Monday, October 31, 2011

Video Blog: The Wall Street Journal does their own Pumpkin Beer review

The Wall Street Journal thought so highly of our pumpkin beer review they decided to do one of their own the next day.  However, their judges don't seem nearly as enthusiastic as ours.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Tasting Results – And the winner is . . .

The Great Pumpkin Tasting ended Friday night right about the time the Cardinals took the World Series from the Texas Rangers.  And, like this Game 7, there were no surprises.  Just like everyone knew the Cardinals had the momentum to make them the favorite to win it all, I had a pretty good idea which beer would come out on top in our blind taste test before we even started. 
After tasting 19 brands of pumpkin ale, one brand stood out so much that 6 of the 8 judges chose it as their favorite without knowing what it was.  3 of the judges were even confident enough to name the beer in question. 

Side Note:  I would challenge any life-time Bud drinker to do this when Bud was put up against just 5 other bland macro lagers.  His beer would be lost in that small pool of mediocrity.

Here’s how the test went down:

After lining up the 19 different bottles so the judges could see what they were up against, my brother Brian and I took the beers out onto the porch to keep them at a cool 45 degrees and out of sight of the judges.  We poured each into 8 small cups and allowed the judges to take their time smelling and sipping each and recording their observations.  They were asked to describe the beer as best they could and give it a rating between 0-5, 5 being the best.  The brands of pumpkin beers they tasted, in order, were:

1.      Smuttynose

2.     Uinta

3.     South Hampton

4.     Lakefront

5.     River Horse

6.     Wolaver’s

7.     Dog Fish Head

8.     Shipyard Smashed

9.     Post Road

10.  Blue Moon

11.   Sam Adams

12.   Shock Top

13.  Elysian

14.  Hoppin’ Frog

15.  Landmark

16.  Southern Tier

17.  Weyerbacher

18.  St. Ambroise

19.  Fisherman’s
Some of the descriptors the judges used were unique to say the least:

“Smell – Bile,  Taste – More bile”
 “Smell – None, Taste – Some sort of cleanser”
“Smell – Clorox, Taste – Gourd”
“Smell – Dirty Diaper, Taste – Smokey Memphis BBQ”  (I don’t know if this says something about the beer, the baby or the BBQ – maybe all 3)

Three Judges were able to pick the mass produced macro beer out of the bunch naming #12 as the Shock Top.

The overall winner was described as: “inviting”, “buttery”, “delicious”, “hazelnut” and “fantastic”.  The average rating for the top pumpkin ale was a whopping 4.7 out of 5.

The average rating for each brand is as follows:

            Brand                                     Rating

 1.       Smuttynose                         1.7                 
2.        Uinta Punk                           1.8
3.        South Hampton                  3.0
4.        Lakefront                              2.5
5.        River Horse                          2.7
6.        Wolaver’s                             2.5
7.        Dog Fish Head                     2.6
8.        Shipyard Smashed             3.4
9.        Post Road                             3.1                 
10.      Blue Moon                          1.9
11.      Sam Adams                         3.3
12.      Shock Top                           2.3
13.      Elysian                                  3.0
14.      Hoppin’ Frog                      4.0
15.      Landmark                            1.5
16.      Southern Tier                     4.7
17.      Weyerbacher                     3.6
18.      St. Ambroise                       2.8
19.      Fisherman’s                        2.8

The Southern Tier Imperial Pumpking brewed in Lakewood, New York has always been my favorite and I was pleased to find out that I am not alone.  To my taste buds, it has a sweet, nutmeg flavor that tastes so good on my tongue I’m hesitant to let it go down my throat.  As an Imperial Ale, it’s brewed to carry a pretty high alcohol content.  But the 8.6% ABV is more than masked by the sweetness and flavor. The Pumpking, which I recently reviewed, gives you a good “bang for your buck” at $7.99 per 22oz. bottle.

Another standout was Frog’s Hollow from Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron, Ohio.  The judges described this Double Pumpkin Ale as “spicy”, “nutmeg” and “cinnamon” and gave it an average rating of 4.0. 

What are your favorite Pumpkin Ales?  Are there pumpkin ales we should be including in next year’s test?  We’d love to know.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The World Series of Pumpkin Beers

Our "man in the field", Brian, was able to secure 2 last entries into the Pumpkin Beer Tasting.  He was traveling in upstate New York on business this week and was able to find two obscure pumpkin ales.  Landmark Harvest Pumpkin Ale is brewed  Syracuse, NY.  The furthest from home state award goes to Night Owl Pumpkin Ale brewed by Elysian Brewing Co. in Seattle, Washington.  We are approaching 20 different pumpkin beers for our taste test this weekend.  Things are getting interesting!  I can’t say that this competition is going to be as exciting as that Game 6 of the World Series last night between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Ranger, but in the end there will only be one winner. . .

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Two More Pumpkin Beers from mainstream breweries

The pumpkin beers keep flowing in!  Against my better judgement, I accepted two more additions to the Pumpkin Beer Tasting I’m hosting this weekend.  These beers are from the bigger brewers:  Blue Moon Harvest which is produced by Coors and Sam Adams Pumpkin from Boston.  Though I like the Blue Moon wheat and even credit that beer with starting my interest in craft brews, I’ve been burned recently buying “micro” beers from macro brewers.  Sam Adams does have a wide selection of beer styles, some of which are exceptional.  In the end I know, I just can’t say no.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2nd Annual Great Pumpkin Tasting

This year we have doubled our selection of pumpkin beers to sample and rate.  Thanks to early arrivals and some connections in the family, we have been able to get our hands on 12 different pumpkin ales. There will be 8 thirsty, craft beer drinkers rating these beers and determining their favorites.  We have some perennial front runners like Dogfish Head and Imperial Pumking.  But don’t count out the new comers: Smashed Pumpkin and River Horse.   The big day is Friday and I will be reporting the results over the weekend.  So stay tuned for the results of our blind taste test.  I’m hoping that I didn’t over buy or my evaluators will be blind drunk!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Home brewed Chocolate Imperial Stout

I come from a family of beer lovers.   There are five boys and we all have a thing about beer.  Now the next generation is getting into the act.  My brother Brian was nice enough to document his thoughts and feelings about brewing his first successful batch of beer at home with his son.

My son Sean & I had an emotional Saturday afternoon filled with great joy.  We bottled our first home brew. 

The process started three Saturday's ago with the brewing of an Imperial Stout.  We agreed to add our own signature taste to the beer by turning it into a Chocolate Imperial Stout.  A fight quickly ensured in my mind because I now couldn't decide between turning our first home brew into a Chocolate Imperial Stout, a Dark Chocolate Imperial Stout,  a Belgium Chocolate Imperial Stout, a German Dark Chocolate Imperial Stout........I think you can see where this was going; NOWHERE.

Sean reached up, ripped me from the ceiling and reminded me of my guiding principle of life: K.I.S.S. = KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.  Our Beer making had begun.  The first fermentation process took a week followed by a two week second fermentation.  The picture shows the final bottling process and now A LONG AND PAINFUL 2 TO 4 WEEK WAITING PERIOD for the beer to carbonate.

PS - Sean & I have also had to incur the cost of adding additional security measures around the house.  My brothers have been attempting to break in a steal our LIQUID GOLD.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Beer Snob

By Tom

I like craft beer, but I don’t consider myself a beer snob. I’ll drink and enjoy what’s available. Yeah, I may prefer to have something “better” on a given occasion but if I’m at a barbeque I’ll enjoy a hamburger while I might have preferred a nice steak. I think you know what I’m saying. Another problem I have with beer snobbery is the insistence that large breweries are incapable of turning out good beer. A great example is Samuel Adams. As Yogi Berra might say, the brand has gotten so popular that nobody drinks it any more. I exaggerate here, but I’ve heard plenty of beer snobs turn their noses up and lump Boston Beer Company in with the mega brewers. Samuel Adams is nothing less than a craft microbrewer going big time and they make a lot of very decent beers.
Tonight I picked up six pack of their Latitude 48 IPA because I distinctly heard it call my name as I walked down the beer aisle in the local Stop & Shop. That happens to me sometimes. Probably because I don’t get out to brew pubs nearly as often enough as I need to maintain my sanity. It pours nice, smells good and is a good, if not excellent, IPA with a little extra kick of hops. Somewhere short of a double IPA, I’m sure some would appreciate the added hops without having it go overboard. Definitely worth a look if you’re an IPA fan. Would go great with a batch of spicy wings.
I also picked up a sixer of Beck’s Oktoberfest, not because it spoke to me, but because I wanted to have something I hadn’t had before, I had nothing left in the house, pickings were slim and, well, it’s October. This one was a disappointment. Despite the very nice amber color it has a very thin mouth feel and is very light. It sort of tastes like regular Beck’s with some toasted caramel flavor thrown in.
I think what I really need to do is go out and try some these great pumpkin ales I'm hearing so much about. Enjoy the fall!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pumpking and Maple Meatballs

My turn to cook at home and I decided to cook spaghetti and meatballs for me and the boys.  I was in a pumpkin mood so I busted out a bottle of Imperial Pumpking from Southern Tier Brewing Company to see me through the process.   First the meal:



 2 pounds lean ground beef
 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
 2 tablespoons dried parsley
 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
 1/2 teaspoon oregano
 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
 2 eggs, beaten


2 jars Ragu spaghetti sauce
 1 teaspoon garlic powder
 2 teaspoons salt
 1 teaspoon maple sugar
 1 bay leaf
 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1.     Preheat oven to 350

2.     Combine all meatball ingredients into a large bowl.

3.     Mix with bare hands and get messy

4.     Roll into about 20 meatballs

5.     Put on baking tray

6.     Bake for 15 min until brown

7.     Add all sauce ingredients into large pot

8.     Bring to boil and simmer for 60 min

9.     Add meatballs to sauce while it simmers

10.  Serve over spaghetti

The sugar is added to the sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.  I substituted maple sugar in order to better complement my beer which is brewed with caramel malts that give this beer a maple syrup flavor.  Maple meatballs sounds weird but, believe me, they taste great. 
Imperial Pumpking:

The Pumpking is simply the best pumpkin ale available in the New York area. I’ve tried many brands, but Southern Tier has the right recipe.  It has the sweet aroma of spiced pumpkin with a little bitter bite.  This one, two punch is enough to satisfy any craft beer fan. All this flavor covers the 8.6% ABV pretty well.

At the last minute we opted to go with the meatball hero instead of over pasta. First bite: hearty with just a touch of oregano coming through.  I can’t say that I taste the maple sugar but I feel better knowing it’s in there. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pumpkin Ales at Bailey's

Tis the season to enjoy the great tastes of pumpkin beers.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of early arrivals at one of my favorite local hangouts, Bailey’s in Blauvelt, NY.  Baileys is the perfect combination of local watering hole and great family restaurant.  It’s the kind of place where you are bound to run into an old friend or neighbor.  On this particular occasion, I caught up with a good friend’s younger brother and a local judge and his wife out for a quick bite.  My high school baseball coach was even in the house. 
Our group consisted of three generations and we felt right at home at a table near the bar.  It’s a mature bar crowd and there is never a worry about what the kids might hear from the bar. 

Bailey’s is known for their great pizza and BBQ.  The pizza is thin and crispy with just the right amount of cheese.  We didn’t opt for the BBQ but Bailey’s Smokehouse has some of the best ribs in Rockland County.  The pulled pork is also delicious. 

The highlight of this dinner however, was the beer.  Bailey’s has been growing their beer list to the point where they now have about a dozen taps and another 15 -20 in bottles including Keegan’s Mother’s Milk, Ithaca Apricot Wheat and even Gluten-free Red Bridge.  I chose a Post Road Pumpkin to start off.  It has a nice aroma and a smooth delivery.  The bitter finish lets you know it’s an ale.  I was very happy with my selection until I tried the Dogfish Head Punkin on tap. 

DFH does so many things well and this beer is no exception.  From the first whiff, it’s clear that this beer is going to be a treat.  The sweet spiciness delights the nose before the liquid hits your mouth.  The taste is hard to describe other than to say it’s all the good things you want in a pumpkin ale: nutmeg, brown sugar, slight hoppiness.  All together they make for one of the best beers of any style I’ve tried.

I ordered a second, took a bite of my slice and sat back taking in all the sights and sounds.  Family, friends and great food and beer; what else could a man ask for?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Brown Ales of Autumn

Fall is my favorite time of year for several reasons.  My birthday falls in fall.  Football season is in full swing. And the beers of fall are some of the tastiest you can find all year.  Brown ales, which are hitting the shelves now, can have a sweet, caramely flavor that leaves you wanting more.

My local Shop Rite grocery store had cases piled high of seasonal brews. So I helped myself to a six pack of Sierra Nevada Tumbler from California and Vermont’s Long Trail Harvest.  At $7.99 each, I thought this price was a steal for a good craft beer. I thought wrong.

As is my way, I wanted to see which of these mid-sized regional brewers did the best job with this style of beer.  So I did a head to head taste test:

The Long Trail poured a copper color with a one finger head.  It had some caramel notes to the smell.  The first sip showed its creamy mouth feel. That’s when things started to go down hill.  This beer had no discernible taste.  It reminded me more of the British browns I have had, like Newcastle, that don’t stand up to a good American brown ale.  As it warmed, I began to feel like I was drinking dirty dish water.  I poured the remaining beer down the drain and opened the Tumbler.

Sierra Nevada does a solid job with its flagship pale ale and I was hoping for a similar quality with this style.  The Tumbler poured a similar copper color with a three finger head.  The nose was less sweet and more hoppy.  The taste was bitter and coffee-like.  It was not terrible, but it was not enjoyable either. There was no sweetness that I have come to expect from a brown ale.

I wasn’t going to finish this taste test with a lack luster beer. So I went down into the garage, where I keep my beer collection, and found one last bottle of Ellie’s Brown Ale.  Ellie’s is made in Colorado and, though I have never reviewed it, it is one of my favorites.  This beer pours a dark brown with a nice head.  The caramel notes jump up to greet my nose.  The first sip is heaven: chocolate beer or beer chocolate; whichever you prefer.  It has that same bitter sweet taste that makes dark chocolate so appealing. As I drink, a slight coffee taste is evident.  This is what a brown ale should taste like.

I pour the Sierra Nevada down the drain and sit back and enjoy my Ellie’s.  I’ve learned a valuable lesson today: Don’t be so quick to jump at the Mid-sized brewers offerings, especially if they are making their way into the mainstream market place (super markets).  My local beverage center allows me to mix a six so I can try different styles without breaking the bank.  Because, lets face it, good craft beer is not cheap.  The Ellie’s was about $2.00 more per six than the other two.  That’s 25% more expensive.  But I would argue that you’re getting 200% more quality from a small brewer. 
Lesson learned.  Anyone want to buy a couple of five-packs?  Cheap?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Prohibition Parts 2 & 3

After being riveted to the TV for 2 hours on night 1 of Prohibition, I was excited about catching the next installment on Tues night.  I poured myself a big glass of Hennepin Ale from a recent trip to Ommegang Brewery and settled in to watch America try to deal with sobriety. 
Part 2 was about the effects the 18th amendment had on society. This was the only amendment to the constitution to limit people’s freedoms. It was generally thought of as a bad idea and turned thousands of law-abiding citizens into criminals.  Between all the bootleggers making alcohol and the speak easies selling it illegally, a huge segment of the population started breaking the law.  It gave rise to criminal gangs who took over distribution of booze.  Possibly the only positive thing to come from this law was that women were allowed to enter these illicit drinking establishments with men. 
Tax on the sale of alcohol accounted for one third of the federal budget before Prohibition.   All the revenues that were lost on taxing booze had to be replaced somehow. Their answer was the creation of the income tax that we love so much today.
 Unfortunately, I fell asleep about a half hour into the episode.  I wasn’t sure if it was my busy day or the Ommegang, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open to watch the flappers shaking there things on the screen.
I vowed to stay up through the entirety of part 3.  So, ironically, I abstained as I watched how the country regained its right to drink.  Thankfully, it wasn’t the Hennepin.  Ken Burns’s film style of panning in and out of still photos accompanied by celebrity voice overs, which made for enlightening entertainment in his Civil War series, was a bit boring in this context. 
I found it just as hard on night three to keep my eyes focused on the screen as they showed Al Capone’s picture from just about every angle imaginable.  I Tivoed the programs so I was able to go back a couple of days later to watch selected parts.  Guess what?  I fell asleep again.  It just didn’t have the interesting characters and statistics that made the first episode so watchable.  To be fair to Burns, I was very familiar with the gang activity of the 1920’s from all the movies about the subject.  I can remember watching an episode of Star Trek back in the 1970’s where Captain Kirk, dressed in a pinstripe suit and carrying a machine gun, fights gangsters.  This stuff is part of American culture.

Prohibition would have been much more meaningful if it was to point out the parallels between that time period and today.   Particularly, the societal effects of the illegality of alcohol then and of marijuana today.  A case can be made that both led to increased criminal behavior by law abiding citizens and gang violence.  The exclusions in the 18th amendment made for alcohol’s use for medicinal purposes foreshadowed today’s “medical marijuana”.
The three major ideas I took away from this program were: 
1.      Extremism is a bad approach to governing.
2.      Americans like their freedoms.
3.      Americans like their alcohol.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Prohibition on PBS

Part 1
This Ken Burns documentary aired on PBS in NY over three days this week and educated me on a period in our history when it was illegal to drink alcohol (Ah!!).  I had always been aware of Prohibition.  My grandmother even bragged about making wine in her basement in the 1920’s.  But the political and social pressures that gave rise to this amendment to our constitution were unknown to me. 
For example, I was unaware that the abstinence movement was initially a female movement that was tied to women’s suffrage (voting rights).  Carrie Nation is a name I had seen on plaques in bars, but never knew what a powerhouse she was.  She went into bars wielding a hatchet and single-handedly closed down dozens of drinking establishments.  Frances Willard worked through the public schools to brainwash children against ever taking a drink of alcohol.  The textbooks of the day misinformed students about the dangers of drinking saying that one drink could destroy the internal organs.  These were some nasty ladies!
This is not to say that a little temperance wasn’t needed back in the good old days.  The Colonial American habit of having a beer or cider 3 or 4 times during the working day became a societal problem when they began distilling spirts with much higher alcohol content. Alcohol consumption in the early 1800's was pretty high: American males over the age of 15 consumed, on average, 88 bottles of whiskey per year.   Drunkenness led to physical and emotional abuse of women and children and a break down of the family.
However, there were many men who were "drys" and in favor of prohibtion.  A mostly male Anti-Saloon League was one of the most powerful political groups, what we would call political action committees, of the day.  They could use their influence to get officials elected into or out of office.  The league was led mainly by Protestant ministers, but it was the attorney Wayne Wheeler who was the leader that made “wet” or “dry” the litmus test for congressmen.  He eventually was able to get enough states to ratify the 18th amendment in 1920. Shorty after, women got the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment.  Prohibition had unintended consequences that are discussed in parts 2 and 3 of this series . . .

Sebago Brewery - Scarborough, ME‏

By Brian
Last Tuesday and Wednesday, I visited my favorite New England Craft Brewery - Sebago Brewery in Scarborough, ME. This has become my regular stop ever since I visited Portland, ME in late, 2007. Sebago has a full line of Craft & Seasonal Beers plus they offer limited releases throughout the year. I tend to find something I like and stay with it. At Sebago, it is their Runabout Red Ale and the Lake Trout Stout. If you enjoy Red Ales or Stouts, you will not be disappointed.
Being a lifelong New Yorker, the only thing better than the beer was sitting at the bar as the Boston Red Sox were trying to remember how to play baseball. To all the Red Sox fans in the bar both nights I'd like to say: TO BAD - SO SAD - I'M GLAD!
To the Sebago Brewery I'd like to say, keep up the great job but don't get rid of the 22oz Runabout. That is my TO-GO BREW.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hyde Park Brewing Company

Just north of Poughkeepsie on Route 9D sits the little town of Hyde Park which is best known as the home of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Not far from there is the Culinary Institute of America which turns out some of the best chefs in the East.  However, right across the street from FDR’s house is a brewery that has made a name for itself with residents of Dutchess County and beyond.  Hyde Park Brewing Company has been in business since 1995, which by craft beer standards is practically ancient. 
According to owner, Joey LoBianco, the key to their success has been providing a quality product to their customers.  “We saw a growth in this industry in the 90’s but it dropped off shortly after that.  Many of the micro-breweries that started when we did are no longer around. “  But they stuck it out and kept on brewing tasty beer and were around to see the “second wave” as Joey puts it. “This wave is bigger than the first and will carry us further.”
Joey and his sister Angela provide their customers with delicious food and beer brewed on site.  On a recent visit, I sampled both and was not disappointed. As usual, I started with a flight of their most popular beers in order to determine which I would have with my meal. 
Brewmaster, John Eccles, brews in the European tradition using only British, German and Belgian malts.  The Big Easy Blonde is the lightest of their ales and a good place to start.  As the name implies, it’s a very smooth and easy drinking beer.  Next was a rye ale that had too much of a sour flavor for me. The red rye, however, had enough bitterness to hide the sourness.  The Winkle pilsner was clean going down and finishing but with more flavor than your typical American Pilsner like Bud or Miller.  The Rough Rider Red Lager had a good combination of the previous two beers and a fine ruby color.  Last, but not least, the black lager had a nice smoky taste reminiscent of a stout without being too filling.  And the winner is  . . . The Winkle, which just happens to be their signature beer.  It had all the right qualities of a good drinking beer without tasting too watered down like the macro pilsners do.
For lunch, I had the drunken turkey sandwich which was topped with mayo made with, you guessed it,  Winkle lager.  Executive chef, Michael Connolly, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute, uses local ingredients in his dishes.  The beef, pork and poultry come from a local farm where the animals are grass fed supplemented with the spent grain from his brewery.  Uphill Farm, which occupies 300 acres in nearby Clinton Corners, uses no antibiotics, steroids or other hormones on their animals.  The care taken in raising and preparing this meal came through in the taste, which was delicious.

The brewing vats are staged above the bar which, for a brewery lover like me, made for perfect dining ambiance.  But for those less inclined, there is a dining room in the back or outdoor seating on nice days.  This brewery is a must see destination when you are driving through the Hudson Valley this fall. Combine some fresh craft beer with your foliage trip this year. (Hey, that rhymes!)
It was FDR who said, "I think this would be a good time for a beer" in 1933. He ended prohibition and put the breweries across America back to work. Joey LoBianco adds, "Our building sits on what was once Roosevelt ground. He was born, raised and buried right across the street and we're damn proud to be his neighbor".