Beer Journal

A quasi-daily examination of beer and things related to beer.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Now on Tap: Imperial Stout

Imperial Stout

Brewer: Samuel Smith Brewery, Tadcaster, Yorkshire, England

Style: Russian Imperial Stout

ABV: 7.0%

Regular beer drinkers and readers of this space should immediately register the qualifier "imperial" with meaning "more alcohol", and Samuel Smith's version is no exception. However, what is uncharacteristic of this style and drink is the smoothness. For certain, hints of chocolate and coffee are present - as much should be expected with any decent stout, imperial or not - but this one is has a palette that is surprisingly refreshing as well.

Having first opened its doors over 250 years ago, Samuel Smith's is Yorkshire's oldest brewery. Sam Smith's (as it is locally referred) is probably better known States-side for the excellent Oatmeal Stout. The company's Bitter, a traditional British-style pub ale is also very good, as are the organic beers, a trend that finds Samuel Smith among the pioneers.

Rating: 7.0

Recommended with: Most of the time, I would suggest a chocolaty dessert to accompany a drink as dark and sweet as this one, but I think a reversal is in order. Due to its aforementioned smoothness, I think this drink would pair well with a salty appetizer, such as calamari served Rhode Island style.

Eats: Toro Burger

My first trip to Toro Burger (2609 N Mesa St, El Paso, Texas) consisted of these three drinks: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Brooklyn Lager and Young's Chocolate Stout (for dessert)*. This was a long awaited visit for me, having passed by the place numerous times and it coming recommended by friends just as often. Two of those friends joined me on this visit, providing the necessary third component of a worthwhile dining experience for this reviewer.

*As far as introductions go, that's an opening gambit along the lines of "Smells Like Teen Spirit/In Bloom/Come as You Are".

The menu lists house-created burgers, a roster of fried sides, some salads and milkshakes. Of course, if so desired, you can construct your own burger, selecting from a variety of cheeses, sauces and toppings. I went with the Green Chile Burger*; angus beef topped with a mass of chilés and onions. Along with a pile of sweet potato fries, mine was a more than substantial meal, the heat of the peppers just enough as to not overpower the savory and fruity flavors. Most satisfying was the actual taste of beef - too many places serve up frozen patties that taste like a hamburger but hardly like actual meat; Toro's burgers are robust.

*My dinnermates enjoyed the Veggie and Ultimate Blue Crab, neither of which actually feature hamburger.

The layout of the restaurant is of the nouveau American bistro variety: lots of metal, loud music and multicolored lighting for a purposefully cramped, urban feel. When seated inside, it's a nice look, but the outside seating, unfortunately, rests directly next to the parking lot and only a few yards from a major road. The appropriateness of the décor within context means a lot more to me than the actual aesthetics, so in that sense, Toro Burger's design works in spite of the stripmall location. Moreover, between the grub, drinks and company, the Toro Burger experience is on that I certainly would like to revisit.

(Photo via.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Now on Tap: Carlsberg

A Brief Overview

Carlsberg was founded in 1847 and, even in comparison with many other famous breweries, has an incredible history. J.C. Jacobsen named the company after his favorite son, Carl, and, while that is a cute story, it has absolutely nothing to do with the beer other than its name. The Jacobsens took their beer seriously, building an impressive chemistry department that benefited the beer world as well as the scientific community. The yeast used to brew pale ale was discovered by a chemist working for the company in 1883, Emil Hansen, and was named Saccharomyces carlsbergensis. The idea of ph (the measure of acidity or basicity) was also a product of the Carlsberg chemists.

J.C. Jacobsen was an incredible philanthropist and a hell of a brewer. He industrialized the art of beer making in Denmark, building a powerhouse (number 4 in the brewing world) that fueled his other personal interest: art. His collection grew to the point that, at his death, it became its own museum: The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. The brand name is also famously attached to Liverpool F.C. in the Premiership, serving as the shirt sponsor since 1991.

Some Thoughts on Design

The green bottle and distinct script of the logo makes Carlsberg an easy beer to spot in the beer aisle. Their self-deprecating and amusing tagline, “probably the best beer in the world,” was created in the early 70s and was originally voiced in commercials by Orson Wells.

My Experience

I drank it straight from the bottle while playing cards with my wife. A pale lager, the beer has a nice aroma, grainy with a good mix of malts and hops. I like the taste as it hits the mouth, a crisp, smooth, drinkable beer, with a light bite to the sides of the tongue. This is what I imagined beer would taste like before I tasted beer. I drank two that night, enjoying both, especially the end of the second one, as I am a lightweight and get tipsy quickly.

Final Thoughts

Carlsberg is a good drinking beer. Easy to drink with almost anything, including cheeseburgers and fries. Excellent experience.

Rating 8.7

Recommended with: Whataburger.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Now on Tap: New Belgium 2 Below

2 Degrees Below

Brewer: New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colorado, United States

ABV: 6.6%

You know the New Belgium flavor. Every beer the company makes has it, whether it's the slightly-there taste in 1554 or the dominant flavor as in Fat Tire, every New Belgium beer has that sweet-to-sour mouthfeel with that bitter-yet-malty finish. Most certainly a positive distinction, a trademark of sorts that comforting for fans of their beer and inviting for newcomers.

2 Degrees Below, NB's winter ale, is not immune to this characteristic. And thankfully so, because it's the prefect characteristic for a cold winter's drink. While most winter warmers get that distinction because of high alcohol levels that make the beers operate more like ports or aperitifs that usual brews. The end of the glass still offers a nice boozy feel, which for long nights in, is perfectly acceptable.

Rating: 7.2

Recommended with: A few days ago, I mentioned that I was enjoying a glass with a slice of pumpkin pie. That worked splendidly. I would think that a similarly-themed seasonal dessert, like spiced pears, would pair (sorry) just as well.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Now on Tap: Arrogant Bastard Ale

Arrogant Bastard Ale
Style: Ale
Brewer: Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, California, USA
ABV: 7.2%

When people ask me what kind of beer I like, this is usually what I describe. Not by name, but in color (dark amber, nearing brown), froth (thick, creamy head), flavor (sharp and hoppy) and alcohol (a healthy 7.2% abv). I would simply tell people that I like beers like Stone Brewing Company's Arrogant Bastard Ale, but I'd soon grow tired of the two most likely responses: 1. What's that? 2. That's appropriate. Although I've never considered this particular beer to be my favorite, stylistically speaking it's as good a representation of my tastes as anything.

Arrogant Bastard comes in a larger than usual serving - 22 oz. bottles - that is sizable enough for two people to each have a glass. Stone's signature gargoyle graces the front of the container, and on the back is written a warning of sorts: "This is an aggressive beer. You probably won't like it."

That's actually a pretty considerate proviso. Arrogant Bastard is almost all hops; it doesn't have much of a flavor profile, although there is a hint of sweetness towards the end that takes a little bit of the bite off. If you're still interested, check out the beer's website; there is a list of distributors that will ship the beer to your door.

For certain, beers come stronger and harsher - such as Stone's Ruination IPA - but I can't say if there's a more accurate beer. For my tastes, at least.

Rating: 9.2
Recommended with: You probably want a food that will stand up to the sharp flavor of Arrogant Bastard, which is a conflicting task because AB is a heavy drink - nearly a meal in and of itself. But you gotta eat, and I think there are two ways to go with this one: either a hearty meal like an open-faced pot roast sandwich or something less dense but with a kick, such as a peppercorn-encrusted pork chop.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Now on Tap: Anchor Steam Beer

Anchor Steam Beer

Style: steam beer

Brewer: Anchor Brewing Company, San Francisco, California

ABV: 4.9%

The "steam" in Anchor Steam Beer might refer specifically to any number of processes, effects or looks, but more generally, the word connotes beer made in California starting in the mid-nineteenth century. For a beer with such a beautiful amber color, Anchor Steam is surprisingly and welcomingly refreshing. There's a slight hop to it, but the overwhelming sensation is the soft foaminess that sustains throughout most of the glass. I always assumed that the ever present effervescence was what "steam" referred to, now I imagine that the foam swishing around the glass might recall the look of the Pacific crashing on the rocks in the sunset.

The flavor notes are all over the chart, with different sets of taste buds evoking such diverse savors as caramel, honey, cinnamon, citrus, toast, pine and biscuit all chased with a slightly bitter finish. All of these combine in a drink that is appropriate at any time of the year, with almost any dish. This particular pack was enjoyed with a batch of my homemade chili. My chili is usually thick and spicy, so a refreshing beer like Anchor Steam is a perfect offset.

Anchor Steam is a terrific intro beer for drinkers who would like to move towards away from traditional pilsners and into the areas of more dominant hops and malt. Further exploration into the Anchor family of beers should lead you strait to the Liberty Ale, and if you can find it, the annual Christmas Ale, which in spite of its ever-changing recipe, has never been know to disappoint.

Rating: 8.7

Recommended with: The spiciness of the chili had a tendency to overpower the spectrum of flavors, so I'd recommend a dish with a more delicate food. I would think that a flaky white fish, nicely fried and salted with chips, would make a good pairing.