Daily beer project

Retrospective

About a year ago, I began this project in an attempt to learn to like beer. It was a new year’s resolution of sorts. I had no idea at the time how far this would go. What began as 30 beers in 30 days led to a total of 229 beers, including 113 Utah-made beers, 67 non-Utah domestic brews, 47 imports, and 2 home-brews.

If you read some of my early posts, you can see just how far I’ve come. No question, my tastes have evolved–beers I didn’t like early, I love now. Beers I liked early aren’t as exciting now. The journey, though, has been amazing.

My experience with beer has been an inch deep and a mile wide–very few are the beers I’ve tried more than once. That said, a few stand out as favorites. Here they are:

Go-to Utah Beer: Bohemian Czech Pilsner. This was a tough decision, as there are a lot of good beers made in Utah, Full Suspension, Chasing Tail, First Amendment, and WYLD among them. But ultimately I chose Bohemian because 1) it’s good; 2) it’s readily available, both on tap, and at the grocery store; 3) it comes in cans–cans are a better way to store and transport beer than bottles.

Favorite Utah Beer: Epic Sour Apple Saison. This is the Utah-made beer I most enjoyed drinking. It’s expensive, so it’s more of a special occasion beer, but in terms of highlighting the skill of Utah brewers, this may be the best example.

Favorite Import: Traquair Jacobite Scottish Ale. And to think, I may have not sampled this one had my first choice been available. It’s one of the most expensive beers at the liquor store, but well worth it for a special occasion.

Favorite Domestics: This is hard. The unintended outcome of this project has been a real passion for American Craft Beer. It would be hard if I just had to name my favorite beer from Oregon, which in my mind is the epicenter of craft beer. Dale’s Pale Ale is worthy of a nod because it’s way good and comes in cans. But I can’t get it locally. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is always good and is readily available, but it doesn’t stand above the crowd in any regard. Deschutes ESB is one of the best beers I’ve had on tap, but finding it is a huge challenge–they didn’t even offer it on tap out of Woody. McTarnahan’s Bah Humbug’r is my favorite porter, but it’s a seasonal offering, and I don’t think I’d want to drink it in the summer. Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale, Deschutes Jubelale, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, and Full Sail Wassail are all among the tastiest beers I’ve ever tried.

But if there’s one beer I’d want to have on hand at all times, one beer I don’t think I’d ever tire of drinking, with a nice balance of flavorful malt and hop bitterness, one beer that is as refreshing on a hot day as it is soothing on a cold one, that tastes great with pizza but doesn’t feel out of place with a fine meal, that’s readily available and priced reasonably enough to drink every day, that’s approachable and easy to share with people who aren’t beer geeks, that one beer is Full Sail Amber Ale. It’s not the most notable beer in any one regard, it’s just a solid beer that does everything well.

Thankfully, I don’t have to limit myself to just one beer. Here’s to 2011 and hopefully many more.

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Epic Mid-Mountain Mild

Posted in American Craft Beer, Epic Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on January 4, 2011

My English colleague describes mild ale as “old man beer.” He says that in England, old men are the only people who drink them. It’s just not a style that’s in vogue with younger beer drinkers.

It’s not the most exciting style, and certainly won’t tickle the fancy of a hop head, but that’s not to say Epic’s version isn’t well-executed. It’s got a very mild, fruity malt and minimal hops. Super easy to drink, with nothing objectionable. Seems like a beer that would be a good alternative for the hefeweizen crowd, as it’s easy to drink like a hefeweizen but with a little more character. It’s not my favorite beer, but for what it is, it’s well done and worthy of an awesome rating.

For a brand-new brewery, Epic has produced a remarkable array of beers. This is the 17th beer I’ve sampled from that brewery. They haven’t all been winners for me, but I’ve enjoyed most of them. And I love that they are all sold as single 22 ounce bombers, which makes sampling easy but still leaves you with enough to share.

Griswald’s Big Holiday Ale

Posted in American Craft Beer, Red Rock, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on January 3, 2011

This is Red Rock brewing’s very Belgian take on a winter seasonal. A very Belgian-tasting deep orange malt is offset with a variety of spice, including cinnamon, orange peel, ginger, coriandor, and cloves. The spices are a little surprising at first, as one expects a bit of hop bite to offset the malt, and that’s not what you get at all. But the surprise is a pleasant one and makes for a unique, delicious, awesome beer that nobody would begrudge receiving under the tree or at a holiday party. If you’re drinking it at a party, though, just be careful–at 8.5% abv, this one packs a real punch. It’s available in bottles only, and to my knowledge, only at the brewpub.

Red Rock Harvest Ale

Posted in American Craft Beer, Red Rock, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on December 29, 2010

I stopped by the Beerhive in downtown SLC before meeting the wife and kids and my brother and his family at Temple Square to see the lights (Brother Brigham would be proud, especially since the Beerhive is decorated with a variety of old photos of Utah’s first brewing heyday in Brigham’s time when there was a brewery at the mouth of every canyon).

First thing I ask whenever I visit a local beer bar is what seasonals they have on tap. On this occasion, they had Red Rock’s Harvest Ale. I would characterize this beer as a hoppy amber ale or perhaps a not-quite-so-pale pale ale. It’s only brewed once a year from fresh hops less than a week after they are harvested in Washington’s Yakima Valley.

The result is a bright, flavorful beer where the hops are the star and the malt plays a supporting role. The fresh hops yield a difference in flavor that’s hard to describe but is best compared to the added zing of fresh-squeezed citrus or freshly-ground pepper. The resulting hoppiness is strong but in a pleasant way. I just had time for the one pint but would gladly have another of this awesome beer.

Santa’s Little Helper

Posted in American Craft Beer, Imports by dailybeerproject on December 15, 2010

Cascade Lakes Brewery Santa’s Little Helper: Prior to visiting Bend, I had not heard of Cascade Lakes Brewery. It was located near where I was staying, and I drove past every day, stopping one evening for dinner. I ordered the Santa’s Little Helper, their winter seasonal. It’s a wonderful beer. 6.4% abv and 50 IBU make for a nicely balanced beer, and crystal, chocolate, and honey on the grain bill make for a rich, complex malt.

Cascade Lakes Brewery Paulina Lake Pilsner: Very different than the Santa’s Little Helper, this would make a good transition beer for the Bud Light drinker looking to explore the world of craft beer. The hops are more noticeable and the flavor more sour than in an American lager, enough so to keep it interesting to a beer snob without putting off someone used to stuff that is best summed up with a quote on the menu at the Bayou “Light beer is for people who don’t like the flavor of beer and who like to pee a lot.” It’s a lot like Session lager and something I wouldn’t hesitate to buy again.

Deschutes Brewery Green Lakes Organic Ale: This Deschutes beer isn’t available locally, but I wish it were. It’s a lovely beer, described as an amber, though oddly, comes in a little higher in IBU (45) than Mirror Pond (40). Not that I’m complaining. Had this on tap from Woody, and it was great. It’s a highly versatile beer, as ambers tend to be, and I can’t imagine a beer drinker that wouldn’t like it.

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale: I’ve enjoyed exploring the range of winter seasonals and seeing how different breweries interpret the style. This one is very similar to an ESB, with a noticeable hop presence typical of an English IPA (not an American IPA, which tends to be much hoppier), but with a richer, more robust malt flavor. I wasn’t crazy about it at first, thought I had served it too warm (it was probably around 50 degrees). Interestingly, as I sipped it and it warmed further, I liked it more and more. By the end, I didn’t want to be done. And if it were priced locally the way it is in England, I’d solve that problem by purchasing more. But since Full Sail Wassail can be had for less than $8 for a six pack, it’s hard to spend nearly twice that for something I like about the same.

Sierra Nevada Celebration: Sierra Nevada’s take on a winter seasonal is similar to that of Full Sail’s Wreck the Halls. They describe it as an IPA right on the label, and that’s what it tastes like. But the thing I like about many of these winter seasonals is that they’re not IPAs or ambers or really anything else you can get year-round. They’re a unique offering that just tastes like what you should be drinking in cold weather. Which is not to say you shouldn’t be drinking Celebration if you have a chance.

Wreck the Halls

Posted in American Craft Beer, Utah Beer, Wasatch Beers by dailybeerproject on December 7, 2010

More winter seasonals:

Full Sail Wassail: Deep brown, rich, balanced. Notable, toasty malt presence, balanced perfectly with the substantial but not overpowering hops. $1.28 per bottle at the local store. 7% abv. Reasonably priced and delicious. What more could you possibly want?

Pyramid Snow Cap: Dark but not quite as dark as a porter. Hops are also more significant than a porter. This is a fine beer, but given a choice, there are other winter beers I’d choose first.

Wasatch Winterfest: Wasatch beers describes winterfest as a rich amber. If it is, it’s the darkest amber I’ve ever tried. It’s at least as dark as a nut brown, with plenty of hops. It’s very similar in flavor to the Wassail, except that it has some extra coffee bitterness in the finish. Good beer.

Full Sail Wreck the Halls: This is one of Full Sail’s brewmaster reserve beers, and it comes in a 22 ounce bomber. It’s described as a hybrid between an IPA and a winter warmer. It comes down closer to the IPA side of the equation, with a lot of similarities to Full Sail’s IPA. Hops are strong, registering 68 IBUs, drowning out some of the malt in the process. It’s good and certain to please the hop heads, I just don’t think it’s as good as the Wassail (which is my favorite winter seasonal so far) and really doesn’t distinguish itself enough from Full Sail’s IPA.

Bah Humbug

Posted in American Craft Beer by dailybeerproject on December 3, 2010

I’ve loaded up on every winter/Christmas beer I can get from the liquor store, so I’ll post reviews as I sample them.

Anderson Valley Winter Solstice: pours a beautiful garner color but with a really thin head that dissipated almost immediately. Aroma is hops with an undisclosed blend of spices, probably coriander and clove among them. Flavor is good but a little too heavily weighted towards the spices. I’m not generally a fan of flavored beers, but spiced winter beers are good so long as the spices are subtle. These spices come on just barely top strong, but still a tasty beer.

McTarnahan’s Bah Humbug’r: Says right on the label that it’s a porter. Pours dark black like a porter. Tastes like a porter but probably the best one I’ve ever had. Smooth, caramel, toasted flavor. Rich but not overwhelming. Not sure if I’m growing more fond of porters or if this is just an exceptionally good one. Perhaps some of each. Either way, an awesome beer.

Porters and more

Posted in American Craft Beer, Imports, Squatters, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on December 1, 2010

While my London-based colleauge was in town, we went to the Bayou. He had the Galloway Porter from Epic. He mentioned it didn’t taste like a traditional English porter. Which prompted me to wonder what a traditional English porter tastes like (and how it’s different from the American porters). Porters aren’t my favorite style, but I’ll admit I haven’t put much effort into appreciating them, either. So I decided to make some inroads into appreciating porters. The Meantime porter my colleague recommended wasn’t available at the Bayou (and as of last weekend still isn’t), but I found a couple of others I thought I might like.

The original English porter is a blend of an old (stale or sour) ale, a new brown or pale ale, and a mild ale. If you blended these, you’d end up with something no darker than Newcastle Brown Ale. If you’ve drunk a porter lately, you know it wasn’t that color. 

Modern porters are brewed as porters rather than made as a blend of other beers. They typically use some black and or chocolate or smoked brown malt. And according to Dave from Desert Edge, it doesn’t take much in the way of a dark malt to color a beer. Hence the deep, dark, opaque color of most porters.

Porters tend to have a little less burnt flavor than stouts, and perhaps this is because porters rarely use roasted (unmalted) barley, whereas this is a mainstay of stouts. Unmalted barley will have very little sweetness, as malting converts starch to sugar, which is why stouts have such a dry flavor. A black malt will still have the sweetness from the malting process while still bringing out dark color and rich flavor. Nevertheless, I still struggle a bit to distinguish a porter from a stout, and indeed the origins of the two styles are quite intertwined.

Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter: Samuel Smith’s isn’t the Anheuser Busch of England, but it might be the Samuel Adams (or perhaps Sam Adams is the Sam Smith of America). According to my colleague, it’s ubiquitous and cheap. In England, at least. Here it’s ubiquitous and expensive. North of $2 for a 12 ounce bottle expensive. But for the sake of science, I bought a bottle.

It poured a dark, coffee color, deep brown and opaque. It smell very toasty, with very little hopping. Flavor was rich and dark, as you’d expect. And what my colleague said notwithstanding, I couldn’t tell any difference between this English porter and it’s American cousins. But it was good, something I’d likely come to appreciate if I paid it more attention.

Deschutes Black Butte Porter: This, along with Mirror Pond Pale Ale, is one of Deschutes brewery’s signature beers. With good reason. I can’t imagine someone who likes porters not liking this beer. Like the Samuel Smith’s, it was toasty with very little hops. It had a hint of sweetness to it that provided a nice balance to the dark flavors, sort of like dark chocolate. I liked it, enough that I’d buy it again.

Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale: While shopping for the Black Butte, I realized I’d never reviewed Mirror Pond. According to the Deschutes website, it’s got 40 IBUs. But it tastes hoppier than that. Their Inversion IPA is 80 IBUs, and while it’s more bitter, it didn’t taste twice as bitter. Mirror Pond is also 5.0% abv, on the low end for American pale ales. I wonder if that affects the perceived bitterness. Either way, I’d rate this a good beer, but not awesome. Considering  it costs more than Sierra Nevada or Full Sail but to me isn’t any better, it’s probably not something I’ll regularly buy at the local store, but I wouldn’t refuse it, either.

Deschutes Jubelale: I’m a sucker for seasonals. It’s not like I’ve tried every beer in the world, but I think knowing that a particular beer is a limited time engagement increases the sense of urgency to give it a try. This is a winter ale. I don’t know what that means, but it’s good. It’s deep and dark in color, similar to Epic’s Imperial Red. It took some getting used to, but by the end of the bottle, I was wishing for another. It’s got a rich malt flavor, a cloudy color, and a noticeable hop presence, clocking 60 IBUs, though the hop bitterness is offset quite a bit by the richness of the malt. Really just a perfect winter beer, ideal for when you come in out of the cold after skiing, and one I will definitely have again.

Skinner’s Betty Stoggs Bitter: Another English import, this one had been named best bitter in the Great Britain Beer Festival of 2008, so my expectations were high. Frankly I liked the St. Peters better. This beer is quite a lot like Full Suspension, which is a delightful beer, and which is also quite convenient since I can get Full Suspension at pretty much any grocery store or gas station in the state.

Traquair Jacobite Scottish Ale: I had this at the Bayou on the recommendation of our server. I’d never had a Scottish ale before and figured if I was going to have one, it ought to actually come from Scotland, not from a non-Scottish brewery mimicking the style (after all, if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap). It was surprising and different, a dark beer flavored with coriander. It was also delicious. At 8% abv, it was a knee wobbler, too. I was feeling it by the time the bottle was done. It wasn’t cheap, either. The 330 ml bottle ran $9 at the Bayou, a mere 40% markup from the retail price at the state store where it’s $5.11. Is it worth it? Believe it or not, yes. Definitely not every day, but as a special occasion beer, absolutely. And while it’s not a seasonal, it’s one I’d save for winter or cooler weather. It’s just too much for a summertime beer.

Squatter’s Nut Brown Ale: This is Squatter’s current seasonal offering at the brewpub. It’s tasty. Mostly malt in the flavor profile, with a very bready flavor and just enough hops to make it interesting, I look forward to having this one again. Another awesome choice for the season, it would be a good beer to fill a growler and take to a holiday party.

More Oktoberfest

Posted in American Craft Beer, Epic Brewing, Imports, Roosters, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on November 19, 2010

I’ve had a chance to sample a few more Oktoberfest beers lately. And even some not Oktoberfest seasonals. Here they are:

Roosters Oktoberfest: Had this on tap at Porcupine. It’s a very typical Marzen/Oktoberfest beer, with the malt more prominent than the hops and the malt being mostly sweet and caramel rather than roasty or sour. Really tasty, enjoyable beer and versatile enough that you could pair it with a wide variety of foods. I had it again a week or two later and wasn’t as crazy about it as I was the first time, but it could have been the circumstances, drinking it from a plastic cup at an outdoor event. Still awesome.

Epic Marzen: Another one that’s heavy on the malt, actually quite similar to the Rooster’s but maybe had a bit more sourness. I enjoyed this one thoroughly.

Ayinger Oktoberfest: This is a German import from a Munich brewery, so they should know what they are doing. They do. At 5.8% abv, it was similar to the Epic in strength, though, interestingly, the Rooster’s at 4% didn’t taste weak by comparison. Just another solid offering that I imagine would be better still enjoyed on tap in Munich rather than bottled and served after a long ocean voyage.

St. Peters Ordinary Bitters: Another illegal import from my London-based colleague, this (along with another bottle I haven’t tried yet) is an example of a typical pub beer in England. I would like drinking beer in England. I know lots of beer drinkers have a fondness for Belgium or even Germany or Czech Republic. But the English beers seem to suit my preferences best. They favor hops over malt, which I enjoy. And they’re brewed to be session beers to be enjoyed in a pub. If only these local pub offerings weren’t so hard to get.

Uinta Bristlecone Brown Ale: This is a fall seasonal, and I’ll admit I wasn’t crazy about it. Just didn’t taste like there was much to it. Very little hops, and the malt was just sort of flat and one-dimensional.

Uinta/Four+ Punk’n: Another fall seasonal, pumpkin-flavored ale. It sounds like a good idea–pumpkin bread, right?–until you think about it. And then you realize that flavoring beer with things other than malt and hops is not likely to end well. For me, this one didn’t. But it has its fans, which is also fine. Drinking beer is about enjoyment, and there’s enough diversity in the beer universe to make almost anyone happy.

New Benelux?

Posted in American Craft Beer by dailybeerproject on October 20, 2010

The wife recently returned from a trip to the midwest. Which meant she brought home beer that I can’t get here. Specifically, the folly pack from New Belgium (Fat Tire, Hoptober, Blue Paddle, and Ranger IPA) and a six pack of Mad Hatter IPA from New Holland. New Holland and New Belgium? We didn’t plan it, but it worked out to be a nice coincidence.

Hoptober: After the hit and miss with Oktoberfest beers tried previously, I was anxious to see what New Belgium’s offering was like. Frankly, I don’t think this brewery is capable of making a bad beer. Or maybe they are but wouldn’t. Either way, Hoptober is one of my favorite beers ever. It’s what I hoped Marzen beers would be like. Unbelievably awesome. I’m just disappointed that the folly pack only had three bottles of the stuff.

Blue Paddle: My disappointment didn’t last long, because I popped the top on a Blue Paddle lager and was totally stoked about it, too. This would be a great session beer–4.8% abv, highly drinkable, but plenty of character not to get bored with it. Tastes like a traditional Pilsner should, with a pleasantly sour malt balanced with a noticeable but not overpowering hop presence. Lovely stuff.

The other two offerings in the folly pack, Fat Tire and Ranger, I’ve reviewed before. Read about them here and here.

Mad Hatter: With the exception of Pete’s Wicked , Pete’s Strawberry Blonde, and Sam Adams, I can’t think of a domestic beer I’ve tried from anywhere East of Colorado. Which is not to say there aren’t good craft beers from East of Colorado, I just don’t have access to them.

Mad Hatter is well-regarded over at BeerAdvocate, and given that my beer journey is currently on its predictable detour through the IPAs, I was anxious to try this one. The anticipation was rewarded, as this is a fine beer. Interestingly, this was closer to the English IPA tradition than that of the Western United States in that the alcohol content was a mere 5.8%. The hops were noticeable but not overpowering and allowed more of the malt flavor to come through than in many other IPAs.

The delineation between pale ale and IPA is nebulous at best, with Dale’s Pale Ale being stronger and hoppier than Mad Hatter and various other IPAs. Of course for my purposes, I don’t particularly care what style a beer is (or calls itself), I just want it to taste good. And Mad Hatter certainly does.