Taking a Vacation from Hop-Bomb Beers

riegele-doppelbock-hell
Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar

Do I like America’s hoppy ales? Absolutely.

I had my first one maybe 20 years ago. I can’t for the life of me recall what brew it was—a Sierra Nevada? An ale produced by one of my home brewing friends?

Regardless, the flavor was a revelation. My palate was so used to the thin, flaccid, weak lagers that were omnipresent in our great nation. This pale ale or India Pale Ale boomed in my mouth. It offered both malt sweetness and a florid, crisp finish.

Clearly, I was not the only American who was impressed. Highly hopped brews moved from brewpubs and beer-geek shops to groceries and the corner bar. And, America being the competitive place that it is, these brews got hoppier and hoppier. Making the bitterest beer possible became a point of pride for brewers, and a way to grab media attention. The hop shark was jumped a five years ago when Ontario’s Flying Monkeys claimed it had produced a 2,500 IBU ale. A Budweiser contains about 10 IBU, and more than a few online sources note the human palate has trouble discerning differences above a 100 or so IBU. Even Dogfish Brewery, which make some very fine and intriguing ales, not long ago touted Hoo Lawd, which scored 658 International Bitter Units (IBU).

These days, hoppy beers end up in my glass more often than not. In part, that’s because the eateries I go to tend to offer a bipolar beer menu—Coors, Miller, and the like, and lots of big ales, with maybe a few stouts and such. Chain grocery stores also stock these two extremes of beer heavily, along with shandy and fruit beers that little appeal.

So, I was delighted when an unexpected package arrived the other week carrying Riegele beers from Augsburg, Germany. The Wall Street Journal has reported that some brewmeisters are rebelling against German government rules limiting how brews may be made. I, however, am glad to see German breweries continue to make beers that taste, well, like a grain-based drink.

Riegele Commerzienrat Privat is a disarmingly simple Dortmunder brew. This dark straw colored drink has nearly no head, is slightly sweet, and slips from creamy (on the sip) to dry (on the gulp). Riegele Speziator Doppelbock Hell (a Maibock/Helles bock) is a little darker, and tastes very different. It’s more viscous, more malty, and weighs in at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. Riegele Augustus Weizen Doppelbock is a foamy mouthful. It is loaded with malt and shows the crazy wheat beer notes of banana and raisin.

Don’t get me wrong—I’ll enjoy hopped ales until the day I die. But taking a vacation via the beers of Germany has been very invigorating.

(This piece also was published by the American Spectator.)

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Barenjager Honey Liqueur, Bushmills Irish Honey Liqueur, and Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur

Barenjager LiqueurBushmills Irish Honey LiqueurWild Turkey American Honey Liqueuer

The winter cold season is upon us, and we are making toddies nightly. A measure of booze, a slice of lemon (pestle it in the booze), some honey, and steaming water atop it. Simple.

Some time back, we gave a glowing review to Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey Liqueur. It works just fine for toddies.

But, JD is not the only honey hooch worth trying. Here are three other options that we have used lately. All of these honey liqueurs might be purchased through our preferred online retailer.

Barenjager (70 proof; $25  bottle) is a classic. It is a nice mixture of sweet honey and intriguing herbs. (Rating: Very Good) Read more at http://www.barenjagerhoney.com/.

Bushmills Irish Honey (70 proof; $24) is a new entrant to the market. It shows mild honey and the unmistakable Bushmills’ grainy flavor. (Rating: Good) Read more at http://www.bushmills.com/BMBushmillsIrishHoneyDetail.html.

Wild Turkey American Honey: (71 proof; $22) also is fresh to market. It is the most flavorful of the three, with a fat Bourbon aroma and honey playing a distant second fiddle. (Rating: Very Good) Read more at http://www.americanhoney.com/.

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Summer Wines Survey: What to Drink?

Casal Garcia NV Vinho Verdeby B.D. Fischer

What to drink this summer?

Like most serious wine guys, I poo poo “red in winter, white summer” to the exact same extent that I poo poo “red with beef, white with fish.”  Like most things, it is a matter of context.  There is nothing intrinsic to our path around the sun or even the temperature that demands one wine over others.  Rather, there are contexts partially intrinsic to our equinoctial and solstitial relationships that inform and delimit our wine choices.  I present here for your drinking pleasure three of those common to summer, with concomitant recommendations:

At a Barbecue: Icardi Barbera d’Asti, 2011

Jay McInerney famously recommends Barbera for pizza, which while I can’t get behind it demonstrates a certain largeness of thinking. (I don’t see what’s wrong with Chianti, as college seniors have been proven over two straw-thatched generations.) His reasoning is that the acidity of the tomato sauce presents a singular problem in combination with the cheese and (god willing) sausage.  The first demands a hero acid to stand up in kind to the bully, a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc, both of which are inadequate to the fatty umami of the other components.  Thus the dilemma.

Enter the logic of Barbera.  Unusual for a red, its structure is supplied by high acid and wispy tannins.  McInerney’s logic of pizza therefore applies equally to the barbecue, where like as not we are presented with meats drenched in tomato bases of varying sweetness and vinegar.  Barbera is to a summer barbecue to what Beaujolais is to Thanksgiving, and complements without complication.  The 2011 Icardi Barbera d’Asti I consumed recently was red almost to purple and yeasty on the nose with sharp berries.  It required no decant and displayed a generosity I find mostly absent from Italian reds, which tend toward the emotional flintiness of those who came of age in the 1930s.  Mouth-watering acid in the mid-palate with practically no tannins, the wine changed not at all in the glass save for a fruity broadening to encompass a more crowd-pleasing strawberry.  The barbecue was half over, but the whole bottle was gone. Imported by Vinifera Imports. Price:  $16. (Rating:  Very Good)

In the Pool or at the Beach: Grüner Veltliner

In the U.S. wine market the Austrians are cursed.  Aside from Riesling, which is more associated with Germany, their two great wines are Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. (The Teutons aren’t much for reds as we know them; try a German Pinot sometime and you’ll see what I mean.) Despite the Germanic origins of English, both present significant pronunciative difficulties for Americans.  With it strange spiciness Gewürztraminer is difficult on the palate, too, and tends to induce love-hate reactions.  Not so Grüner Veltliner, an elegant wine which is exported almost exclusively from Austria and deserves a wider audience.

Don’t make the mistake I did with a recent bottle of 2011 Lust & Laune, which was to chill it to 43 degrees. (If you don’t have a wine chiller–and it’s a wine toy worth having if there’s any wish to rise above dilettante–this is all day in a refrigerator.) It weakened the acid and brought out some unpleasant petroleum notes; 49 would have been more appropriate.  As the wine warmed in the glass, however, it took on the restrained qualities of a Hapsburg at court, neither overly acidic nor sweet, refined grass aromatics and mild spice in an admirably unitary package.  A paradigmatic Grüner is perhaps a bit weightier, but this was still an excellent everyday summer white, especially with the waves lapping in the background. Imported by:  Magellan Wine Imports. Price:  $13. (Rating:  Good)

 

6:37pm On a Tuesday, After Work on the Porch, Top Two Buttons Undone, and a Slight Sweat: NV Casal Garcia Vinho Verde

My shorthand recommendation for Vinho Verde is “wine soda,” and to drink it is to indulge the pleasureful id, frustrate language, and forestall analysis.  I have never known a person who tried Vinho Verde and was not delighted.  As the reputation of Prosecco rightfully ascends, do not forget the Portuguese entry in the carbonation sweepstakes.  It will never find an easy home at a fancy banquet, but thank the maker we spend little of our lives at fancy banquets.  And it is cheap.

Literally “green wine,” Vinho Verde is the name of the region in the far north of Portugal, not the grape, and “green” refers to its age rather than its color for the wine is meant to be drunk young.  In color, it is generally white or rose–the reds are hard to find (I have never had one).  The NV Casal Garcia I consumed recently was a rose, the finest example of the species I have encountered and widely available.  The nose is of light strawberry, the kind of soft smell that carries a long way on a slight breeze.  At first taste there is a slight pungency from the skins that produce the beautiful deep pink, but this gives way to the acid that is as Newt Gingrich claims that government should be, limited but strong. (A white Vinho Verde is likely to be more LBJ-ish in its acid.) The appeal of the wine in the mouth is not in its flavor but in the feeling it inspires, the very definition of cliches of crispness and refreshment.  At 10.5% ABV it is everything in moderation, but not the Brahmin moderation of a Grüner.  Rather, it is the uncomplicated lounging of the slacker, a loose restraint that is never tight and always a good time, at least in moderation. Imported by:  Maverick Wine Co. Price:  $8. (Rating:  Excellent)

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Gerstacker’s Nurnberger Markt Gluwein

What a deal!  For about $7 you can get a bottle of this spiced red wine.

It is so easy to enjoy—simply heat it up slowly in a pot (or crock pot), then serve it.  It is 10% alcohol, so it’s not boozy.  It fruity and has some baking spices.  Yum.  Mulled wine is delicious on a chilly night. (Rating ***3/4)

You can order it through our retailer here.  Be smart—order it in bulk and you’ll reduce your per bottle shipping costs!

 

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Berliner Kindl Weisse Schankbier and Full Sail Session Lager and Session Black Lager

As mentioned earlier, we are SWAMPED with samples. So please pardon the review dump.

Berliner Kindl Weisse: Fat chance that you’ll find this funky German beer in the U.S. Our globetrotting friend, Baird, brought some back from his bicycling trip to Germany. (God, our lives are dull in comparison.) He enjoys it with a bit of fruit syrup, as did we, though straight up also is pleasant. Note: if you are thinking this beer will taste like the typical clove-y, nubblegum-y wheat beer, you are mistaken. KINDLE WEISSE is slightly sour, almost like Gueze, hence folks habit of putting raspberry syrup in it. (Rating ***3/4) For more information, see http://www.Berliner-Kindl.de. (Of course, you need to be able to read German.) Or you might also read a bit at http://www.germanbeerguide.co.uk/berliner.html.

Full Sail Session Lager and Session Black Lager. The good stuff just keeps coming from FULL SAIL of Oregon. We liked the SESSION LAGER (Rating ***1/2) and loved the BLACK SESSION LAGER (Rating ****1/2). The latter had the body of a lager but toasty, chocolate-y notes. Awesome. For further information, surf to http://www.fullsailbrewing.com/session.cfm.

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Oktobertfest at the German Embassy in Washington, DC

Aren’t we lucky? The Rosen Group, who does PR for DRAFT magazine (a beer glossy), pitched us an invitation to the Oktoberfest held at the German Embassy. What fun we had! Horst D. Dornbusch, the author of Prost!, the easy-to-read book on German beer, was on hand. There was music, dancing, heaps of food, and folks dressed in both Black Tie and German finest.

We were given a beer stein when we entered, which we used to sample the dozen or so German beers being poured. The on-tap TUCHER HELLES HEFEWEIZEN was very refreshing (Rating ****),and the WARSTEINER PREMIUM OKTOBERFEST was malty sweet (Rating ***3/4).

Moving onto the bottled beers… The ZOTLER KORBINIAN DUNKEL struck us as pleasant but bland (Rating ***), and the ST. GEORGEN-BRAU KELLER BIER, an unfiltered, low carbonation lager, was intriguing — its slightly dry, slightly malty, and slightly bitter. (Rating ****) We enjoyed the MECKATZER GOLD, which was clean and showed citrus notes, making it a nice palate-cleanser. (Rating ***3/4)

The stars of the show were the LAMMSBRAU ORGANIC DUNKEL, which was light-bodied and delicious (Rating ****1/4), and the unbelievable MILTENBERGER HELLES HEFE-WEIZEN, a wheat beer with an almost effervescent body that boomed with clove, bumble gum, and banana notes. (Rating *****)

All in all, we and the couple hundred others who thronged the Embassy had a blast. We’ll put it on the calendar for next year, for sure.

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