Showing posts with label trader joes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trader joes. Show all posts

Monday, October 14, 2019

Oktoberfest Crown Challengers - Josephsbrau

Having seen off the challenge of Spaten, Josephsbrau Oktoberfest from Trader Joe's hoved into view.

I am happy to admit to having a soft spot for the Trader Joe's range of contract brewed beer, where else can you get thoroughly reliable, solid central European lagers for under $6.50 a six pack? Of course, the lagers are brewed by Gordon Biersch, and while they may lack the sex appeal of trendy breweries, I have never once had a bad beer from them, they just do them right, and do them well.

But how would it stand up to the beer that is the only annual release I keep an active eye out for?

Once again with the Cyclops:
  • Sight - pale copper, nice white head that lingers and leaves a lovely bit of lace
  • Smell - tangerine citrus hops, toasted teacake, some herbal notes
  • Taste - juicy sweet malt character, fresh scones, firm citric bitterness
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
What a cracking beer this is.

Let me tell you a story, last weekend Mrs V and I took the boys to the Kiptopeke State Park on Virginia's Eastern Shore for their first camping trip. Along for the trip was my good friend Dave, his wife, and their son who is only a couple of months older than our pair. Dave and I drink a lot of beer together, and we have been caning 12 packs of Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest like nobody's business this year. Indeed, we polished off another one on Friday night, having got the tents sorted and the children to sleep. On the Saturday, we started on the Trader's beer, though admittedly I waited until the sun was down to start drinking, and the consensus then was that Trader's is a more drinkable beer.

It is, then, on that basis that Sierra Nevada has been knocked off its perch in the Fuggled Oktoberfest Taste Off. Josephsbrau Oktoberfest is simply delightful and unlike other seasonal beers that folks describe as "drinkable" it doesn't fall into the bland trap.

The king is dead!

Long live the king!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Trading Up

Once upon time, back in Mrs Velkyal and I's BC days (before children), we would quite regularly pop into Trader Joe's to pick up some of the more interesting food that they sell. Nowhere else in the area does things like chicken balti pies, proper German bratwurst actually from Germany, or even divine 1lb bars of Belgian milk chocolate. In the chaos that is the first year or so of twin parenthood we stuck exclusively to Wegmans largely for the convenience of being able to go to one place and be done. Recently though we went back to Trader's to stock up on some of the things we had missed, so naturally a wander to the beer aisle was in order, and I was kind of hoping the winter doppelbock would be on the shelves.

Alas and alack there was no doppelbock on this trip, but there were a couple of beers I had not seen before, a Mosaic Pale Ale called Caco-Phony and a Dutch Pilsener called Peter's Brand. The Caco-Phony came as a 6 pack of 12oz cans for $6.49, and the pilsener a six pack half litre cans for $7.99 - bargain central! Let start with the Peter's Brand.

Ok, so the can says this is a 'Dutch Style Pilsener', but it is brewed under license in a German brewery - ahhh European integration and collaboration at its finest. It actually pours a really nice golden colour with a very flimsy white head that vanishes the moment you look askance at it. Aroma is mostly a nice malted graininess with some herbal hoppiness buried in the background, and that is pretty much the tale of the flavour as well. The malt just about dominates, it has a juicy sweetness that I tend to associate with European base malts, maybe a light nutty character, and then some more herbal hops and a little lemongrass chucked in for measure. One thing missing from the beer for my tastes is a good firm hop bitterness, it is just a touch too smooth and mellow, almost like a Dortmunder really. This one is simple, obviously put together well, and a perfectly chuggable beer, I'll be buying it again for sure.

Moving on then to something more with the current craft zeitgeist, Caco-Phony is an American Pale Ale hopped apparently exclusively with Mosaic, one of the darlings of the new hop varieties out there. As you can see form the picture it pours a hazy orange, topped with a slightly off white head that lingers, and lingers, and lingers. Through the head though comes a kaleidoscope of aromas, yes the pine and citrus of American hops is there, but then so was a rich earthiness, some tropical fruit, mangoes in particular, and even a lovely spicy note, mosaic indeed. Tastewise the Mosaic again is front and central, but with a honeyed support cast from the malt giving it way more balance than I expected from the aroma. This really is a nice, nice beer, and at $6.49 for a six pack it'll be int he fridge again pretty soon.

I will be raiding the booze aisles of Trader Joe's again more often I think if I get decent beers at a price that won't send me to the workhouse. Hopefully next time though there will be the doppelbock, I need it to soak the fruit for my Yule cake in...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Doppelbock Fruit Cake

On Saturday morning I got to do one of my favourite things, doing the grocery shopping by myself. This isn't to say that I don't enjoy grocery shopping with Mrs V, but rather that when she goes running of a morning I like to take the opportunity to be in the shop early and alone, to avoid the crowds, to browse to my heart's content, and to avoid running into people with small children. As I wander the aisles I like to plan meals for the coming days, bread experiments to mess with, and beers in the booze realm to try. Thus it was on Saturday morning that I picked up a six pack of Trader Joe's Winter Brew, I won't wax lyrical here about my love for Trader Joe's beer but only because I did so in this post.

Winter Brew is labelled as a 'dark double bock lager', weighs in at 7.5% abv, is a beautiful deep garnet colour, and is rather fine drinking, so be sure to find yourselves some if you can as that is all I am going to tell you about when it comes to the beer. With two thirds of the 6 pack stoking a warming glow in the belly I decided that I needed to make fruit cake as it had been so long. I get why many people on this side of the Pond are not fans of fruit cake, especially when you see the shop bought abominations that get fobbed off on consumers and are, to put it bluntly, shit. One of the benefits of having a mother who is a phenomenal cook with a penchant for traditional cooking is knowing how things should be made (hence Mrs V and I still make our own mincemeat for Christmas, from a 250 year old recipe that includes meat).

Anyway....looking through my cook books for inspiration (there really are no such things as recipes), I pulled out my copy of 'The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook', a well thumbed resource, and decided to make a version of the Porter Cake recipe, but using doppelbock instead of stout, as well as some tweaks for what was in the cupboards, thus my recipe was:
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup sultanas
  • 1 cup raisins
  • handful of dried cranberries that were floating about
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 0.75 cup chopped candied mixed peel
  • 12oz bottle of doppelbock
  • 2.75 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs lightly beaten
The method to my madness began with putting all the dried fruits in a big ass bowl and pouring the beer into the bowl, having first de-gassed the beer a bit by whisking it in a pint glass, and leaving the mixture to sit for at least 5 hours.

When it is time to actually make the cake pre-heat the oven to 325°F/160°C. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and allspice in a bowl, then cream together the butter and sugar in another, bigger, bowl until light and fluffy, beat in the eggs a little a time, with a spoon of the flour mix as you go. Once the eggs are nicely incorporated, dump in the rest of the flour mix and beat to smooth paste, so it looks like this.

Now dump all the fruit and remaining liquid into the paste and stir, so it looks like this.

The original recipe called for the use of a 7 inch square cake pan but I don't have one of those, so I used 2 8 inch by 4 inch pans, and played around with the cooking times accordingly. Once you have greased and floured the cake tins, split the mix evenly between the two pans, and put in the oven for an hour, then lick the spoon and bowl clean to your heart's content.

After an hour, turn the oven down to 300°F/150°C and let it bake for another hour or until you can put a toothpick into the centre of the cake and it comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the tins for about half an hour before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve with a nice cup of tea....

So there you have it, a really easy, nice fruit cake recipe for winter. Shame the weather in Virginia isn't cooperating, sod it being 75°F/24°C yesterday.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Unseasonal Delight

One of my constant bugbears is the unseasonal availability of seasonal beers. I remember a few years ago when my first sighting of the magnificent Samuel Adams Alpine Spring (and how much I miss that beer, simply wonderful drop it was) was on Boxing Day (that's December 26th for my non-British/Commonwealth readers), and now it seems the shops are groaning under the weight of Oktoberfest lagers and pumpkins ales.

I am not a fan of pumpkin ales whatsoever, they all taste like soggy, months out of date, digestive biscuits to me, but I do like a good Oktoberfest lager, though I try not to buy any until Oktoberfest is about a week away - this year's starts on September 19th. Well, I broke that rule this weekend, but on the grounds that I needed a malty lager to make my latest batch of chilli chutney, and purchased a six pack of Trader Joe's Oktoberfest, as it seemed it would fit the bill.

With half a litre of the beer bubbling away in the pan, alongside 8 red bell peppers, 6 jalapenos, 2 habaneros, and the other stuff necessary for the chutney, I poured three of the remaining 4 bottles into my 1 litre Oktoberfest glass....

One thing that immediately caught my eye, on the label at least, was the ingredient list (something I heartily approve of). It listed just dark Munich malt and Hallertau hops, which almost caused my heart to skip a beat of delight. I am not a fan of using caramel malts in Oktoberfest lagers, I find they tend toward sickliness and a slick mouthfeel that just feels wrong to me, but with dark Munich you get a lovely sweetness and still that firm cracker charateristic of good German beers, not to mention that beautiful orange glow. The hops are clearly present, with a definite, though unobtrusive, bitter snap right at the end of the finish, and traces of lemongrass in the nose.

Whilst not a session beer, being 5.3% abv, it is a wonderfully drinkable beer and it will be a regular in the fridge this autumn, especially at $6.49 a six pack. You really can't argue with that, well made, tasty beer at a price point which won't break the bank. I look forward to many refills of the tuplák in the weeks to come.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In Praise of Contract Brewing

Most Saturday mornings I do the weekly shop, often while Mrs V is running more miles than I care to imagine. It's become something of a semi-regular routine, she runs, I go to Trader Joe's in Charlottesville. I like Trader Joe's in general, and not just because they have good Nurmburger bratwurst actually from Germany, or because they have a pretty good cheese selection, there's just something nice about shopping there, especially right at opening time when it is quiet. Our local branch also has a reasonable beer selection.

Thus it was I decided I should try all Josephsbrau beers they had a available and got single bottles of their hefeweizen, dunkelweizen, Bohemian lager, Vienna lager, and Spring Prost maibock. Over the past week I have drunk them all and found them all to my liking, and in that I am really not surprised. As I understand it the beers I bought are brewed under contract by Gordon Biersch Brewing Company, and in my experience Gordon Biersch brewers are well trained and reliable, Jason Oliver at Devils Backbone being a prime example.

With the price of independent beer seemingly climbing ever upwards, with scant regard sometimes for the beer actually being worth drinking, it is good to know that I can get a six pack of well made, quality beer for $6.50 rather than $10.

This all got me thinking about contract brewing and that it is actually a good for consumers when stores are contracting good 'craft' breweries like Gordon Biersch for Central European styles, Firestone Walker for the Mission St series, and Unibroue for their Vintage Ale. It is good because it means that well made beer doesn't have to become the preserve of those who can afford it. It's also something of a challenge to craft beer in my opinion, in that breweries need to justify the price of a six pack in quality terms to make me willing to spend the extra 42%.

So let's have more stores taking a leaf out of Trader Joe's book and having their own brands of beer, made by reputable breweries with a focus on quality and reasonable price. Oh and while they're at it, perhaps Traders could sign up a brewery to make a best bitter for them? Timothy Taylor for example....

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Greene King IPA

Quite some time ago, just a few months after I started this blog, I found myself sat in a pub in England. It was Christmas day, the last time myself and my three brothers were all together, dinner was done, and things were winding down toward the evening. My eldest brother and I took a stroll to the pub at the end of his then street for a pint or two. Stood at the bar, the options were somewhat limited, so I ordered a pint of Greene King IPA. Said pint didn't last but a mouthful or two, the smell of rubber carpet underlay was so strong that I gave it up for a pint of Guinness.

A couple of weekends ago, bimbling around our local Trader Joe's, I came across bottles of The King's English IPA, which according to the label is brewed and bottled by the very same Greene King. I hadn't bothered with the back label until Mrs V and I had got home, decided we were in for the day, and I figured it was time for a pint. I had bought two bottles, and polished them off with gusto, so when Mrs V and I were at our weekly shop yesterday I got another pair to see if it would become a regular in the cellar.

As for the beer itself, it pours a deep amber, bordering on red, topped off with a firm ivory head which lingered for the duration. The dominant aroma was toffee, laced with traces of cocoa, and just a hint of spicy hop aroma floating around in the background. Tastewise, the beer is a complex balance of bready malts, which come straight to the fore, only to give way to a sweet orange bite of hops. Balance really is the key word here, balance and a drinkability that belies the 6% abv.

As I savoured the last half pint of the latest pair of bottles I wondered at that pint of Greene King IPA in the English pub, as well as the Guinness that replaced it, and thought about the fantastic beers that bigger brewers are more than able of making. This Greene King IPA is like the Foreign Extra Stout to regular Guinness, something that makes you wonder why they bother with their uninspiring flagship.

Needless to say, The King's English will indeed be something of a regular in my cellar.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lazy Marketing

Mrs Velkyal and I spent the weekend in South Carolina, again visiting friends, going white water rafting and just generally having a blast before the end of the summer holidays - Mrs V is back at work today.

On Saturday afternoon we went off to the shops to get in supplies for a little soiree we had planned for that evening - basically drinking and playing board games with friends. I have to admit that while I take a great interest in food, both the preparation and eating thereof, I really do not enjoy bimbling around the shops. My approach to shopping is simple, get in, get done, get out. What I tend to do is wander off to the booze section and see what is available.

The shop we went to was Greenville's branch of Trader Joe's, and I had heard good things about their Bohemian Lager. Although I knew I wouldn't be buying anything that day, I had bought a case of homebrew and a growler of Devils Backbone Barclay's London Dark Lager, I went to have a look at the selection purely out of curiosity, and general interest. Trader Joe's has a range of own label, Central European style beers, namely:
  • Bohemian Lager
  • Vienna Lager
  • Dunkelweizen
  • Bavarian Hefeweizen
  • Hofbrau Bock
At only $5.99 for a six pack, I know that when the planned Charlottesville branch opens, I will spend some money and try the beers. However, it was the packaging that I found particularly interesting, some of which you can see here.

Each of the labels features a picture of what most people would expect a Central European urban scene to look like, and to the untrained eye the interest level would no doubt stop there. But look a little closer at the label for the Vienna Lager, the building is the Old Town Hall in Prague. The ragged edge of the red building is where the Nazis set it on fire and parts collapsed as a result.

Now take a quick look at the Bavarian Hefeweizen label, and unless I am mistaken, that is a picture again of the Old Town Square in Prague. Look at the Hofbrau Bock label and that skyscape is from the Old Town side of the Vltava, looking across the Charles Bridge toward St Nicholas' Church in Mala Strana.

While I am entirely biased and would say that there is no more beautiful city in Europe than Prague, though Budapest and Lublijana both come close, it feels like lazy marketing to rely on the consumer's lack of knowledge or interest in your labeling. It also feels something of a slight on Vienna and the cities of Bavaria that beers historically and intrinsically bound to those locales should have pictures of Prague on the labels.

Just a simple search of one of the many online stock photography services pulls up plenty of pictures for iconic places and scenes, such as Vienna's Hofburg, Munich's Frauenkirche, Schloss Neuschwanstein or the Wieskirchen.

This kind of lazy marketing really does my head in. I know it is just a picture and that the important thing is the beer in the bottle, but the cynic within wonders if they can't be bothered to get the artwork right, did they bother enough with the beer itself. I guess I will find out when Trader Joe's opens its doors in Charlottesville.

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...