Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Great Mediocre Beer Experiment, Volume II: Mountie's Choice

Beer: Molson Canadian
Brewery: Molson (Toronto)
Type: Adjunct Lager
ABV: 5%

Despite the foregone conclusion of the women's hockey tournament, the final was truly epic, and our girls deserved to celebrate their success in style. Also, they looked totally badass doing it. Hopefully, the men can deliver in kind tomorrow, but we'll see...

A victory of the kind we witnessed two nights ago will always taste sweet, even if it happens to be toasted with Molson Canadian, apparently our nation's official beer. I, for one, have long held the position that Molson Canadian sucks, and vigorously upheld my position by never buying it and by scoffing at every pompous, nationalistic advertisement they put out. On the back of the can is a nice example of the "true Canadians drink Canadian" argument, which naturally pisses me off: "Only Molson Canadian has True Canadian Taste.* (Whatever the fuck that means.) It comes from over 220 years of brewing experience. A unique cold brewing process (lagering is cold brewing) and only the finest ingredients this land has to offer (I doubt it.) The result is a premium lager (at less than two bucks a can, hardly "premium") that pleases the world's toughest beer critics - Canada's beer drinkers. (Somewhere, a Belgian is laughing his ass off)."


I tend not to buy Molson's out of principle. As shareholders in Brewers Retail (i.e., the Beer Store), they've nicely made a habit of pushing aside craft brewers from beer store shelves, making it exceedingly difficult to order anything that isn't their product. (Try ordering a micro brew in the Beer Store line and watch the clerks roll their eyes as they try to find it "somewhere in the back"; meanwhile, dozens of angry customers behind you attempt to make your head explode with their collective impatient wills.) In brief, Molson's is everything I hate about macro breweries, so I've tended to avoid their product whenever I can.
But now, as part of my Grand Experiment, to give them another try. If I'm going to continue to scoff at Canadian, I should at least make sure that I actually dislike the beer. Of course if I like it, I can still hold true to my principles and not purchase it, but I still need to know. So, here goes...

After pouring into a lager glass, the beer doesn't look half bad for a macro lager. Pale golden, but certainly darker than others of the style. It leaves a fairly generous foamy head, that dissolves in to a surprisingly persistent ring. Some lacing, but this doesn't last long. Not a bad start.

The nose is pretty predictable. Corn, light malts, sugar, a bit of wheat, with the standard chemical tinnyness. Nothing too exciting or damning here.
After the first few sips, I've come to the shocking revelation that I don't actually hate this beer. It's actually fairly drinkable. It doesn't taste like urine or water-beer. It is, of course, incredibly boring; it's got the standard corn, malt and light hoppage of the adjunct style, but it tastes a little better than some of the others. This is, however an initial assessment; as I work my way through the beer, the true character of the brew comes forward. The finish is alright at first, but when the beer is allowed to warm, it gets more and more offputting. There's a chemical character to the finish that is making it increasingly difficult to drink. The last sips were quite bad. By the end, I'm fairly disappointed with it, but not as much as I'd initially anticipated. 

The mouthfeel is thin, but not watery. About right for the style, and with decent carbonation that lasts throughout. 

So, Molson isn't a great beer, but it certainly isn't a terrible beer. It's quite drinkable, and given the right atmosphere (a hockey game or an outdoor concert), it's not bad. But don't, under any circumstances, allow the beer to warm up. Drink this sucker as cold and as quickly as you can. Savouring is not an option here.
We'll see how Molson stacks up with the other macro brews as the Great Beer Experiment continues!!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Beer: Dos Equis Lager Especial
Brewery: Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma (Monterrey, Mexico)
Type: Adjunct Lager
ABV: 5%

Just got in from Mexico the other night - quite the adventure. And my quite the adventure I mean it's a bloody miracle that Michelle and I got back to Canada in one piece. To be sure, the trip itself was fantastic, lots of views like the one below, sand, booze and warm temperatures to boot. But thanks to the incompetence of our travel company, we missed our connecting shuttle to Cancun International Airport, which meant a crazy $100 cab ride at 130 km/h down the highway that, due to the Latin American Summit that was happening in Cancun, was loaded with policemen with M-16 rifles. God damn it...

Despite the frantic and infuriating finish, it truly was a relaxing and enjoyable trip, which was made exponentially better by the all-inclusive nature of the resort. Free food, free booze. Awesome.

As a dedicated beer geek, I was looking forward to sampling some of the local fare, but perhaps I was being a bit optimistic. There really was only one option at this particular resort, and that was Dos Equis. Amazingly, I went my entire Mexican trip without having a single Corona. As I understand it, these resorts operate on a contractual, Coke-vs.-Pepsi relationship with brewers, and therefore you either get Corona or Dos Equis, not both, and often nothing else. Either that, or the guy who owns the Gran Bahia chain really digs Dos Equis. In either case, my options for brews were extremely limited, but somehow I made do.

Pictured: Coping.

I did manage to get a bit of local flavor, however. On the drink menus under cervesa, they offered what I thought to be three other beers, but instead turned out to be variations of a beer cocktail known as michelada, or chelada. I particularly enjoyed the concoction in which the beer is served in a salt-rimmed glass with ice, lime, and tabasco. You can also get it mixed with some clamato for a modified Calgary Red Eye. Chelada is a style that's gaining popularity in the States, which unfortunately means Miller or Anheiser Busch will probably try to market pre-mixed chelada beers in yet another misguided attempt at replicating the success of Bud Light with Lime. It is unavoidable...

I've never really been fond of Dos Equis; like most adjunct lagers, it does what it sets out to do, but does it in the most spectacularly mediocre fashion. It's drinkable, I'm sure it's good on the porch and on the patio, but there ain't much to it. It's light golden, fizzy, with light hops and corn/malt flavour, and that's about it. But when the price is right (free) and the quantity is right (whenevers I wants one), Dos Equis tastes pretty damned fine. In a lounge chair on a sunny beach, with nothing but the sounds of the Caribbean and the company of a lovely lady in a bikini, Dos Equis tastes bloody fantastic.

A good lesson to take to heart: perspective is everything. (Grade: C- in Canada; B+ on a Mexican beach)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Irritating, arrogant marketing, but good beer!

Beer: Punk IPA (tagline: "post modern classic pale ale")
Brewery: BrewDog (Aberdeenshire, Scotland)
Type: IPA
ABV: 6%

Craft breweries, despite generally having more flavorful and diverse product, are like saplings in the rain forest. (Hear me out...I was watching a David Attenborough nature special and the simile works perfectly. Trust me.) As soon as their lives begin, they are at a colossal disadvantage: there's very little sunlight to be had at the bottom. Overshadowing everything they do are the giant tree macrobreweries that have firmly established their dominance over the forest. These breweries have had several decades for a head start, and get all the attention and nutrients they need to maintain their hegemony. In order to survive, the craft brew saplings have to find a way to get their little ray of exposure at the top, all the while competing with other saplings who want the same thing. Some piggyback on the giant trees and gradually force their way to the canopy, while others have to make their own path, all the while they have to make sure they aren't eaten by caterpillars. I'm not sure what caterpillars are supposed to symbolize, but on the TV this caterpillar it totally destroying a fern, and it's awesome.

One common method for craft brewers to get badly-needed attention is through unique, powerful, and sometimes controversial marketing techniques. These are the brewers that claim to cater to an extreme, dissatisfied consumer, and promise to provide a quality, super-awesome beer alternative. In the mid 90's, there was a brief craze for such "extreme" brews, and most of them didn't do so well, despite having ridiculous names and prudent product placement. Why? Because their beer tasted like swill, or their marketing techniques were ignored by the increasingly wary consumer. Although it's very difficult to predict how a consumer will react to your advertising (why did "Head On" succeed, but "Snakes on a Plane" did not?), brewers can always control the quality of their brews. If you're going to take the aggressive advertising road, you should at least back up your claims with good product. BrewDog is a good, recent example of this.

As their website suggests, BrewDog is a brewery for punks, whatever the fuck that means. The bottles look like something that you'd find at West49; aggressive, boldly coloured, but with that naturally-faded look that screams skateboarder chic. Even the logo looks like it could be found on skater apparel. Their brews all have ridiculous names that supposedly cater to a twenty-something, snowboarding crowd, like 'Trashy Blonde' pale ale (tagline: "you know you shouldn't"), and 'How To Disappear Completely' dark ale, a name which derives from a Radiohead song. To nobody's surprise, BrewDog's gotten into a bit of trouble over the years through its marketing tactics. Britain is particularly strict about prohibiting beer advertising that mocks or offends certain consumers, and BD got nailed for its light ale, which they derisively called 'Nanny State', and forced them to rethink their naming. As far as "extreme cred" is concerned, BrewDog's was validated last year, when they released 'Tactical Nuclear Penguin' (I'll admit, I like that particular name), a strong ale that measures in at a whopping 32% alcohol, making it the strongest beer in the world available for sale. Think about it: a third of that bottle is pure alcohol. Holy. Fuck.

There's a certain hipster arrogance about BrewDog that comes across both on the website and on the bottles. On the Punk IPA bottle, for instance, you will find a little speech on the label, which spouts the following sentiments:

"This is not a lowest common denominator beer. This is an aggressive beer. We don't care if you don't like it....It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to appreciate the depth, character and quality of this premium craft brewed beer...Just go back to drinking your mass marketed, bland, cheaply made watered down lager, and close the door behind you."

I kind of want to fly to Scotland just so I can hit the guy who wrote that in the groin. Unless that's too "conformist" of me...

The guys on the website ( kind of look like the douchebags who would spout this kind of arrogant, pretentious crap, which I know isn't a great sentiment on my part, but it's true. Look at the penguin guy; don't you just want to hit him? At the very least, however, the guys behind BrewDog look like they genuinely believe in their marketing approach, and therefore I will admit that this isn't just a stupid gimmick by members of the board who are trying to be "hip" and appeal to that "18-30 demographic." It may piss me off, but at least they're honest.

Despite the aggressive, in your face, non-conformist, emo marketing, BrewDog has a pretty good reputation in terms of quality. It's won several awards in national and international brewing competitions, and holds some pretty good grades at RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. After sampling their Punk IPA, I have to admit, it's pretty damned good.

It pours a surprisingly light, opaque yellow hue, very light in the typical IPA colour spectrum. There's a bit of head, which survives as a ring throughout the session, and it accompanied by a few, persistent flecks of lacing. The nose is of juicy hops, but the whole thing is undercut by a sweet, almost tropical fruit scent that really threw me for a curve. Impressive, but it could have been a bit bolder to be in accordance with my "taste and sophistication". The taste is well-hopped, as an IPA should be, with a solid, light malt foundation. Pronounced grapefruit, mango and pineapple notes as well, which is a bit unusual in the IPA world, but it works quite well here. Full-flavoured, yet very drinkable and refreshing. The mouthfeel is spot on for an IPA - well carbonated, and with a slightly creamy consistency. Really good stuff, actually; I can see myself downing a few of these bottles in an evening.

I've gotta hand it to BrewDog. Even though they have one of the most off-putting marketing campaigns in the brewing industry, they back up their claims with a tasty, well-put-together brew. I can certainly respect that, even though I'm still tempted to pick up that plane ticket to Scotland and deliver a much-deserved spleen punch to Johnny Non-Conformist. Still, this is certainly something other craft and micro brewers should learn from; if you're hoping to make it up to that canopy, you'd better have a good reason to be up there. (Grade: B+)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Further Proof that Americans Can Brew...

Beer: Liberty Ale
Brewery: Anchor Brewing Company (San Francisco)
Type: pale ale
ABV: 5.9%

Another day, another birthday brew. I've had Liberty Ale several months back, but it's always sound beer-tasting policy to revisit your old favorites. This particular offering is one of the more influential beers in American brewing history, and it also happens to be pretty damned good. First bottled in April of 1975, and in honor of the bicentennial of Paul Revere's midnight ride, Liberty Ale introduced many Americans to the Californian brewing tradition: bold, well-hopped, and just a little bit different. Like many a West Coast brew, Liberty Ale makes use of the Oregon-grown Cascade hop variety, which gives brews a strong, citrussy, spicy aroma and flavour. The bottle is also unique, hearkening back to the harbor days of yore. It also smacks of America, with a resplendent bald eagle perched atop a sheath of hops and barley. Soldier on, Mr. Eagle. Soldier on.

Liberty Ale sits on the lighter end of the pale ale colour spectrum, deep golden and with a slight opaque character. Produces a generous 1 inch head and lots of sticky lacing.

The nose is particularly nice. The hops are readily apparent; citrussy and juicy. The malt character to the brew is also found here, as the nose has a bit of bread, or biscuit to it.

Nice juicy hops dominate the palate with the malts rounding out the edges. Each works well with the other to produce a very balanced flavour, perfect for sipping. The finish is bitter, slightly peppery, with lime and grapefruit notes. Crisp and refreshing.

The mouthfeel is on the thinner side for the pale ale, but the carbonation level is right one the money, providing strong bursts of citrussy goodness. Very easy to drink.

The well-hopped nature of this brew almost puts it into the IPA character for me, but as I've been noticing recently, brewing styles are particularly difficult to nail down. Sometimes pale ales taste like IPAs, sometimes porters taste like brown ales. The rules aren't set in stone, so I just find it's easier just to go with whatever the brewery/the experts go with. Who am I to disagree? In either case, Liberty Ale is an exceptional brew; lively and interesting, and well worth the price. I only wish more California brews would head out this way; I'm still gunning for my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Russian River Imperial Stout! In the meantime, Anchor Liberty Ale will suffice - it's a terrific brew which I'll try to keep in regular circulation as best I can. (Grade: A)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Six more weeks of winter, six more weeks of winter ale!

Beer: St. Peter's Winter Ale
Brewery: St. Peter's (Suffolk, UK)
Type: Winter warmer
ABV: 6.5%

So some stupid ground hog and his buddies decided that there's six more weeks of winter. To hell with him. If it wasn't for that delightful Bill Murray film, I'd swear off Groundhog Day for good. But, "Willie" as he doesn't like to be called (seeing as how he's a groundhog and has no concept of what a 'name' is), reminded me of something; there's still more winter to trudge through, and at the very least, it means more time for drinking winter warmers! Here's another, generously donated by Ned and Leah! Thanks guys
This brew poured a surprisingly dark hue, almost the same colour as a porter or English brown ale. Started off with a thin, cream coloured head, but it didn't last too long. There's a nice ring around the glass, though, which has maintained its composure throughout the session.

I've got a bit of a cold...again...but I can still detect a very bountiful nose, with notes of toffee, caramel, spices, and malts. As the B-52's would say: good stuff. It's not quite hearkening back to Christmases and winters of yore, but it's still very inviting.

The taste is also exceptional. In addition to the notes found in the nose, I also detect a bit of hops towards the back, as well as a slight woody character that reminds me of a fireplace crackling in the night. If there's any beer style that elicits positive memories, it's definitely the winter warmer. The finish is crisp and dry, leaving with a slight chocolate minty effect.

The only negative I've found with the brew is the mouthfeel: it's a bit syrupy and under-carbonated. I think it needs a bit more kick to it to really make the spices and malts pop. As far as the weight goes, it's very similar to an oatmeal stout or a porter.

Certainly a rich and hearty brew for a snowy evening such as this. The ABV is a bit higher, and the thickness of the brew doesn't lend itself well to session drinking. This one is definitely a sipper. Another fine offering from St. Peter's. (Grade: A-)