Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Augusta Brewing Company

This one was a chance find, and a good one.  I envisage a return visit, but next time by bicycle.  But more about that later.

Her Indoors fancied a drive out to Augusta, Missouri: it had appeared as #3 on the list of picturesque drives from St. Louis, and we had already done #1 and #2.  Apparently, it is a cute town on top of some bluffs over the Missouri River and is at the center of many wineries.

We arrived in Augusta around noon on a 90 degree day, and the town was deserted.  It was quaint enough, in a boondocks kind of way, but there was nothing going on.  We drove around, and found the much advertised Augusta Winery which looked nice, if you like that kind of thing.  However, they did not serve food, but the people at the winery were kind enough to point us to the brewery, which was the only restaurant in town.

Down the hill we drove, until we came upon the Katy Trail, a former railway line now bike path that runs 237.7 miles across Missouri.  We parked near many bicycles, and turned our heads to look back up the hill at the voices coming from a cabin-like bar in the woods.
Augusta Brewing Company seemed to be full of cyclists: it was certainly the sweatiest and most spandex-y bar I have ever been in.  They serve food, so we took a table.

I first tried the Weizenbock.  It had a slightly cloudy straw color. It had a the usual fruit flavors of a wheat beer, with a warm alcohol body (7.4%) and a tart finish. But it was a good B+ beer, which was a real surprise.

Next up, was the Maibock which had a deep amber color and thin head. German yeast, fruity and again alcohol foward but a pleasant quaff. Malt, some citrus, tangerine, or was that satsuma? 7.1%.  

Her Indoors had the "1856 IPA"which she described as well balanced and thirst quenching. She felt that it was low-ish in IBUs (35 or so), but was hoppy enough so that "you don't taste that watery Budweiser ballpark beer flavor." No wonder: it is 6.7%. 

Anyway, the brewery was a great find: the food was decent, and the kids were very happy to partake of the Gatorade that many of the more depleted cyclists were also chugging.  We also had a pleasant post-prandial walk along the trail until I got stung by a bee.

So, the plan is, one kid-free day, I will drive my bike to a spot further up the Katy Trail, cycle 25-30 miles to this lovely brewery, sample many of their wares, and then cycle the 30-35 miles back (accounting for some zig-zagging).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The best home brew I have ever tasted

A couple of night ago, my friend Eric and his wife came over. They brought a four pack of the excellent Urban Chestnut Schnickelfritz Hefeweizen, and a large bottle of what appeared to be a Schlafly Holiday Ale. I thought this latter beer an unusual choice for a warm July evening, but Eric later explained to me that it was a home brewed hefeweizen. Clearly, this was a much more suitable beer for this time of year, but when I think of home brew, I think of cloudy, flat, slightly skunked liquid, or worse, the 'beer' I brewed a few years ago.

Luckily, my friend Eric appears to be a smart guy who has much more patience than me. He also lives next door to the head brewer at one of St. Louis's premier craft breweries, and it is with this fine gentleman that he "home" brews.

The beer poured a reddish amber color with a generous frothy white head. It was just slightly hazy as is to be expected with a bottle conditioned hefe. It had a distinct citrus hop aroma reminiscent of Troeg's Nugget Nectar. The first taste revealed a champagne mouth feel that was to be expected from the frothy head. This beer clearly had been brewed with patience: not only was it well carbonated, but there was a depth of flavor and balance between the hops and wheat. The hops did not overpower the wheat body, and there was a pleasantly tangy finish. There was plenty of fruit flavors: apricot and perhaps tangerine. The depth of flavors here was perhaps a testament to the quality of ingredients. I guessed 5ish ABV, and 30 ish IBUs.

This was an exceptional home brew and has made me think twice differently about home brewed beers, particularly those made by Eric and his friend.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Riptide vs 80 Acre: Maryland vs Missouri Hopped Wheat Beers

In 2007, the German Schneider brewery (famous for their wheat beers) teamed up with the progressive New York Brooklyn Brewery to produce the tangy hopped Weizen-bock Hopfen-Weisse.

In the past few months, two new hopped wheat hybrids have joined the stupefying and remarkable Hopfen-Weisse: Heavy Seas Riptide White IPA (Ale brewed with Spices) from Maryland, and Boulevard 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer from Missouri.

Riptide is an IPA witbier hybrid, and so not only uses Belgian yeast, but is spiced like a Belgian Wit such as Hoegaaden. However, this beer packs considerably more punch than that ubiquitous Belgian Wit at 7.25% alcohol and 45 International Bitterness Units (IBUs). The Heavy Seas website states that the beer is brewed with "Czech Saaz, French Strisselspalt, Calypso, Centennial and Cascade hops to create a big citrus nose and flavor with floral accents. To complete the feel of the wit style, we push the beer through our hopback which is loaded with Spanish sweet orange peel, CuraƧao bitter orange peel, coriander, and a generous helping of hops." After a lemony, hoppy nose, I clearly tasted the orange peel and coriander, but also with notes of nutmeg, ginger and perhaps cinnamon. The beer had a creamy mouthfeel and a bready, warm alcohol finish. This is a refreshing but satifying beer that was the favorite at a recent beer tasting party.

Rating: 94

In contrast, Boulevard Brewery's 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat beer is based upon a German style wheat (weiss) beer that is then hopped. Surprisingly, it has a lighter color which is odd since it is a German wheat rather than the traditionally very light Belgian wit. It also has a lemony aroma and a generous frothy head: it actually smelled more like Hoegaaden than Riptide. It was lighter and sweeter than Riptide, with honey and melon notes and just a slight hop tang. This is not surprising since it weighs in at just 5.5% alcohol and 20 IBUs. Her indoors thought that it was "a good summer beer." I have to agree: pleasant, probably good for a session on the deck as the grill heats up, but not a beer to get excited about.

Rating: 83

So, that's a win for Maryland, which is a shame, since we are moving from Baltimore, Maryland to St. Louis, Missouri in just 6 weeks! I guess I can always seek solace in that most famous of St. Louis beers: Budweiser. (This is a poor and desperate joke.)


Friday, March 22, 2013

Lagunitas Limited Edition Wilco Tango Foxtrot

     Browsing through the liquor store this afternoon, I came across this oddly named beer from the California brewing company Lagunitas. The last Lagunitas beer I had was the strangely named "Lagunitas Sucks," and that beer was anything but sucky. This one then, also has an odd name; maybe it's an acronym, but I'm not sure what it means. Anyway, Schoolie and family came over this evening, so I thought it was worth a try.
     It poured a dark ruby color with not a lot of head. It had a heady malts and hops aroma. Bottle says 59 IBUs. It is hoppier than I expected, particularly as it is described on the bottle as "A Malty Robust Jobless Recovery Ale."
     But, there isn't a lot of malt here, and there's something not quite pleasant. It's time to check out the beer wheel.
     Schoolie keeps saying "hedgerow" over and over again, but he discounts dirty diapers from the possibilities in the beer wheel. I'm figuring it is a little sour, or perhaps that the hoppiness is just not well balanced.
     We both think that there's something herbal here, but of course, both Schoolie and Her Indoors pronounce herbal without an "h".
     In fact, Her Indoors takes another sip and declares, "There's some bacon in there!" Of course, any hint of smokiness in the beer, and Her Indoors will accuse the beer of a bacon taste like my cherished Rauchbocks.
     She also states that the beer isn't hoppy at all, but then again, she Herself is sipping on the uber-hoppy Bear Republic Racer 5 (75 IBUs). Her tongue is essentially numb at this point.
     Overall, it's a little disappointing - it clearly is fairly strong (7.85%), but there isn't a great deal of complexity. For a beer with an OG of 1.062, it is even a little watery.
     So, I'm tapping out here, my rating is a 78. Over to you, my Ginger friend. And time to pour something a little more promising: Steen Brugge Tripel (with Gruut!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sprecher Piper's Scotch-Style Ale

Doc: After enjoying two other Sprecher ales, I had high hopes for this scotch ale, which incidentally, is one of my favourite styles. (That was not a spelling error, my bearded friend; my language has not been corrupted by Daniel Webster.). This was one of the most expensive single bottles I have purchased recently at $17, but the beer and wine storekeep assured me that it was worth my hard-earned shillings. Mind you, this was the same man who could not identify a Flemish sour ale for me despite six packs of Rodenbach perched right there on the shelf in front of him.

The beer poured from the large Grolsch-style bottle a promising deep ruby amber colour. It had a light head, but things did not begin to go wonky until I took the first sniff. It had a heady spirit aroma which presumably told the tale of whiskey barrel aging. (On another justifiably pedantic note, the Yanks have the spelling of this word correct, unlike the Scottish, who, because of their rain-addled brains forget the 'e' in whiskey.). There was also a distinctly peaty smoky smell; not all bad at this point, but in hindsight, the writing was on the wall.

The first sip brought an immediate overwhelming surge of whiskey, smoke, and that crusty sugar of old honey. It was too sweet, and the sugar was an unpleasant sickly, glucose-y, type. And then, instead of warming on the palate, the sugar stuck to the tongue leaving little else but a whiff of smoke.

I'm afraid that five or six sips were all I could manage before the rest went down the sink; my beer calories are too valuable for this kind of a kerfuffle.

As I mentioned, this was a huge disappointment, not just because I had enjoyed other Sprecher beers and had shelled out $17, but because I love Scotch Ales.

My rating: 78

Consider, instead, the wonderful Old Chub by Oskar Blues: drinking this is like wrapping yourself in a thick feather duvet. It has incredible dark chocolate, toasted nuts, coffee, even brown bread malts, and is thick and viscose; as it slides down your gullet it clings to the sides and warms your very innards. In fact, I think I'll have one now and settle down for an episode of Downton Abbey. And now I think of it, Old Chub is like Mr. Bates the valet: just seeing him makes you relax, feel warm and safe, and know that you are not going to be disappointed.

Schoolie: Where to begin? Should it be at the Mr. Bates of Downton Abbey reference or on the beer itself. It seems to me like the enjoyment of a nice beer may have more to do with the surroundings, the atmosphere, and the mood than the beer itself. My shilling packing friend and I had just returned from a overly crowded kids play zone and were a bit rattled as we looked forward to this nice looking (and expensive) beer. It was an 8.2% as I recall and was full of the whiskey flavors that were mentioned (and misspelled) above. But the mood was not right. We went to a Dogfish Head Immort Ale after the Sprechsr's, and it didn't seem right either, and the Immort Ale had been a tried and true friend in the past. We stepped back a few percentage points and went back to the Immort a little later, and it was delicious. Perhaps we should have done the same with the Scotch Ale. In any case, it didn't work for me either, and I will give it low marks as well, but I can't help but wonder that I may rate it much higher in a different setting and with a better lead up. So if Old Chub is like Mr. Bates, this beer is more like Lady Mary: pretty on the outside, but a bit hard to live with.

My Rating: 75 ... for now


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

International Tap house, Soulard, St. Louis

After landing in St. Louis, I headed straight to the Beer Advocate "world class rated" International Tap House in Historic Soulard. Wanted to try a variety of local beers, and they had 44 beers to choose from. Very friendly and helpful service, though it was quite empty during the Super Bowl. The Itap offers a five beer flight, and I chose 4 local beers, but then couldn't resist ordering what I believe to be one of the worlds best beers: Gulden Draak.

Urban Chestnut Hop Switch 3 - German yeast aroma with a slight hopiness. Marzen style but hoppier. Tangy citrus. Light color, light aroma.

Urban Chestnut Zwickel - very light and hazy in color - almost like a wit beer. Unpastuerized lager? Almost no aroma aside from slight yeasty smell. Light, but creamy finish, almost sweet. Yeast, bread on finish.

Schlafly AIPA. - Mid amber color. And decent head. Floral and citrus hop aroma. Nice alcohol/ bitterness balance. Also, a little creamy and some malt sweetness on the finish. A very pleasant session+ beer in the tradition of DFH 60, though with a little more body.

Civil Life Scottish Ale - dark, deep amber color. Heady malty aroma. A little coffee, dark chocolate aroma. Initial taste didn't quite live up to promise of another word for aroma. Almost more like a milk stout in taste. Could do with more alcohol and malts. Disappointing - not quite capturing the spirit of Scotch Ale

Gulden Draak - what a change. Warmth floods the system immediately. Deep amber wood word. Little bubble gum, heady fruits, full mouth feel with plenty of natural carbonation.

This bar is very pleasant, offers a large selection of excellent beers, and has friendly and knowledgeable bar keeps.


Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.

This small independent brewery was founded two years ago by a young German former Budweiser brewmaster; I believe that he was involved with developmental brewing for this beer behemoth. Anyway, once an apprentice to a small brewery in Germany, this brewmaster produces high quality German style ales, lagers, and wheat beers. It's located in a former factory in mid town St. Louis.

The place was almost empty when I entered except for several guys along one side of the bar who seemed to be brewers (again, beards and their own food in front of them were the clues.) The brew pub was a very pleasant environment, particularly as sunlight was streaming through the large plate glass windows on two sides of the bar. The bar had concrete floors and sturdy wooden furniture. theservice was attentive the barkeep knew his beers, hop varieties, and yeast strains. As is my habit, I ordered a flight and enjoyed the following beers:

Winged Nut: warm amber color with frothy head. Slight lemon hop aroma. Fizzy mouthfeel, warming to caramel and nut favors and citrusy hops. The menu described that it's brewed "with finely milled chestnuts, Willamette Valley hops, and a yeast strain that fans of Weihenstephan will recognize." Certainly, a creamy yeast is evident: spicy, Belgian fruit notes are evident. This is a very pleasant session nut ale. 5.7%, 25 IBUs. 92/100

Triticum - Hoppy American Wheat beer. Similar amber color and a good head. The menu promised mandarin orange flavors - not sure I could detect this, but citrus, toffee and candy flavors are prominent. Might be a little on the sweet side: the 35 IBUs may not be enough? 6%. 93/100

Dorfbier Dunkel - cloudy brown appearance with generous head. Nutty aroma, and dark roast malts evident in the first sip. Some coffee and roasted nut flavors. 5.5%, 20 IBUs. 91/100

Kleinmanneken Dubbel - cloudy yellow amber color and full head. Lemon sherbet aroma. Might have been a little flat - it didn't quite have the champagne like mouth feel I associate with Belgium. Also, it is lighter, fruitier, more citrusy, and less malty than many Dubbels. However, another very decent beer. 7.4%, 22 IBUs. 88/100

Also had their Hefeweizen and Hopfen Bavarian IPA (a lighter version of the epic Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen-Weizen) both of which were very good. I can really see the hefeweizen becoming a staple for me when we relocate to St. Louis this summer.

I highly recommend a visit to this brewery if you are in STL.