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!