Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Interview with Genesee Brewing's CEO in the Democrat and Chronicle

I missed this last week, but have now caught up...

Last week's Sunday edition of the D&C featured an in-depth interview with Genesee Brewing's Rich Lozyniak.  It's great to know that they're continuing to grow, they're such a part of downtown Rochester's history.  I also love that here in Rochester we have the privilege of having not just locally-brewed craft beer, but also a firm competition for Bud, Miller and Coors.  

North American Breweries (which owns Genesee Brewing and is based in Rochester) is totally independent of the Big Three, and is still the #8 brewery in the USA.  Their Dundee craft label produces some pretty decent beers in a very reasonable price range, too (~$6-7 for a six-pack).

I particularly like Lozyniak's comment that Genny is the cool beer in Brooklyn - it brings a chuckle to my face to think of hipsters discovering Genny for the first time.  

Had my first taste of my Christmas Ale (made from Northern Brewer's Spiced Winter Ale kit) and even a week after bottling it's pretty good!  More homebrew reviews and others, coming up soon!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A few updates...

Since my last review (which was back in...JULY?!?  I really need to update this thing more), I've got a couple of updates for you.

The first thing I want to mention is that my good friends at Upstate Brewing Co. have finally found a home for their microbrewery and we can expect to see their fine beers commercially available early next year.  I've been following these guys since I first discovered their website earlier this year and it's fantastic to see their plans coming together.  These guys are particularly notable for their Common Sense Ale, which is a revival of the old Kentucky Common style popular in pre-Prohibition days.  Looking forward to trying it!

I've also gone through a whole batch of homebrewed British bitter (with a little help from my #1 fan and some friends), which was good but a little on the hoppy side for my liking.  The instructions said to dry-hop - this may have been the cause.  I have a second batch of Belgian ale (The Muscles from Brussels, Mk II) - this time I halved the bittering hops and used Wyeast 1214 (Belgian Abbey) to ferment, it worked out pretty well!  I'll have a full post on that soon.  I'm also bottle-conditioning my Winter Spiced Ale, in 22oz bottles.  that should be ready just in time for Christmas.

All in all, it's been a busy, beerful few months!  Watch this space, Upstate Brews is coming back...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sacketts Harbor Brewing Co - War of 1812 Amber Ale

When I think of the War of 1812, as a miseducated Brit, the first image that comes to my mind is not the Revolutionary War, but the Napoleonic invasion of Russia which inspired Tchaikovsky's overture.  I actually had no idea that anything particularly noteworthy happened this side of the pond in that year until I took a graduate course in history a short while ago.  That raised a few eyebrows among my more patriotically-minded classmates, I can tell you...

So, please believe me when I say that I hold no prejudices regarding tonight's featured beverage on account of its name - to me, 1812 is all about a bunch of garlic-wearing frog-leg eaters being royally kicked in the arse by a hardy people who inexplicably choose to live in a climate where you can buy milk in frozen blocks and store it on your front porch.  The Anglo-American War of 1812 is such a humiliating chapter in British history that it's conveniently skipped over by our embarrassed educators.  A lot of Brits still talk as if America's some kind of socially-backward colony - a behaviour which, in my estimation and experience, masks a deep-seated jealousy of the pride of place America still holds in world affairs and which was once held by the British Empire.  Limeys are generally sore losers.

But speaking for myself?  Like I said, in my mind 1812 is all about cossack-dancers.

Sacketts Harbor Brewing Co are based, unpredictably enough, in Sacketts Harbor, NY.  I've been in their general vicinity - it's right in the middle of the Thousand Island region, about halfway between Rochester and Montreal.  As far as I can tell, they make 3 varieties - 1812 Amber, 1812 Light and Thousand Islands.  I first tried 1812 Amber a couple of years back at the Scotch 'n' Sirloin in Brighton, and remember quite enjoying it.  So I was looking forward to reviewing it for the blog - oh boy, how poorly my memory sometimes serves me...

1812 Amber Ale pours a light amber, with a good white head - not too massive but it's there.  There's moderate carbonation, and the brew has a good clarity.  So far, so good.  Right?

It's when you get to the aroma that things get a bit nasty.  There are some strong phenols, banana-like but verging on the plasticky.  There's a sweet, toffee-like quality, and it's also slightly malty, hops are very restrained.  There's an off-flavour though, and the aroma is a bit artificial.

The flavour starts off pleasantly enough - there's a sweet malt to it which isn't bad.  But then you taste the same banana-ey phenols and there's also a buttery quality, which I think is excessive diacetyl.  It's like an attempt at an English bitter, but something's missing - the diacetyl is too strong and there's not actually enough of a genuine malty backbone to give it the rich quality of an English style.

The body is extremely light, considering the style, and there's low-moderate carbonation.  Not much to be said for the mouthfeel, to be honest.

Overall, it's a disappointing effort - I'm not sure what style they were going for.  It's certainly not an American Amber, the diacetyl is over the top, the plasticky, artificial quality in the aroma is unpleasant and my final impression is that it's a poorly-made attempt at an English bitter.  There are far, far better brews on offer in the Upstate region - none of which make me think of Napoleon, borscht or cultural humiliation.

Here are my scores, such as they are:-

Appearance - 3/5
Aroma - 1/5
Taste - 2/5
Mouthfeel - 1.5/5

Overall - 1.875.  Frankly, a bit of an embarrassment to the incredible craft beer scene we have in our area.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Custom Brewcrafters - Signature Series Mabel

I went to Custom Brewcrafters for my birthday a couple of weeks ago, with some family and friends.  It's an awesome place - with 20-odd craft beers on tap, what beer enthusiast wouldn't be happy as a sandboy there?  They also offer free brewery tours, and your $6 tasting ticket includes a free tasting glass to keep, and a $2 rebate if you decide to buy a growler from them.  They also have a pretty decent kitchen serving a limited menu which changes weekly.  

I was intrigued to see a case of cigars on the bar - I was very tempted to don my plummiest English persona, buy some Cubans, pull out my bow tie and tweed jacket, and retire to the drawing room with the men of our party to discuss the stock market.  

I soon realised this wouldn't work - I don't have a bow tie or tweed jacket currently, my apartment doesn't have anything resembling a drawing room, the stock market is about as interesting to me as a bottle of MGD 64, and frankly I have never even smoked a cigar before...oh well, it was a great plan for the two minutes I contemplated it.  

Then again, who needs cigars when you have genuine smoked beer available to you?

Allow me to introduce Mabel, a self-professed 'Imperial Breakfast Beer' from CB's Signature Series (a collection of limited-edition, high-end beers).  It's a strong, fairly dark smoked beer with a malty backbone and some rich, complex flavours which will keep you coming back for more, even with an ABV of 10%.  It's brewed with maple syrup from Mendon and smoked malts from Germany and Scotland.  

Mabel pours a deep copper with ruby hues (the photo doesn't do it justice) and a very good clarity.  Moderate carbonation is evident.  There's a small, off-white head, which is just fine with me - if you agitate the beer a bigger head will develop, but with a beer this strong you don't want or need a massive head.

Smoky malts and a strong, clean alcohol scent hit your nose with the first sniff.  There's even a touch of smoky Scotch whiskey about it - probably from the peat-smoked malt.  The maple is detectable underneath as a sweet note to the aroma.  

You can definitely taste the maple syrup - it's not exactly sweet but it comes through nicely.  The smoked malts dominate the flavour and that's what makes this beer so deliciously different - smoke adds so many layers of complexity to the flavour.  The finish is fairly dry, although I detected some sweet notes from the maple syrup and the smoked malts linger strongly.

The beer has a medium-full body, with a nice smooth feel, there's a fair amount of carbonation but the high alcohol content softens that, especially as the beer warms from the fridge (carbonation definitely felt higher when it was colder).  The alcohol also imparts a nice warmth that sits pleasantly on the palate.  

Overall, it's a damn fine brew.  The brewer's notes say that Mabel means 'lovable' - it's easy to see why they came up with this name for the beer, because it's a brew which will get under your skin and leave you wanting more.  Here are my scores:

Appearance - 4.5/5
Aroma - 4/5
Taste - 4/5
Mouthfeel - 3.5/5

Overall - 4/5.  I'm not sure whether I should recommend this as 'breakfast beer'!  But I can see this going down an absolute treat with bacon or BBQ, a perfect complement to those cured and smoky meats that we all know and love so well.  Thoroughly enjoyable and well worth a hunt to find it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Upstate Brews Goes Downstate! Brooklyn Brewery - Local 2

Tonight, I'm defying convention in so many ways.  While Upstate Brews generally only covers beers from breweries in NY state but outside the NYC metro area, I reserve the right to occasionally bend this rule a bit.  Not least because tonight's ale is made by Brooklyn Brewery, a wonderful group of folks based in the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Brooklyn.  This part of New York has attracted a lot of artists, musicians, writers, foodies and general all-round awesome people who, like me, laugh in the face of strict self-imposed rules.

I'm also defying convention in that I've been given two brews: Local 1 and Local 2.  I'd normally go in numerical order (I'm a bit OCD like that) and review Local 1 first.  Thing is, Local 2 declared itself to be 'brewed with citrus peel and honey', and tonight that just sounded too good to pass up.  I'll review Local 1 very soon.

Speaking of defying convention, Brooklyn Brewery were also, in 2003, the first company in New York City to switch to 100% wind-powered electricity.  A microbrewery in the middle of one of the most fashionable areas of the Big Apple, with a commitment to environmental consciousness too!  This is starting to look really interesting...

The first thing I noticed about both of these beers that the labels stated the beer is '100% bottle re-fermented'.  Their website goes further, stating that bottle re-fermenting is 'now rare even in Europe'.  Not entirely sure what they mean by that - do they just mean it's bottle-conditioned?  Hardly rare by any means.  I tried to look around some of the online homebrewing sites I frequent, but none of them could help - I may just have to contact the brewery directly to see what this mysterious technique involves.

The ale, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, pours a deep copper, with a thick and creamy off-white head - good retention, good lacing too.  It was slightly hazy, with high carbonation evident.

The initial aroma was a slightly bready malt, with some citrus and fruity esters detectable and the honey is fairly prominent - it's a sweet aroma of the kind you'd usually associate with Belgian beers.  That being said, you can also detect a fair amount of slightly spicy alcohol in the aroma too.  There's little to no hop aroma detectable.

When I took the first sip, a prominent alcoholic warmth is the first thing I noticed (this baby packs a 9.0% ABV punch!), and then some plum and raisin esters which make for a rich, fruity taste.  It's a complex but thoroughly pleasant and drinkable ale.  Bitterness is at a minimum, though there's some slightly bitter hop flavour in the finish.  In the aftertaste you also pick up prominent malts and there's a medium-sweet impression overall.

Mouthfeel is medium-full bodied, and there's fairly high carbonation but the alcohol smooths out a lot of the effervescence.

A great, strong, fruity Belgian Dark.  Because the ABV was so high, I've only had half of the 25oz bottle - I will thoroughly enjoy the rest over the Independence Day weekend!  It's a lot like the Trappist and Abbey ales I tried as an undergrad at UK beer festivals - I'm pleasantly surprised that they captured the style so well.  So here are my scores:

Appearance - 4.5/5
Aroma - 4.5/5
Taste - 4.5/5
Mouthfeel - 4.5/5

Overall - 4.5.  I love Belgian styles, and this is a fantastic example.  I'll be interested to see how this compares to Ommegang (Upstate's official Belgian brewery), but Brooklyn have set the bar pretty high with this one.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Southern Tier Brewing Co - Raspberry Wheat

Ah, fruit beer - I've tried and reviewed a couple of examples of this style recently, and they've all, without exception, been very refreshing and simple beers.  The kind of drink that goes just brilliantly with a light riverside meal or picnic on a balmy summer's day such as we've been experiencing (a bit more sporadically than I'd have hoped) recently.  The kind of beer which, for some inexplicable reason, often gets labelled as a 'malt beverage' rather than a true beer, as if it were some kind of processed, manufactured alco-pop - a really unfair label, as these beers are just as worthy of the name as the IPAs or stouts which connoisseurs are more inclined to praise.

I guess there's understandable reluctance on the part of some hop-heads to fully accept fruit beer - generally these styles are very low in IBUs, so any hop aroma is usually very restrained, and hop bitterness is at a minimum in order to let the fruit flavour through.  But really, I say there's nothing wrong with a well-crafted, uncomplicated fruit beer to celebrate the season.  Particularly when they're as well-made as the ones we have on offer in Upstate.

Tonight's example comes from Southern Tier - I've already reviewed a couple of their beers and have been very impressed with both.  So here's hoping this one is true to form!  Oh, and by the way, the glass in the photo is my commemorative sample glass from the Real Beer Expo.  It's a much better glass than the ones I've been using (yes, the kind of glass you use really does make a difference!).

This brew pours a light, straw colour, with low to moderate carbonation.  Although you can't really see it in the photo, it had a good-sized white head with decent lacing (poor retention, though I'm not going to hold that against them too much).  It's brilliantly clear, with no haze that I could see.

The aroma features prominent, tart and fruity raspberries, with some faint hops detectable underneath.  It's great when a fruit beer smells of the real fruit rather than an artificial syrup.

It tastes a little sweet, with the raspberry featuring prominently and sitting at the back of your mouth.  It's got that lovely sweet and tart combination which I always love about summer fruits.  There's also a very mild hop bitterness detectable in the taste, which complements the fruit nicely and doesn't clash.  It's almost as if it's there to gently remind you that you're drinking a real beer.

The mouthfeel's smooth with a fairly low carbonation level, possibly a little low for the American Wheat style.  The body's pretty light, just as it should be for a summery fruit beer.  The finish is slightly sweet but not cloying.

A really nice fruit beer with some subtle hoppy touches.  Here are my scores:

Appearance - 4.5/5
Aroma - 3.5/5
Taste - 4/5
Mouthfeel - 3.5/5

Overall - 3.875/5.  It's a really great summer brew, perfect for the hot summer days ahead.  The balance of hops and fruit was particularly unusual - in the best way possible.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An invitation to Nathan Berrong

Yesterday, Nathan Berrong of CNN posted an article where he extolled the virtues of West Coast beer.  It's caused a bit of a stir in the blogosphere because he states 'there's no debating that the best region for beer in the United States is the Pacific or West Coast region.'

No debating, huh?  Well, if that's the case, he clearly sparked some kind of non-debating argumentative social discourse, because there are currently 618 comments (and counting) on the article, many of which express very sharp disagreement with Mr. Berrong's bold assertion.  

I think that he's rather missing the point of craft beer - in his opening paragraphs he only mentions the hop-heavy IPA and Pale Ale styles as if they're the epitome of beercraft.  Not so, say I!  Bucketloads of hops do not a Great Beer make.  Here in Upstate alone, we've got awesome breweries making fantastic examples of a broad range of styles, some of them aggressively hopped (like CB's Caged Alpha Monkey, or the IPAs made by the lads at Three Heads Brewing), others not so much, because they realise how to use them appropriately!  The base ingredient of beer, believe it or not, isn't hops, it's malted barley; hops are added to balance the sweetness of the base malts.

So, Mr. Berrong, I'd like to issue you an invitation: come to Upstate New York, and I'll personally guide you on a tour of the fabulous breweries and brewpubs we have here.  I'll show you how our moderate, mid-European climate creates a fantastic environment for growing hops, barley and adjunct grains.  Please, see how it compares to the West Coast, and I think you'll find that Upstate Brews are some of the finest you'll find in the country.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Three Heads Brewing - Blimey English-Style Pale Ale

One of the neatest things about being a Brit in Upstate NY is that you get to critique the attempts that people make at imitating your own accent and culture.  From Renaissance festivals to Cockney reptiles selling insurance to those God-awful accents that well-meaning Hollywood actors put on, there's plenty of opportunity for a proud Englishman to smirk at the Yankee perception of his way of life.  I also thoroughly enjoy it when locals refer to me as 'that Australian guy'...oh my, oh my.

When it comes to beer, however, Upstate practices the sincerest form of flattery by emulating very closely a lot of the great British beer styles I've known and loved.  Frankly, you're probably better off getting an Upstate-brewed British-style beer than an import, because English ale doesn't travel well, even when bottled.  More than once I've bought a bottle of a well-loved British ale, only to find that it tastes skunky, or stale.  So I've been exploring some of the local ale offerings, and I'll be jiggered if they're not a damn fine impersonation of British Best.

Tonight's review is of Three Heads Brewing's Blimey, a cheekily-named Extra Special Bitter which boasts a respectable 6.0% ABV and whose label shows a stereotypically buck-toothed Queen's Guard with an old-fashioned London Routemaster bus in the background (this got me all nostalgic, because you rarely see those buses in the city these days).  I couldn't help but raise a smile at the picture - though I hasten to add, I pride myself on having the most un-British teeth imaginable.  My wife will back me up on that.

The beer pours a light copper, with a slight head and low-moderate carbonation.  It's very clear, which shows it's been filtered well.

Bready malts dominate the aroma, with a balance of mild UK hops.  There's a slight alcoholic warmth that hits your nose, and very low fruit esters are detectable.

When I first tasted it, it was fresh from the fridge (I should have really known better - British styles are usually best served at around 54-58 degrees Fahrenheit).  Served from the fridge, it had an aggressive hop bitterness which clashed with the malty aroma.  As I let it warm slightly, however, the malt had more of a chance to show itself over the hoppy bitterness.  The bitterness remains fairly strong, as one would expect (this brew has 60 IBUs).  Served on cask at cellar temperature, I can imagine this beer comparing very favourably with UK standards like London Pride.  There's a slight toasty quality to the aftertaste, which is subtle and quite pleasant.

As far as mouthfeel's concerned, there's a low level of carbonation, and a medium body.  The brew finishes fairly clean and dry with some bitterness.

It's a great beer, and I like it a lot.  So here are my scores:

Appearance - 4.5/5
Aroma - 4/5
Taste - 4/5
Mouthfeel - 3.5/5

Overall - 4/5.  Great strong British ale.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why 'Upstate'?

It occurred to me the other day that this blog is only a small part of a broader turn I've made in the past year or so towards supporting the local and organic food movement.  And yet I've only hinted at this in my posts; I've never fully explored or explained this aspect of Upstate Brews.  Well, today I'd like to briefly go into some of the reasons why I support this movement, why it's relevant to this blog, and why it's important to support our local, independent breweries here in Upstate.

Organic food has become a huge deal in recent years, with millions of consumers turning away from conventionally grown ingredients (which are farmed with the assistance of chemical treatments, pesticides and - increasingly - genetically-modified organisms) and instead purchasing food which has been farmed using traditional methods which, proponents argue, produce better, healthier, more nutritious ingredients, and are also better for the environment.

One side-effect of the new interest in organic food is the commercial organic industry, which is very well-intentioned but has also resulted in some oddly ironic actions - for instance, the demand for grass-fed, organic beef has contributed to deforestation in South America as farmers try to create more pasture for their cattle. 

Hence the local food movement - a way to move towards a sustainable, organic model of food production which benefits the local economy as well as lowering our carbon footprint and delivering nutritious food at a reasonable price.  In Upstate NY, we're faced with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to locally-grown food - so it makes sense that farmers should be able to sell their goods directly to consumers, cutting out the middle man and maximising their profits, knowing that they are also giving excellent-quality food to people who might not have the means to pay for grocery-store organic food all the time.

In Rochester alone, we have summer farmers' markets in the South Wedge, Brighton, Monroe Village, Fairport, Pittsford and Irondequoit - all offering locally-grown produce, most of it organic.  And let's not forget the downtown Public Market which sells a huge range of produce, most of it conventional but there are some organic suppliers too.

In the winter, the Highland Park market offers an incredible range of fresh and frozen produce and baked goods.  It's a beautiful thing, and I have to say that with prices comparable to or lower than Wegmans, everything I've bought from the farmers' markets has been of exceptional quality.

Which brings me to my next point: Upstate Brews exists to explore the locally-produced beers available to us here in Upstate NY, which are usually of far superior quality to beers produced on a massive scale by 'macrobreweries'.  They're not always brewed using local, organic ingredients - although that's something I'd really like to see more of.  These local, independent breweries do, however, have a commitment to producing excellent beers and ales, contributing to the local economy (so that, for instance, Rohrbachs and Custom Brewcrafters have become the offsite brewpub for many Rochester-area institutions), and generally being awesome.  In an area that's lost a lot of its major powerhouses and industries, the burgeoning craft beer business is a great boon to Upstate.

Homebrewing is also growing in popularity, as people realise it's a lot more economical to produce beer at home than to buy it in stores.  If you get really good at it, you might even be able to make the transition from homebrewer to professional brewer - which is how a lot of the Upstate microbreweries started.

So, buying local beer is important because it supports small-scale brewers of hand-crafted drinks, and in this area, supporting local businesses is vitally important.

We're spoiled in Rochester because we even have a macrobrewery in the city - North American Breweries, producers of Genny brand beers, as well as the Dundee craft label.  So we have no excuse to buy from the Big Three (Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors) - almost every style of beer is produced by one of the local breweries!

Well, if you've read this far, congratulations and thanks for letting me ramble on a bit about one of my passions.  Hope it gives you some food for thought!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rochester Real Beer Expo TODAY!

The Rochester Real Beer Expo is happening today, 6pm-10pm in the South Wedge!  It's on Gregory Street, between South Ave and South Clinton Ave, and there are plenty of awesome breweries represented from Upstate and beyond.  Tickets are $45 at the gate ($40 if you buy them online) - if you're looking for something fun to do this evening, this is an awesome way to get to know more of the incredible craft beers we have available to us in Upstate!

Oh, and I'll be pouring at one of the stations, so keep an eye out for the Upstate Brews Guy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ithaca Beer Co - Nut Brown Ale

In my city neighbourhood, we get a lot of wildlife - no, not the students drunkenly stumbling out of bars yelling 'Eyyyyy, loveyoulezzallgetchickenwings!', but small, cute bunnies, squirrels and chipmunks that decided to live the urban life.  I often see them running around in the branches (my bedroom window opens to a canopy of trees) and a few days ago, while I was walking to the car a bunny hopped out of the bushes and just sat there in front of me for a moment, too confused or scared to hop away.  It's moments like that which make you happy to be up at ungodly hours of the morning.

A couple of weeks ago, a blackbird made it his mission to tap repeatedly on the window.  For hours at a time.  You'd think he'd get a headache, or get bored or something, but no - he'd just tap-tap-tap away at his reflection, hopping between branches to get the best possible position.  I named him Robert and eventually came to look forward to his daily visit.  I've not seen him recently, but he'll come back.  I know he will.  Right, Robert?

One of the funniest things about squirrels is when you see them carrying little nuts in their mouths, then stopping to grab them with their little paws so they can chow down on them a bit.  It's adorable!

And that, oddly enough, brings me to today's review:  Ithaca Nut Brown Ale.  I've been pretty impressed with Ithaca's offerings so far - their Apricot Wheat was light and refreshing, and CascaZilla was a hoppy Red Ale with lots of character.  They've been given a shout-out in CloneBrews, 2nd Edition: Recipes for 200 Brand-Name Beers, which also has a recipe for cloning Nut Brown.

It's another dark beer, so again it's not what you'd immediately associate with summer - but imagine buying a couple of good steaks and throwing them on the grill as the evening begins to draw in and the weather cools off a bit, and these styles really come into their own.

Ithaca Nut Brown pours a rich, dark copper, and fairly clear, except for a little chill haze.  It has a good-sized head with a light tan colour.  Moderate carbonation is evident.

There are prominent nutty malts in the aroma, with some caramel too.  The dark chocolatey malt is clearly there but not as intensely as in the Double Dark Cream Porter.  Some hints of burnt sugar in the aroma too.

They really weren't kidding when they called it Nut Brown!  The nutty flavour is very prominent and it's just great.  It's balanced by a moderate hop bitterness and some fruity esters.  There's just a hint of citrus hops in there.  Dark malts and hops are well balanced, and both are evident in the aftertaste.  Tasty, tasty.

As far as the mouthfeel goes, there's moderate carbonation, with a medium-full body.

This is a great beer, and a good example of the style.  If Robert comes by the house again, I'm definitely pouring him a little saucer of it to welcome him back.

Appearance - 4/5
Aroma - 4/5
Flavour - 4/5
Mouthfeel - 3.5/5

Overall - 3.875.  Great American Brown Ale, with a lovely nutty character.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Don't worry, we'll be back soon!

The past few days have been a bit quiet on the blogging front, and I do apologise - it was my birthday yesterday and I spent most of the weekend doing vital beer-related research for the blog.  I'll post my findings sometime later this week - sooner, rather than later, I hope.

In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of Custom Brewcrafters, and prepare yourselves for the awesomeness that is forthcoming!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Custom Brewcrafters - Double Dark Cream Porter

OK, readers, it's polling time!

When you think of beer, what kinds of adjectives come to mind?

Hoppy?  Malty?  Bitter?  Refreshing?  Floral?

How about 'chocolatey'?  Probably not the first thing you'd think of.  Even with many of the dark ales on offer in this area, I think we tend to major on roasted flavours and bitterness, so the idea of beer with chocolate qualities is still a bit of a novelty.

Which is why Custom Brewcrafters' Double Dark Cream Porter (they really have to come up with a catchier name) is such a refreshingly different brew.

Porter is an odd style with a rich history; broadly speaking, the style was a precursor to stout and so it's like a lighter-bodied version of that style.  It's growing in popularity - particularly in the US, although I do recall some examples from old Blighty where the style originated (legend has it that it got its name from the London hall porters and service workers who rather enjoyed it).  Main characteristics include a rich, dark colour; low hop flavour and aroma; dark malt characteristics without harshness or burnt flavour; and a medium body.  CB's porter achieves all of these really rather well.  

The beer pours a deep, dark-chocolate brown, not quite opaque but pretty thick.  There's a deep red colour to it, which you can see by holding it in the light.  It has a tan-coloured head, not massive but respectable.  There's not a lot of carbonation, but it's there - as a rule, British styles are less carbonated than American ones.

A chocolatey malt aroma hits your nose with the first sniff, and a little roasted barley underneath.  Some toffee-like scent is detectable also - it's a complex, strong, multi-layered aroma.  Really great stuff, and more subtleties are unearthed as you swirl it around in the glass, unlocking the bouquet.

The taste is equally complex and fascinating - chocolate flavour mingles with the nutty malts.  There's some hop bitterness in there, but this beer definitely leans more towards the dark, roasted malt side.  It doesn't taste burnt or acidic, however, unlike some dark ales.

This porter has a medium body, with low carbonation.  There's some alcohol warmth in there as it goes down, which is a great way to round off a full-blooded dark ale.  

Overall, this is a great example of the style, very drinkable with lovely malt characteristics.  The chocolate aroma and flavour are wonderful and it avoided the 'burnt-toast' character that many dark ales have.  Here are my scores:

Appearance - 4.5/5
Aroma - 5/5
Taste - 4/5
Mouthfeel - 4.5/5

Overall - 4.5/5.  It's an odd choice for a June evening, I suppose - this is the time when most craft breweries are bringing out their Hefeweizen and IPA, as well as fruit beers.  But dark, chocolatey malt flavours can be just as summery as the light ales - imagine this with a juicy steak or some summer barbecue favourites.  Delicious.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ellicottville Brewing Company - Blueberry Wheat

Ellicottville is right in the southwestern corner of New York, a small town that's best known for Holiday Valley, a ski and golf resort which is a major tourist attraction for the region.  It's known as the Aspen of the East.

I was never much of a skier - I took one lesson as an extremely un-coordinated teenager, on a family holiday, and ended up colliding with some poor Austrian kid in the most undignified manner imaginable.

I tried to use my 6 months of high-school German lessons to apologise and make sure the guy was OK...knowing my luck, I probably accidentally told him that I have 5 cousins and 4 aunties, and that I enjoy potato salad with sausage and sauerkraut.

Which would explain the confused look he gave me as he beat a hasty retreat into the snowy mountains.

So, me and skiing - not a match made in heaven.  Me and beer, however - much better suited, as I discovered a couple of years later in college.

That's good, because Ellicottville has had its very own brewpub since 1995, appropriately named the Ellicottville Brewing Company.  They have two locations - one in Ellicottville, and another in Fredonia - and their brews have received international acclaim.  I'm excited to try out another Upstate brewery, and one which puts out award-winning product!  Some of their brews sound really interesting - for instance 'Pantius Droppus', an Imperial Pale Ale which apparently gained a priest's blessing at a summer festival...the mind boggles but I'm certainly intrigued.

So, I'm reviewing their Blueberry Wheat - fruit beer is always great for the summer, and I think American Wheat is often chosen for the base style because it's got a light body and gentle character which allows room for the fruit character to make itself known, and not clash with any strong malts or hops.

The brew pours a straw-like colour, with brilliant clarity and moderate carbonation - a discernible head but not too big.  This is just right for a wheat-based fruit beer.

As far as the aroma goes, the blueberry is quite strong and sweet, with a subtle wheat underneath.  It's not overpowering, and it's a sign of good things to come!

The beer has a good, distinctive blueberry taste - not artificial and not overly sweet, with a slight tartness which you'd associate with the fruit itself.  As you drink, a sweetness comes through and lingers in the aftertaste.  Hops are restrained and not overt in the taste - a good thing, as I'm not sure a distinct hop flavour would be a good complement for the blueberry.  A really pleasant, summery beer.

The mouthfeel was light in body, with moderate carbonation.  Refreshing and thirst-quenching - as a summery, fruit beer ought to be!

Overall, this is a really good fruit beer with great character - a cold six-pack of this would be a great addition to anyone's summer cookout, or an evening out on the porch with some friends.


Appearance - 4.5/5
Aroma - 4/5
Taste - 4/5
Mouthfeel - 4.5/5

Overall - 4.25/5.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Custom Brewcrafters - Caged Alpha Monkey IPA

Ah, India Pale Ale.  A style beloved by so many beer enthusiasts, but also feared by others (i.e. Yours Truly).  Particularly in its American incarnations, it's intensely hopped, which gives it a really bitter taste.  Personally, I prefer brews which exhibit a good malt character and restrained hops, so whenever I try an IPA it's with a sense of adventure.  The two examples I've reviewed so far here (from Dundee and Southern Tier, respectively) have been pleasant surprises, with only moderate hops and a fresh, floral character; which led me to think maybe I'd judged the style too harshly based on a couple of bad experiences prior to starting Upstate Brews.

So I was pretty excited with today's bottle: Custom Brewcrafters' Caged Alpha Monkey.  I had a pint of this when it first came out in December 2010, and did enjoy it but couldn't do a full review.  My memory is that it had an intense hop character but it was of the fresh, floral variety rather than the aggressively bitter variety - and pretty enjoyable to an IPA-phobe like myself.  The recipe's been tweaked since then so I wasn't expecting a clone of the first batch.

The brew poured nicely with a respectable off-white head, decent clarity and a rich golden colour.

Aroma - an intense, resinous, piney hop aroma hit my nose.  There was some clean malt character detectable underneath.  It's a good example of American IPA...which is great, but gave me a slight sense of foreboding as it's precisely the strong, intensely-hopped examples which have turned me off the style.

Taste - Hops, hops and more hops - bitter and resiny, with some citrus character as well.  With this new batch, they seem to have majored on the bittering hops, which hasn't left much room for any finishing or dry hops to shine.  A slightly sweet aftertaste, which allows the clean malt character to show itself. 

Mouthfeel - a medium body, with low-moderate carbonation, overall pretty dry but as mentioned earlier the sweet malt is evident in the aftertaste.  At 6.5% it's a stronger IPA, and a slight alcohol warmth is noticeable.

Technically it's really good - but I just can't get past the fact that this kind of beer is the reason why I have problems drinking IPA.  So, here's my rating:

Appearance: 4/5
Aroma - 3.5/5
Taste - 2.5/5
Mouthfeel - 3/5

Overall - 3.5/5.  If you love IPA you'll probably love this - it's just a matter of personal taste.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Southern Tier Brewing Company - IPA

Wegmans is one of Upstate's great assets, and now there's another reason to love them: recently, they started offering 'Craft Your Own Pack'.  Inspired by a similar service available at Beers of the World, the idea is that you pick out 6 single bottles of craft beer and pay a flat rate of $9.99.  It's a bit more expensive than your average 6-pack, but it's worth it for the opportunity to try out different brews from across the region.

When I picked out my half-dozen last night, there weren't a ton of Upstate varieties to choose from; but there was a decent selection from Pennsylvania and New England.  I eventually found 6 NY beers that I haven't reviewed before, and I'm looking forward to sampling them all (purely for the blog, of course).  Here's the complete list:
  • Southern Tier - IPA
  • Southern Tier - Raspberry Wheat
  • Custom Brewcrafters - Caged Alpha Monkey IPA
  • Custom Brewcrafters - Double Dark Cream Porter
  • Ithaca Beer Co - Nut Brown Ale
  • Ellicott Brewing Co - Blueberry Wheat
So, a good range I think - a couple of summery fruit beers, a couple of IPAs (I'm trying to overcome my IPA-phobia, really) and some darker ales which will be a bit more complex and really interesting.  I'm starting today with the Southern Tier IPA.

After my first encounter with Southern Tier, I'm setting pretty high standards for these guys - Phin and Matt's was a great Pale Ale, and if their other brews are of the same quality I'll be very impressed.  Phin and Matt's was proudly brewed with 3 malt varieties and 3 hop varieties - the IPA declares itself to be brewed with 4 types of each, adding an extra layer of intricacy to the flavour profile.  The website description of the brew states that it's triple-hopped - I'm guessing this means it was dry-hopped during the fermentation.  That's a good thing - it means you get a fresher, cleaner hop taste, leaving the bitterness to mellow out in the undertones of the flavour profile.  Dry-hopping also means that the beer will be a bit less clear when it gets to the glass - again, this is nothing to be afraid of.  Here are my impressions:

Appearance - Pale amber in colour, with a respectable off-white head and evidence of low to moderate carbonation.  Pretty clear, although a slight haze is detectable. 

Aroma - Definite floral hops in the aroma, not aggressive or skunky however.  Malt evident as an undertone, hops dominate as they should for an IPA.  Some slight fruitiness detectable, but not sure whether from hops or fermentation by-products.

Taste - Hops are the dominant character, mainly the floral flavour detected in the aroma.  The malt flavour is clean, allowing the hoppiness to shine through.  Some hop bitterness in the aftertaste, but not overpowering.  A slight sulfuriness is detectable, which is a stylistic option according to the BJCP and not a fault.

Mouthfeel - a medium body with low-moderate carbonation (probably a bit low for the style).  Fairly dry in character.  The hoppy bitterness does produce a bit of astringency but it's not over the top.  This is a slight stylistic fault.

Appearance - 4/5
Aroma - 4/5
Taste - 4/5
Mouthfeel - 3.5/5

Overall: 3.875/5.  A good IPA which detracts ever so slightly from the BJCP guidelines in a couple of places.  I really enjoyed this brew because it's a milder example of the style where the hops are a bit more restrained than in some of the extreme versions.  Would definitely drink again.  Maybe I'm becoming an IPA drinker after all...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gives a whole new meaning to 'low-gravity'.

Australian brewery makes beer custom-designed for space travel.

I wonder if Virgin Galactic is planning to have this as part of their on-board drinks service? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Southern Tier Brewing Company - Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale

Tonight we're venturing to the southwestern corner of Upstate, to the town of Lakewood, NY.  This is the home of Southern Tier Brewing Company, a microbrewery that's been with us since 2002 and produces a wide variety of beer styles.  In addition to their year-round offerings, they produce seasonal beers such as a wheat beer, ESB, an Old Ale named 'Old Man Winter' and 'Pumking', an extra-strong pumpkin ale which I'll have to review when the time comes.  (I tried it last year and it's damn fine, let me tell you.)

This is the time of year when all those lovely, fresh springtime beers really come into their own.  The microbreweries start to release their Summer Wheat varieties and the world starts to shake off the burdens of wintertime.  American-style Pale Ales are a great style to complement the season, and Upstate has some really good ones for you to try.  Starting off with tonight's review, Phin and Matt's Extraordinary Ale.

Appearance is light golden - fairly clear, perhaps a slight chill haze but it has an impressive clarity.  Head was not initially apparent, but upon agitation a moderate white head developed with decent lacing. 

Aroma was great for a Pale Ale - clear, fresh hops with some biscuity specialty malt discernible underneath.  Some apricot-like fruit scent was detectable as well.  Surprisingly complex for such a light beer - and I do mean that in a positive way.  The freshness of the hop aroma suggests that the brew might have been dry-hopped.

Flavour - the hop bitterness is definitely present, but it's not overpowering and is excellently balanced by the malts used (including, as I mentioned above, a definite biscuity malt flavour).  Some fruity esters discernible, and the finish is a delightful mix of bitter hops and good, clean malts.

Mouthfeel - the beer's got a medium-light body, with moderate carbonation, and finishes very smoothly.  It definitely leaves you wanting more.

Overall, this was a really good Pale Ale.  The brewers boast that this beer uses 3 types of hops and 3 types of malts - they've obviously worked hard to choose varieties that complement each other well, and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable, eminently drinkable brew. 

Now for the scores:

Appearance - 4/5
Aroma - 4/5
Flavour - 4/5
Mouthfeel - 4.5/5

Overall, 4.125/5.  A great session beer for the season!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ithaca Beer Co CascaZilla

First off, a disclaimer: I don't own the fantastic image you see to your left.  I got it from the Ithaca Beer Company website, as I sadly didn't get a picture of my own bottle and glass of this brew.

I've already talked a bit about Ithaca Beer Co.  One neat thing I learned about them recently is that their brewery doubles as a local homebrewing supply - it's great that a commercial brewery is supporting the hobby, I really commend them for that.

Their Cascazilla beer is a bit of a double-entendre: it's a pun on the Cascadilla Gorge in Ithaca, and also a reflection of the plentiful amounts of Cascade hops lavished on the beer, making it a bit of a hop-monster.  Ithaca doesn't explicitly state the style of the beer, though it's got some elements of Red Ale and IPA.  I guess it could be considered a Specialty Beer - Red Ale with the addition of extra Cascade Hops.

Some sweet caramel malts are detectable under the hops in the aroma, but really it's the floral cascade hops which dominate. It's pleasant, to be sure, but readers will know by now my preference for malt over hop dominance. 

The appearance of the brew is a deep red, almost copper, colour, which pours with a decent head off-white head and is slightly cloudy (that could just be chill haze, though).  The carbonation level is respectable but moderate.

The bitterness of the hops hits you when you take the first sip - it's not unexpected, but it's hard to discern much of the malt underneath it all.  The lingering bitterness and an aftertaste of the Cascade hops is overpowering if you're not prepared for it.  Certainly one for the hop-lovers. 

When I first tried this beer, it was directly after I'd had a fruit beer (probably a bad idea, as my palate was ill-prepared for the hop-monster).  It wasn't totally to my taste, though it's technically a really well-made beer (reminded me a bit of CB's Caged Alpha Monkey, actually).  A few days later, my wife and I had made lentil soup to use up some of the produce in our fridge, and I was totally surprised to find that Cascazilla made a brilliant complement to it.  With the balance of the soup, the bitter aftertaste was no longer overpowering but pleasantly refreshing, and the flavours interacted in a way which totally altered my experience of the brew. 

I mentioned in my last post that I was planning to slightly revise my system.  I'm going to score this beer on four dimensions: appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel. 

Appearance: 4/5
Aroma: 3/5 (not sure what to make of the overpowering hops)
Taste: 3.5/5
Mouthfeel: 4.5/5

Mean score: 3.75 out of 5.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A couple of good books

I thought I'd take this opportunity to recommend some really good and informative books on beer and homebrewing -they've been really helpful to a lot of beginning homebrewers including myself, so if you're thinking about starting out with the hobby you really ought to get a hold of these. 

Charlie Papazian's Complete Joy of Homebrewing is a standard textbook which countless homebrewers have relied on for years.  It'll introduce you to all the basic concepts, guide you through your first few batches, and it'll also have you chanting the mantra every homebrewer needs to hear: Relax, Don't Worry, Have A Homebrew.  So true! 

Papazian takes a really balanced approach to homebrewing, and unlike a lot of brewing hobbyists he doesn't assert the absolute supremacy of all-grain.  Rather, he very diplomatically assures beginning brewers that excellent beer can be made using any of the methods available to us - extract, partial mash or all-grain. 

Dave Miller's Homebrewing Guide is what reignited my interest in homebrewing, about 5 years after I left the UK for graduate school.  Before that I'd been helping my dad brew a few batches of British bitter, and had really loved it, but didn't have the time or resources to do it in school.  On a trip to the Genesee Country Village (about which I'll probably be writing very soon - well worth a visit!), I picked up Dave Miller's book and immediately the homebrewing bug returned.  Miller deals with pretty advanced techniques (most of the book is devoted to all-grain brewing, which I'm really not ready for at this point), but the wealth of knowledge he presents regarding the chemical, biological and engineering aspects of brewing is nothing short of staggering.  There's a lot of advice in there for correcting off-flavors (he even goes into great detail as to what chemical reactions cause each problem), and it's basically a great read if you want to get beyond the basic instructions that came with your first homebrew kit, and actually understand what goes on in your brewing bucket. 

Well, there you have it.  Should be enough to get you started.  By the way, it you enjoy reading Upstate Brews and want to see more beers reviewed, why not buy me a pint through the Paypal button at the top right?  Thanks for helping me meet the costs of this blog - I really appreciate it.

New and Improved Beer Reviews!

Greetings, readers!

It's been a couple of weeks since my last update, but a lot's been going on, particularly on the Upstate Brews front.

First of all, I've now discovered the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program)! This is a brilliant way to get to know beer on a more intimate level. One of the most impressive aspects of the BJCP is its Style Guide, which lists (pretty accurately, if the British styles are anything to go by) tasting guidelines on all the major beer, mead, perry and cider styles in the Western world. It's available as a PDF, a booklet, or as an app on your smartphone, and it'll greatly broaden your horizons on beer appreciation.   

The BJCP also holds training and examinations for members to become Certified Beer Judges (as the name suggests).  I'm seriously considering training, I think it'll be a great thing for this blog if I can be a bit more articulate in my reviews.  One thing I've noticed about my earlier reviews is that they're a bit vague about certain details in the aroma and flavour of the brew under my beady eye.  

I had the opportunity last weekend to be involved with the UNYHA homebrewing competition.  In addition to submitting my latest homebrew, I was privileged to help out with judging some of the styles - effectively putting into practice what I've picked up from the BJCP.  It was tremendous fun, I highly recommend getting involved with local homebrewing associations and competitions - you'll learn a lot. 

So, to sum up - expect my future reviews to be a bit more specific and detailed.  I'm not going to give a full BJCP-style review, but I'll probably refer to the Style Guide and revise my scoring system.

Look out for some more reviews coming very soon!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ithaca Beer Co Apricot Wheat Beer

I haven't had a chance to visit Ithaca yet - I've driven through a couple of times though, and it's a beautiful place.  What I do know is that it's a small college town (population of around 30,000, according to Wikipedia), home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, with lots of natural beauty in and around the city.  It's in the south-eastern section of the Finger Lakes, about halfway between Syracuse and Elmira.  A cursory glance at some of the images of the city and the surrounding area makes me desperately want to spend more time there and discover more of the culture and countryside in this region - I really need to get out of the city more often.

Ithaca's also got one of the more prolific craft breweries in the area, appropriately named the Ithaca Beer Company.  They produce a wide range of brews, from the usual suspects like IPA, Pale Ale and Nut Brown, to less common varieties like Gorges Smoked Porter, CascaZilla (an aggressively-hopped Red Ale) and Ground Break (an 'American Saison').  They also carry the Excelsior Line, a series of premium-quality craft beers which come in 750ml bottles.  Can't wait to give those a try when the wallet allows...

Today we're looking at their Apricot Wheat, a familiar style which becomes really popular as the weather warms up.  'Winter warmer' beers lose their appeal for many and give way to easy-drinking, light-bodied, gently-hopped styles.

Ithaca's Apricot Wheat is a pretty good example of the fruit-beer style, it's got enough of a body that the fruit flavour doesn't totally overwhelm the experience, but it's definitely and unmistakably got that fruity hit that makes these beers so enjoyable.  Here's the breakdown:

Appearance - Like most wheat beers, this is pretty cloudy.  This was pretty cold from the fridge so there may have been some chill haze too.  No head to speak of, and only mild carbonation.

Aroma - the apricot esters come through in the aroma, but don't overpower the senses.  No major hoppiness, mild grainy aroma from the wheat.

Taste - the apricot flavour tasted ever so slightly artificial (I noticed it's brewed using 'natural apricot flavour' rather than fresh apricots).  The underlying wheat beer was detectable, with the grainy goodness and low bitterness you normally associate with that style.  Finished fairly dry, with the mildly plastic-like apricot flavouring lingering.

Mouthfeel - mildly carbonated, with a good medium body.  Pleasant, easy drinking beer.

Overall, this was a pretty good fruit beer.  I would definitely drink it again, especially as the weather warms up and I aim for something a little lighter.  I'm giving this a 3.5 out of 5.

I've got more reviews on the way, including Ithaca's CascaZilla, a locally-brewed British style beer, and my second homebrew batch.  I also have some exciting developments in the pipeline - watch this space!

Friday, April 8, 2011

My first homebrew batch, Code: Frankenstein

My in-laws bought me a Maestro Homebrew Beer Equipment Kit for Christmas, and the ingredients for my first homebrew batch.  I've promised a write up of this, and it's long overdue, so here goes!

First, here's the equipment I used:

 Muntons Malt Extract, Dry, Amber , 3-Pound Bags (Pack of 2)

6-quart stockpot for the boil

B-Brite cleanser

Though the link shows two 3-lb bags of dry malt extract, I only used one 2-lb bag.

First off, all the books I've read are very clear on the importance of cleanliness - which makes total sense.  If you're going to be producing what is ultimately a living product, and letting it sit at room temperature in your home for several weeks before drinking it, you certainly don't want it infected by any bacterial nasties.  Everything that touches the brew (particularly after the boil) has to be sanitised - the cleanser B-Brite was included with my kit, and it seemed to work well.  However, it turns out this wasn't actually a sanitiser, and in order to properly sterilise your equipment you need to use a product like Iodophor Sanitizer for Brewing or Wine Making or Star-San.  This wasn't included with my homebrewing kit. 

I started off with a boil - mixing about a gallon of water with the can of liquid malt extract and the dried extract.  When you first add the ingredients, the mixture kind of foams up violently and you have to keep moving it away from the heat until it calms down.  Eventually it settled into a steady boil, and looked like this.

At this point my tiny kitchen smelled absolutely amazing - wort has this incredible and unique aroma which is really hard to describe.  It's a bit like oatmeal, or a rich fruitcake - makes sense when you consider it's made of basically the same stuff.

After boiling the wort for about 45 minutes, it was ready to go.  I'd added some cold water to my fermenting bucket, so I poured the mixture on top and topped up to the 5-gallon mark.  Then I sprinkled the yeast (which came with the liquid extract), let it sit on top of the bucket for 10 minutes, then stirred it in and firmly sealed the lid, adding an airlock.

About 2 weeks later I bottled it into 6 growlers and 12 500ml flipper bottles, mixing in the corn sugar to carbonate it, then very, very patiently waited until it had conditioned and aged perfectly...well, alright, maybe I had a couple of glasses before it was ready - patience may be a virtue but it's not a skill I've yet mastered.

Sadly I don't have pictures of the final product, but I can describe it as a dark, almost black ale with a medium body - it wasn't a stout by any means.  ABV was approximately 5-6% - I forgot to take an OG reading so I couldn't tell for certain.  It wasn't aggressively bitter, but had a pleasant caramel hint in the aftertaste which was extremely satisfying.  As it was my first experience of bottle-conditioning, I under-filled several bottles which resulted in insufficient carbonation and zero head, but the growlers turned out better as they had a 'fill to here' line that was pretty foolproof.  Overall, I was impressed by my handiwork - it goes to show that even beginners can make fine homebrews that compare very favourably with commercially prepared beers and ales.

Homebrew batch # 2 - a Belgian ale named The Muscles from Brussels - is due for bottling tomorrow and I'll have a write-up in a few weeks, once it's ready to drink.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The ugly side of the beer world

I'm a little late on this one, but I just read about this story.  Essentially, Anthony Bourdain claimed on his Twitter account that Big Beer (I'm guessing he means the massive-swill-peddling-conglomerate-excuse-for-a-beer-company Anheuser-Busch, but I might be wrong) effectively shut down the promising Discovery Channel series Brew Masters.  If this has even an ounce of truth to it, it's shameful.  In his press statement, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head is staying positive about the whole affair but he nonetheless said '...now more than ever – support your small, truly-indie breweries!' 

For an interesting take on the battle between Big Beer and the craft breweries, take a look at Anat Baron's documentary Beer Wars.  Among others, it features Calagione and Dogfish Head, contrasting their business and brewing methods with the 'macrobrewers' like Anheuser-Busch.  Miller and Coors come off surprisingly easy in the documentary, but it's still a fascinating look into the political aspects of the resurgence of craft brewing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hogan's Hideaway Custom Brews

I like Rochester in the spring.  The evenings are lighter, the weather is just starting to turn, and all the greenery is slowly returning to the city.  Walking around in this weather, you feel like a weight's been lifted off of you and you can finally enjoy the natural beauty around you without fear of freezing to death.  The local farms are gearing up to sell their wares (I recommend signing up for a local CSA if you want to support Upstate NY's farming industry and get delicious fruit and veg throughout the summer), and the world feels like it's coming alive again.  It's wonderful. 

As the weather was so nice out this afternoon, my wife and I decided to go to Hogan's Hideaway on Park Avenue for a quick drink and a snack.  It's a decent place (though I have to say that the food portions were incredibly meagre for the prices we paid - around $8 for a small plate of nachos, and $2.50 for a cup of fries). The quality was decent enough, but I felt we'd have been better off making our own snacks for cheaper. Maybe I'm being unfair to the place - it's really popular, so we should probably go back for a full meal.

Anyway, this isn't about the food.  It's about the beers they serve - specifically the two custom beers brewed locally by Custom Brewcrafters, who've been featured on this blog before.  There are two brews currently on the menu - Hogan's Pale Ale and Park Avenue Ale.

Let's start with the Pale Ale. It was a light golden colour, with very little head.  Lightly carbonated, with a medium body and mouthfeel.  Wonderful floral hops in the aroma - reminded me of a less aggressive version of CB's Caged Alpha Monkey, which I briefly mentioned in an earlier entry.  A definite hoppy taste, with some malty flavour behind it, but not overpowering.  A good choice for a springtime beer - I can imagine myself sitting on the terrace at Hogan's on a warmer evening enjoying a few of these.  I'm going to give it a 4 out of 5.

The Park Avenue Ale is a dark ale, again with little head.  It had plenty of body, but it was nowhere near a stout.  You could clearly taste the roasted barley in this brew - the flavour profile emphasised the malt and toast over hoppy character, and was very pleasant (if dark ale's your thing).  This was definitely more of a winter brew.  It actually reminded me a lot of my first batch of homebrew, about which I'll soon be publishing my writeup.

In case you're interested, Homebrew Batch #2 is a Belgian Ale currently weighing in at around 7% ABV.  I'm really excited about this one...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Upstate Brewing Co

It's really wonderful to live in Upstate New York.  I've mentioned before things like the weather, the diverse range of activities and culture which are available around here...what's also marvellous to see is a burgeoning microbrewing industry.  In the past few years, Upstate NY has brought us Custom Brewcrafters, Rohrbachs, Southern Tier, Horseheads Brewing, Ellicottville Brewing, Three Heads Brewing (can't find a website, but they're on Facebook), and countless others.  With the wide availability of hops and grain, it's no wonder that Upstate is becoming a mecca for craft beer.

One particularly exciting prospect is Upstate Brewing Company, a new venture based around the Horseheads area.  They're very, very new, and if you follow them on Facebook you'll see all that's involved in starting up a brewery.  Watching a new small business come together is really fun to watch, and I'll be keeping a close eye on these guys as they start a new venture in this lovely part of the world. 

Coming up: some thoughts on my first homebrew batch and a writeup of my second batch!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And like a revived corpse...

..the Upstate Brews guy emerges from the blogosphere's graveyard.

Over the past month or so, I've tried several Upstate wonders, including:

  • CB's Jack (a CB Scotch Ale that's been aged in bourbon barrels, giving it a lovely, smokey, whisky-like flavour)
  • War of 1812 Amber Ale (brewed by Sacketts Harbor Brewing Company; I've only been able to find this at Scotch & Sirloin and Beers of the World but it's well worth the effort to find it).
  • Ithaca Beer Company's CascaZilla (lots of fresh hops in a light ale which reminds me of the springtime)
  • CB's Christmas Ale (served way too cold at a sports bar; given the time to acclimatise, it was actually pretty nice, kind of like a Christmassy malt loaf in a glass)
  • CB's Caged Alpha Monkey (CB's brand new IPA - I know I've gone on about hating hoppy IPAs on this blog, but the hops were so fresh-tasting in this one that it may have changed my mind.  I think they must have gone light on bittering hops and heavier on the finishing hops).
I've also been busily working on my first batch of homebrew, thanks to my wonderful in-laws (who bought me all the equipment as a Christmas present).  It'll be the subject of my next post, so for now all I'll reveal is that it's a dark ale named Code: Frankenstein.  Appropriate, don't you think, given my recent reanimation?