Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sam Adams Fat Jack Pumpkin Ale and Oktoberfest

Sam Adams is one of the largest craft brewers in the country. Some might argue that definition but Sam Adams does in many way fit the profile of a craft beer maker rather than a large scale macrobrewery.

The best thing about Sam Adams is that their beer is pretty good, sometimes even great, and you can get it almost anywhere. While I tend to frequent establishments that specialize in small craft beer every once in a while I find myself at a bar where they have only Bud, Bud Light, and Sam Adams Lager. I go with the Sam Adams.

The brewery also produces a few great seasonal beers. Their Winter Lager is decadent and delicious, but I'll save that review for another time.

I want to focus on two of their Autumn seasonal beers today: the Pumpkin Ale and the Oktoberfest.

I enjoyed the Fat Jack Pumpkin ale over a dinner of chicken tikka masala while sitting outside on our mountain next to a camp fire. It didn't hurt that the setting was wonderful to begin with. For fun we split the beer by pouring it into our 4 ounce beer tasters. It was delicious. It had all the spices that I love along with a sweet pumpkin flavor which complimented each other well. It was very satisfying and the pumpkin, spices, and maltiness went extremely well with the spicy cream sauce of the tikka masala.

If you aren't sure whether or not you would like a pumpkin ale, this would be a pretty good one to try out. It is rich and decadent and should give you a good profile of a well made pumpkin beer.

Along with the Fat Jack Pumpkin ale, Sam Adams also produces an easy to find Octoberfest lager.

Lagers are the most common type of beers produced by the macrobrew companies. Budweiser, Miller, and Coors are all lagers, but most craft beer enthusiasts will agree that they lack any depth or real flavor. Most are made using adjust ingredients such as rice or corn. The Germans, who kind of perfected beer centuries ago, created a beer purity law which insisted beer be made with only four things: water, hops, malt, and yeast. I do like beer with added flavors - such as pumpkin spices - but I am not too keen on rice or corn in my beer. The reason I am going into this kind of detail is because I think Sam Adams Octobefest is a good "Introduction to Craft Beer" for someone who has otherwise only experienced offerings by the major macrobreweries. It is light, crisp, and refreshing with all the richness that a traditional marzen beer should have.

I am a fan of Samuel Adams Boston Brewery. I love a lot of their seasonal beers, including their Fat Jack Pumpkin and the Octoberfest. Check them out for yourself before it is too late. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brown Beer and Autumn Hikes: Two Great Tastes that Go Great Together!

The last two weekend I've gone hiking. After these hiking trips I have enjoyed a brown ale at a local watering hole. I thought I would share those with you.

The first hike was at Laurel River near Hot Springs, NC. It was a 7 mile hike total, which was a little long for someone like me. I really wanted to give up at about the 6 mile mark but where would I go? No helicopter would come rescue me, so I had to keep hiking.

After we did finally crawl back to the car we drove into the town of Hot Springs to the Spring Creek Tavern and had a seat at the bar. It is a really nice place with great atmosphere. We haven't tried their food yet, but we plan to next time we're up in Hot Springs.

I ordered a Bell's Best Brown, a great year round brown beer brewed by Bell's in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I consider Bell's my first craft brewery even though that is a slight exaggeration. I went to college in Kalamazoo but at the time I didn't drink beer at all so I can't really claim to have been a fan in the 90s. I'm willing to jump on that band wagon now, though.

This brown ale is one of my favorites when I am in the mood for malty goodness, which I usually am about this time of year. It is well balanced with just enough hops to give it some character but not too much to draw attention away from the roasted malt flavors.

If you like traditional browns with just a hint of something extra this one is a good bet for you. It is sweet and caramel-y. It is perfect for a crisp fall afternoon or for the first beer to quench your thirst after a long and strenuous hike.

For the second hike in as many weeks, we drove down to Tallulah Gorge in North Georgia and met up with some friends from Atlanta. The hike around the gorge is pretty easy with the most difficult being over 600 steps down to a suspension bridge and 500 steps back up to the top of the gorge. It took me a while to make it up the steps. I'm not really what you would call "in shape" and I have asthma so I puffed my way up one section of stairs at a time.

After our hike we drove up to the town of Clayton, Georgia and discovered their quaint downtown area. We stopped for dinner and drinks at the Universal Joint. I was surprised to find this place in such a small town. There is also a Universal Joint in Ashevlle.

There I ordered a Duck Rabbit Brown Ale which is brewed in Farmville, North Carolina. They served it to me in a Red Hare glass, which is a brewery out of Atlanta. It seemed appropriate. Duck Rabbit specializes in dark beers and their Milk Stout is one of my very favorites of all time, which I know is a pretty bold declaration.

Duck Rabbit Brown Ale is rich with a very well played bitterness to the hops profile. It is a strong beer that can stand up on its own if you like that sort of thing. The dominating flavors for me in this one is chocolate and coffee but neither are overwhelming. They play off each other and the hoppy bitterness very well. If you want a brown beer with a little more punch than most of them check out this one.

Have you been out hiking this fall? Have you stopped for a beer afterwards to quench your thirst? What have you been drinking?

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Most Astoundingly Mediochre Pumpkin Beer of the Season

When I am out with friends they often ask me what kind of beer I like.

Or they ask me what kind of beer they should like.

The divisiveness of Pumpkin Ale always stirs up an interesting conversation. Do I like this one? Do I like that one? What makes a good pumpkin ale?

Really, if you like a pumpkin ale - drink it. Don't worry about what everyone else thinks.

I like many pumpkin ales. My favorite of the season so far has been the Boxcar Pumpkin Porter.

My least favorite was this one:

The New Belgium PumpKick.

I like New Belgium beers just fine. Some are better than others. Because it is widely distributed I can usually get one even in a place that only serves the macrobrewed giants and that makes them worth their weight in gold.

What I will say about the Pumpkick is that it was all around average.

Of course, one of the reasons that this pumpkin beer is not among my favorites is because it has a fruitier flavor rather than a spicy one. Give me those pie spices and that is how I know it is fall! 

If you, on the other hand, are a bigger fan of actual pumpkin flavor then this might be a reasonable choice for you.

This one should be available in bottles at most grocery stores through the fall, and New Belgium is pretty spread out these days, so if you want to give a pumpkin beer a try check this one out. See what you think.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mecktoberfest in Charlotte, NC

Earlier this month, Matt and I were invited by some friends to see the Indigo Girls play with the symphony orchestra in Charlotte. These aren't just any friends but friends from college - old roommates. One happens to live only an hour from us here in Asheville now and the other...well, he may be considering a move south some day relatively soon. This area of the country does have a certain magnetic draw to it. Once you're bit it is hard not to let it spread under your skin. As the Indigo Girls say:

When God made me born a Yankee he was teasing.
The concert was simply amazing and it was absolutely great to spend time with our friends.

But, this is a beer blog, is it not?

Yes, yes it is. And I am getting there. While in Charlotte we were able to enjoy an Autumn Seasonal beer from the area's largest beer maker, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.

The beer of choice was their fall seasonal offering Mecktoberfest. It was pretty darn good.

Here is yet another truth about beer drinking. The beer is always better if you're with people you care about and are enjoying yourself. Beer is an extremely social beverage and is meant to be enjoyed that way. If you're thinking about trying a new beer go check it out at a bar or the brewery rather than buying a six pack and drinking it at home. You can talk with the bartenders or the brewers. You can start conversations with other bar patrons who can tell you about their favorites. Invite some friends and enjoy the experience.

So, part of the reason I enjoyed the Mecktoberfest so much was because I was sharing an evening of music and friendship. I highly recommend you try this approach as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Catawba Valley King Don Pumpkin: Not as Bad as I remembered It

Brewed in Morganton, NC, not far from Asheville is Catawba Valley's annual pumpkin ale, King Don's Original Pumpkin Ale.

Shortly after I began to enjoy beer I decided to give this one a try. We we were at Barley's, a popular taproom downtown, and I spotted it on the wall.

If you're not a craft beer drinker I am here to tell you that beer is, in fact, and acquired taste. It took me forever to like any beer and when I did it was a progression from one style to the next. For example, I use to hate the taste of hops but now Pale Ales ad IPAs are some of my go-to beers. Your tastes really do change.

This first time trying Catawba Valley's King Don's Original Pumpkin Ale was...well...traumatizing. I did not like it! However, at the time I found it hard to express what I didn't like about it. It took me a while to develop the "Pumpkin vs. Pumpkin Spice" flavor profile comparison chart (patent pending!). All I knew is that whatever I just put in my mouth was revolting.

There is one other important truth to know about beer. It is subjective. While beer snobs can say that the big name macrobrews are "disgusting," clearly their sales indicate that someone likes the taste of their beers. Not all palates are created equal. For example, there are two beer trends that I am not particularly fond of: smoked beers and sour beers. But both of these are popular for a reason - because someone likes them. The same is clearly true about Catawba's pumpkin ale.

So, to make a long story short, I did not like Catawba Valley's King Don Pumpkin.

Recently, as people are learning that I am attempting to DRINK ALL THE BEER! this fall, they began to ask me about this particular, and popular, pumpkin ale.

When I saw it on tap at our regular Monday night bar, I figured it was a reasonably safe environment to give it a try. The bartender, also a friend, would gladly make fun of me for it but I knew the pain would only be temporary. I asked her for only a half pour so I didn't have to commit to a full pint.

Tenatively, I took a sip.

And it really wasn't as bad as I remembered it.

Here is the third truth of beer drinking: Go ahead and try things you though you didn't like before. If enough time goes by you may find your tastes have changed just enough to let you appreciate this beer.

I certainly wouldn't put the King Don Pumpkin at the top of my list of favorite Pumpkin beers, but it wasn't awful. There was more pumpkin spice flavor than I remembered. It was entirely drinkable. If you really love the pumpkin beers this time of year and are in the Catawba Valley Brewery distribution area, it is worth a try.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Oktoberfest at Wicked Weed

On Friday, October 4th, I was feeling the need to be social. I wanted to head downtown to where all the action was...

And the action was at Wicked Weed as they kicked off their Oktoberfest season.

They brewed 3 special beers for the event and I tried two of them: the Fest Beer and the Uncle Rick's Pilsner.

Matt and I arrived around 7pm and were delighted when we discovered the downstairs/outdoor seating at Wicked Weed decorated for Oktoberfest. They had created a beer hall atmosphere with long tables and Oompah music. You can't help but tap your toes along to the tuba! I've never been to Oktoberfest in Germany, but I have been to one in Helen, Georgia, which is really the same thing, right?

I really enjoyed the Fest Beer, a traditional marzen beer. It was everything a marzen should be: dark gold, malty, and higher in alcohol than typical lagers.

I did not try the wheat beer they brewed for the occasion, but I did have the pilsner which was absolutely delightful, light, and refreshing. It had a surprising amount of flavor for a pilsner, which is known for being a very mild beer.

Oktobefest at Wicked Weed runs through this Friday, October 11th, so don't miss out!  Check out these special German style beers while you still can! 

Friday, October 4, 2013

How About Some Browns

When I started this series I suggested that classic American Brown Ales were also "Fall Beers." There is no real reason for this except my personal preference. Unlike Oktoberfests and Pumpkin ales, you can get brown beers all year round but the comforting roasty flavors of browns make me thing of the cooling weather and falling leaves so I drink them this time of year.

Here are a couple browns that I've had recently.

Sweet Josie Brown.
Lonerider Brewery out of Raleigh, North Carolina, brews a fine brown beer called Sweet Josie Brown. It is, in fact, a pretty sweet little brown ale. It is very dark and the head is thick and creamy. It has a delightful sweet chocolate malt flavor with some light hops to balance it out, but not to many to make it an overly bitter beer. This is a really great drinking brown and goes well with a lot of flavors. I admit to drinking this one other times of the year as well if the desire to have a brown ale strikes me.

(I didn't have any good props for the photo of Sweet Josie Brown)

Beer Guy Grown.
Here in Asheville there is a local beer guy named Tony Kiss. In fact, people here do call him "The Beer Guy." Asheville Brewing created a tribute beer of sorts called Beer Guy Brown that they release again from time to time. I hadn't been able to grab it on tap there...until yesterday. The Asheville Brewing location on Merrimon Rd. in North Asheville is also known as the Brew N' View where you can see $3 second run movies and order a pizza and beer at the same time. Super fun times!  This week we went to see The Wolverine when I saw the tap labeled "Beer Guy Brown." I was finally able to give this delicious beer a try. It is a really drinkable beer - what people in the know call "sessionable." This just means it would make a great afternoon sipper for leaf watching from your back patio. Or something. It went very well with my buffalo chicken salad as well.I'm not sure how long this batch of Beer Guy Brown will last at Asheville Brewing, but I highly recommend getting out to give it a try.

(As you might imagine, it is difficult to get a photo of a beer in a dark movie theater.)

What kind of brown ales do you love this time of year?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Holy Crap, this stuff's delicious... Boxcar Pumpkin Porter

I sat down at the bar at Barley's, an Asheville institution, and looked up at the chalk board above the taps. My eye was immediately drawn to the word "pumpkin." 

Then I noticed the other words around it "Starr Hill Brewing Boxcar" and then, "Porter."

A porter? What deliciousness is this?

I don't have too much experience with Starr Hill, a brewery out of Virginia. I know I've tried a few of their beers before, but they haven't stood out to me before.

Until now.

As I have mentioned before there are two types of pumpkin beers - pumpkin flavor and pumpkin spice flavor. I am firmly in the pumpkin spice camp.

This pumpkin porter was a near perfect example of the style. The dark, rich porter was an excellent base for the pie spices. Porters can be heavy beers but this one made me want to go back for more. Seriously, if you have any desire for a pumpkin spice flavored beer, this is one of the best offerings I've had in town. Get thee to Barley's before it is gone!

If you're not in Asheville, check out the Starr Hill Beer Finder here!