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‘Tis The Season

Posted in Beer Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 7, 2009 by Tim

Well, we’re a week into the month of December and it’s even started snowing (sort of) in Austin, so what better time to try out a little seasonal Christmas cheer in bottle form. I have selected a very diverse cast of beers from three very different breweries in order to see how different regions around the country sustain themselves over the cold winter months. (They were also the only ones that HEB had at the time.) Let’s get started!

The festive label screams, "Happy Holidays!"

First up, let’s check in with an old familiar favorite from the Lone Star State, the Shiner Holiday Cheer from the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. The Shiner Holiday Cheer has been an annual tradition for a little while and is described as “an Old World Dunkelweizen brewed with Texas peaches and roasted pecans.”

The Cheer gave off a real strong flavor of berries, although that might be in keeping with the peach elements. It also had a delicately hoppy flavor with a light body and a smooth mouthfeel. This brew has an alcoholic content of 5.4 percent alcohol by volume, but doesn’t have an overwhelmingly alcoholic taste. On the Austin Brew Scale, I would give this beer 4 out of 5 mugs.

For my next seasonal beer, I went to the Pacific Northwest and the Widmer Brothers Brewing Company out of Portland, Oregon. Their current winter offering is the Brrr Seasonal Ale. The Brrr is available late October through early January and is recommended to be paired with “holiday favorites like ham and turkey.”

After an initial sweetness, the Brrr gives way to a much more bitter flavor than the Holiday Cheer. The Brrr also has a strong, hoppy aftertaste.

The Brrr has a smooth texture and a slightly thicker body.

After an initially smooth tasting,I definitely got more of a sense of the 7.2% alcohol by volume as I continued drinking. Finishing up became more difficult as the alcohol started to kick in.  I would give the Brrr a 3 out of 5 mugs on the Austin Brew Scale.

The final beer that I tried was completely different from the previous two, and provided something completely unexpected to the whole experience. The beer comes from the Magic Hat Brewing Company, located in South Burlington, Vermont. For the winter season, Magic Hat brews a beer that they accurately describe as a “Black-As-Night Winter Lager”. The beer, called Howl, is made with English ale yeast and a bitterness rating of 32 IBU.

The folks over at Magic Hat take this beer VERY seriously according to the description posted on its homepage: “Born of dark and cold and snow in the marrow of the northeast’s longest night, HOWL comes in on wailing winds with winter-weary eyes burning holes in sunless shadows. In its darkened depths out inner voids are warmed.” Okay, well now I’m a little scared. Not exactly the “holiday cheer” I was expecting. But it gets even crazier.

Yikes.

The website for Howl begins with a darkly lit flash animation accompanied by eerie music and a rather sinister voice in a British accent reciting an expanded version of the  poem above. In the less terrifying description of the beer, the company describes it as “A dark, medium-bodied beer with a rich roasted malt flavor and smooth hop bitterness.”

The thing that is the most shocking about Howl, however, is the 4.6% alcohol by volume. The reason it seems so shocking was evident from the first sip I took of Howl. Whereas the Shiner didn’t have much of an alcoholic taste or kick to it to begin with, and the Brrr gradually became more intense as you drank it, Howl immediately felt like a punch in the face. The overall taste of the alcohol gave me an extreme “whiskey face” that I could feel in the back of my throat and the sides of my mouth. This was quite surprising considering that Howl had the LEAST alcohol by volume of the three beers that I tried.

In terms of texture, Howl was surprisingly very thin and fizzy. It did not produce much of a head despite being an extremely dark and almost completely opaque beer.

ENHANCE!

Another facet of the taste that struck me as different about Howl was the overwhelming presence of malt flavor. The beer contained at least three kinds of malts, including pale, crystal, and carafa. This made for an interesting flavor and an even more curious look to the beer. As you can see, when held up to the light, you are able to see the hundreds of tiny malt crystals floating within the beer. While this might be perfectly normal for some of you, it kind of grossed me out a little. For being a little a too bitter and malty for my taste I give Howl a 2 out of 5 mugs.

Well that’s all I have for this time, I hope everyone has a safe and happy holidays (while sampling out new bears of course) and let us know in the comments what your favorite winter beverage is. Until next time, Cheers!

photos by Preston Edmands

Raison D’Etre and Woodchuck Draft Pear Cider

Posted in Beer Reviews with tags , , on November 29, 2009 by Tim

Hello again, everyone. I trust you all had a great Thanksgiving week and did plenty of beer research over the holidays. And since we have this here blog, I thought I would go ahead and share some of the “research” that I did over this past week.

First off, I tried the Raison D’Etre from the Dogfish Head Brewery.

As I said in the video, the Dogfish company describes the Raison D’Etre as “A deep, mahogany ale brewed with beet sugar, green raisins, and Belgian-style yeast.” And, in spite of my claims that it did not require food, the website recommends a pairing with “Steak, duck…blue cheese, goat cheese, (and) ham.” What I neglected to mention about this beer became evident as I continued drinking it.

The Raison D’Etre has an ABV of 8% and also packs quite a punch at the end. Drinking one bottle feels like two bottles of a typical beer. Towards the end, this beer was giving me a serious whiskey face. Not that I’m not a fan of whiskey or other hard liquors, but the unexpectedness of it was a little jarring.

For the next tasting, I decided to go with something a little smoother, the Woodchuck Draft Pear Cider from the Green Mountain Cidery in Springfield, Vermont.

Compared to my previous cider post, I definitely prefer the Woodchuck family of ciders over the Samuel Smith. In addition to the Pear cider, the Woodchuck brand also has multiple flavors of cider including Granny Smith, Amber, 802, and Raspberry depending on your preference. The website is also very helpful by providing food recipes that use their cider for added flavor in cooking. Another informative feature is the number of “drink mixables” that they offer to combine cider with hard liquor.

Once again, I hope everyone’s holiday was spectacular, and I will hopefully have another post for you very soon.

The Draught House Pub & Brewery

Posted in Pubs with tags , , , on November 22, 2009 by Tim

Due to my unfortunate inability to properly read, I was hoping that I would be able to cover the Draught House’s 41st anniversary this Saturday, but it turns out that it was November 7th, not November 21st. But being the intrepid reporter that I am, I decided to go ahead and slog through another grueling beer tasting for the benefit of you, the reader. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Anyway, sarcasm aside, the Draught House is one of Austin’s premier breweries with over 6o beers on tap. The Draught House also has a decent selection of house beers to keep any beer aficionado satisfied, regardless of personal preference.

The first one that I tried was their in-house brewed Double IPA, which they described as having “4 pounds per barrel of American hops. Big and floral with aromas of pine, citrus, mango, pineapple. Huge resinous flavor of hops.” I thought this beer was excellent for pairing with food, and I also really enjoyed the overall citrus aroma and flavor. I would give it 4 mugs out of 5 on the Austin Brew Scale.

For my next tasting, I decided to forego trying another in-house brew and instead went with the Green Flash IPA. I mostly based this decision on the fact that the Green Flash was their featured beer that day.

Although it wasn’t bad, I felt that the Green Flash had a much more bitter flavor, and I was not quite as keen on the aftertaste. It definitely had a more “hoppy” flavor to it, and although there was a slight citrus essence to it, it wasn’t as pleasing a taste as the Double IPA. I would give this one a 3.25 out of 5 mugs.

I definitely enjoyed the atmosphere they have at the Draught House; although they have a TV inside, it doesn’t feel like a sports bar, with a decidedly more intimate atmosphere. And like I said before, free pizza on Wednesdays! Hopefully, we will be trying all of the in-house options at the Draught House, so be on the lookout for that in the future.

Cold Ones: Beerfest

Posted in Features with tags on November 19, 2009 by Tim

It’s that time again. Tim’s out of money! No, seriously, it’s Cold Ones, the feature where we review a beer-themed movie that has had some impact on the pop culture landscape.

This time it’s Beerfest, the 2006 comedy from the Broken Lizard comedy troupe that also brought you Super Troopers and Club Dread.

In the heat of competition

 

Beerfest tells the story of the two beer-loving Wolfhouse brothers whose grandfather (played by Donald Sutherland) has recently passed. As his dying request, the grandfather entrusts his grandsons with running the family sausage restaurant.

The brothers, Todd and Jan, are then asked by their great-grandmother (played by Cloris Leachman) to go to Munich in order to keep the family tradition by spreading his ashes in the home country.

While in Germany, the brothers participate in Oktoberfest, but soon discover a highly exclusive secret drinking competition known as Beerfest. The brothers also meet their long lost German cousins, the Wolfhausens, and discover that their grandfather stole the family recipe for the greatest beer in the world and fled to America. The Germans outdrink Todd and Jan and force them to go back to America, humiliated and defeated.

Upon returning to America, the brothers decide to return to the Beerfest in one year, this time with a full team of drinkers ready to win. As they go about recruiting, they enlist a player who can down anything known as the “Landfill”, another player who can research the science behind drinking, and a third who specializes in drinking games.

The group then embarks on a year-long training session where they deal with spys, deaths, and the discovery and creation of the secret beer recipe. The movie culminates in a climatic showdown at the Beerfest.

Unfortunately, no real-life beers were featured in the movie, just a myriad of different drinking games that the viewer is discouraged from trying. In fact, there is a disclaimer at the beginning warning you not to imitate the drinking behavior in the film or else you might die.

Personally, I wish there had been a similar warning about watching the film as well, since quite frankly, this was not a very good movie. Extremely overacted with tons of misfired jokes, the film just ambles about from one failed gag to the next without so much as a giggle. Even the normally very funny Will Forte falls flat. But the biggest crime of all was the squandered opportunity to show real beers and real tastings.

Here’s a clip in case you might want to check it out anyway:

Photo Credit: http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/blackhawks-confidential/beerfest.gif

 

How To Pour A Beer

Posted in Misc. with tags , on November 15, 2009 by Tim

A post on a Saturday! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! Seriously though, I thought this was an important issue that needed to be addressed ASAP.

This post is pretty self-explanatory and came about from listening to several friends bemoan their skills at pouring beer into a glass or stein or mug or what have you. There was either too much head or too little head or overflow problems that were causing them to lose some of their beer. With this video, I hope I can eliminate any unnecessary waste so that readers won’t miss out on their favorite beverage.

Think of it as a public service.

And there you have it. I hope that was helpful.

BTW, while we’re on the subject of Dogfish Head, I thought it might be pertinent to bring to your attention this recent posting from Paste Magazine. Normally a music and film website/magazine, Paste has branched out by ranking the best breweries of the past decade. You should definitely check it out; hopefully we will be able to have reviews for some of the products of these breweries in the near future.

Samuel Smith’s

Posted in Beer Reviews with tags , , on November 13, 2009 by Tim

We here at Austin Brew realize that not everyone likes the taste of beer, and some are unable to drink beer entirely. So, at the suggestion of one of our dear friends over Austin Eats Sandwiches, I have decided to try out a cider as a nice alternative to our normal brews.

 

Picture 002

This Organic Cider is gluten-free.

For this tasting, I decided to do two selections from the Samuel Smith Brewery located in Yorkshire, England. The first is their Organic Cider, which it says is “produced from organically grown apples.”  In addition to boasting that all of their beer products are vegan, the Cider also happens to be “high in natural antioxidants” and “gluten-free.”

 

The cider was very strong, with a 5% alcohol per volume content. The cider was also highly carbonated and left a very fizzy feeling on my tongue. It wasn’t too sweet, and the taste of apples was not overwhelming. It had a very similar taste to champagne, so that might be a good gauge as to whether you will enjoy it or not. The web page is also very helpful, giving tips for potential food pairings. On the Austin Brew Scale, I give this a 3.5 out of 5 mugs.

In keeping with the Samuel Smith theme, I also decided to try an old fashioned ale: Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, to be precise. The ale is described as having “a round, nutty flavor because of the Yorkshire square system of fermentation.”

 

Picture 008

Nut Brown Ale with fancy gold wrapping.

The ale produced a rather significant head when poured, which is also due in part to the fermentation system. The aroma is slightly sweet with a slight floral hint. The overall taste is, as one would expect, quite nutty, but there is also a slight citrusy tinge to the beer as well. The aftertaste is also quite hoppy as well, and I could see this going very well with a food pairing. Overall, I would give this a 3.75 out of 5 mugs.

 

Well, until next time, this is Tim saying “Cheers for now”.

Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que

Posted in Beer Tasting with tags , , , on November 11, 2009 by Tim

Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que sits over on Barton Springs Rd., nestled between Zilker Park and the bustling intersection of Barton Springs and Lamar. The restaurant specializes in both quality barbecue and a generous menu of beers that they brew themselves. Brian Peters, one of the founders of the Live Oak Brewing Company, just so happens to be the man who creates the brews you’ll find at Uncle Billy’s.

I set out to try the “sample six” (consisting of four regular beers and two rotating brews) in order to contrast how their range of beers stack up against each other.

IMG_9454-1

The Brewery at Uncle Billy's*

Moving through the six beers that Uncle Billy’s currently brews in house, we decided to go from lightest to darkest starting with the Back 40 Blonde Ale.

Uncle Billy’s describes the Back 40 as an “Authentic Kölsch-style ale using German malt and hops-clean, crisp, and refreshing.”

Compared to the other beers on tap, the Back 40 definitely had the most carbonation. It had a slightly sweet aftertaste and was very fizzy on the tongue. I give it a solid 3 out of 5 mugs on the Austin Brew Scale.

Next up was the second lightest beer, the Agave Wit, which is a “Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with orange peel and coriander.”

It was served with an orange slice, but we decided to try it sans-orange on the first go around. This beer had a somewhat organic and slightly “chalky” aftertaste. It also had a definite citrus kick with an acidic bite to it, which was made even more prominent after adding the orange. I would give this one 3.5 mugs for its easy drinkability.

This was followed by the Hill Country Organic Amber, which was described as a “smooth amber ale made with organic barley-balanced maltiness with pleasant hop finish.” We instantly noticed the dramatic increase in bitterness with this one and its distinct barley flavor.

The body was thinner on this beer, and the aftertaste lingered longer than the previous two, with a slightly pungent aroma. It also produced a thicker and longer-lasting head. I give this one a rating of 2.5 mugs.

Next up was the Ax Handle Pale Ale which was “Generously hopped with simcoe hops during the boil and ‘dry hopped’ after fermentation.” This was hands down the best beer we tried; we had to buy a pint after the sample.

It had a slightly sweet and dry taste with a crisp, clean finish. There was also a slight hint grapefruit in the aftertaste. I give the Ax Handle a 4.5 out 5 mugs.

The Ax Handle was the last of the “Always on Tap” beers, so next we moved on to the “Rotating Tap”, which were both the darkest beers they were serving. First up was the Bitchin’ Camaro, the current selection for the Special Hop Tap, which was described as an “almost IPA”. This one had a slight tomato-ey flavor and was very bitter.

The aftertaste was slightly sour and metallic, similar to what you might taste in a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon or Miller High Life. I would only give this one 1.5 mugs.

IMG_9452

The "sampler six", from lightest to darkest.

Finally, we reached the Special Dark and Malty Tap. The current offering for this tap was the Coffee Stout. The first thing we noticed was the aroma of of chocolate-covered espresso beans that could be detected from the first sip.This brew offered a lighter body for a stout, with a real smokey, coffee flavor.

This beer was very good and went very well with a food pairing. I would give this a 4 out of 5 mugs.

Hopefully, in the future we will be able to sample all of the other offerings at Uncle Billy’s when they are in season. Until then, you should definitely check out what they have to offer while they’re on tap.

*photos by Preston Edmands