Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rohrbach Java's Stout release party!

Rohrbach Java's Stout is having its official release tomorrow at Good Luck in the center of Rochester.  According to the original tweet from the brewers, there's a pound of coffee in each barrel - sounds like an interesting brew!  I'll try to be there, and if you're in the area you should too.

Custom Brewcrafters' Scotch Ale

Custom Brewcrafters are based in Honeoye Falls, just south of Rochester.  They've developed a great reputation for themselves over the last 13 years as an 'offsite brewpub' for many of the restaurants and bars in Western New York - their business model is to develop specially customised, hand-crafted beers for their clients.  These include a lot of the best-known bars and restaurants in Rochester and Buffalo - for instance, The Old Toad Authentic British Pub on Alexander Street in Rochester now serves two custom-made CB ales, Nut Brown and OT20 - proudly continuing the British tradition of pubs supporting local micro-breweries.  They've got a fantastic-looking facility with a newly-opened tap room that also serves food - soon I'm hoping to make an Upstate Brews excursion to do a tour of the place.

In addition to their custom brews, Custom Brewcrafters make their own range of beers and ales which they sell on site, in grocery stores and in bars and restaurants.  The other day I picked up their Brewer's Sampler & Seasonal Brew - featuring 6 of their Scotch Ale, plus 2 each of Canandaigua Lake Ale, Cream Porter and English Pale Ale.  I'm guessing this is their winter edition so the Scotch Ale might get changed out for something else in the summer.  As this seems to be the 'winter brew', let's start with this one.

Aroma - My first impression was of a fresh-baked malt loaf - fruity, bready and very rich.  There's a hint of bitterness lurking in the background but it doesn't intrude on the malty goodness.

Appearance - This brew has a deep copper colour, with amber hues.  It's cloudy, with very little head - very little carbonation is evident.  This isn't a bad thing - a lot of the English ales I had in the UK were similar, because they brew using different methods.  Carbonation is de-emphasised, creating a less prominent head, and the cloudiness could either be chill haze or naturally-occurring sediment that is included in bottle-conditioned ale.  Either way, it's nothing to worry about and it was actually a pleasant trip down Memory Lane.

Taste - Very malty, rich, raisin notes in there too.  Bursting with malty goodness.  Kind of like a Christmas spice cake.  Bitterness slightly evident, but this is a very pleasant tasting beer indeed.  You really wouldn't think of this as a 6.5% ABV beer, because the flavours are so rich.  Tastes of a perfect winter evening.

Mouthfeel - This is a very smooth drink, the carbonation is very light indeed and the mouthfeel is closer to uncarbonated Real Ale than most of the beers I've tried (Rohrbachs being a notable exception - the carbonation in their brews is also pretty light).

Aftertaste - This has a rich buttery finish, the hint of bitterness from the aroma is evident but, again, not overpowering.  The overall impression is of a sweet, rich winter treat that keeps you warm on the cold Upstate NY nights.

This was an absolutely fantastic beer, and I think it'd be churlish to give it anything less than 5 out of 5.  Partly because its style is closer to the English ales I first fell in love with; but also because it's an extremely high-quality product with some subtle undertones, which is very drinkable and well-suited to the season.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rohrbachs to be stocked in Wegmans!

Just got word from Rohrbachs (via Twitter) that selected Wegmans stores will soon be stocking Next Door Ale, Rohrbachs' custom beer for the Next Door Bar & Grill (a classy restaurant owned and operated by Wegmans).  I'm really excited about this!  I haven't been able to find Rohrbachs in any Wegmans until now - I've only found it on tap at local restaurants and in growlers at Aman's Farm and Market in Irondequoit. 

From the looks of things on Twitter, Pittsford will be the first store to carry the Rohrbachs growlers, from Wednesday.  You can bet I'll be there.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dundee Festive Ale

We're now getting into that wonderful time of year heading up to the winter holidays.  For beer enthusiasts, this means gorgeous, spicy winter ales, as the craft breweries bring out their Christmas offerings.  I remember about 5 years ago trying a Christmas Pudding Ale back in Britain, which really did manage to taste exactly like a Christmas pudding.  It was a total revelation, and it was one of the first Real Ales I'd tried, igniting my profound love of craft beer.  So Christmas beers have a special place in my heart, for the seasonal memories they bring back and for the part they've played in making me the beer-lover I am.

So I'm really excited to try out some of the local Christmas offerings in Upstate.  First up is Dundee's Festive Ale - their write-up promises 'nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and orange peel spices', creating a 'complex but subtle flavor'.  Avid readers will recall Dundee's IPA, which was the subject of this blog's first review - I really enjoyed that brew, so this one's got a lot to live up to; here's the lowdown:-

Aroma - When you first open the bottle, the spices are beautifully evident.  It's like opening the door to your aunt's house on Christmas morning just in time for fresh-baked mince pies (for those who haven't had the good fortune of eating these little bundles of heaven, Wikipedia is your friend).  Of course, the smell of malt and hops is evident (perhaps that's my uncle sitting in the lounge having his first beer of Christmas).  To really get the fulness of the aroma, swirl the ale around in your glass as if it's a fine wine.

Appearance - the photo I took doesn't do the beer justice - it's a dark ale but certainly not black, more of an oaky brown.  The head is creamy and substantial.

Taste - Here's the quibble I have with this beer.  The aroma promises so much, but the taste was comparatively disappointing.  I picked up a banana flavour, but most of those delicious, sweet Christmas aromas simply didn't translate into the taste.  The beer also has a pretty light body, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but to me, a winter seasonal beer should taste rich and filling.

Mouthfeel - Carbonation was evident, but not too strong.  The cream from the head was extremely pleasant and added to the texture, making up for the light body.

Finish - that banana-ey flavour (thinking about it, it was most likely the orange peel) stayed prominently, and I could detect a certain maltiness.

It's a pleasant beer overall - I'm informed by one of my drinking partners that the spices are more prominent in some batches than in others, so perhaps this was one of the weaker batches.  This probably won't be the last time I try this beer - I'll let you all know if it's any different next time!

For now at least, this is a 3.5 out of 5.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Saranac India Copper Ale

 And so it is that I come to the end of my Saranac winter beer marathon.  It's been a varied journey - there have been some beers I'd definitely try again, and a couple which didn't wow me at all.  Such is the way with any variety pack, I guess.

One thing I found out in the course of my explorations is that Fred Matt, of Matt Brewing Co (who make Saranac), was in Rochester a few days ago at the Tap and Mallet.  This is one of the cool features of the Upstate brewing scene - there's a lot of small, family-run breweries who spread the word about their products the old fashioned way.  Not through flashy TV ads but simple word of mouth, going around the pubs and explaining their craft to the drinkers who'll appreciate it.  This has produced some up-and-coming breweries which I'll write about in a few days - they couldn't exist without this culture of openness and the can-do attitude which gives them confidence to compete with the Big Companies. 

Here's what I picked up about this brew:-

Aroma - Toasty, with barley undertones.

Appearance - As the name suggests, copper coloured.  A good head developed, but (and this is probably my own fault) when I opened the bottle it was clearly pretty active and spilled all over my counter.  This I'll attribute to my own clumsiness.  I had a great time cursing under my breath and cleaning the kitchen floor.  Carbonation is evident, though not as strongly as in the Rye IPA I tried recently.

Taste - Strong malty flavour with a lot of hoppy backing - I'm guessing this is what they mean by 'India Copper Ale', an IPA with something extra.  Pleasantly hoppy but it takes a backseat to the malty goodness.

Mouthfeel is thicker than a lager, a typical ale texture with a little carbonation.   

Aftertaste - very malty, slightly toasty.  In fact there are notes reminiscent of Marmite, the great British love-it-or-hate-it spread.  If you've tried it, you'll know what I mean.  If not, get straight to your nearest Wegmans and head for the British imports section!

Overall, a great, malty Brown Ale which makes a strong impression and stays with you through the evening.  A real beer-drinker's beer.

I'm giving this beer a 4 out of 5.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Saranac Big Moose Ale

I have 2 more Saranac brews to sample from their '12 Beers of Winter' collection - Big Moose Ale and India Copper Ale.  Shooting unsuspecting wildlife sounds like a fine way to prepare for travelling to the far east, so let's go with the Big Moose today.

The brew is an American Pale Ale, with less of a hoppy hit than the IPAs I've recently been trying.  It's milder and has some fruity hints. 

This was probably my favourite of the Saranacs so far -it's exactly the kind of ale I was hoping to get from a brewery in the Adirondacks; for me it really conjured up images of hiking in the woods and communing with nature.  While drinking beer.  Which probably isn't a great idea if you're hiking, but as long as you don't run across the eponymous Big Moose, you'll probably be safe.

Here's the lowdown:

Aroma - Malty, less hoppy than some other winter beers from Saranac.   Faint whiff of pine, appropriate for a beer from the Adirondacks.

Appearance - reddish gold with a moderate head.  Some mild carbonation.

Taste - malty, subtle, with citrus notes becoming more prominent as the beers warms to room temperature. 

Aftertaste - slight bitter finish, but pleasant nonetheless.  Pine and grass notes work their way in too, making for a subtle and enjoyable palate.

I'm giving this 4.5 out of 5 - a really thoroughly enjoyable brew which I can't wait to try again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Saranac Rye IPA

Today I'm continuing my journey through Saranac's collection of beers and ales.  By the way, all of the beers I've featured by them are in their '12 Beers of Winter' pack, and it's a good collection if you fancy trying some of these for yourself.  You get 2 bottles of each, so you can share with a friend (or enemy, or passing stranger - whatever floats your boat).

Saranac's Rye IPA is a beer for drinking around a log fire with the lads, soaking in the rich flavours as you swap big-fish stories; or for sharing with a loved one in the warm while the NY snows pile up outside.  It's probably my favourite of the Saranac brews I've tried so far.  Here's the lowdown:-

Aroma: hoppy.

Appearance: dark golden, head develops slowly on top.  Carbonation noticeable.

Taste: As one would expect, rye.  Hoppy with a malty finish.  Sometimes a slight soapy note creeps in as you swallow, but it's not overly prominent.  Like any good IPA, the hops are prominent, but the rye adds something to the taste.

Rye at top of mouth, after you swallow before you get the barley.   Barley is the lasting aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: carbonated, sharp, head is foamy and provides a nice contrast to the carbonation.

Aftertaste: barley, rye notes.

This beer I could definitely drink on its own - it's a strong IPA which can be enjoyed on its own merits.  I've had a mixed reaction to Saranac's brews so far, but I really liked this.

4 out of 5.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Transmission interrupted...

I am moving house this week and so have less time to drink and review beer than usual.  I do have a review up my sleeve which I'm planning to publish tonight, and I hope to be back to running at full capacity by this weekend.

Thanks for reading and keep a look out for any brews you think I should try!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saranac Bohemian Pilsener

Whenever two beer-drinkers meet, there is a social formality which has to be observed.  It's not the usual conversation about the weather, or pleasantries about their respective jobs or families.  It's something far more fundamental and intimate:

The two beer-drinkers must bond on the basis of their mutual hatred of mass-produced lagers like Budweiser and Heineken.

This activity should preferably include frequent reference to such beers as tasting like 'cardboard' or 'piss-water'.  This is always contrasted with the quality of beers such as Sam Adams, which are characterised as 'real beer' (for Brits, there is even the Campaign for Real Ale, which supports drinkers' rights and sponsors several beer festivals across the country).  If either interlocutor should express even the vaguest tendency to liking a mass-produced lager, s/he is immediately deemed an ignorant plebeian who requires education in the finer points of Real Beer Drinking.

I don't totally subscribe to this view - much as I hate mass-produced lager, I don't think that ale is the only brew worth drinking and I do occasionally enjoy a glass of straightforward, no-nonsense lager.  Sometimes that's the kind of beer that goes best with the food you're eating - if you're at a summer barbecue, for instance, there's nothing nicer than a refreshing ice-cold lager.

I recognise that in admitting that, I'm probably painting a big target on my back.  However, I do think you can have the best of both worlds: a locally-brewed beer from a small family-owned company which delivers a crisp bite to rival any of the major breweries. I think Saranac have proven this with the latest brew I've sampled, their Bohemian Pilsener.

Pilsener (also spelled Pilsner) is essentially an eastern European style of premium lager - it's been extremely influential on a lot of modern lagers and you can taste this in beers like Heineken and Stella Artois.  A good Pilsener will be stronger than Bud Light, but will taste distinctively light and wheaty, with a bright yellow/golden colour and a slightly hoppy finish.

Saranac's Pilsener makes no attempt at being a malty, hoppy ale, and I actually appreciate that - if you're going to do a Pilsener, do it right.  It pours beautifully, with a decent head, and tastes as good as, if not better than, any of your mass-produced lagers.  It has just the right golden colour (sorry, I did take photos but I've temporarily lost my camera - hopefully will have it back very soon!), and is a very easy drink.  The finish is slightly fruity, very subtle but it's there.

I liked drinking this - while it lacks the complicated, textured flavours of ale, it's a great one to drink as an alternative to Heineken or any of the other mass-produced lagers.  I thoroughly recommend it - it's a great way to introduce your friends to local beers, even if they've never touched anything other than Rolling Rock.  Plus, by drinking it you're supporting local businesses here in NY State!

I'm giving this a 3.5, because while it's an excellent example of Pilsener from right here in New York, I wouldn't imagine myself drinking this just on its own merit.  This isn't the beer's fault, I just prefer ales, which have got a more hoppy or malty body.  As an accompaniment to your food, this beer is going to be just great.

3.5 out of 5.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saranac Vanilla Stout

A few days ago I tried Saranac's Lake Effect Lager, and gave it a pretty favourable review.  I've got a few more beers in my collection from these guys and the review will be coming in over the next few days.

When you name a beer 'Vanilla Stout', it's different from a generic name like 'Lake Effect' or 'Highland' - the expected flavour is right there in the name.  And the name  is bound to raise a few eyebrows - Vanilla and Stout don't usually go together.

In case you were wondering, stout is the kind of beer that basically provides you with a meal in a glass - it's heavy, it's dark, it's thick and it fills your gut nicely.  Probably the most famous example is Guinness - the strong, toasty Irish beer which sells millions upon millions of units every year.

Combining that with vanilla seems like an odd move to me - I can see it being added to some ales or bitters, even porters, but stout seems like too strong a style to lend itself to vanilla flavours.  Upon trying Vanilla Stout, my suspicions were sadly confirmed.

My first impression, on a couple of mouthfuls, was that there was way too little vanilla in the aroma.  I could just about detect it - but it was so lost amid the hoppy aroma that I wondered for a moment if they'd mis-labelled the bottle.  The overall smell I got was the scent of a cold snowy day, with an undertone of hops.  It wasn't unpleasant, just unexpected.  It's got a suitably dark appearance, as one would expect from a stout, with a respectable head.

The taste is overpoweringly soapy, and rather bitter, with a very strong aftertaste of toasted barley.  I normally enjoy that, but add it to the bitter, malty, soapy taste and it's just a bit too much.  More than once I grimaced as I swallowed another mouthful - it became a bit of an endurance test to finish it.  Moreover, my drinking partner (who is also my biggest fan) couldn't face the whole glass and handed me hers to finish - this just added to the challenge.

One redeeming feature here was the brew's good, thick head - it had a creamy texture which was a pleasant surprise.  It contrasted nicely with the mouthfeel of the beer, which had some carbonation.

There's a problem I've routinely encountered with some craft beers - a pleasant malty flavour can become unpleasantly soapy if overdone.  Usually I've only encountered this problem with British ales, I think this is the first time I've had the problem this side of the pond.  It's a shame.

It's a stout, but may be too heavy to be enjoyable by most drinkers.  The 'vanilla' aspect seemed mostly absent, suppressed by the stout's strong hop and malt flavours.  I didn't enjoy it, and it seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity.

2 out of 5.

20 Things Worth Knowing About Beer

I'll have another review posted tonight.  In the meantime, my biggest fan has pointed me in the direction of this hilarious and yet informative comic strip about beer.

Also, I've had my first reply from a brewery, thanking me for my review!  The Head Brewer at Rohrbach's also informs me that they're bringing out a new range of seasonal beers in a few weeks, so watch this space.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rohrbach Highland Lager

On first glance, you wouldn't peg Rochester as a place to find great seafood.  Sure, we have Lake Ontario on our doorstep, but pollution issues have caused severe restrictions to be placed on the consumption of fish from the lake (roughly speaking, you can probably eat about 1oz of fish every 1,000 years).  However, there are a couple of shining examples out there, and Henrietta's Crab Shack is one of them.  It's in the old Bazil location on East Henrietta Road, owned and operated by the same family, but with an emphasis on high-quality seafood - particularly shellfish.  I've been here a couple of times and am always impressed by the freshness of their food (shipped in from Boston every morning) and the atmosphere they create.

But why am I writing about seafood on Upstate Brews?  This was supposed to be about beer!  I mention it only because I went for a drink after work with some friends there today, and enjoyed a lovely couple of jars of Highland Lager along with some crab legs and nachos. 

Rohrbach's is one of my favourite breweries in the Rochester area - they make a good range of craft beers, all of which I thoroughly enjoy drinking - and they also have a tap room and restaurant in Gates, which I've promised myself I'll visit one of these days.  Their brewery site, in downtown Rochester, is right by the Public Market and they do offer tours on Saturdays if you're interested in how ale is made.  I'll try to get my hands on some of their Pumpkin Ale, but I may have missed the boat on this as it's already November...

Their Highland Lager is a subtle brew, with a gentle aroma of malt and a dark gold colour.  Drinking this beer on tap certainly has its advantages - the effervescence of the last couple of beers I've tried was noticeably absent this time around, leaving a very smooth texture.

Like the last lager I tried, this beer had a pretty light body, which makes it a great drink to have with snacks - you don't want an overpowering hoppy taste interfering with the lovely shrimp and crab legs.  It has a pleasantly malty aftertaste, with a sweetness behind it which is very welcome.

It's a good pick for a place like the Crab Shack, as it won't overpower the subtle flavour of seafood but it has enough body to also stand on its own.  If you want a beer with more hoppy 'oomph', Rohrbach's can certainly cater to your needs in that department too - and I'll be glad to review their other varieties in the near future.

3.5 out of 5.

PS I think the Crab Shack should really invest in some Oyster Stout.  Thoughts?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Saranac Lake Effect Lager

I absolutely love this time of year, especially here in Upstate.  I grew up in Britain, and while I do still love the place dearly, I've always slightly resented my home country for its utter inability to produce proper winter weather (well, until last year, and by then I'd left the country anyway).  Come to think of it, the UK climate was never that good at producing any kind of weather, apart from rain in the autumn and overcast skies in the summer. 

Contrast that with the weather you get in the region around Lake Ontario, where I'm now based: hot, humid summers where your rich neighbours can get some real honest use out of their outdoor swimming pool; crisp, dry autumn days that show off the striking colours of turning leaves; freezing winters where you can fully expect snowstorms, and where a White Christmas is pretty much a guarantee; and then the beautiful springtime, made all the more dramatic by the memory of the winter that the land is shaking off.  There's a saying I've heard a few times in the short time I've been here: if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes; it'll change.

Only in Upstate NY could you name a beer after the local weather, and get away with it. Saranac's Lake Effect Lager does just that: it's named for the way in which the proximity of Lake Ontario exacerbates the high snowfall and winds in the areas around Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo during the mid-winter season.  The Lake Effect and I have a special relationship: it stopped me getting to my green-card interview, as we would have had to brave 40mph winds and heavy snowstorms to get there at the scheduled time.  (Yes, I did re-schedule, and no, I'm not an illegal immigrant.)  But I digress.

Saranac beer is brewed by the Matt Brewing Company, a family-run microbrewery based in Utica, NY.  They make a range of drinks, including Bohemian Pilsener, which is inspired by Czech brews - can't wait to try that one!

Lake Effect Lager, on the face of it, doesn't look, taste or smell like much of a lager - it's pretty dark, has an aroma of malty caramel, and tastes a little hoppy.  However, I'm not complaining - it's a pleasant surprise to see a self-professed lager that has some character.

The aftertaste of this brew deserves a special mention: toasted barley with a caramel undertone.  There's nothing I like more than a slightly burnt, toasty flavour working its magic on your palate after a sip of good beer, and this one had just the right hit for my liking.

The one criticism I have of this beer is the slight weakness of flavour as you're drinking it - this isn't an IPA or porter with a strong flavour, most of the interest comes in the aroma or the aftertaste.  This might be because it's a lager with a lighter body, but I expect a winter beer to have a touch more flavour in the drinking.  The toasty aftertaste more than makes up for this, though, and I can recommend this beer without reservation.

4 out of 5.

Now easier to comment!

I've now made it easier for you to comment - you don't need an OpenID anymore!

Comments will be moderated, but I'll take a pretty liberal policy with this - unless you say something truly obscene I'm going to publish it.

More beer coming soon!  In the meantime check out my links and explore some of the wonderful beers being crafted in Upstate NY - and please make suggestions for any I've missed out.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dundee India Pale Ale

Dundee Brewing Co. is a craft brewery based in Rochester, NY, part of the larger Genesee Brewing Co. which operates in the High Falls District, arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the city (seriously, how many cities have a massive waterfall in their downtown area?).

They brew a range of beer and ale styles, and I'm looking forward to reviewing the full product line sooner or later!  Tonight, though, I'm limiting myself to their India Pale Ale - a brew which declares itself to be 'Bold and Bitter'.  The label shows a ship-in-a-bottle sitting atop the log-book of the 'S.S. Dundee' - this was a really cute touch, and the the blurb on the back of the bottle also shows that this is a brewery with a lot of personality - refreshingly so amid the banality of most mass-marketed beers.

I was pretty impressed with the beer itself - an initially bitter hit mellows into a citrus finish which is very pleasant indeed.  After the first sip, once your palate has acclimatized to the initial bitterness, the beer takes on a crisp, hoppy character with a fruity aftertaste.  Overall, an IPA which is indeed 'bold and bitter', but not overpoweringly so.

3.5 out of 5.

For more information on Dundee beers, check out their website above.  And please do let me know what you think of this brew, too!

Greetings, world.

On this blog, I'll be reviewing mainly beers and ales from Upstate New York - an area with a surprising number of local breweries offering an astounding range of beers, along with several dedicated importer-retailers.  Even the local grocery stores sell excellent microbrews from around the world!  I know there will be no shortage of things to write about.

As time goes on I hope to expand this blog to include some of my adventures in homebrewing (once I get the equipment for it), including recipes, lessons learned, an account of my successes and (hopefully very few) failures.

Watch this space - first review coming very, very soon. In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of dark ale: