Just a Couple of Misfits: A Review of Six Solitary Brews Trying to Fit In

November 4, 2009

in Beery Scribblings

It is more than a little early for me to start hearing Christmas music in my head. In fact, it’s regrettably early. Nevertheless, it happened recently, while I was collecting my thoughts for this week’s post. (Mind you, a lot of stuff clatters around in that echoey hollow on a regular basis. Yet, when something suddenly increases in volume and rises above the din, I tend to listen up, whether I want to or not.)

nov 4

They may be different from the rest, but who decides the test of what is really best?

While I was rooting around in the fridge for something to write about, I noticed a handful of single beers that were purchased for review but, for one reason or another, went unanatomized. “Huh,” I thought, “what a bunch of misfits.” Which inevitably led to that saccharine song of independence, the centerpiece of a reindeer-based animated TV show, suddenly sounding like a siren in the fog of my subconscious. (Please, forgive me if I’ve now planted this earworm in your brain.)

So I marshaled my orphans in the hope that they might prove to be rewarding on their own (they were) and serve as a much-needed antidote to the tuneful torment I was experiencing (they didn’t). Ultimately, some cohesion did emerge from the relative chaos of this collective. Two turned out to be celebrators, for instance; there was an even split between lagers and ales; and most could be characterized as “balanced” and “easy-drinking,” which isn’t always the case with microbrews.

But that’s about it, as far as generalities go. The following sixer consists of standalones only, mere holdovers from forgotten or abandoned thought processes, with virtually no rhyme or reason for a review. It’s just a little post-Halloween rattling and prattling. Nothing more than an excuse to “crack tubes” on something new and dream a little dream (within a dream). This is Scribbleskiff, after all, and it’s how we roll. Enjoy!

Lhasa Beer, Tibet Lhasa Brewing Company. Although I received a bottle of this beer several weeks ago, I just haven’t been able to find a fit for it. With good reason: It’s one of the most unique imports I’ve encountered in awhile. It’s the only Tibetan beer on the market, for one thing, brewed on the world’s highest mountain plateau (the word Lhasa means “place of the gods”), and it’s got a conscience — 10% of the annual profits will be donated to “socially responsible initiatives” back home. I was a little concerned that its singularity would fizzle once poured into a glass. Luckily, my trepidations proved pointless. Beyond its typical, light-straw color and working-class carbonation, this pilsner proved more enlightened than its peers. According to the press kit, one-third of the beer’s malt is brewed using a native, huskless barley which contributes to “a clean taste, without any harsh or astringent flavors” (whatever that means). It’s certainly not as malty as some lagers, and gives off a nice, sweet biscuity aroma that’s accentuated by plenty of hops bite and flavor. It’s supposed to be available nationwide by year’s end and is definitely worth searching high and low for, especially to pair with light fare.

Shiner 100 Commemorator, Spoetzl Brewery. Brewed in celebration of the brewery’s 100th birthday, this limited-release doppelbock packs a double wallop of exuberance. Tawny, almost ruddy in complexion and overwhelmingly full of rich, malty flavors and aromas, from toffee and caramel to raisin, vanilla, and sherry, the beer makes me think the brewmaster was overdoing things a bit, on purpose. Often called “liquid bread,” the doppelbock style was traditionally crafted with a heavy dose of malted grain (and alcohol) to fortify fasting monks during Lent.   Smoother and creamier, sweeter and more filling (and slightly more serious) than its flagship beer, Shiner Bock, this celebratory Texan is ample enough to keep even the most zealous brethren smiling long past Easter. Get it while you can and enjoy a glassful with an earthy, buttery pre-dinner snack, like warm brie with roasted almonds and ginger snaps.

Whig Street, Penobscot Bay Brewery. My in-laws went to Maine this summer and all I got was a case of assorted local microbrews. (Such a gift makes me wonder why I ever settled for a lousy T-shirt.) I’ve enjoyed several bottles, but so far this one, a curious blonde ale, is the best of the bunch. The label uses terms I would not ordinarily prescribe to a favorite: “soft and delicate,” “uncomplicated,” “easy drinking,” and “comfortable.” And yet, that’s exactly what pours out — an expectation-defying, delicious, and very likable beer. In my experience, American blonde ales are, well, blond and show off a maltier, more subtle hop character with low bitterness. Classic examples include Redhook Blonde or Molson Golden. This Downeaster, on the other hand, is amber, with a subdued though no less sweet maltiness and lots of fruity hops aromas and flavors (including lemongrass and apple). Best of all, it’s low in alcohol and thus “easy to enjoy” (as advertised!) with some zesty tacos and fresh guacamole.

Saranac Black Forest, F. X. Matt Brewing Company. Even though this traditional Bavarian black beer is part of Saranac’s “core beer” collection, it’s the first time I’ve ever tried it. And it definitely won’t be the last. With its deep chestnut hue, malty-bready aroma, and creamy, roasted caramel flavors, this beer reminds me a little of Guinness. But it’s a bit sweeter and, even better, takes me back to one of the best beer-drinking moments I’ve ever had: downing several mugfuls of black beer at U Fleku, arguably Prague’s most famous brewpub. Now, whenever I want to remember that stolen afternoon, which also included lots of sight-seeing with close friends, searching for and locating the 500-year-old restaurant (in spite of the great vowel puzzle that plagues Czech signage), and enjoying plates of homemade sausages with mustard and brown bread, I can simply drink in this enchanting New York brew. (It also goes great with purloined Halloween candy, by the way.)

Millennium Ale, Old Dominion Brewing Company. Here’s another byproduct of a brewer’s attempt to capture (Jim Henson-like) time in a bottle. According to the packaging, “Millennium” is an English barleywine-style ale originally brewed in celebration of the company’s 1,000th batch of beer. Now an annual release, it’s noticeably sweet (because it’s brewed with Virgina honey) and strong (10.5% alcohol), with a generous helping of hops bitterness and a distinctive ring of yeast on the bottom for aging, to be enjoyed at any milestone. Normally, I like to sip a barleywine as an after-dinner treat, with a hearty oatmeal cookie, for instance. But on the night I first tasted this one, it proved an equal match to a dinner of “pigs in a blanket” (with homemade sweet-hot mustard) and creamy macaroni and cheese. A timeless combination, if ever there was one.

Whole Hog, Stevens Point Brewery. When I first noticed that the phrase “5-Hop” on the label was crossed out and the word “six” was scrawled in over top in what looked like black magic-marker, I thought it was a prank. But after opening it, I realized the marketing hype on this limited-release specialty beer may not be exaggerating its characteristics enough. Because there really are six hops used to create, as the label goes on to state, “a massive hop flavor,” this singular India Pale Ale should be called a “double.” In spite of its benign golden-amber color, it tastes as heavily (and heavenly) sweet and racy — and, at 8.5% alcohol, is as potent — as any of the best Imperials (like this old dog) I’ve ever had and enjoyed. In fact, had I known it really was such a hog, this beer may not have been penned up for so long.

So, there you have it, a mixed-up six pack’s worth of nonpartisan, new-to-me beers. Sidling up to these improbable shelf-mates may not make you want to become a dentist, but they could very well inspire a shiny red nose.

As always, tell us what you think. Have you tried any of these beers? If so, which did you like the best? Are there other, stubbornly independent beers in your fridge waiting to be discovered? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And be sure to visit (and join) the Scribbleskiff page on Facebook (find it here), where you can partake in wall-to-wall conversations, find additional information and suggestions from readers, and more.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie "Kristin's Brother" Pickett November 16, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Loved it!! As my first foray into the verbal tour that is Skribbleskiff, I thought it was great. The only two I’ve had was the Shiner and the Saranac…which would indicate that I love the Heavies – or did once upon a time. As a Hop Head, I’ve come to love my IPA’s and anything with “too much” hoppines. I’ll be on the lookout for that Whole Hog. Happy Holidays, Cheers, and Semper Fi.

Henry Mortimer November 17, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Thanks for the comments, Charlie. Glad you liked the blog and hope you like the beers. Definitely let us know if you go whole hog!

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