll even buy the first round.

Beer #14: Squatters IPA

Posted in American Craft Beer, Squatters, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on January 27, 2010

In addition to sampling a new beer, the IPA, tonight I also wanted to experiment to see if I could isolate the source of the bitter aftertaste that has plagued me throughout this project. To do this I alternately tasted the IPA and a Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale. The Full Suspension, from what I’ve been told, is a pretty hoppy beer, yet it hasn’t tasted particularly bitter to me. It’s a low-alcohol beer, at 4% abv, while the IPA is 6%. I figured that if the IPA tastes bitter but the Full Suspension does not, it would help me isolate whether the bitterness is coming from hops or alcohol.

But first, my impression of the IPA: I really like the smell of hops. When I opened the bottle, the aroma was exceedingly pleasant. The essence of pine was the most prominent scent, which may not sound appealing in something you drink, but it somehow is, at least initially. The beer pours nicely with a thick, foamy head, twice as thick as the Full Suspension. The head lasted much longer–where the Full Suspension’s head dissipated within a minute or two, the head on the IPA remained more or less intact until it was gone.

The beer tasted good as well. The initial taste was similar to the aroma, but the flavor of the malt also came through the scent of the hops. Unfortunately, the bitter aftertaste was also quite prominent.

When sampled back-to-back with the Full Suspension, it was definitely more bitter. The problem is, I still can’t tell if the bitterness is coming from hops or alcohol. It was more bitter than the Sapporo, even though alcohol content was close (6.0% in the IPA versus 5.2% in the Sapporo). The Full Suspension was also bitter but still more enjoyable than the Sapporo–the aftertaste wasn’t as pronounced, even if Full Suspension was more bitter initially. Bottom line is I still don’t know for sure where the unpleasant bitterness is coming from. I suspect it has to do with both but perhaps more to do with the alcohol than the hops, given how much I’ve enjoyed 4% abv beers. But I really can’t tell. Perhaps I should try a 9% or more beer and see how I react to that.

The bitterness of the IPA seemed to build as I drank it, and by the end it was nearly all I could stand. The flavor of pine and the bitter aftertaste became just too much. The Full Suspension, meanwhile, remained pleasant throughout–the bitterness in the Full Suspension was much more enjoyable than that in the IPA.

Summary thoughts: regardless of where the bitter aftertaste is coming from, I am a total lightweight. I drank these two beers right after 30 minutes on the stationary bike, and let’s just say I could feel it by the end. Or halfway through for that matter. How pathetic is that?

Beer #13: Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen

Posted in American Craft Beer, Utah Beer, Wasatch Beers by dailybeerproject on January 26, 2010

Hefeweizen is kind of like the white bread of beer. There’s not much to dislike, but there’s not much to get excited about either. If Hefeweizen is white bread, then apricot hefeweizen is white bread and jam. The fruitiness of the apricot just added an extra dimension of flavor.

That being said, it felt kind of like riding a moped. Riding a moped is fun until someone sees you on it. I couldn’t get over the feeling that what I was drinking was the beer equivalent of a cosmopolitan. I wouldn’t be confident buying this beer and drinking it in front of friends. I may accept one if offered, but only if it were just the two of us, he opened his first, and I were otherwise certain it were not a trap.

It’s still a tasty beer, though. Can’t help but think this was sort of like mixing hefeweizen and lemonade–the fruitiness was a nice complement and added another dimension to the experience.

Obviously this was beer #1 in my local beer lineup. The next five will be (not necessarily in order):

  1. Polygamy Porter
  2. Wasatch Winterfest Ale
  3. Wasatch Belgian White Ale
  4. Squatters Nitro Cream Ale (only available on tap, so I’ll have this at the brewpub)
  5. Squatters IPA

I also have Full Suspension and Chasing Tail in bottles, but I’m not counting them in the lineup because I’ve already tried them on tap (OK, I also had a Chasing Tail today, and it was just as good from the bottle as on tap), and I’m trying for 30 beers with no repeats (plus I get more beer that way, even if it violates my one per day, no more no less rule). I mentioned that I’d like to try something from Uinta Brewery as well, which I’d still like to get to, but the Wasatch and Squatters beers are sold directly from their brewing cooperative in singles, so it was really easy to mix and match. Perhaps I’ll do more local or at least regional beers for my next six and work Uinta in then.

Summary thoughts: so far I’ve preferred the local beers to the non-locals, both domestic and imported. I don’t know the reason for this. It could be because they’re fresher. Or, it could be because of the lower alcohol content. They’re 3.2% alcohol by weight or 4% alcohol by volume. It’s possible that there’s something in the alcohol in beer that’s causing the bitterness sensitivity. I don’t notice it in fruit-based beverages like hard cider or wine with up to 15% abv, but I’ve noticed the bitterness less in the local beers I’ve had than in the non-local varieties.

The Winterfest and IPA are both higher alcohol local beers, so when I try them, it will hopefully help me better identify where the bitterness I’m tasting is coming from. If it turns out that 4% abv is my limit for bitterness, I’d probably be the only beer drinker in the world who’s happy with our wacky local liquor laws and the low potency of the stuff available on tap and at grocery stores.

Beer #12: Sapporo

Posted in Imports, Macrobrews by dailybeerproject on January 25, 2010

I bought Sapporo in the large, 22 ounce can. I was anxious to try beer from a can primarily to try to help sort out my bitterness sensitivity. I wondered if I was hyper-sensitive to light-struck beer.

The short answer is that I still don’t know, but the Sapporo tasted significantly less bitter and more enjoyable than the Becks, Stella, or other lagers I’ve tried so far (worth noting is that all but the Sam Adams lager were in green bottles). I wouldn’t say it’s been one of my favorites, though. I liked it well enough that if I were out for sushi, and Sapporo were readily available, I may order one, but I’m not sure I’d seek it out otherwise.

One thing I did try was salting versus not salting the Sapporo. I put a tiny bit of salt in the beer in my glass but left what was in the can unsalted and tried them back-to-back. The salted beer was every-so-slightly less bitter, but since neither was particularly bitter I wouldn’t say it was a big deal either way. I may try this again as I go, particularly if a particular beer is unpleasantly bitter.

Summary thoughts: the bitterness puzzle is a challenging one. I shouldn’t like some of the beers I like, and I should like some of the beers I don’t if the bitterness in hops is the driving factor. I’m convinced it’s not, but what is causing me to taste bitterness remains a mystery. The ideal solution would be to just not be sensitive to the bitterness anymore–if that’s the result of this project, I’d be pleased.

Beer #11: Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale

Posted in Imports by dailybeerproject on January 24, 2010

This one was recommended to me by SYJ, who said it was “malty-sweet with virtually no bitterness.” My first impression was that this was not the case. It was still quite bitter.

I am, however, hoping to start getting this bitterness thing figured out. I’ve had some beers that started out with little to no bitterness, but then after I ate something the beer tasted bitter from that point on. I’ve also learned to recognize the bitterness from hops, and I’m pretty sure the bitterness I’m tasting is not the same as the bitterness most people taste from hops–I think it’s some sort of supertaster thing that most other beer drinkers don’t even sense.

Armed with that information, I tried a few things while I drank the Sam Smith’s. The first sip I had after eating a piece of bread, and it tasted quite bitter. So I went and brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth quite thoroughly with water to see if getting all traces of food out of my mouth would help. It didn’t, and I needed to get the just brushed teeth taste out of my mouth before the beer was going to be even remotely enjoyable. So I had a couple chocolate chips and waited a while. When I tried again, the bitterness was still there. Evidently if food is a factor, it’s not one I can control real well.

Then I remembered something my brother had told me–a friend of his salts his beer to make it taste less bitter. Now I know I said no accoutrements, but I figured for the sake of science I needed to give it a try. The salt caused the beer to foam quite a bit. It went from head having subsided completely to an inch-thick head as each salt grain bubbled quite a bit until it dissolved. Once it dissolved, though, guess what–no bitterness. The beer just tasted malty-sweet and rich, like I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to. And I quite liked it, though at that point only half of it was left, so it was a meager treat.

Summary thoughts: I wonder if a tiny bit of salt is all I needed all along? From now on I’m going to try this: I’ll take my first sip to see if I detect any bitterness. If I do, I’ll drop in a few grains of salt (which didn’t make the beer taste salty at all). If that solves the problem, fantastic. If salt solves the problem, I may also experiment a bit. For instance, I have some liquid electrolyte concentrate. Perhaps a drop or two of that will have the same effect and I won’t have to wait for it to dissolve. This could be interesting….I’ve got Sapporo on deck for tomorrow, but I also have a spare Newcastle in reserve in case I need to do more experimenting.

For my next six after tomorrow’s Sapporo, I’d like to try local beers (primarily in bottles, though I’m not opposed to trying something new on tap as well), and I’m going to throw out the alternating ales and lagers rule for this series. I’m going to try Chasing Tail and Full Suspension in bottles to see how they compare to on tap. I’d also like to try Polygamy Porter, another Alex/Watcher recommendation, and Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen. So that brings me up to four. I’m thinking Uinta Brewery needs some representation. An India Pale Ale seems to make sense to see if my theory about my bitterness sensitivity not being related to hops makes any sense, so what about Trader IPA? Blue Sky Pilsner or Gelande Amber Lager are options to ensure I try at least one local lager. Is there something I’m missing–a local beer I just don’t want to miss out on?

Beer #10: Becks

Posted in Imports, Macrobrews by dailybeerproject on January 24, 2010

OK, so I didn’t post last night. It was late, I was tired, and I got up early to ski all day so just now getting around to posting.

Becks was the next in a long line of bitter lagers. I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Not sure what else to stay. Aside from the initial successes with Sam Adams and Staropramen, I haven’t had a lager since that I’m particularly interested in trying again.

Beer #9: Spaten Optimator

Posted in Imports by dailybeerproject on January 22, 2010

Spaten Optimator was a beer that Alex/Watcher recommended. He also recommended Full Suspension, which I liked, so I fully expected or at least hoped to like Spaten Optimator. The hefeweizens I’ve tried so far have been easy to drink, if a bit bland at times. But they haven’t been bitter at all. I was hoping for something smooth like hefeweizen but with fuller flavor.

I guess that’s what I got, but the additional flavor was mostly bitterness. On the upside, it comes in a half liter bottle, which, at 7% alcohol, makes you feel like you’ve had a real beer when all is said and done. It definitely got better as I went. Or I at least enjoyed it more as I went, even if it never tasted much if any better.

Summary thoughts: I’m not too discouraged about not liking Spaten Optimator. It was bitter, but I know when the project started I wouldn’t have even been able to finish it. I still have some degree of hope that this bitterness sensitivity will go away. I can at least work my way through a beer I don’t like, and I’m hoping by the end that I’ve found enough beers I like that I’ll always have an option or two. Maybe at some point I’ll like a majority rather than a minority, but we’ll see.

Beer(s) #8: Hoegaarden Belgian White and Stella Artois

Posted in Imports, Macrobrews by dailybeerproject on January 21, 2010

Today was a two beer day. I would use the excuse that I set a schedule and didn’t like deviating from it even if it was more or less planned–and that packing the 30 day project into five six packs seemed a nice, clean way to go about things–but the reality was that one beer simply wasn’t enough tonight. Unless you’re an only child, you understand why, and that’s all I’ll say.

BradK said about the Hoegaarden Belgian White “It will turn anyone into a beer lover in just one swig.” And while I can’t say that’s necessarily the case, I will say that it’s a good, easy-to-drink beer and perhaps the best bottled beer I’ve had so far. Perhaps. I’ll admit that they’re starting to blend together a bit and it’s hard to make direct comparisons without tasting them back-to-back or at least closer together. I did enjoy it, though. A lot. I would buy it again for sure. It’s smooth and spicy, a nice, interesting combination, with a pleasant finish.

Stella Artois was recommended by Kathrin but also happens to be my brother’s favorite beer at the moment (he switches at least monthly). It was good but not great. It’s smooth, but I thought it had a slightly bitter finish (supertaster acting up again). Nevertheless it had a refreshing flavor, and if I’m ever watching football or a movie with my brother and he offers me some, I will gladly accept it.

Summary thoughts: I’m not quite a third of the way through the project, and I’d say it’s going about how I expected or dare I say hoped. I can drink beer with no problem and in some cases enjoy it. (I found myself thinking about Chasing Tail not a little bit today.) Perhaps the most telling thing is that if someone else were drinking wine, I wouldn’t necessarily want to trade. That would not have been the case when this started.