December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Tonight is one of my most favorite nights of the year. I love the ending of one year and the beginning of a new one. It's so freeing. I'm not Catholic, and I've never gone to confession, but I imagine this is what absolution feels like - a chance to leave behind bad decisions, bad judgments and bad habits and start over with a clean slate.

2009 was a momentous year for many reasons. I quit a job, actually a career, that wasn't fulfilling to me to pursue something I've always wanted to do (writing). I became officially divorced. I moved. I got a new car. I made new friends and deepened relationships with old ones. I ran a 1/2 marathon. I went to Paris in the springtime. I didn't work out as much as I should have. I let go of things and people I really didn't want to let go of. I learned how to be honest about my feelings and to communicate them without hurting others (most of the time). I learned how to listen better. I started this blog. I followed through on commitments, even when I didn't want to. I did some things that scared me and felt stronger for having done them. Without overstating it, I started moving confidently in the direction of my dreams.

If I had to weigh the good and bad of the past year, the scale would definitely tip towards the good. And that's the best I can ask for in any year.

Here's hoping your scaled tipped to the good, too. And if it didn't, don't worry. Tonight is your chance to start all over again. Have a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2010!

December 30, 2009

I want.... a porter?

It's been pretty damn cold here in Philly the past couple of days. On top of that, I'm nursing a nice cold. I stayed home last night for the first time in over 2 weeks and it looks like I'll be staying in tonight, too. That's all fine, because tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and I don't want to sit in by myself then!

Beer is never far from my thoughts, so even as I sit on my sofa, coughing and chugging all different kinds of cold medicines, I can't help but think about what I'd be drinking if I were going out. I find my thoughts turning towards stouts and porters, which surprises me. I was never one of those people who paired what I was drinking with what I was eating, except on rare occasions. For the most part, I drank what I liked. I guess that's why I'm surprised I'm reacting to something (weather) other than just my personal preferences. Maybe my palate is maturing?

Anyway, since I've had but a few of these types of beers, I'm asking you for some of your favorites and hopefully when I'll all better tomorrow (power of positive thinking) I'll be able to add a few new beers to my favorites list.

If you had to name one or two of your favorite stouts or porters, or even seasonal beers, what would they be?


December 28, 2009

Winterfest Beer Tasting

Yesterday was an incredibly fun day spent trying many different beers at the Winterfest '09 Beer Tasting at WXPN. First of all, I love XPN and World Cafe Live. I've been a member for many, many years and credit them with my incredible (if I do say so myself) taste in music. They're constantly introducing me to new artists and expanding my musical horizons.

Now I can also credit them with expanding my beer horizons. I love beerfests, and not just because I love drinking beer. It's such an amazing way to try new things. And the people there are usually pretty cool, too. I mean, they're there to drink beer - how bad could they be?

The event lived up to my expectations. It was a fun crowd and there was a selection of over 80 different beers! The focus was on porters, stouts, winter seasonals, and special holiday ales. Below are some of the favorites I had, including their ABV and what type of beer they are:

Rogue Yellow Snow, 6.2% American IPA
Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, 4.7% American Porter
Breckenridge Christmas Ale, 7.4% Winter Warmer
Dogfish Head Burton Baton, 10% American Imperial IPA
Mikkeller Red and White Christmas, 8% American Strong Ale
Ridgeway Very Bad Elf, 7.5% English Pale Ale
Lakefront Holiday Spice, 9.5% Winter Warmer

So, you can see we had some pretty strong ones! All in all, a bunch of different tastes and a nice addition to my usual repetoire of IPAs (although I managed to sneak a couple of those in there). I highly recommend trying one of these on a cold winter's night.

Tonight I'm celebrating the holiday season with a couple of my girl friends and will be bringing a nice seasonal beer for them to try - now I just have to decide which one.

December 22, 2009

Bell's Winter White

It seemed appropriate to try the Bell's Winter White Ale the other day, given all the white stuff I had to trudge through to get to a bar to watch the Eagles play. I seriously wanted to post signs around my neighborhood that read "It's called a shovel. Get one and use it".

However, I'm not writing to discuss the laziness of some people. I'd much rather write about the beer, because it was quite good.

According to Bell's, this is "a wheat ale brewed with American wheat and a proprietary blend of Hefe and classic Belgian-style yeasts." This is a nice beer for someone who likes witbiers, but wants something a little more complex in the colder months.

It poured a clear, pale yellow. The smell was fruity and spicy - coriander and clove. The taste was the same - citrusy with spiciness and coriander flavors coming in, too. There was also some bitterness from the hops, which added a nice touch.

For a lot of people, this may not be the winter beer they turn to on the coldest of days. But I guess not everyone faces the same winters we do here in the northeast, and this would be a great beer for a mildly cold day. Speaking of, a friend of mine lives in Florida. She told me that when it gets below 70, people pull out coats and hats. I think she said scarves, too. That's just crazy! I was shoveling in 20 degree weather without a hat on and felt fine. Then again, I was shoveling (which is some good exercise as attested to by the pains in my upper back and arms) and so was probably angry about the shoveling and not really feeling the cold. But still.

It may not seem like it, because what I wrote is pretty cut-and-dry, but I really did enjoy this beer. I was with a girl friend of mine, and she liked it a lot, too. It's extremely easy to drink - only 5% ABV - and is definitely worth trying.

December 20, 2009

A winter wonderland and Merry Monks Ale

Yesterday was quite a blizzard here in Philly. I don't think I've actually heard anyone call it that yet, but according to the definition of a blizzard, it seemed to be one. We got more snow in one day than we got all of last winter. It was a blast! Started off with some really great Weyerbacher beers at my place, then went out and met up with friends. The bars were nicely packed and everyone was making merry. Nothing like a weather disaster to bring people together.

Speaking of making merry, one of the beers I enjoyed before heading out was the Weyerbacher Merry Monks Ale. I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's a Belgian Style Tripel. Not at all hoppy (which is why I was surprised), it's actually very fruity (banana, apple) in both the aroma and taste. There was also bit of peppery spice and some nutty flavor from the yeast. This is not a beer to be taken lightly - it comes in at a fairly hefty 9.3% ABV. I thought it was well deserved after some shoveling, and I wasn't disappointed. It tasted even better as it warmed slightly and the more complex flavors (from the combination of pilsner malts and Belgian yeasts) really came through.

Merry Monks is a bottle conditioned ale, meaning that some sugar and yeast are added just prior to bottling. Bottle conditioning helps extend the shelf life of the beer, but also ultimately changes its character as it ages because of the on-going fermentation. The good people at Weyerbacher recommend saving a few bottles to see the differences for yourself, and I wish I had. Luckily it's available year-round so I can pick some up and save it for the next snowy day. You should, too.

December 16, 2009

My Top 10 IPAs

The other day a friend challenged me to name my favorite IPA (and he's written about his top ten faves, too). In his defense, I'm sure he meant it as a question rather than a challenge, but it's so hard for me to pick my favorite that it feels like a challenge.

After much thought and some scientific calculations of ratings based on aroma, appearance, and taste (okay, kidding about that last part) I've come up with my list of my 10 favorites. I'll caveat it by saying that I obviously haven't tried every IPA out there (yet). And also, some of these may be double IPAs or whatever other category they fall in to, but I'm simplifying it - if it has IPA somewhere in the name or description, it counts. If I've written a review of it, I'm simply going to link to that. If not, I'll give a brief overview - and then thoroughly review it another time. Hey, if it's on the list, it should be on the blog.

10. Victory HopDevil
I've written about the Yakima Twilight, but not the HopDevil. This was one of the first hoppy beers I had, and I can still remember how much I enjoyed it. Victory Brewing is in Downingtown, PA and they produce some fantastic beers. The HopDevil uses American hops and German malts, producing a balanced taste that's not too overly bitter. It has a 6.7% ABV, making it easy to enjoy more than one.

9. Founders Centennial IPA
Hmm, I've written about the Founders Reds Rye, but not the Centennial IPA. I wonder if I've written about any of my favorite IPAs? (Kidding.) This is a really drinkable IPA - even though it does have a 7.2% ABV. It's not overly bitter (even though I enjoy that), but still has the nice hoppy flavor that I so love.

8. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
This is the beer I credit with turning me on to craft beer. And I've actually written about it! You can read my review here.

7. Stone IPA
Wait for it - I've written about the Stone Cali-Belgique IPA, but not the IPA. Wow. This is an eye-opening exercise. I apparently need to do a lot more writing! Anyway, the Stone IPA has a big hop presence, in the aroma, taste and bitterness. This is not an IPA for those that don't like their beers bitter - the hops will get you! But if you do like them, make sure you try this. 6.9% ABV. That makes it almost sessionable!

6. Bell's Two Hearted Ale
Um, right. So, I've written about the Bell's Oberon, but not the Bell's Two Hearted. I'm embarrassed for myself at this point. The Two Hearted is a good beer for hop heads. It's definitely got a hoppy bite to it, but it's balanced well with the malt. It's on the stronger side - 7.1% ABV, but still very drinkable.

5. Green Flash West Coast IPA
Another fave that I've actually reviewed! Green Flash is a fantastic brewery in San Diego, CA. You can read my review of the beer here.

4. Ballast Point Big Eye IPA
I've not only reviewed this beer here, I've sung it's praises to people near and far. It's a great beer that is a must-try for hop heads.

3. Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA
I thought the trend was bucked, friends, but (for what I know is the last time) I have to admit that I've written about the Weyerbacher Winter Ale but not the Double Simcoe. Sigh. The Double Simcoe is fantastic. It's brewed using only Simcoe hops, which are known for their low "harshness" levels, allowing brewers to use a lot without creating a harsh-tasting beer. It comes in at 9% ABV, but is so flavorful you'll likely want more than one.

2. Russian River Pliny the Elder
Can't say enough good things about Pliny the Elder. It was one of the first beers I reviewed, and you can read it here. Piney, hoppy deliciousness in a glass.

1. Ballast Point Sculpin
All my internal battling about my favorite IPA has landed me here - the Ballast Point Sculpin. It's just amazing. As I wrote in my review, which you can read here, I'd live in a bottle of this beer if I could. Everything about it is just that good.

Whew, I'm thirsty! Writing about all this fabulousness has me questioning how long I'm going to be able to hold out on a drink today.

But tell me - what do you think of my list? What IPA do you think I'm missing? As I mentioned, I know there are a number of IPAs waiting for me to try them, so let me know your favorites that aren't listed. Doesn't necessarily mean I haven't tried them, but I'd like to hear.

December 10, 2009

Founders Reds Rye

I think I'm on to a new type of beer that I love - the ryes. I've had a couple recently that I've really enjoyed. I think the reason I like them as much as I do is because the ones I've tried are pretty close to IPAs. Ryes tend to be less bitter than IPAs, but there's still a strong hop essence. I wonder what I would think if I tried a true Roggenbier (German rye beer).

Since I haven't had that pleasure, I'll concentrate on a pleasure that I had the other evening - the Founders Reds Rye. This is a fantastic beer! The pour was a nice, deep amber. Yes, you can smell the citrusy, piney hops but they're mixed with the aroma from the spicy rye. The taste, as expected from the smell, was hoppy, but really well balanced by caramely malts and spiciness from the rye. So good!

The ABV is about 6.8%. Not too strong and this is such a drinkable, enjoyable beer that you'll never realize it's that high.

Luckily this beer is available year-round. It's definitely way up on my list of favorites and I highly recommend you try one as soon as possible.

December 8, 2009

Weyerbacher Winter Ale

As I wrote a couple of posts ago, now is a great time of year for Christmas beers. Last night I had the chance to try a Weyerbacher Winter Ale. I appreciated this ale for a couple of reasons. First, it's called a Winter Ale rather than a Christmas ale. Now, I love the holiday season as much as the next person and don't want to get in to a heated debate over whether you should say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays". But the bottom line is - I don't celebrate Christmas. And I do enjoy beer. So this seems very inclusive (which, I should point out, doesn't mean I won't enjoy a beer called a Christmas beer. It was just nice to see one that wasn't). Second, it's got a really good taste at a low ABV - both of which I'll get in to more below.

Weyerbacher is a great brewery located not to far from me in Easton, PA. They make one of my favorites - the Double Simcoe IPA (which I'll be reviewing soon). I've also had their Imperial Pumpkin ale (one of the best pumpkin ales I had) and the Harvest Ale, which is really wonderful and made from hops that they harvest themselves.

But back to the Winter Ale. It pours a nice hazy, deep brown that shows some red when held up to the light. The smell is that of winter - nutmeg, allspice, roasty chocolate malts. I really enjoy the flavor of this beer - I think it's nicely balanced and not overwhelming... anything, really. Some of the other Christmas beers I tried were so malty - a little too malty for my taste (which shouldn't be surprising, given my love for the hops!). This one is very, very drinkable to me. Notes of chocolate, some toffee, caramel malt came through with just a bit of hops in the background.

Earlier I mentioned the ABV - it comes in at 5.6%, making it very easy to enjoy more than one on those long, cold winter afternoons you're stuck inside. Not surprisingly it's only available November - January, so be sure to grab one while you can.

December 6, 2009

Home brewing

Yesterday was a fun day for me - I got to try my hand at home brewing for the first time. It's something I've been interested in doing for a while now. Brings to life the academics of what I've been reading about lately.

Also, yesterday was a great day for home brewing. We got our first "snow" of the season - big, wet flakes that didn't stick (at least not in Philadelphia proper; may have been different in the 'burbs) but were really pretty to watch fall.

Me and the boys - 3 friends who have been doing this for about 2 years and started Philly Beer Club - made a holiday porter. What I learned is that there's a whole lot of waiting that goes on. Waiting for the wort to be made. Waiting for the water to boil. Waiting for the water to cool down. And once all that is done, the longest wait of all - waiting for the beer to ferment and become something you actually (hopefully) want to drink. That's going to take a couple of weeks.

All of the waiting did, however, give us a chance to drink some beers. And that's when I knew this was something I could really get down with. We all brought some beers and some food, and spent the afternoon brewing, talking, eating and drinking - including a couple of beers the boys had brewed before. Doesn't get much better than that.

I'll be heading back over in a few weeks to help with the bottling. Then we'll let the beer age in the bottles - and then we'll finally be able to taste the fruit of our labors. I can't wait!

December 3, 2009

'Tis the season - Christmas Ales

It's the most wonderful time of the year. And not just because of the holidays. Now is the best time of year because of all the great holiday beers that are available.

This is my first holiday season as a real craft beer drinker. Last night I had an introduction to a variety of these beers at the Tria Fermentation School's Hoppy Holidays class. It was led by Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack), who did a great job of schooling us in the advent of Christmas beers, as well as imparting some interesting tidbits along the way (like the history of St. Nick, the origins of the first image of Santa Claus, some truly great vintage ads of Santa hawking beer). All this while teaching a class of students who became quiet loud and unruly as the tastings continued.

Here is the line up we had along with where they're from and the ABV of each:

Anchor Christmas Ale (San Francisco, CA) - 5.5%
Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bon Voeux (Tourpes-Leuze, Belgium) - 9.5%
Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza (Dexter, MI) - 12%
St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel ( Le Roeulx, Belgium) - 9%
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Watou, Belgium) - 10%
De Struise Tsjeeses (Woesten-Vleteren, Belgium) - 10%
Troegs Mad Elf (Harrisburg, PA) - 11%
Samichlaus (Eggenburg, Austria) - 14%

So after looking at the ABVs, you can probably figure out why we were all so boisterous towards the end of this class.

It was an eye-opening experience. These were much different tasting than my usual IPAs! But some of them - particularly, for me, the Dupont Avec Les Bon Voeux and De Struise Tsjeeses - were really awesome. I think I liked those two best because they were the most mild of them all. Many of the others were very malty, and, in the case of the Jolly Pumpkin, very funky - which is because the brewer uses a yeast that makes it taste funky on purpose (it's also fermented in wooden barrels and then the different barrels are blended together).

Any one of these beers would make a great stocking stuffer for the beer lover on your gift list. For the beer lover who likes to read (which perfectly describes me) pick up a copy of Don Russell's book Christmas Beer, which tells the story of Christmas beers and has a list (compiled last year) of the 50 best Christmas beers.

Here's to holiday cheer with some Christmas beer!