Showing posts with label in praise of. Show all posts
Showing posts with label in praise of. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

In Praise of Sierra Nevada

There are times when the MO of much of the craft beer industry, whether producers or consumers, seems to be an obsessive compulsion toward the new, the varied, and the never to be repeated. In times such as these it feels as though any brewery that is more than a couple of years old has become passé, and god help them if they have the temerity not to completely revamp their lineup at the whim of an Untappd Beer Rating Advocate. In such a milieu, thank goodness is all I have to say for a brewery like Sierra Nevada.

I still remember vividly my first Sierra Nevada beer. I was in Galway, sat next to the peat fire in a pub called Sheridan's On The Docks, watching Ireland play New Zealand in the Autumn Internationals, it was the great way to round off what had been a grand day out drinking. Having reacquainted myself with Bishop's Finger and Spitfire from Shepherd Neame I spied the green label of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and texted Evan Rail back in Prague to ask if it was worth trying, at €6 a pop,...a few moments later came the resounding recommendation, thus I duly ordered a bottle and poured it into my glass. It was love at first mouthful, and sat in that bar on the very edge of Europe I knew that it was going to be a regular beer in my fridge.

Since moving to the US, beers from Sierra Nevada have probably been the most common in my fridge. Cans of Pale Ale and Nooner Pilsner are staples at the moment. Every August has taken on a near religious ecstasy as I wait for the latest iteration of their Oktoberfest collaborations.

Whenever I see their Stout and Porter in the shops I have to buy some.

Kellerweis and Summerfest remind me of many a drinking session in Pivovarsky klub. Narwhal is as good an imperial stout as you could imagine.

The fact that Sierra Nevada do so many classic beer styles so damned consistently well is something that needs to be lauded by beer lovers across the land. It's isn't boring to make a German style pilsner that would hold it's own in the Black Forest. It isn't playing it safe by being the archtype of the American Pale Ale. Quality and consistency don't get enough praise among beer lovers in this country at times, though maybe I am just a grumpy old man who wants his SNPA to taste the same every time I drink it. That trust is an important part of my willingness to splash out for Sierra Nevada beer more often than not, shit I even tried (and loved) Otra Vez simply because I trust them to do a good job.

I think I only have one gripe about Sierra Nevada really, that they don't have a best bitter as part of their regular range of beers. I am sure they would knock that so far out of the park, Timothy Taylor's would be looking over their shoulders.

So here's to the Grossman family that own and run Sierra Nevada, long may you continue and prosper doing what you do best, making quality classic beers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In Praise of Without

At times, and I own that this is likely a case of perception more than anything else, it seems ever more difficult to drop into a pub that sells well made beer and just get a nice pint of pale ale, pilsner, or stout that hasn't been in some way adulerated with stuff that I have very little interest in seeing on a list of beer ingredients. Taking that observation a touch further, it also often appears that a brewery has barely got the training wheels off their brew kit and they are launching out into the weird and wonderful when it comes to herbs, spices, and barrels.

This isn't to say that such concoctions are wrong, or some kind of zythophilic evil inflicted on the great mass of beer drinkers by mad scientists with an overgrown herbarium. Rather, I feel that superb, beautifully put together, simple beers just don't get the appreciation they deserve. As a result, they suffer on sites that advocate the rating of beer because of their perceived plainness.

As anyone with an ounce of brewing knowledge understands, these seemingly simple, even simplistic, beers are exceptionally difficult to make well, and to make consistently well is another story all together. Sorry but I don't want noticeable variations from batch to batch of my favourite beers, I want to know that the brewers are sufficiently skilled to make the same beer time after time.

Think about pilsners as an example. Most great Czech made pale lagers consist of precisely 4 ingredients, malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. The malt is often a single kind, sometimes malted by the brewery itself, the hops are likewise often just a single kind. You cannot get simpler than that, yet it seems that only a select few breweries can scale those heights, and thankfully one of them does so here in Virginia.

So while a brewer may like to think of themselves as 'innovative', 'envelope pushing', or whatever the bullshit self-aggrandising term is this week, I tend to think they are actually brewers in hiding. Hiding behind herbs, hiding behind oak, hiding behind fruit. Sure there might be a good brewer in there somewhere, and they might have a deft hand with the extraneous stuff, but that doesn't replace the ability to put out consistently well made, tasty beer.

Beer is ultimately very simple, 4 basic ingredients with almost infinite possibilities without having get into needless botanical fripperies. Simple isn't bland, simple is where the science and art of the master brewer is found, simple is more than the sum of its parts. Simple beers are beers packed with confidence. The confidence to let the beer stand, or fall, on its own merits.

Taking the simple path is often the path of most enjoyment.

Monday, June 23, 2014

In Praise of Science

Business is booming. Breweries are springing up left, right, and centre. It seems like not a month goes by without reading about a new brewery opening up, an established brewery expanding, homebrewers 'living the dream' by opening their own place. It seems as though every one and his uncle wants a piece of the everyman drink right now (which kind of makes me nervous, but that's for a different post).

In all the excitement of the new, I wonder if we forget the excitement of the improved? Let me give you an example. I work in the tasting room at Starr Hill from time to time, it's a job I love doing, and the most recent cause for excitement from my perspective is the continued resurgence of a beer I once really enjoyed and then went off. Jomo Lager is one of the staples of Starr Hill's range, it has been brewed, as far as I am aware, for as long as there has been a Starr Hill Brewing Company.

In the last couple of years the brewery has invested a lot of time and money into process management, quality assurance, and brewing science. It is an investment which is paying off in the most important place, in the glass. There was a time when Jomo was something I didn't really care for, because it was inconsistent, sometimes good, sometimes not. With the improvements in process over the last few years, Jomo is a beer I have come back to and found myself thoroughly enjoying once more. In fact, I think it is the Starr Hill beer I have drunk most of so far this year, even more so than the lovely Dark Starr Stout.

I sometimes wonder if the science of brewing doesn't got lost in the excitement and occasionally homespun culture that is much of 'craft' brewing, almost as though scientific rigour in the brewing process is a path to the dark side of BMC-esque status. Whether or not you want to drink the beers being made by the big boys, you cannot deny that they have the science side of things down to a fine art, ensuring a consistent customer experience, and the brand loyalty that comes with it. It makes me think that there are breweries out there that need to spend less money on more tanks and more money on getting the liquid in their existing tanks consistently excellent.

It has been the application of brewing science that has made Jomo one of my go to Starr Hill beers, making it again the beer I described as:
a lovely clean lager which goes down with inordinate ease, nicely hoppy but with a lightly sweet undertone - just the kind of beer which requires a leafy beer garden, a warm late summer afternoon and a busty serving wench making regular trips to your table, laden with steins of joy, the smell of bratwurst grilling nearby and so on.
There really is no higher praise for a beer than wanting to drink lots of it...

Two 'In Praise of...' posts in a couple of weeks? What the heck is wrong with me? I haven't had a rant in a while.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In Praise of Workhorses

Last night I did something that I hadn't in a while. Having lost track of the time whilst pottering around in my garden and realised that I wouldn't have time to get cleaned up and out to the local homebrew club monthly meeting. So, with dinner cooking in the oven (a rather fabulous potatoes au gratin, to which I will add mustard powder next time), I wandered down in the beer cellar to pick something to drink.

My beer cellar, as I am sure is pretty common, is a mixture of my own homebrew, a bevvy of strong beers which are being aged (most of which are Fuller's Vintage Ales) and what I tend to think of as my 'drinking' beers - the ones which will be polished off well before their best before date. Looking at the collection of beer, which has been dwindling gently while I have been unemployed (thankfully I start my new job on Monday), the only beer that leapt at me was a beer I had not drunk at home in a very, very long time, Starr Hill's Amber Ale.

The Amber Ale at Starr Hill is one of those beers which gets labelled an 'Irish Red Ale', a style which according to some was originally just an Irish equivalent of keg bitter, the kind of beer to strike fear into the heart of any CAMRA member. Over here in the US it is kind of sweet, with a caramel element and a touch of earthy/spicy hops, some versions of the style are overwhelmingly cloying and as such it is not something I bother with very often, though on the rare occasions I get to have O'Hara's Red on tap then I fill my boots. Unlike many an Oirish Red Ale, Starr Hill's Amber is actually nicely balanced, with neither the malt nor the hop dominating, I polished off three bottles  in pretty short order - and it was at the right temperature, about 56° Fahrenheit.

This got me thinking about all the beers out there which don't get the love and praise they warrant, simply because they are not very hip, sexy or labelled as some form of IPA. Beers, like Starr Hill Amber Ale, which fulfil my very simple definition of a good beer, does it make me want another one? I like to term such beers 'workhorses', sure they might not prance around like Vienna's Spanish Riding School, but they are great at ploughing a field.

What are your local workhorse beers that deserve more praise and recognition?

The picture is from Starr Hill's website as I was too busy drinking the beer to even think about taking a photo.

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...