Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Salute to Dead Animals!

Beer: Dead Elephant Ale
Brewery: Railway City Brewing (St. Thomas, ON)
Type: American IPA
ABV: 6.5%

My brother and I went out for pints last weekend in Hamilton at the "Winking Judge", a truly excellent pub in terms of its craft beer selection and atmosphere. Seriously, check it out; it has a 3L bottle of Fin du Monde displayed over the fireplace. I plan to be buried with it.

Anyways, after sampling a few tasty local brews (Niagara's Best General Brock Stout; Magnotta West Coast IPA), I settled upon the delightfully-named "Delirium Tremens", a Belgian Strong Ale named after a symptom of alcohol poisoning. Damn was it good. It was served in a branded snifter glass that was covered in little pink elephants, possibly the most appropriate yet horrifying image ever to grace a beer chalice. Seriously watch "Dumbo" again, or youtube this shit and prepare to be re-traumatized:

Fuck you, Disney...

Anyway, the elephant glass prompted my brother's memory of sampling another local brew with an unusual name: Dead Elephant Ale. Naturally, I had to try this beer. With luck on my side, the LCBO happened to just bring in a few bottles of this offering from Railway City, so I snapped a couple up. At the cash register, the cashier asked me if I knew why the beer was called Dead Elephant Ale. Sadly, I couldn't think of anything until she prompted me with "it's brewed in St. Thomas." Ah yes, Jumbo....

Jumbo was an African Elephant who, upon his capture in Africa, became the star attraction of the Paris and London Zoos at the end of the 19th century. I guess he was a particularly big elephant; thanks to him, we now have the word "jumbo" in our vocab to mean super-bigly-huge. After a few years of living what I assume to be a comfortable and abuse-free life at a Victorian Era zoo, Jumbo attracted the attention of showman and all-around weird guy P.T. Barnum, who purchased the elephant for $10,000 and added him to his circus lineup. Several years of touring North America brought Jumbo fame and fortune, which was aided of course by his whirlwind romance with Jennifer Aniston. Sadly, in 1885, after performing in the bustling metropolis of St. Thomas, Ontario, Jumbo was crushed to death by a passing train (morbidly funny alert: the railway company responsible was called Grand Trunk...). His death's a pretty big deal in St. Thomas; there's a massive statue of him there, as is his majestic grave site, seen above. He's also the inspiration for the video chain Jumbo Video, better known to Ontario children as "the place where you get free popcorn and it perpetually looks like it's 1992."

Railway City Brewing decided to honor the memory of Jumbo by featuring a picture of him sitting on top of a train and drinking beer. All class. (actually, it's pretty awesome)

I've had some bad experiences with Railway City before, so I was a bit hesitant to try it once I learned who brewed this charming salute to animal death. At the KW Craft Beer festival, I tried their Iron Spike Blonde, and proceeded to barely avoid vomiting for the next 20 minutes. Holy mother, was it bad. I'll just say this: no beer should ever taste like boiled broccoli, and this one did. However, since it's an Ontario micro brewer, I like to give second-chances. Sometimes, individual batches (particularly ones on-tap) go skunky or foul, but on other occasions they taste just fine. (See my review of Heritage Lager) It's a problem that needs to be dealt with, but until then I'll still give them my support. The fact that this brew is in bottle form eased my mind somewhat.

Dead Elephant pours a somewhat light amber colour, and leaves a fairly robust white head that takes a good deal of time to recede. Lots of flecks of lacing. Not a bad looking brew.

The nose is particularly potent, and if you aren't used to American IPA's, it can come across as smelling quite foul. Notes of resin and pine, juicy hops, grapefruit and biscuits. There's also a slight buttery character to the nose, which isn't really doing it for me, but on the whole it smells fine.

Dead Elephant is a bitter beer, but if you give it a chance you'll get other flavours as well. It opens with bready malt and finishes with that strong resin hop character, which is a common characteristic in American IPA's. Some notes of grapefruit and raisins as well. The mouthfeel is slightly creamy, with a moderate body and good carbonation.

Despite the name, Dead Elephant was a pretty enjoyable local IPA, but I can see how batches of this can go awry. Ontario microbrews have a tendency of misusing hops, and this one just pushes the edge of palatable hop flavors. The buttery character to the nose is also a bit troubling; over time this has the potential of going foul. Luckily, I happened across a decent batch of this brew and ended up quite enjoying it. If your feeling adventurous, I suggest you give it a try, but if your experience is a bad one, it might be the batch. However, even if you have to drain-pour it, at the very least you'll have an awesome new bottle for your collection. (Grade: B-)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Double Review: Two Boring Lagers!, or: Trust Your Instincts!

Whenever I hit up the old LCBO (at least once a week if not more), there's always a good chance that I'll walk past a beer that I won't buy, even though I've never had it before and I have no justifiable reason for avoiding it. I just...don't want to buy it. Just by looking at the brew, I assume it's going to be awful, so I walk on by to greener pastures. Every once in a while, though, some of my synapses fire a little differently and my what-the-hell section of the brain decides to give that beer a go. "Even though it looks like just your average, run of the mill pale lager, maybe it'll be good!", it'll say. "Shut up," you'll respond. But eventually, you cave.

Here are two fine examples of why your what-the-hell region doesn't know what the hell it's talking about.

Beer: Tecate
Brewery: Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma (Mexico, obviously)
Type: adjunct lager
ABV: 4.5%

After spending a week at a Mexican resort drinking nothing but Dos Equis (the only brew they had), I figured I'd try another Mexican brew to provide a comparison. Except they're from the same brewery...damn it.

Tecate pours a light golden, with a thin, fizzy head that dissolves almost immediately. No lacing, no ring. Brilliant...

The nose is slightly better than most macros, and certainly better than Dos Equis. A bit of malt character with floral hops near the back. The taste is but a muted version of the nose. A bit more character than some, but still incredibly boring. Light malts, a bit of hops, slightly bitter finish. Bland, but drinkable. Certainly tastes better poured out than in the can. Although its watery, the carbonation isn't ridiculously spritzy, which is a plus for me. Pound-backable.

I can barely tell the difference between Tecate and other brews of the style, including Dos Equis. Not worth it. I suppose I'd give this one a slight edge, but if you're going to drink it, do it quickly and make sure it's cold.


Beer: Lech (it even sounds awful...)
Brewery: Lech (Poland)
Type: pale lager
ABV: 5.2%

Apparently, this is one of the best-selling beers in Poland. It's always nice to know that Europeans are just as capable of drinking mass-produced swill as we are...

I'd show you a picture of a poured-out pint, but I never took one because it looks EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME AS TECATE.

Pale golden colour, about a half inch head that dissolved entirely within about 40 seconds. No head or lacing whatsoever.

I could hardly detect a nose - light hops and malts, that's about it. Smells like a Euro lager.

The taste was very bland, with a touch of hops near the finish, but otherwords very ordinary pale lager flavor. Inoffensive, but incredibly boring. This brew was tough to finish, knowing I had far better beers tempting me from the fridge. Mouthfeel is thin, spritzy carbonation.

So there you have it. Two boring lagers that don't offer anything but a carbonated means to get you drunk, and there are much tastier and more satisfying ways to achieve this noble aim.

Avoid. Tecate gets a slight edge for being boring, but not bland. (Grade: Tecate: C; Lech: C-)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Great Mediocre Beer Experiment, Volume III: Tastes Just Like It Sounds

Beer: Schlitz Genuine Gold
Brewery: Schlitz (Originally Milwaukee, now Woodridge Illinois)
Type: adjunct lager
ABV: 5%

Part of the hold up on the Great Beer Experiment has been trying to find singles of all the different beers I want to try, 'cause I'm not buying 6-packs of this crap. I was fortunate to come across a random single of Schlitz, waiting sadly in the Aisle of Misfit Beers for someone to put it out of its misery. I was that someone. Then it turns out, this isn't actually Schlitz's flagship brand, it's an export version for Canada and brewed by Stroh's in Guelph.

It also turns out that this beer is just...awful. I'll try to find a bottle or can of genuine Schlitz lager, but for now...ugh...

Poured a very light golden into a pilsner glass. A very thin head (survived as a thin ring), remarkably a couple flecks of lacing. Visible, fizzy carbonation. Doesn't look too bad.

The smell is predictably boring. Corn, light malts, sugar, tin.

The taste is all kinds of bland. A kind of soul-crushing blandness that, suffice to say, makes for a bland experience. My heart is starting to hurt because of all the bland. The tinny, chemical taste becomes more potent as you work your way through it.

Mouthfeel is thin, watery, with spritzy carbonation.

This is one of the most boring beers I've ever had. Awful beer, at the very least, has flavour. This is....just...nothing. There is exactly nothing to this beer. I can't describe it, because to describe something, it needs to have qualities. Buddhists could use 'describing Schlitz' as a meditative technique.

Here's an experiment that will show you what I mean: Describe the taste of water to me. Just an ordinary glass of tap water. Or Dasani, it doesn't matter. You can't do it can you? That's what drinking Schlitz Genuine Gold is like. You know something should be in there, but your tastebuds simply can't find it. This is what they drink on the Neutral Planet.

Pictured: Schlitz' target demographic. Tell them I say...hello.

This is just watered down beer substance. At least Coors Light has less calories (I think).

Damnit, Schlitz! You made me recommend Coors Light!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Know Your Beer, Volume Two: What the hell is gueuze?

Beer: St. Louis Gueuze-Lambic
Brewery: Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck (Ingelmunster, Belgium)
Type: Gueuze
ABV: 4.5%

Gueuze is the lazy brewer's beer. At least it seems that way when you consider how it's made. Most modern beer is made up of four ingredients: grain (usually barley or in the case of gueuze, wheat), hops, water, and most importantly, yeast. Yeast is what makes beer beer; without it, you'd just have hoppy barley water, which might taste okay but sure as hell won't get you liquored. During the brewing process, the heating of the malted grain and water produces sugars, as the starches in the grain begin to break down. Yeast (being a living organism of course) feasts upon the sugars, producing carbon dioxide and our good friend and power-of-attorney, Mr. Alcohol. In today's breweries, yeast is added directly by the brewer; different yeast strains are added depending on which type of beer you want to brew.

When brewing gueuze, however, the brewer needs only to sit around and let nature do the work. Gueuze is a variation of lambic beer, which has been brewed in and around the area of Brussels for over 400 years. Lambic beer relies upon a process known "spontaneous fermentation", whereby yeast that exists naturally in the local environment will come in contact with the beer and ferment it. There's apparently something about the area that produces inquisitive yeasts that enjoy a fine feast of beer. Good people, those yeasts are. The result of all this science is a beer that can be incredibly sour, dry and champagne-like. It takes a great deal of time for these beers to age properly, a fact that tends to drive brewers away from the whole process. It's incredibly hard work; what is gained by not having to add a bucket of yeast is lost in the time it takes for the little suckers to do their thing. Only a few brewers still give lambic beer a go, and they're mostly found in Belgium.

Gueuze is just a variation of lambic. Basically, you take some 1 year old lambic beer, mix it with 2 year old (or older), add a bit of extra sugars, and let the yeast have at it. You still end up with a slightly sour brew, but the added sugars make it a bit more palatable for the masses. Kriek is another variation, in which sour cherries are added into the mix, giving you brews like Mort Subite. Cherry beer.

I've never had gueuze before, so when I saw this feller appear at the LCBO I snatched it up fast. Even the bottle makes gueuze look like something special; it's all dressed up like a mini bottle of champagne, with your standard Belgian "medieval" icon on the front.

Generally, you're supposed to pour lambics and gueuzes into a tulip or snifter glass, so that's what I did. If you don't have one, a extra large red wine glass works equally well. It's all about providing a lot of room to appreciate the nose (i.e., to stick your schnoz in and sniff it). St Louis poured a dark straw, almost copper hue. Not nearly as much head as I'd anticipated, but nevertheless it produced about a half inch with good lacing.

The nose was far sweeter than I'd anticipated. Everything I'd read about gueuze and lambics led me to believe it would be a dry sour beer, and I had mentally prepared myself for that. What I got was apple, sugar, a bit of vinegar sourness, and straw. Not unpleasant, but not what I'd been expecting.

The best way to describe the taste of St. Louis gueuze is to take apple juice, add apple vinegar and sugar, and to picture yourself in the middle of a hayfield in late fall. A totally different beer experience, but again, not what I had expected. The mouthfeel is certainly champagne-like, with thick, visible carbonation. I can predict drinking a lot of this will make you drunk.

A few reviewers on beeradvocate slammed this brew for not being "lambic enough", which I can't really disagree with. I figured that this was about as safe and marketable a lambic brew as the LCBO was going to provide, and while I'm thankful for the experience, I still don't think I've really given the style a fair go with this. It's just far too sweet, almost like a cooler, which is also probably how it's marketed in Europe. It went down well, I enjoyed it and everything, but I think I'll really get the full lambic experience down the road. For now, however, I'll make do with this. (Grade: B)