Rediscovering The Value of a Session Beer – Brawler Ale

I picked up some Brawler Ale from Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia over the weekend and opened my first bottle the other night.  I was quite impressed by the malt flavor and overall color and experience of the beer.  It presented well, very balanced and was real enjoyable…. and yet I kept feeling like something just wasn’t quite right.

As I prepared dinner this evening my wife was enjoying a Brawler and commented how much she liked it.  So I reached in and grabbed another.  As I opened it I actually bothered to read the label this time (yes, like most men I don’t always RTFM) and then I realized why it had struck me as odd.

“crafted in the style of English session ales”

Ahh…. that explains it.  I’ve been on a Dogfish Head trip lately enjoying Midas Touch, 60 Minute IPA and others all that have higher alcohol levels. So as asession beer crosses my lips are like “hey! were’s the rest of the beer???”

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this beer.  Good flavor and enjoyable to drink as I sit here writing this post and watching a hockey game.  I think just in knowing that it is a session beer made a difference and makes it a complete beer experience.

Lesson learned?  Read the full label and know what I’m buying and drinking.  Also, not every enjoyable beer has to be super hopped or high alcohol.

(Oh and if you’re wondering what a session beer is, here’s a great article from Beer Advocate.)

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Beer Named After a Town like Durango Better Be Good

Durango is a small town with a huge personality.  Surrounded by beautiful mountains with a vibrant river flowing through it, Durango conveys a bold attitude and fresh perspective that this mid-Atlantic suburbanite finds intoxicating (everytime we visit, I long to quit my job and just move).

So you can imagine the expectations that go with a beer bearing this town’s name.  Sure enough, the fine brews from the Durango Brewing Company live up to the spirit of Durango.

I had the pleasure sampling two wonderful Durango Brewing Company brews during my trip — the Durango Amber Ale and the Durango Wheat Beer. 

According to the company’s Web site, the Amber Ale as a “deep amber color, medium body, and mild hop bitterness making it a well balanced refreshing beer.”  Personally, I found the Amber Ale to be better tasting than  most ambers, but compared to the the other fine ambers I’ve sampled lately it didn’t really stand out above the rest. Definately worth tasting again but nothing to warrant another trip across the country.

As for the Wheat Beer, I DID find it unique enough that it stood out.  To many people when you say “Wheat Beer” they think “Hefeweizen” in the German tradition.  But as I learned at a recent evening at DC’s Churchkey, the “Wheat Beer” label goes way beyond that pale expectation.

And Durango’s Wheat Beer follows this tradition with it’s “American-Style Wheat with domestic barley and wheat malts.”  In just looking at the beer it has the same appearance as a standard smooth flowing lager.  But upon putting it to your lips you realize that it not only combines a good drinkability with additional flavor and personality.  The combination just makes it memorable.

Apparently this beer is a 2007 Colorado State Fair winner — and I can see why.  If I could have brought some home, I would have snuck it into my luggage.

My one regret with this brewery is that I couldn’t spend any time at their facility.  We stopped in the restuarant/bar for dinner and it looked like a fun place with a focus on good beer.  Tables are set up for socializing and drinking with not much emphasis on food (although they do serve food).  The environment just begged for a session beer and spending time with friends and enjoyable brews.

Alas, as I was with my family and mother-in-law this was not quite the environment suitable for a family dinner.  However, as a beer drinker I longed to escape from our hotel and venture back to sip a few brews.

On our next trip, this place is definitely on my to-do list.

Good things come to those who wait

A break from my reviews of beers from my recent trip to Durango, CO. But instead a lesson learned from home brewing.

As you may remember, I’ve been experimenting with brewing my own beer with a Mr. Beer home brew kit. Back in July I brewed up a batch of German Hefeweizein.  It was an interesting experiment because it uses a mix of some standard Mr. Beer recipes but also adds some hops pellets during the fermentation.  The instructions for this recipe also recommend lagering the beer for at least a month.

So I dutifully let it ferment the proper amount of time (I generally go a week longer than any given recipe recommends), bottled it and let it lager for the one month recommended period.  And when the day came to open it and savor my labors I was ….. underwhelmed.

Flavor was bleah… flat… limited…. nothin’.   It was the first batch I’d brewed that I really didn’t want to drink.

So I remembered back to my reading about lagering improving the flavor and let it sit.  Each time I walked by I was thought about giving it another chance but decided against it.

Last night, after letting it lager for 4+ months I figured it was time to give it a shot.  And you know what?  IT ROCKED!   It didn’t pour like a standard hefeweizen (with the unfiltered cloud) and looked almost like an amber in the glass.  But it not only tasted like a full hefeweizen but also finished off with enough hint of hop that it had a very pleasant aftertaste.

And the lesson learned?  Have patience.  Not every batch/beer/project is going to be perfect right off the bat.  But it’s okay to experiment and give things a chance.  And now I’m really looking forward to the rest of this batch.

Long travels with a rich reward

It’s been a long long travel day. Our flight from BWI was delayed by 2+ hours even after we got to the airport mongo early to account for 5 people checking and security.

So there went my plan for a leisurely repaste in the haven of Dallas-Ft Worth airport.

Upon landing in Albuquerque a family sitting near me on the plane
offered up an excellent recommendation for local food and brew. So with everyone checked into the hotel and the rental vehicle loaded up we ventured out to Il Vicino — known for their wonderful flatbreads pizzas and microbrews.

Oooo. Yeahhhhh!! Great choice. The menu had a great selection of pizzas which took us a good 8 to 10 minutes to order. The beer list was shorter and was an easier decision.

Although the server recommended the IPA I opted for the Slowdown Brown
(I think Dogfish Head has spoiled me for IPA’s so the bar is pretty
high now).

The Slowdown Brown was a great way to start the meal. It had that
wonderful malty flavor you expect from a good brown ale. And I really
appreciated he smooth finish.

 My wife had ordered the Rob’s Amber and didn’t enjoy it.  Being the chivalrous dude that I am…. I switched with her.

And what a good call that was!  At first sip I could see why she didn’t like it.  The glass was filled with what looked like a standard amber ale, but the taste buds revealed a hoppy flavor that really took this beer someplace special.  It really provided for a complex experience that was like finding a hidden surprise (much like when you find an extra 5 bucks in your jeans, but tastier).  My only regret is that I could have only one.

Oh well, this gives me another reason to come back some time.

Not Quite Yet, but Texas is Already on my Mind

First stop on this sipping sojourn is a hotel in Baltimore before we fly out of BWI in the morning.

Considering our schedule we (wisely) decided to just have dinner at the hotel. But alas where my heart had already been planning for a Clipper City or Natty Boh there was no local beer to be had.

However amid the bland choices of watered down Miller or Bud there emerged an interesting choice…. Shiner Bock.

Now truth be told this was my ace in the hole for tomorrow as our flight has a layover in Dallas and I had already planned this one out. But in light of the situation I had to act.

And Shiner never disappoints.  When trying to step away from the ordinary, she has a way of popping up and saying “there’s a better choice”. Tonite was no exception. Paired with a buffalo chicken sandwich it was a perfect way to start the journey.

What’s interesting is that this is the one Shiner brew that seems to have escaped the great state of Texas.  What’s up with the other fine Shiner brews?  The web site mentions a blonde ale. That should surely be worthy of export. But the faithful Bock is the only one that people outside of Texas seem to able to sip.  I’ll have to investigate further.

Of course now the quandry that faces me is…. What’s waiting for me in Texas tomorrow? It’s a worthy challenge.

Starting in the Old Dominion with Starr Hill’s The Gift

We haven’t quite left home, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start my beer journey.

So for lunch, I took the opportunity to crack open a bottle of The Gift -Winter Bock Lager from Starr Hill Brewery.  I love this beer for two reasons.

1)  It’s the last of the truly “local beers” in that it’s brewed in Virginia.
2)  Other than sneaking in a Bell’s Christmas Ale, it’s been my holiday beer of choice for 2009.

It’s got a great blend of tastes that really mix it up and take it out of the category of lagers (I owe that to the Bock style) so don’t let the “lager” category fool you.  Or as Starr Hill says on their website:

  • A German-style Hellerbock with a few twists, The Gift is Starr Hill’s holiday offering. The beautiful golden color only hints at the fire inside. Made with two-row and Munich malts and balanced with German noble hops, The Gift is the perfect accompaniment to any holiday event or festivity.

Either way, it’s been a perfect compliment through the holidays as I’ve been cooking, cleaning and spending time with family.  So it seemed a fitting way to start this journey.

Next stop, Maryland where we stay before flying out of Baltimore tomorrow morning.