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beer frenzy

As a wonderful birthday present this year (May 2008) my wife gave me a subscription to the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club. Every month a half case of four different micro brews (three of each) appears magically on my doorstep. This is to be a chronicle of the experience. But be forewarned, I am no connoisseur of anything. My tastes are plebeian at best, trailer park at worst. I will give my honest appraisal of what I taste and then rate them in descending order of preference each month.
May 2008
  1. Penn Weizen - I've had hefeweizens before and remained relatively indifferent but this brew may have finally given me a handle on them. One of my all-time favorite adult beverages was an abbey-style dupple ale by the sadly defunct Celis Brewery here in Austin. I have always described it as drinking "liquid fruitcake". And now I describe Penn Weizen as drinking "liquid cheesecake". Rich and creamy with lemony overtones. No graham cracker crust that I can detect though. Yummy stuff.
  2. Lake Placid Ubu Ale - Not bad, not bad at all. A rich, red and strong ale. No funny overtones or lingering weird hints. This stuff would be great with a steak or a mess of fajitas. Their motto is "Real Town. Real Beer". Indeed!
  3. Steelhead Extra Stout - Thwack! These guys weren't just woofin' when they called this "Extra Stout". Guinness is limp-wristed by comparison. I read a number of reviews, all of whom loved the stuff, and tried to understand their taster's language descriptions. Sorry, my pallete just isn't that finely tuned. So here is how I described it to my wife: If it were possible to brew something out of black strap molasses, grapefruit juice and coffee grounds, this is probably what it would taste like. Too butch for me.
  4. Shoal Draft Pale Ale - This would have probably been more enjoyable without the the "smoldering rubber tire in a junkyard" flavor components. Do Not Like!
June 2008
  1. Waving Wheat - A Belgian-style Wit beer, unfiltered and with lots of yummy sediment. A mild spicy aroma, faintly smelling of herbs and citrus. Crisp, not too sweet and a nice bite to the tongue. I love Belgian-style beers and this is a good one. I would drink this regularly if it were available here in Texas. Celis used to make a Wit beer here in Austin but they are long gone.
  2. Brooklyn Pilsner - Brewed in accordance with German purity laws using only water, barley, hops and yeast. A nice hops aroma when you open one. Sort of a bread-like quality to the taste with a sharp, lingering hops bite on the back of the tongue. Definite orange peel overtones. Tasty. Cries out for a plate of German sausage.
  3. Brooklyn Lager - A dark amber lager. Bread-like aroma and taste with subdued hops. Much sweeter than the pilsner, almost syrupy in comparison. Hints of hay or straw. A lingering bitterness on the front of the tongue but not unpleasant. I think I liked their pilsner better but this is drinkable.
  4. Miner Mishap - A German-style schwarzbier. A dark, dark, dark lager. Not much nose except for a faint chocolate note. And the taste? Chocolate. And more chocolate. And finally, chocolate. This is, in fact, chocolate beer. It's not sweet but it's definitely chocolate, like the pricey European stuff wrapped in foil. Weird but also kind of interesting. Would go well with a Fudgesicle.
July 2008
  1. Red Sky At Night Saison Ale - “Saison” is the French word for season. These ales were traditionally brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption during the late summer harvest by farm workers who were entitled to up to five liters (!!!) throughout the workday. "Complexity" is how I have to describe this product. I can't begin to chronicle all the various flavors, hints and tones in this brew. The overall impression, however, is of a hot, tart lemon pie wrapped in a yeasty baked crust. Damn this is good stuff!
  2. 420 Extra Pale Ale - Supposedly a West Coast style of ale, whatever that is. Smells a little bit of pine and fresh baked bread. Fruity overtones of grapefruit, peach and apricot but definitely not sweet. A mild bitterness and dryness that doesn't assault the tongue. Very enjoyable. A grass mowing brew.
  3. Georgia Brown - A little nutty, a little malty, a little bit of cinnamon and a little bit of banana. Mildly bitter and a little more sweetness than is usual in an ale. I would rate it as OK and drinkable but nothing special.
  4. Oxford Class Organic Amber Ale - A slightly burnt caramel nose. More faint caramel, chocolate and molasses notes in the taste. A little bit of bite but the the lasting impression is, unfortunately, one of "wateriness". Imagine an ale spritzer. I can't believe this is from the same brewery as Red Sky At Night.
August 2008
  1. Celis White - My prayers have been answered. Three bottles of Celis White showed up on my doorstep today. Although no longer under Celis family supervision it is still wonderful stuff. A lemony, yeasty nose and loaded with yummy sediment. Sweet, fruity and complex with a bit of a bite to the front of the tongue. I would be hard pressed to choose between this and Waving Wheat. What a delightful quandry to have.
  2. Dark Star Porter - Looks like and fizzes like Coke in the glass. A nice bready/roasty nose. A little burnt, a little bitter and mild on the tongue with a smokey finish. Not a lot of body but generally pleasant and would certainly drink again. Alas, I was hoping to work in a Death Star reference if it had proved to be swill.
  3. Celis Grand Cru - It's been years since I've had this stuff but it is pretty much as I remember it. A nice golden straw color in the glass and it definitely smells of honey. An almost champagne-like taste and more honey/mead components yet crisp and dry. Herbal things going on in the flavor vaguely reminding me of Chartreuse. Comes in at a butt-kicking 8% alcohol so easy does it.
  4. BBC Amber Ale - Fresh, grassy nose. More like a lager than an ale. A bit of fizz and bite and a fresh, somewhat mineral flavor. A bit too watery though; seems to lack body.
September 2008
  1. Red Rack Ale - A nice red-brown in the glass. A fresh nose with a hint of apples. Take a sip and more apples. Apple peal and apple juice but definitely dry and crisp. Reminds me of a winesap. This stuff would be great with a sharp cheese. Me likey.
  2. Pick Axe Pale Ale - Not all that pale but who cares. Grapefruit definitely comes through in the aroma. And grapefruit in the taste. It's dry, citrusy, slightly sweet and with a bitter, grapefuit bite. This is grapefruit ale. If you like grapefruit (and I do) you will really enjoy this brew.
  3. Butt Head Doppelbock - Not that much of a nose when you open one so the first sip is rather a shock. Thick, sweet, bitter and burnt ... but in a nice way. Lots of subtle flavors dancing around in one of these and a stiff 8.2% alcohol for some kick. A bit too syrupy and molasses-like for my taste though.
  4. Pig's Ear Brown Ale - I drank my first bottle without hardly even noticing it which is probably not a good sign. Brown, dark brown and a toasty nose. The flavor has more toastiness, some sweetness and some depth. It's thick and lingers in the mouth. It's won plenty of awards but for it's rather meh.
October 2008
  1. Peachtree Pale Ale - Copper-colored with a citrus and bread-like aroma. Thick on the tongue and with a decidedly bitter finish. A lingering bitterness that lasts for several minutes. More citrus notes in the flavor over a smooth caramel base. A bit aggressive perhaps but tasty.
  2. Saranac Pumpkin Ale - What a relief! I was afraid this would be like drinking liquid pumpkin pie. Instead I found a dry red ale with a nice bite. To be sure there are hints of pie spice to both the nose and flavor, but they are subtle. And I'll be damned if I can detect any pumpkin at all. Not that I'm complaining...
  3. I lost my notes on Red Brick Brown Ale and the Saranac Octoberfest Lager. Needless to say, I have no way getting more samples to fill in. I do remember that the Brown Ale was my top-rated brew for the month. Very straight forward and brown, brown, brown. The lager, although a bit funky by lager standards, was drinkable and probably placed second or third for the month. I'll try to be more careful in the future.
November 2008
  1. Wild Goose Oatmeal Stout - This is good stuff. Dark in color and character. If you look for the oatmeal you will find it both in the nose and the flavor. Surprisingly mild and smooth for something as thick and robust as this chewy stout. I definitely want to try some more oatmeal stouts in the future since I seem to have a real affinity for the flavor.
  2. Wild Goose Brown Lager - Nothing special but at least it is dry like you would expect from a lager and the taste is predominantly hops, also as you would expect. Toasty but subdued. Warm, smooth and pleasant.
  3. Moerlein OTR - A fairly dry, grapefruity ale with a nice bite and bitterness. Citrus is the overall impression and a slight bit of sweetness. Not sure I'd want this as a regular brew but it isn't unpleasant in moderation.
  4. Moerlein Barbarossa - Supposedly a Bavarian double dark lager. Double dip is more like it. Way too sweet and syrupy for my taste. Whatever the flavor components might be (and they aren't bad), they are completely overridden by the general corn syrup ambiance. An adult Pepsi.
December 2008
  1. Lancaster Milk Stout - I'm in love! To quote Wikipedia: "Milk stout (also called sweet stout or cream stout) is a stout containing lactose, a sugar derived from milk. Because lactose is unfermentable by Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it adds sweetness, body, and calories to the finished beer." The result is a Guinness-like stout with an extra measure of sweetness and creaminess. And there is definitely a faint dairy aroma and taste. I could drink this stuff every day. 
  2. Sand Creek English Style Special Ale - A pretty copper/red in the glass. Malty aroma, very smooth and slightly sweet in the mouth. Robust without bitterness. Sophisticated. I would definitely drink this again.
  3. Woody's Wheat - I am prejudiced towards hefe-weizens so this, by definition, is pretty good. A bready aroma with a bit of citrus and banana in the flavor and yummy sediment. Pretty good but the earlier Penn Weizen was much, much better.
  4. Winter Warmer - A hefty 9% alcohol certainly qualifies as antifreeze. Not crazy about the liquorice/coal-tar flavors though. Reminds me of horehound candy. Yuck!
January 2009
  1. Ipswich Original Ale - Balance. Balance in everything: nose, color, smoothness, bitterness, complexity, flavor. Little wonder it was selected as one of the world's ten best beers. Almost too perfect. I'm intimidated. 
  2. Jockamo India Pale Ale - A beautiful golden orange color and a yeasty, bread-like aroma with a bit of citrus. A nice, sharp bitterness that hangs on the back of the tongue. And grapefruit, lots of grapefruit flavors. A real eye-opener.
  3. Turbo Dog - Dark, almost opaque. Not much nose. Slightly bitter with some chocolate and molasses flavors. Dense but not offensive. Meh.
  4. Ipswich Nut Brown Ale - This stuff smells better than it tastes and it doesn't smell like much. And there's this weird after taste I can't place but whatever it is it doesn't belong in a beer. Kind of like spinach water. Er, no thanks.
February 2009
  1. Vanilla Java Porter - The vanilla is subtle but definitely there. The roasted coffee, however, dominates. Java in the aroma, the flavor and the finish. Overall, somewhat similar to the Lancaster Milk Stout, although not nearly as sweet or creamy. Very enjoyable.
  2. Eastside Dark - Strange nose comprised of coffee and hand soap. Very mild on the tongue. Slightly acid, slightly sour. Pleasant enough brownish flavor but perhaps a bit too subtle for me to fully appreciate. 
  3. Lakefront White - Waving Wheat or Celis White could kick this thing's butt around the block. All the right parts are there (the yeast, the spices, the citrus) but it's like a soufflé that didn't rise or a pudding that didn't set. Flat with a funky medicinal aftertaste. Not a winner in my book.
  4. Atwater Pilsner - Weird dried fruit nose. A grassy, herbal, hay-like flavor. The pilsner parts are fine: crisp, dry and a nice finish. But the weird flavor/aroma parts really detract. Sort of reminds me of Ricola cough drops. Not what I'm looking for in a beer.
March 2009
  1. Harpoon Hibernian - Amazing! No funky aromas or bizarre flavors that have no business in a brew. Russet in the glass and only a faint nose. Crisp, clear and pleasantly bitter with a lemony finish on the tongue and lips. Reminds me of a winesap apple. Uncomplicated and delightful.
  2. Rype - Tang! This self-pronounced "Orange Tingled Wheat Beer" is very drinkable. It smells of oranges, but more of the Orange Nehi variety than something from a tree. Same with the flavor, being more like a powdered breakfast drink than fresh squeezed orange juice. Still, it is a bright, slightly bitter and refreshing brew. Would go well with a Dreamsicle. 
  3. Harpoon Brown - Strangely fizzy for an ale, sort of like the difference between a straight scotch and a scotch and soda. A warm, slightly burnt nose and a pleasant, mild flavor, assuming you can get past the effervescence and the overall impression of wateriness. 
  4. Angler's Pale Ale - An unfortuantely named brew. The metallic, raw fish aroma does not entice. The beverage itself is pale and ale-like enough to be palatable but what is that lingering off flavor? Asparagus? Asparagus! I like asparagus as much as the next man but please, not in my beer. Yet another victim of the "let's see how many weird flavors we can introduce" school of modern brewing.
April 2009 - The Last Hurrah
  1. Fisherman's IPA - A mildly coniferous nose. Sharp, bitter, resinous and tangy in flavor. Lingers on the tongue and bites, but in a nice way. Almost the ale equivalent of a gin & tonic. Bracing! 
  2. Teton Ale - A lovely copper red in the glass. It smells of apple peel and has a crisp citrus and apple taste. A mild lingering bite mixed with honey and herbs. Nicely done. And I can't resist mentioning that Grand Tetons translates as Big Tits. If you've ever seen the range you can imagine why the French trappers were thusly inspired.
  3. Old Faithful Ale - I've been to Old Faithful and it stinks of sulfur. Happily, this ale is much more pleasant. There is a grassy, almost hay-like quality to both the aroma and taste. There is also a slight sweetness, as if from honey. It almost makes me think of a summer meadow. Almost. This would be an excellent every-day beverage to enjoy between the eruptions.
  4. Fisherman's Ale - A lovely amber straw color in the glass with a slight bread-like aroma. As a Kolsch-style of brew, it is dry with a bit of bitterness and a hint of rye in the flavor. A faint fruitiness as well but, overall, a mild and well behaved ale. A little less than I was expecting from a former Gold Medal winner.