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.

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.

Squatters Organic Amber & Uinta Hefeweizen

Posted in American Craft Beer, Squatters, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on March 17, 2010

With phase two well underway, I’m drinking faster than I’m writing. So I have some catch up to do. The first beer I’ll do is the last beer in the Squatters rotation: Organic Amber Ale. All things considered, this is an awesome beer. It’s 100% organic. They don’t charge a premium for it. And it tastes good. It’s not the best amber I’ve had (Fat Tire gets that distinction). It’s not even the best local amber I’ve had (Dead Horse gets that distinction). But it’s still awesome. And it’s readily available in bottles in pretty much every grocery store as well as the Beer Store. What’s not to like about that?

Last weekend, I also sampled the Hefeweizen from Uinta. I’m not a huge fan of Uinta’s other beers that I’ve tried. I’m also not a huge fan of hefeweizens. Yet this one bucks the trend in both regards, because it’s also awesome. In fact, it’s one of the best hefeweizens I’ve had. It’s not boring or bland–it’s just got a nice, balanced flavor. A very pleasant surprise indeed, considering when I ordered it my intent was just to cross it off the list.

Tracks Brewing & Captain Bastard’s

Posted in American Craft Beer, Not Beer, Squatters, Tracks Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on March 13, 2010

Continuing phase two of the project, I needed to head a bit off the beaten path to visit Tracks Brewing Company. And since I have a friend who works at an army base out in the desert and Tracks is somewhere in between, we agreed to meet there Friday after work.

Neither of us had been there before, so we both started with the sampler. The first thing we sampled was the Light Rail, which the brewery describes as “lightly hopped, light bodied, American Light Lager with a nice malty finish, smooth going down and comparable to other light beers.” Which in real life means it tastes like Budweiser. Except Budweiser is better. We should have known we were dealing with an incompetent brewery when on the website, this lager is called Light Rail Ale. Other clues to the incompetence should have been that the place was empty at 5:30 on a Friday and that there were advertisements on the walls for Bud Light and Corona.

It didn’t get better from there. The Incinerator Pale Ale, which is described as “a very hoppy beer, emulating the traditional IPA” had almost no discernible flavor of hops to it. It was like a not-very-hoppy amber. The Tooele Tar stout just tasted like burnt malt. And the hefeweizen tasted like Country Time lemonade from a mix that had had a piece of toast dipped in it. They talked up the Agent Amber Ale, but it was just as disappointing as everything else. To top it off, they didn’t even have a drink menu, and the waitress was wholly unable to even describe anything about the beers, in one case not even remembering the full name or style of what she was serving to us.

I ended up ordering a pint of the IPA just to have something to drink. And in order to keep the night from being a total waste, I thought I’d follow SYJ’s advice from my whiskey post and try Jameson’s. Since I hadn’t finished my beer, I’m pretty sure the waitress violated one of our whacky state liquor laws by serving me more than one drink at a time.

The Jameson’s was actually much, much better than the Jack or that Canadian crap I tried a while ago. Not sure it’s something I’d ever really get into, but I could see myself ordering it again in the future. Much more pleasant going down without the volatile aftertaste I had previously.

All six beers I tried at Tracks were pretty much not awesome. Had I not been so disappointed with everything else, I may have rated the IPA as good, but since I’d hardly call it an IPA, and I’d never go all the way out there just to have it, I’ll leave the not awesome tag on all of them. They just hired a new brewmaster about a month ago. I hope he’s got some skill and can get that place turned around.

When I got back home, I didn’t want to end the evening with such a lousy beer drinking experience, so I opened a bottle of Captain Bastard’s oatmeal stout from Squatters. I wish I would have liked it more than I did. Although it was better than the Tooele Tar, it was still not something I’d ever buy again, so I guess it also gets a rating of not awesome.

Here’s hoping that the worst of phase two is now behind me.

Squatters Emigration Amber Ale

Posted in American Craft Beer, Squatters, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on March 11, 2010

I stopped by Squatters after work yesterday to officially embark on phase 2 of the project. Emigration Amber Ale is only available on tap at the brewpub, and is actually the last of the Squatters and Wasatch beers for me to try that isn’t available in bottles. The three remaining Squatters and Wasatch beers I have already purchased in bottles and will probably finish this week.

It was evident when I arrived that I’m not the only person that enjoys local beers. I was fortunate to find a parking place right out front, but every other space within two blocks was filled. Once inside, I sat down at the only empty seat at the bar. I’ve had the same experience on weekday evenings at Bohemian. Makes me think there aren’t enough brewpubs around here.

Before I get into my thoughts about the beer, I want to mention one of the quirks (there are many) of our local liquor laws. Beer sold on tap can be no more than 4% abv, just like beer sold at the grocery store. But liquor licensees are allowed to sell bottled beer that’s higher than 4% abv, so Squatters sells all of their higher alcohol content bottled beers at the pub, all the way up to the 9% abv double IPA. They sell them for $5 a bottle. The guy sitting next to me was buying them for $5 a bottle. And he was by himself. Maybe it’s just me and just that I’m really cheap, but if I’m drinking solo anyway, and I’m not drinking something on tap, I’d much rather go a few blocks south to the Beer Store and purchase those same bottles for $1.34 each and drink them on my couch. Am I alone in this?

Anyway, Emigration Amber is a lovely, copper-colored beer with mild carbonation. Though the head was fairly thin, it dissipated slowly. The flavor was a little different from other ambers I’ve tried in that the malt flavor was much less pronounced than the hops. This beer was a little on the hoppy side for my taste, and though I enjoyed it, that extra hoppiness was the only reason I’d rate it “good” rather than “awesome.” Still a lovely beer and one I’d probably order again considering it’s only available on tap at the brewpub.

Taste test

Posted in American Craft Beer, Squatters, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on March 3, 2010

The strange irony when comparing beer versus soda is that the hierarchies of dispensing methods are reversed. With soda, canned beverages are best, followed by bottled, with fountain (which I guess is the equivalent of on tap) being the lowest quality. With beer, the opposite is the case. Beer served on tap is best, followed by bottles, then cans*.

*I don’t think there’s a real difference in bottled versus canned beer, there’s just a perception of a difference because beers only available in cans are often of lower quality than beers only available in bottles. The canned version of a beer also available in bottles may in fact be better, because it can’t become light affected (skunked). Perhaps I should do a back-to-back taste test of the same beer out of a bottle and a can. Just for the sake of science, of course.

Anyway, the point of the preceding is to explain that as much as I liked Fat Tire on tap, I didn’t expect the bottled version to be its equal. I was, however, worried that I’d like bottled Fat Tire so well that I wouldn’t be as content with my locally-available favorites, so last night I did a taste test where I sampled Fat Tire and Chasing Tail at the same time.

The winner? Chasing Tail. And what a relief that was. Chasing Tail didn’t blow Fat Tire out of the water by any means. Both are delicious and awesome beers. It’s just nice to know that I won’t have the perpetual disappointment of not being able to get my favorite beer locally.

Hop Rising Double IPA

Posted in American Craft Beer, Squatters, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on February 24, 2010

After trying the Orval at 8.5% abv and not noticing any bitterness, I decided to give another high alcohol content local beer a try. I expected this beer, based on its name, to be exceptionally hoppy. It was. Based on its alcohol content (9% abv), I expected it to be unpleasantly bitter. It was not.

The hops were so strong, I thought it was going to take the enamel off of my teeth. But if you recall, as a supertaster, there are instances when I taste bitter but others do not, sort of like how bees can see ultraviolet. But ordinary bitter tastes, well, ordinary (although there is no way to calibrate whether my ordinary is the same as your ordinary–could be that if you tasted the way I taste, everything would be overwhelmingly strong, and if I tasted the way you taste, I would find everything underwhelmingly bland). And hops, while bitter, are not the same sort of unpleasant bitter I sometimes get from alcohol. Weird, I know.

Weirder still is that the hop flavor was so strong that I hardly noticed the bitterness from the alcohol. And while I’ll admit that the hoppiness was a little much for me, I had an easier time with this one than I did the 5% abv Sam Adams Boston Ale or the 5.7% abv Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Given my choice of those three, I’d choose the Hop Rising first.

Rating: good.

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 #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(s) #7: Chasing Tail Golden Ale (among others)

Posted in American Craft Beer, Squatters, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on January 20, 2010

Things worked out today that I had a bit of time after work to head over to Squatters, a local brewpub, which means that the lineup I announced yesterday will get pushed back by a day. One of the cool things about Squatters is that they offer a beer sampler–small, sample size glasses of six of their beers: American Wheat Hefeweizen, Chasing Tail Golden Ale, Provo Girl Pilsner, Vienna Lager, Full Suspension Pale Ale, and their seasonal stout (usually it’s Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout, but they were out of that, and I don’t recall what the seasonal stout they substituted was).

Even though to this point the lagers have been the varieties I’ve enjoyed most, in this case I liked them least. Both were, for my taste at least, a bit too sour with a strong bitter aftertaste, the Provo Girl being especially sour.

The other four beers ranged from quite pleasant to downright delicious. The hefeweizen was more compelling than the Henry Weinhard’s hef I tried earlier. Still easy to drink–Hefeweizen is as mild as Diet Coke–but with enough to it to be memorable. The stout was bitter, but not unpleasantly so. It had rich, deep flavors with hints of chocolate and coffee that were quite delightful. I could order a pint of that and have it for a meal. But I couldn’t drink more than one.

The Full Suspension pale ale and Chasing Tail golden ale were my two favorites, though. The Full Suspension was more complex, while the Chasing Tail was smooth and easy-to-drink without being boring. After finishing the sampler, I ordered another Chasing Tail, and it was without question the beer I’ve enjoyed most throughout this project.

In fact, it was the first beer I thoroughly enjoyed with no qualifications. It still had hints of bitter aftertaste from time to time, but they weren’t unpleasant. It was just smooth, refreshing, and easy-to-enjoy. It’s described as a summer ale, and even though it’s January, I could easily imagine knocking one back on a hot summer day. As an added bonus, it’s readily available in bottles in almost every grocery store, and I’ve been told it’s even available in cans–ideal for camping.

Summary thoughts: I look forward to trying Chasing Tail in bottles. As much as I enjoyed it on tap, I am wondering whether I’ll like it as well from a bottle. Regardless, it’s all over the place on tap, so I’ve got at least one go-to beer when occasions arise.