Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Peabody's Winter Beer Guide Pt. 1

Yes, I know I never finished my cruise blog. I learned my lesson there, blogging has to be done real time, you can't expect to do it after the fact, it just ain't gonna happen. Here's the short summary of the rest of the cruise - Jamaica was by far the prettiest place we went, if you just looked at the natural scenery and avoided looking at the poor people. Of course, everywhere they took us was behind gates, so we didn't see that many poor people. The Ft. Lauderdale airport on a Saturday when several cruise ships are dislodging thousands of passengers SUCKS!!!

On to the beer -

Now that Old Man Winter has us firmly in his grip, time to talk BEER! Winter is my favorite beer season, the winter seasonal offerings are far superior, IMHO, to any other time of year.

First, a couple of general beer notes:

There are 2 kinds of beers, "session" beers (as in "I'm gonna sit down for a session of beer drinking" i.e. you are having more than 1 or 2) and sipping beers (richer, heavier, usually higher alcohol beers). The other important thing to note is that "normal" ABV (alcohol by volume) beers, usually less than 6%, only have a shelf life of 3-4 months, after which they become
"green" or "skunked". This is why when you go to someone's house that you know is not a big beer drinker, and they offer you a Michelob out of the refrigerator, you should never take it unless their company is so annoying you are desperate for the alcohol. Higher ABV beers (generally 8% and above) can be "cellared", although you should never "lay them down" on their side, and kept for several years even, like a fine wine, they get better with age. Genres that age best are barleywines and imperial stouts, we'll talk more about those in future postings.

Let's start with the session beers:

Redhook Winterhook -

Definitely a session beer, as it is not quite as full-bodied as one would hope, that said, it is very, very quaffable, dark, hoppy, good and bitter. Just the thing to slam several of and shake that Seasonal Affect Disorder.

Sam Adams Winter Mix Pack -
Contains 4 each of the following -
Boston Lager (their flagship brew)
Old Fezziwig Ale
Winter Lager
Holiday Porter
Black Lager
Cranberry Lambic

The Boston Lager everyone is familiar with, the Winter Lager is very similar to the Winterhook noted above. The Holiday Porter is not the worst Porter I have ever had, but it is certainly not in my top 10. The Cranberry Lambic was a pleasant surprise, as I expected it to be nasty, it was actually a decent Belgian (a whole 'nother world of beer, stay tuned for a future blog on the world of Belgian beer. The short version is that Belgian beers are more like a fine wine than the beer most of us are used to, very little in the way of hops, more fruity type flavors. Like I said, more on that later). The cranberries were very understated, providing just a hint of fruitiness, none of the "twang" one gets from cranberry juice.

I forgot to mention earlier that "winter" beers tend to fall into 3 categories - 1) those that are spiced, like Russian Tea or whatever, usually cinnamon is the spice of choice, 2) those that are hopped up to provide lots of bitterness and "warm you up" that way, and 3) those that are higher in alcohol, sometimes in combination with 1 and 2 above, in order to provide "warming". Indeed, many of the beers I am describing are classified as "winter warmers".

All that to inform you that the Sam Adams Old Fezziwig Ale falls into the spiced category, it was actually nice, some that I have tried go WAY overboard with the cinnamon, it's like drinking cinnamon toast, this is pretty close to "just right" in terms of the spice. Other than that, merely average.

Lastly, the Black Lager, which is a Schwarzbier (German for "black beer"). These tend to be very dark (hence the "black" descriptor) and malty, this one is no exception. Not a bad beer, but not on par with the best Schwarzbier I have had, Rogue Schwartzbier (intentionally mispelled) which unfortunately has been retired.

Next time: More session beers, then on to the "good stuff".