Daily beer project

Revisiting Epic Captain Crompton’s Pale Ale

Posted in Epic Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on January 19, 2011

When I stopped in at Epic a few weeks ago to grab the Mid Mountain Mild, I couldn’t leave with just one beer. So I got a bottle of the Captain Crompton’s Pale Ale, something I tried fairly early on in the project when I was still getting used to hoppy beers. At the time, I said “pale ales aren’t my favorite style…” What a difference a few months make. Even if I hadn’t yet embraced the hops, I still appreciated the quality, commenting “It’s hoppy to be sure, with three hops in the boil, plus a dry hop during aging. But the hops plus the malt provide a broad spectrum of flavor that is immensely satisfying. An awesome pale ale.”

And I can’t think of anything to say now that would disagree with what I said then, I just enjoyed it that much more than I did then. Really a fantastic beer, medium amber in color, appears to be unfiltered, and a nice, fruity, complex bitter from the hops. One thing I would be curious about, though, is where this beer stands by the numbers. I can guess based on what I know about other beers, but it would be nice if Epic published some of the brewing stats beyond abv on their website, such as IBUs, beginning gravity, and ending gravity, the way Sierra Nevada does. Since I’m pretty sure Dave from Epic reads this blog from time to time, what do you say, Dave?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wyoming

Posted in American Craft Beer, Utah Beer, Wasatch Beers by dailybeerproject on September 17, 2010

Recently found myself sitting at the Mangy Moose in Teton Village with a good deal of thirst from a little bicycle ride. Nothing like a couple of brews served in 20 ounce glasses to take care of that problem.

Snake River Brewing OB-1: This is an organic brown ale, and a good but not awesome one. I liked it well enough, but all the made-in-Wyoming beer I’ve tried so far has left me a little wanting in the hops department. Maybe cowboys don’t like hoppy beers, I don’t know. It’s reasonably balanced with a pleasant-tasting malt, I just would have liked a little more to it.

Deschutes Brewing Bachelor ESB: Had this right after the OB-1, and it righted everything that was wrong with the previous beer. Granted they’re different styles, I just like this style and this beer better. Nice medium malt with a substantial but not overpowering hop presence, this is just awesome beer. Versatile, too. It was great when I was just really thirsty, but there’s enough to it that it would go well with a meal.

After cooling off from the bike ride, I had a nice steak with two more beers accompanying it.

Snake River Pale Ale: With the OB-1 being good but not great, I decided to try Snake River’s pale ale to see if a style of beer I like better would be more to my liking. Unfortunately, it was not. Very much on the weak end of pale ales in terms of both malt flavor and especially hop presence, this is a beer I had no trouble drinking, I would just have trouble convincing myself to pay for another one.

Deschutes Inversion IPA: Again I followed the Snake River offering with one from Deschutes. And again, I came away impressed with Deschutes. Their Inversion IPA is awesome. It’s fairly potent at 6.8% abv, but it’s in no way overpowering. They’ve really dialed in the hops on this one, and I’m hopeful that, like the Mirror Pond, it’s available at the local liquor store. Thoroughly enjoyed this beer–a great finish to a great day.

In addition to the beers I drank while there, I was also able to stock up on Dale’s Pale Ale in Wyoming. All beer should come in cans, and all beer should be this good. I’ve also sampled a few more since that I’ll mention while I’m at it.

Wasatch Summerbrau Lager: This is a beer whose brand manager can’t seem to decide how to describe it and therefore didn’t. From the Wasatch Beers website: “Wasatch Summerbrau Lager is a…Czech-style pilsner-lager. Our German style lager…” Is it Czech, or is it German? I’ll go with German just because a good Czech Pilsner has more hops than this. It’s got a pleasantly sour malt, which is great for summer, as it’s reminiscent of lemonade. Hops are noticeable but not particularly strong. Overall a good summer beer that would be nice with chips and salsa while you wait for the coals to be ready to barbecue.

Session Black Lager: I’ve said this before, but I don’t think the Full Sail brewery makes a bad beer. Session lagers are intended to satisfy everyone, which when the marketers are doing conjoint analysis may seem like a good idea, but could easily turn out to be a disaster. Making everyone happy is a tough proposition. And while I wouldn’t say Session beers are my favorites, they’re good, they’re cheap, and for some reason the distinctive squat bottle shape is appealing. This dark lager would be a great accompaniment to Mexican food. It’s very similar to Negra Modelo, but about half the cost at the local store, so an appealing choice if you’re hosting a party. It’s not something I’ll likely keep in the fridge, but it is something I’ll keep in mind for the right occasions.

Desert Edge: completing phase 2

Posted in American Craft Beer, Desert Edge, The Project, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on September 4, 2010

I spent the evening at Desert Edge Brewery to wrap up the last of the Utah-made beers I am yet to try. Or at least those I am committed to trying as part of this project. I gave myself an exemption from seasonals and special releases just because of limited availability. So I’m “finished” with phase 2 at this point, but there are still a lot of seasonals and special releases I’d like to try. In fact, there were two seasonals at Desert Edge (a cream ale and an ESB) that I wanted to try last night but couldn’t. Not to mention, I like cataloging the beers that I’ve tried, so I’ll continue to post. Just not sure if there will be a phase 3 or what it would be.

Happy Valley Hefeweizen: I noticed a lot of pitchers of this being served, which to me suggests that many beer drinkers aren’t very adventurous. Or that a lot of tables were compromising with something everybody would like. Super smooth and easy to drink, with a malt/wheat profile that was creamy and slightly sour and barely any discernible hops. I usually prefer to keep citrus away from my beer, but about halfway through this pint, I squeezed the lemon wedge in and considered it an improvement. This would be a great beer to grab a growler of for a summer barbecue, as I can’t imagine anyone disliking it. Not terribly exciting, but nothing not to like, either. We’ll call it awesome just because I think the brewers did well at making a quality beer of this style, and I’d order it again if I were in the mood for a hefeweizen.

Pub Pils: I’ve grown quite fond of true Pilsner beers of late. I’m not talking about adjunct macrobrews that claim to be Pilsners, but real, golden-colored, well-hopped Pilsners in the vein of Pilsner Urquell. This one really hit the spot. The malt was spot-on. It was hopped just-so. Everything came together in a delicious brew. Definitely an awesome rating for this one. It’s a testament to the quality of our local breweries that both Bohemian and Desert Edge make such excellent Pilsners.

Alt on Cask: One of the things that really impresses me about Desert Edge is the breadth of their seasonal offerings. And indeed, this is one of the reasons that even though phase 2 was “officially” complete with Pub Pils, I’ll keep sampling local seasonals–some of the best beer isn’t available year-round. The only other alt beer I’ve tried was at the beer tasting event that Dave, one of the Desert Edge brewmasters, hosted. The only other cask beer I’ve tried was another Desert Edge offering, English Mild. So it makes sense that the two would come together at this brewery.

Dave mentioned when we tried the Pinkus Munster alt that it was lighter in color than a typical alt. The Desert Edge alt was a deep brown color, a bit darker than a red, but not as dark as a porter. Although I liked the lighter alt a bit better, this one was still excellent with a rich, toasty body and hardly any sourness. It was lightly hopped, and without knowing, I’d guess most of the hopping was in the boil with little if any dry hopping afterward. Overall a very good beer indicative of the breadth of skill of the Desert Edge brew staff.

Summary thoughts on phase 2: I’ve now sampled nearly 100 beers made in the state of Utah. For a state with a population this small, only a fraction of whom actually drink beer, it’s pretty amazing to have this much quality available to us. And we have our quirky liquor laws to thank for it. Without them, it would be easy for restaurants and bars to bring in kegs of Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada, and Rogue. But since nothing over 4% abv can be served on tap, and these out-of-state breweries aren’t interested in making a 4% version of their beers, it’s created a niche that some very capable brewers have stepped in to fill.

With a recent change to the laws allowing “full-strength” beer to be sold (cold even) in bottles directly from the brewery and by restaurants, Epic has stepped in to fill another, even smaller niche by offering bottled beer above 4% abv. The end result of all this is a vibrant market for craft beer that’s on par with Oregon or Colorado or California and exceeds in breadth and quality the craft beer offerings of any other neighboring states.

Critics would be quick to point out “yes, but it’s 4%….” To which I would respond that that’s the same as what you would find in English pubs, and nobody seems to think it’s a problem there. I guess if you’re looking to get drunk and trying to get as much as you can as fast as you can, stronger beer is better. But if you’re interested in sharing a few pints with friends and still being able to walk when you’re done, 4% beer is just fine. The fact that we have so many places offering such good quality beer just makes things that much better.

My objective when I began this project was to come to like beer, any beer, so I could enjoy it socially. My expectation was that I would find one or two that I liked or even tolerated, and that there would be a whole lot of beer I didn’t care for. As I began the project, this was certainly the case. I wasn’t accustomed to the flavors and found much of it overwhelming. BradK predicted I would come to embrace the bitterness, and he was right. I’ve come to appreciate beer and now appreciate virtually every beer style. Which is not to say that I like every beer, but I understand their appeal. I have my favorites, but even then, my preferences have shifted over the last few months. The journey has been remarkable, and both what is available locally as well as what I’ve come to enjoy have exceeded my expectations.