Showing posts with label beer tastings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beer tastings. Show all posts

Friday, September 4, 2020

Oktoberfest Champions League: Group Stage

The plan was simple, find at least 24 beers being marketing as "Oktoberfest" lagers, whether festbier or m?rzen, and decide which is the best available in central Virginia.

The first year I did this I restricted myself to lagers brewed in Virginia, last year I changed that to include non-Virginian beers that are available in the shops. When I restricted myself to VA beers, I could just do a single sit down flight, whereas last year I did a knock out competition with a final four. I have to admit that I found the knock out approach somewhat onerous, so for this year I decided to have 6 groups of 4 beers, chosen at random, and the winner of each group would go to a final group stage.

The 6 groups lined up as follows:


At first glance, groups 1, 3, and 6 looked to be the most difficult, and so it turned out, with several well regarded Oktoberfest lagers not making through to the final group of 6, which I will write about in a later post, once I have given my tastebuds a day or several off, and a chance to reset by drinking helles and pilsner again.

To choose a winner in each group I decided to combine the Cyclops tasting notes method that I like to use with a quasi-BJCP point approach, which I broke down thusly:
  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 points
  • Balance of bitterness and sweetness - 2 points
  • Personal score - 10 points
Given the festbier and m?rzen variants when it comes to Oktoberfest lagers, I judged them according to their respective BJCP category descriptions. The definition of festbier specifically calls out "amber hues" as unacceptable in the colour department, any beer that veered into orange was judged as a m?rzen regardless of marketing.

Here then are the final standings by points.

1. New Realm - Bavarian Prince (34/40)
2. Great Lakes - Oktoberfest (32/40)
2. Sierra Nevada - Oktoberfest (32/40)
3. Left Hand - Oktoberfest (31/40)
3. Von Trapp - Oktoberfest (31/40)
3. Benediktiner - Festbier (31/40)
4. Ayinger - Oktober Fest-M?rzen (30/40)
4. Samuel Adams - Octoberfest (30/40)
5. Devils Backbone - O'Fest (29/40)
5. Warsteiner - Oktoberfest (29/40)
5. Edmund's Oast - House Oktoberfest (29/40)
6. Port City - Oktoberfest (28/40)
7. Paulaner - Oktoberfest (27/40)
8. Shiner - Oktoberfest (25/40)
8. Leinenkugels - Oktoberfest (25/40)
9. Blue Mountain - 13.Five Ofest (24/40)
9. Brooklyn - Oktoberfest (24/40)
9. Ballad - Oktoberfest (24/40)
10. Schlafly - Oktoberfest (23/40)
11. Starr Hill - Festie (22/40)
11. Brother's Craft - Festbier (22/40)
12. Bingo Beer - Oktoberfest (21/40)
13. Genessee - Oktoberfest (19/40)
14. Solace - Gute Nacht (10/40)

To ensure that the tasting was completely blind, Mrs V picked beers at random from the fridge while I was out of the room, and other than the one litre can of Paulaner as the final beer, I had no idea about what was what until we sat last night and worked out the rankings.

The final 6 though are not to be the top 6 beers by points, but rather the 6 beers that won their respective groups, although this is pretty much what ended up happening, which gives me a bit of a headache. Left Hand and Benediktiner tied for their group, even to the point of having the exact same points for each category, so this weekend I will try and find some more Left Hand and do a beauty contest tasting to decide the winner. If I can't find the Left Hand, then Benediktiner will go forward.

The rest of the final 6 are:
  • Ayinger
  • Great Lakes
  • Von Trapp
  • New Realm
  • Sierra Nevada
I definitely get the sense that splitting these 6 will be a very difficult task, but we leave that for a few days and another post.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Doppeling Bock Down

Ah winter....I love it. Not for me sunshine, sand, and beaches. Give me darkness, cold, and the warming glow of a log fire, or a even a peat fire in a perfect world. It's also the time of year when I drink more of the bigger beers of the world, especially doppelbocks. My love of a good doppelbock, in common with many of my beer preferences, stirred in the Czech Republic and drinking Primátor Double, a 24° behemoth of a beer that made a great nightcap on long winter nights. Closer to home in both time and space, Trader Joe's does a lovely doppelbock called Winter Brew which makes regular appearances in the fridge at this time of year, which reminds me, I need to stock up.

With Christmas getting inexorably closer I thought it would be fun to attempt a mass doppelbock tasting akin to the one I did for Oktoberfest when that was the seasonal de jour. Alas, there are not nearly enough versions of the style available to make such a project worthwhile, there were though the following in my local Wegmans:
Given that I had a final bottle of Olde Mecklenburg Brewing's Bauern Bock sitting in the fridge ready for a mass tasting, I figured I'd get the quartet together and try then in a single sitting as the boys watched Krtek before bed. First we head north to Pennsylvania...

  • Sight - beautiful garnet, half inch of lingering tan head
  • Smell - slightly metallic, dried fruit, honey, touch of marzipan, grassy hops
  • Taste - mostly honeyed toast, some maple syrup, stollen
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Perhaps it is because I love their Sunshine Pils on the rare occasion I can get hold of some but I was surprisingly disappointed by this, especially how understated it was for an 8.2% abv beer. I just expected more heft from it, the body was on the light side. Not bad, just not the big, chewy, beer I expected.

Closer to home for beer number 2, and of course I worked for Starr Hill for several years when Mrs V and I first moved to central Virginia.

  • Sight - deep ruby red, thin, off-white head that dissipates quickly
  • Smell - very light grass/hay, some bread, not much else
  • Taste - toffee and bread to the fore, clean hop bite in the finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Another bit of a let down. Not a bad beer, just not as complex as I would expect for the style. I found the body to be a little on the cloying side, but it was a smooth drink without any noticeable alcohol character.

Let's head further south now, to Charlotte.

  • Sight - richer copper/light red, healthy half inch of rocky ivory head that lingers
  • Smell - toasted stollen, light lemongrass, toffee, floral hops
  • Taste - bready malt, dried fruit, some raisin and prune notes, cherries, slight nuttiness, and a hint of Dutch cocoa
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
This was more like it, a lovely, complex beer that was still approachable and displayed plenty of Maillard character from decoction mashing. Definitely not a bashing session beer, but one that could definitely form the basis of a lengthy evening's supping in the pub.

Now for a trip abroad.

  • Sight - deep red bordering on chestnut brown, long lasting tan head that lingers at about a quarter inch
  • Smell - black treacle, sublte umami thing like soy sauce, winter spices, prunes, floral hops
  • Taste - rich treacle, minus acrid burnt flavour though, fruit cake with lots of booze soaked stone fruits, raisins, cherries, dark honey
  • Sweet - 3.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
This is one complex beast of a beer, so much going on, each mouthful revealing more layers to the beer. While it is definitely sweet, and a touch syrupy, it isn't cloying as the clean lager fermentation ad hop bitterness snap everything back into line in the finish.

Four very different beers, but I found myself with a very definite order of preference:
  1. Bauern Bock - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  2. Celebrator - Brauerei Ayinger, Germany
  3. Troegenator - Tr?egs Brewing, PA
  4. Snow Blind - Starr Hill Brewing, VA
Bauern Bock wins out largely because I can imagine myself being sat in the biergarten in Charlotte, under the lighted trees, enjoying several of these on draft with friends, but then finishing out the night with a Celebrator. Hopefully I will be able to persuade the in-laws to swing past the brewery on their way up for Christmas....

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bamberg - Spezial, Swaying, and Stumbling

When I learnt that I was going to central Europe for a couple of conferences with a weekend between them, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to visit somewhere new.

One of my great regrets from my decade in Prague was that I had never taken advantage of its proximity to Germany to take weekends drinking legendary beer. When there is so much great beer at home why bother?

My options were legion. I could go to Zoigl country, Munich, Regensburg, or Berlin and get my fill of great beer. Then there was Bamberg...

I well remember my first ever beer from Bamberg, and by extension my first ever rauchbier. It was the m?rzen from Schlenkerla. On one of my many forays into Pivovarsky klub, then barman Ambroz told me that they had purloined 50 bottles of smoke beer from Germany, suitably intrigued I had one, and then another, and another. Of the 50 bottles it is entirely possible that my friends and I demolished about 40 of them, it became something of a go to beer for the few weeks it was available. Thus my love affair with rauchbier was born. And so with 24 hours to spare between leaving Prague and needing to be in Hannover, I went to Bamberg.

I say I had 24 hours to spare, in reality after travelling to Bamberg via Nuremburg I actually had only about 18, and given my train to Hannover was leaving at 11am the next morning, I really only had 6 or so for drinking. 6 hours in a city with probably more renowned breweries than any other in Germany? This time the decision was go broad and shallow or go narrow and deep? I went for the latter option and picked the two breweries I wanted to visit more than any of the others, Schlenkerla, naturally, and Brauerei Spezial, mainly at the recommendation of Evan.

First though I took a wander around the centre of the city, discovered that Hegel had lived for a year in Bamberg, and it was on these wanders that I noticed brass plaques embedded in the pavements. Finding Schlenkerla was pretty easy, yay Google Maps, and there were crowds of folks outside downing their beers. Now, this may come as something of a surprise, but I am a raging introvert, and painfully shy, particularly when it comes to going into pubs, cafes, and restaurants that I have never been into before and I am by myself. I walked past the front door two or three times before actually entering the building. Thankfully there was an empty table in the Dominikerklause and so I parked my self conscious arse down and revelled in the vaulted ceiling of this most beautiful of rooms dedicated to beer drinking.

A menu came and I soon realised that while my reading comprehension of German is still pretty good, my listening and speaking skills have gone somewhat awry, but stammer on I did - pet hate is people that assume everyone speaks English and doesn't at least even try the basics of "ein m?rzen bitte", at this point I was actively worrying about what I would have for dinner. Anyway, the m?rzen.


Now, I drink this beer in bottles regularly, as in at least a couple of litres a month regularly, but on tap at the brewery it shattered my every preconception of rauchbier. The only way I can think to describe it is fuller, deeper, rounder, perhaps there is less carbonation, less prickliness to highlight the smoke? Whatever was going on, that first half litre of Schlenkerla m?rzen in the brewery itself was almost a religious experience, communion with a beech smoked, dark, divine, and it wasn't cold, being just slightly cooler than a well kept real ale in the UK. It was over far too quickly, thankfully being in the brewery itself, I had another, though I drank the second somewhat more circumspectly, savouring the nuances and interplay of the malt and hops, yes there were actually hop things happening that were noticeable, but guess what, no notes.


Also on tap that day was the Ur-bock, only available on draft in autumn, and absolutely necessary drinking. Everything I just said about the m?rzen applies here as well. I drink Ur-bock pretty often, though not as often as the m?rzen, but on tap it was a much fuller experience. At only €3.50ish a half litre I could have happily sat here all afternoon and evening getting merrily preserved by the smoke to then crawl back to my hotel, but Evan's praise of Spezial Brauerei had been effusive, so I took myself off for another decent length, head clearing, walk.

As I walked I came back to the main street leading to and from the railway station. This time there were riot police walking down the street, and again I spied the brass plaques, but it was the police that had my attention. A protest was in full swing, the local Kurdish community was out in force protesting the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. I stood and watched the procession wend its way to the river and looked down at my feet, I was almost right on top of a clutch of brass plaques, so I took a moment to read, and then photographed them.


They were Stolpersteine, "stumbling blocks", memorials to victims of the Holocaust, placed, as I would later learn, at the last known willing address of the people they memorialise. In this case the memorial was to the Walter family, who were deported the nearly 1600 miles to Riga in Latvia, to be murdered for the crime of not being Aryan. Having never heard of the Stolpersteine project before, I was taken aback by the stark, even callous, beauty of these memorials. If I'd have had a stone handy I would have laid it on the Stolpersteine as my own personal mitzvah to victims of fascism. Never again, for in forgetting we deny.

Sobered, emotionally if not necessarily physically, I wandered with my thoughts to the Brauerei Spezial, again taking a few reccies of the space before walking in, found myself a seat at an empty table, in the corner of a side room, and made myself comfortable. On my stroll I had identified the place I would be going to have my dinner, but there was beer to drink first, and first up was their ungespundetes lager as recommended by Evan. Ungespundetes is basically an unfiltered beer that is served from a wooden barrel by gravity, sound a lot like some kinds of real ale really.


One thing that I had definitely not been expecting in Bamberg was for Schlenkerla to be usurped as my preferred Bamberg brewery, but here I was revelling in the ungespendetes lager and feeling distinctly conflicted about my loyalties. So I ordered the regular lagerbier.


Yeah done deal, I was very much in the Spezial camp my the end of my first half litre of this sublime beer, and still not taking notes, but every mouthful was relished, especially as the clean lager bite that I love so much was in full attendance. At this point I was wondering if I could persuade Mrs V that we needed to move to Germany and make Spezial our new local. Following the lagerbier with their m?rzen I thought I was about to break into song at the glories of the beer I was drinking, thank goodness for my innate British reserve that had me merely smiling broadly in my corner, as I engaged in a little people watching to pass the time.


The couple in that picture below sat for about an hour, hardly speaking yet perfectly content in each other's company, a state where noise would ruin the perfection. I hope one day to sit like this with Mrs V in whenever our local pub at the time is, happy in the security of being with my best friend, confidant, and completer of my world.


I had another morning train, and so again I didn't want to get myself blootered on superb beer. I paid my bill, and allowed my legs to carry me to a snackbar where the promise of a doppel currywurst awaited, just what the doctor ordered.


I loved my time in Bamberg and hope one day to go back with Mrs V and the boys to enjoy more of the many delights the city has to offer.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - The Final

The final four.

Originally my intention had been to have a pair of semi finals followed by a final and third place play off, kind of like the World Cup, but I changed my mind.

On Sunday morning, Mrs V and I, with the twins in tow decided to go to the Somerset Pasture Party being held just up the road from us. Basically the "party" is an exhibition of vintage steam and gas powered contraptions, and with sons that get all excited at trains we figured they'd enjoy it too. We had also arranged to meet up with my good friend Dave and his wife Ali, along with their son, who is slightly older than our boys.


Once done with choking on wood and coal smoke, thank god for what remains of the EPA and the Clean Air Act frankly speaking, we all decamped to our place for lunch and drinkies. With the ladies in the kitchen preparing lunch, the kids watching cartoons and/or playing with toys, I decided to split the bottles I had for the four remaining beers with Dave and choose a final ranking for them. The final four, as a reminder, were:
We decided to rank them purely on the basis of personal preference rather than comparing to any particular style definition, especially as from the picture you can see that they cover a range of colours and interpretations of "Oktoberfest" lager.


Our initial rankings were:

Dave
  1. Goose Island
  2. Ayinger
  3. Sierra Nevada
  4. Samuel Adams
Al
  1. Sierra Nevada
  2. Ayinger
  3. Samuel Adams
  4. Goose Island
Other than both having Ayinger as our second favourite, everything else was up in the air. Dave had Goose Island ahead on the basis that it was not as interesting a beer as Ayinger and Sierra Nevada and therefore something he was likely to down plenty of in a sitting, I had it last because I thought it was not as interesting as the others and I would get bored after a couple, same justification, different outcomes.

We both agreed that Ayinger was a really complex, interesting beer, very different from the American beers, but excellent drinking. The question was whether we would want to drink it by the litre? Both of us said that a couple of pints would be fine, but eventually we would end up with palette fatigue.

Between us I think we have probably drunk well in excess of 120 bottles of this year's Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, and we both love it. I put it first because it would be something I could drink plenty of, and have done so far this year, without getting bored. Dave put it just behind Ayinger because Ayinger was more interesting and if he was just having a couple then he would go for the Ayinger.

It sounds terrible to say, but both of us thought Samuel Adams was just "meh". It's ok, not terrible interesting, not terrible, but also not something either of us would happily down a 12 pack of together on the deck, the sweetness we agreed was one dimensional.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, we asked our respective wives to try our first choices and let us know their thoughts, but Ali preferred the Goose Island, and Mrs V the Sierra Nevada. Birds of a feather and all that jazz.

So we decided to have a policy of horses for courses. If you are having a session and don't want to think too much about the beer you are drinking, go for the Goose Island. If you are having a session and want a beer that doesn't just fade into the background, go for the Sierra Nevada.

While Sam Adams will not likely make another appearance in my fridge this year, the Ayinger most certainly will as I found that I really enjoyed it, even though it was much more "old school" m?rzen than the moodern, paler, Oktoberfest lager styles. I can imagine using it in many late autumn and winter recipes, especially for soaking fruit for a cake, or in my roasted garlic and onion jam recipe that I plan to make again soon.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - Round 1

I am not entirely sure I thought this one through.

Sitting watching the idiot box with a glass of Von Trapp Oktoberfest in my hand, I decided it would be a fun idea to get my grubby mitts on every Oktoberfest I could in the Charlottesville area and try to decide which was the best one.

I ended up with 18 beers, it would have been 19 but Beer Run have been out of Von Trapp Oktoberfest ever since the notion popped into my head. The 18 were:
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Port City Oktoberfest
  • Ayinger Oktober Fest-M?rzen
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest
  • Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest
  • Goose Island Oktoberfest
  • Schlafly Oktoberfest
  • Paulaner Oktoberfest M?rzen
  • Paulander Oktoberfest Wiesn
  • Hofbr?u Oktoberfestbier
  • Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest
  • Weihenstephaner Festbier
  • Benediktiner Festbier
  • Brothers Craft Festbier
  • Samuel Adams Octoberfest
  • Brooklyn Oktoberfest
  • Legend Oktoberfest
To whittle this down to 16 beers for a knock out style first round, I gave the beers each a number and had Mrs V give me 4 numbers at random for a pair of qualifying ties, which ended up being:
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest vs Schlafly Oktoberfest
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest vs Brothers Craft Festbier
Rather than taking notes for the qualifying round, I drank each beer blind and made my decision as a pure beauty contest, figuring that I would pay more attention to the beers themselves in the competition proper. Thus Sierra Nevada and Schlafly made it through. Despite Great Lakes and Brothers Craft being sent home early, both were perfectly decent beers, though Great Lakes was sweetener than I like for a lager beer. With capricious whimsy completing the first round, we made the draw:
  • Ayinger vs Blue Mountain Brewery
  • Benediktiner vs Port City Brewing
  • Hacker-Pschorr vs Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Hofbr?u vs Brooklyn Brewery
  • Paulaner M?rzen vs Legend Brewing
  • Paulaner Wiesn vs Goose Island
  • Weihenstephan vs Samuel Adams
  • Sierra Nevada vs Schlafly
To keep this as blind as possible, the inestimable Mrs V randomly picked the ties to pour and didn't tell me which beer was which for each pair. I did take some notes for round 1 but outcomes were heavily influenced by which beer I preferred, so rather than bore you to death with my tasting notes (and honestly how many times do you want to read "malty"?), here are the pictures, with the victorious beer in bold.

Hofbr?u vs Brooklyn Brewery


Weihenstephaner vs Samuel Adams


Paulaner Wiesn vs Goose Island


Paulaner M?rzen vs Legend


Benediktiner vs Port City


Hacker-Pschorr vs Devils Backbone


Ayinger vs Blue Mountain


Schlafly vs Sierra Nevada


A couple of takeaways from these results. I was really surprised that Samuel Adams made it past the first round as normally I find it way too sweet for my tastes. There were some seriously difficult decisions here, had I been doing this with friends fisticuffs may have ensued, it was that close, in particular the Ayinger vs Blue Mountain and Schlafly vs Sierra Nevada ties.

This weekend I will do the quarter and semi finals, having bought extra bottles of any of the beers that I need. Tempted to run a poll on what people think will win...

Monday, July 1, 2013

In Love?

Love is a many faceted, many treasure thing. It makes your day go with a bounce, makes you smile inanely at the slightest thing, makes the world seemer a brighter, more colourful place. Love is, in the words of the dictionary, 'a warm personal attachment' to someone, or something, which one has 'a strong liking for'/ It's fair to say that love is, overall, a good thing.

With this, perhaps naive, view of love, there is something troubling me about the nature of many a 'beer geek' or 'beer snob', and this is purely from anecdotal evidence of working in a brewery tasting room. Where has the joy in a simple, well made, and tasty beer gone? Without fail, in the last few months, we have had many a self-professed 'beer geek' or 'beer snob', including the wearing of the t-shirt to prove their 'passion', sneer their way through the tasting. If this were a phenomenon I had seen only in the Starr Hill tasting room then I would think there was maybe something awry with the beer, but I have seen it in pubs, brewpubs and other brewery tasting rooms of late.

The Beer Sneer is easily recognisable, a sample is placed in front of said 'beer geek/snob' and by the time he (and it is most often a he rather than a she) has finished his few ounces the beer has been de-constructed, pouted over, declared insufficiently 'hoppy', often with a near Gallic sniff, and then rated on websites that advocate such behavior. This hyper-critical, never to be pleased, wannabe expert is very much, in my unhumble opinion, the antithesis of beer. Beer is about good times, with good friends, enjoyed over several pints of something tasty. Sadly, and again this is purely from anecdotal evidence, many of the 'beer geek/snobs' that I see in tasting rooms and bars are the zythophilic equivalent of Anton Ego...


Continuing the Anton Ego theme, perhaps a few people need a ratatouille moment...

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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