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.

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.

Beer Tasting Weekend

Posted in American Craft Beer, Desert Edge, Imports, Macrobrews, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on August 17, 2010

Saturday night, my university alumni association held a beer tasting event. It’s the first alumni event I’ve attended pretty much effort, so now it’s apparent just what will motivate me to get out and meet people that went to the same school I did.

The event was held in a member’s home and was presented by Dave Watson, one of the brewers at Desert Edge Brewery. Dave is such a beer geek and so passionate about the craft that he spent a couple years in Germany to learn how to brew and then came back home to put his skills to work as a brewer. He walked us through the beer making process and then gave us samples of various different styles and explained their origins and how they were made. It was a great way to spend an evening.

This was followed up on Sunday with an informal tasting my brother and I did of a couple more Oregon brews and another one from Epic. In order of consumption (more or less):

Pilsner Urquell: This was presented to provide a quality benchmark of the most frequently  imitated beer style in the world. When American macrobrewed lagers claim to be Pilsner-style, they’re lying. They’re not made with all barley malt, they’re not triple decocted, and they’re not nearly hoppy enough. This one, thankfully, satisfied those requirements and was awesome.

Pinkus Munster Alt: Alt beer or “old” style beer is a German beer made in the old style, with an ale yeast, rather than the newer method of using lager yeast. Even though it’s made with an ale yeast, it’s stil lagered, or stored after fermentation, leading to a cleaner, crisper beer than typical English-style ales. This one was a bit lighter in color than most alt beers, but it still tasted awesome.

Spaten Optimator: An example of a bock, a style of strong beer developed by German monks to drink on days when they were fasting (makes fasting sound awesome, right?). I tried this very early in the project and didn’t care much for it then. I liked it a lot better this time around. It was good enough that I’d gladly drink another, if offered. Not ready to buy it for myself, though.

Anderson Valley ESB: The ESB stands for “extra special bitter,” a typical English-style beer that’s a bit stronger and hoppier (to balance the malt of the stronger beer) than ordinary (session) bitters or best bitters. This one was also awesome and left me pining for a trip to England to do some pub crawling. Even though this English-style ale was brewed in California.

Moab Brewery Tripel: Tripel is a Belgian style and tends to be pretty malty, with very light hops and quite high alcohol content. It’s a bit too malty for me–I like balanced beers. But I can see the appeal of the style and certainly wouldn’t turn it down.

Anderson Valley Tripel: This was a backup to the Moab Tripel, in case he ran out. Tasted quite similar, with same criticism that I’d prefer it to have more hops, even though that’s not consistent with the style.

Lambic Cuvee Renee: This is probably the one beer I was most excited to sample, especially sinc Etiberius’s admonition in the comments that I explore true beer geekdom by sampling an unfruited Lambic. I loved it. Super sour and tart. Tastes very different than beers fermented with cultivated yeast. The cool thing is that the same recipe brewed elsewhere would taste different due to different yeast strains. Perhaps not as good, either, since one of the reasons this style is popular around Brussels is that the yeast there is known to be good. Awesome stuff. Expensive enough to only be a special occasion beer, but worth trying for sure.

Detour Double IPA (Uinta): This is a sample from a new high-end label from Uinta that makes super-premium craft beer. Loved it. Really strong, but not so overwhelmingly hoppy as to be difficult to drink. It ain’t cheap, though, so again, even though it’s awesome, it will have to be a special occasion beer.

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter: The IPA and the Porter have us back to English styles. And while I tend to prefer medium to lighter-colored beers, this one was quite tasty. So I guess I claim to like the lighter-colored beers, but the reality is that I just like anything that’s good. And this one is.

Cutthroat Pale Ale: Hadn’t had a Cutthroat in a while, but after the formal presentation, Dave opened the cooler to reveal a bunch of Uinta’s regular beers. This one tasted better than I remember. But it could also have been that I’d had quite a lot of beer at this point in the evening, so everything just seemed enjoyable.

Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale: Another of the big bombers of lovely craft beer brought home from Oregon. The first thing that struck me about this one was how dark it was. It’s called a red, but it was pretty brown. Almost as brown as the Red Rock Nut Brown Ale. As for the taste, well it was awesome. Balanced between malt and hops, with the malt being the star of the show but not so much that it gets stuck to the back of your throat. Great beer to have with food–we enjoyed ours with burgers on the grill.

Epic Imperial Red Ale: It was fun to try two red ales back to back and surprising that this one was darker and browner than the previous. So I guess “red” is a term used loosely to describe a beer. As with the Ninkasi, this beer was awesome. Seriously, these reds are like a big bold red wine that stands up well to rich food or red meat. But they weren’t so big as to be hard to drink on a hot day. Just awesome beer.

Full Sail Spotless IPA: This is a brewmaster special seasonal that I wish were available locally. Full Sail just doesn’t make a bad beer among those I’ve tried. This one was lovely and tasty. Slightly darker and a little less hoppy than a lot of IPAs I’ve tried, this one still had plenty of flavor and character to be considered a “real” IPA. Interestingly, when I asked Dave about 4% abv IPAs, he agreed with me that it’s impossible for it to be a true IPA. Desert Edge makes one they call Utah Pale Ale, because they won’t call it IPA if it’s not.

Uinta Gelande Amber Lager

Posted in American Craft Beer, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on April 28, 2010

Gelande was the last of the Uinta offerings I needed to sample to round out that brewery, with the exception of the barley wine, which I may or may not include since it’s a barley wine and not a beer, and I’m already pretty sure I won’t like it (how’s that for a sentence, dug?). I’ve now tried 65 of 85 beers from the ten local breweries*. Once I go to Desert Edge (haven’t had anything there) and wrap up the last three at Red Rock, the easy ones (i.e. in the Salt Lake City area) will be done. A trip to Moab and samplers at the brewery there would then round things up.

*Seriously–we have ten microbreweries in the state (OK, Uinta has enough volume that they’re now a regional specialty brewer rather than a microbrewery), five in Salt Lake City proper with one more about to come online, four more in the metro area, and one way out in the desert. Guess how many there are in Los Angeles? One. Buffalo, NY? Also one, and it just got bought out by another brewery because it was failing financially. And most people here don’t even drink beer. The variety and quality of the beer almost makes up for the wacky liquor laws. And again, I have to wonder if we’d have this variety and quality were there not a need to produce 4% abv beer to satisfy the local laws.

I sampled a pint of this on tap at Ray’s Tavern in Green River, along with one of Ray’s famous cheeseburgers. It was a fabulous combination. Gelande has a nice malty taste with mild hops and goes well with food, as do most ambers. Most of the ambers I’ve tried have been ales, and while I quite like that style, the lager yeast adds just a bit of sourness that is a subtle complement that may not be noticed in a beer with more hops.

So how does this beer rate? Hard to decide between awesome and good here. Awesome beers are those I would gladly buy again, which I would with this one. However, given the choice between this and some of Uinta’s other offerings, notably their Hefeweizen and IPA, as well as WYLD and RYPE from their Four+ label, I would probably choose the others. But having to choose which of five awesome beers to drink at a given moment is a great problem to have.

King’s Peak Porter

Posted in American Craft Beer, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on April 16, 2010

Another Uinta brew. All I lack is the Gelande Amber Lager to wrap up their year-round offerings. I wish I could have tried some of the seasonal Bristlecone Brown Ale before it went on summer hiatus, but it gives me something to look forward to in the fall I guess.

Anyway, the King’s Peak. I’d say it’s good. I’m picky about porters and stouts, and while this one tasted good, it didn’t blow me away. It’s got a really roasty, chocolatey flavor that’s like dark but not burnt toast, with very little hops. I think I may have liked it better with more hops, but maybe not. There’s no one thing I’d say I didn’t like about it. It just wasn’t a beer that made me smile uncontrollably and regret the moment I swallowed the last sip.

Three from Four+

Posted in American Craft Beer, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on April 9, 2010

Over the last several days, I’ve sampled three more of the Four+ label beers from Uinta brewery. Two I got from the brewery, the third (Monkshine) from the state liquor store. The Monkshine is >4% abv, so it’s available at the liquor store*. The others are readily available at grocery stores.

*If you get it there, check the dates. There were several six packs with a bottling date almost a year ago. Several more from back in September. Neither is ideal, but I chose one from September.

The Monkshine was the first I tried. Monkshine is described as a Belgian-style pale ale. I’m not really sure what this means beyond the fact that touting anything as being “Belgian” or “Belgian-style” seems to be a selling point for the marketers. Either way, it was a very good beer. In fact, it was nearly an awesome beer except for a bit of bitterness that was a bit much for me (likely from the higher alcohol content, though this hasn’t been an issue with other Belgians–wonder if it could be related to freshness?). Of the >4% abv local beers I’ve tried, this is probably my favorite.

WYLD is an organic extra pale ale. Color was a lot like a golden or blonde ale, and I think the differences between the three are really semantic. Anyway, my preference for this style of beer was again reinforced, as this one was awesome. It’s quite hoppy in the best possible way. It has a piney, floral aroma that’s pleasant and relaxing, and a taste to match. It pours a nice foamy head and leaves just a bit of lacing on the glass. I didn’t want to finish it because I didn’t have another and will no doubt buy it again. The fact that it’s an organic beer is just an added bonus.

RYPE is described as an orange tingled wheat beer. It says it’s brewed with orange peel and coriander. It’s filtered, so it probably doesn’t have the cloudy appearance characteristic of most wheat beers. I say probably because I drank this one straight from the bottle while I was in the garage working on my bike. I also didn’t want to finish this one because it was so tasty, so it likewise gets a rating of awesome.

My initial impressions of Uinta brewery were that it was a step behind Squatters, Wasatch, and Bohemian, but I’ve since backed off from that position. Based on the quality of these three beers as well as their hefeweizen and IPA, I’d say their overall lineup is on par with the other locals. It’s nice to know so many quality beers are available at the grocery store and the local pubs.

Two more Uinta beers + one new brewery

Posted in American Craft Beer, Epic Brewing, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on April 6, 2010

Thursday after work, I rolled over to the Uinta brewpub housed in the Uinta brewery facility. It’s sort of like the Squatters/Wasatch Beer Store, but sort of not. It’s like the beer store in that it’s smack in the middle of an industrial district, totally low-key, casual, and uncrowded (a far cry from the Squatters or Red Rock brewpubs, which are kind of fancy, trendy, crowded places downtown). It’s quite unlike the Beer Store in that the focus is on selling draft beer by the pint. I think you could get a growler filled there, and they have a fridge with a handful of their bottled beers that you can buy, but that’s certainly not the focus. At the beer store, you can only buy draft beer by the growler (can’t drink it there, nowhere to even sit) or bottled beers, of which they have a full selection.

My objective was to sample a couple more Uinta brews and get some bottles of beers that they didn’t have on tap. The first beer I sampled was the Blue Sky Pilsner. It tasted fine if unremarkable. As a relatively new drinker of beer, I’m still struggling to figure out the popularity of the Pilsner style. I mean, it’s OK, but with so much out there in the beer world, why would you choose that? And for people that drink, say, Bud Light* exclusively, I ask why would you do that to yourself? I expect a little more of a craft-brewed lager than I would from Budweiser, but they don’t always deliver. This one was good (in that I wouldn’t turn it down), but when compared to Bohemian’s Pilsner or Wasatch First Amendment, it’s a bit wanting.

*I confess, I have still never tried Bud Light, but that’s sort of my point. If it were that good, I would have had it by now.

Next I ordered a pint of Hive. Hive is made by Uinta under their Four+ label, which I don’t really understand from a branding standpoint unless it’s just a play for more shelf space at the retailer without looking like it’s just more beer from Uinta. The big breweries play this game, too, owning a lot of brands–such as Beck’s, Bass, Stella, Peroni, and Kirin–that you’d have no indication were owned by Anheuser Busch or Miller Coors.

Hive is described as a honey ale, which I guess means a honey-colored ale with a bit of actual honey flavor in it. For me this one was good, a lot like the Blue Sky–a decent, drinkable beer, but not my first choice when other options are available. And considering Uinta IPA and Hefeweizen are both available on tap at the brewery pub, I don’t see any reason to order the Hive again. Oh, and it claims to have had honey in it, but I really couldn’t taste it.

So in the title I also mentioned a new brewery. Just found out about this yesterday, and it’s not actually open yet, but Epic Brewing is about to open for business. What with the fairly recent change in local liquor laws such that breweries can sell bottled beers of >4% abv direct to the public, Epic Brewing is focusing on craft beers with greater than 4% abv. Obviously they won’t sell anything on tap, but if they put out quality stuff in a setting similar to the Beer Store, I won’t complain a bit.

Uinta Trader IPA

Posted in American Craft Beer, Uinta Brewing, Utah Beer by dailybeerproject on March 30, 2010

I ordered this beer while waiting for a table at Porcupine Pub on Friday night. Ordering it was a somewhat odd experience.

Me: “I’ll have a Trader IPA please.”

Waitress: “We only have beers from the local breweries. We have an IPA from Uinta Brewery.”

Me: “I’ll have one of those.”

Had I ordered a Chasing Tail, would she have said “I’m sorry we don’t have that, but we have a golden ale from Squatters”? Does it mean I have a problem when I know the beer menu at a local pub better than the staff? Realistically, she probably just thought of it as Uinta IPA and had no idea Uinta calls their India Pale Ale “Trader” just like New Belgium calls their amber “Fat Tire.”

Anyway, on to the beer. It’s awesome. Probably my favorite IPA. Which is probably because it’s not a real IPA. The IPA style was invented so that the beer wouldn’t spoil on a long sea voyage from Great Britain to India. It was brewed to be higher in alcohol and with more hops to prevent spoilage. The hops are fine, the higher alcohol of a typical IPA is what I usually struggle with.

In this case, however, because of our 4% abv limit on beers served on tap, it doesn’t have the higher alcohol content typical of the IPA style. It was hoppy, but not excessively so–comparable to a Full Suspension in that regard. The hops were engaging without being overly bitter, the malt was smooth, everything just came together for a nice, delicious beer. After this and the Golden Spike Hefeweizen, I’m gaining more and more confidence in Uinta as a brewery. I just don’t get why Cutthroat is their most popular beer. But I guess when you consider that Budweiser is the most popular beer in America (the world?), it’s obvious that the palate of the typical beer drinker isn’t all that discriminating.

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.