Monday, September 19, 2011

Newcastle Werewolf

I recently had the good luck to try some Newcastle Werewolf. I was sent a few bottles for which I'm very appreciative.

Newcastle is an interesting brand. They're owned by Heineken, and for better or worse, "brown ale" is synonmous with the name. I don't mind at all - brown ales have always been one of my favorite beer styles and Newcastle Brown was one of those gateway beers that led me down the path to beer that doesn't taste like PBR (I thank them for that), but I suspect in the changing world of beer, it may seem like a liability. It's usually interesting, if nothing else, when a brand that's defined itself with one beer or one beer style decide to branch out and try something new. Will it be Bud Light, or New Coke?

Enter Newcastle's new line of beers. Werewolf is the second (after their Summer Ale, which I've missed but apparently has been around for a little while). Following along will be a confusing sounding Founder's Ale, and a Winter IPA which sounds like a grand idea. Being right after the hop harvest, winter has always seemed like a better season for IPA than summer when they seem more prevalent.

I think Newcastle have been very smart about several things. First, they aren't pretending so be something they're not; faux-craft seems to be the lamest way big brands have approached the changing market and it almost always falls flat. Second, they haven't stepped so far outside their own history as to seem absurd (a la Guinness lager or Stella Black). Third, the new beers are in brown bottles. I can not emphasize enough what a simple and really good idea this is.

The beer itself does pour a dark ruby red color. The nose is surprisingly biscuity-malty and the cherries-and-fruits aroma that the label promises is right there are well. The body is very light making it easy to drink and there does seem to be a touch of that bready rye flavor, but the aroma and color imply a much deeper flavor than is there. Each sip seems to sort of fade out. This is not a bad thing necessarily, but there could be more going on.

All in all not a bad beer at all and very much what I would have expected if someone told me "red ale. brewed by Newcastle*". The color and use of rye in a potentially big commercial beer like this is potentially interesting, though, as it does seem like they might actually be paying attention to craft beer. I suspect this will make a nice gateway beer for less adventurous yet curious drinkers.

*Note: Newcastle Werewolf is actually brewed by the Heineken owned Caledonian Brewery in Scotland. The flavor profile is remarkably similar to Newcastle Brown Ale, though. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Double IPA showdown

A double IPA showdown: ODell's Myrcenary vs Great Lakes Brewing's Lake Erie Monster.

Both beers have labels on the bottles

I don't do grouped tastings like this very often, but I ought to. It's great fun and one of the most efficient ways to get drunk. On the table were two recent entries in the Double IPA category, at least as far as their availability in this region. In addition to being new, both were also a month or two old. Not wanting to be too in vogue, I do have to try to appear somewhat disinterested. Along those lines, these beers were sitting in the fridge (along with an Oskar Blues Gubna which was about a year old*) because I don't drink a lot of double IPAs. Among beer styles, it has to be one of the most homogeneous. Much like Spinal Tap's proud claim to be one of England's loudest bands, this is probably America's loudest beer style. Of course, there is more to life and beer than just... "more".

Anyways, enough of my bullshit:

The Tasting

I find it's helpful to taste each beer in several different glass-styles to get a complete picture

Both beers contain a similar alcohol level (9.1% for Lake Erie Monster and 9.3% for Myrcenary) and had best before dates within a month of each other and so should be on similar footing for a tasting. Upon opening, both are very intense. Everything is is like a thick orangey-sweet blanket soaked in pine and citrus aroma. They're also bitter. First off is the aroma, which hits you before you even get the glass close to your face. It's a melange of smooth citrus fruits and a hint of piney/grassy aromas.

Lake Erie Monster skews more to the piney grassy side, but is still dominated by citrus: grapefruit tangerine and honey flavors and aromas are all intense. This is also a very sweet beer, which sometimes mutes some of the bitterness, but in this case it's almost too much. The sweet honeyish quality masks any malt flavors that might be hiding within.

On the other side, Myrcenary is also incredibly strong with its citrus aroma but it skews more to the orange and pineapple side of things. It also comes off much drier with a hint of malt and biscuit right at the end. There is also a very noticeable chalky flavor that pairs with the fruitiness to the effect of something a lot like Rolaids. I have to wonder if a hefty dose of gypsum was added to the brew water, because it is quite distinguishable although it does not necessarily detract.

I was quite surprised at the difference visually. Myrcenary on the left

I have to say I am highly partial to Great Lakes Brewing, but the unanimous winner in this case was Myrcenary. The milder sweetness and slight malt undertone made it much more drinkable and palatable than Lake Erie Monster, even in tiny tasting glasses. If I were to feel an urge for a double IPA, I think Myrcenary might be one of the best I've had.

Somehow, Stone Double Bastard didn't make it into this tasting. Maybe next time.

*People will try to tell you that IPAs have to be drunk fresh. As a rule, I try not to listen to people who tell me how things need to be done. Past experience and drinking a year old Gubna next to two relatively fresh versions makes it clear to me that while some hop aroma does fade, when you approach maximum saturation like these beers do, they're not any less walloping after a year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Summit Silver Anniversary Ale

As you can see from the picture above, I'm drinking Summit's Silver Anniversary Ale. The brewery has now been around for 25 years, which is quite a feat. To celebrate, they've brewed (to my knowledge) their first anniversary beer. It's an IPA I've heard described as double Summit Pale Ale. I would not agree with this assessment, but it is quite delicious. This is the bottle version. I have also tried a pint of it on tap, which for some reason seemed much more harshly bitter and less hoppy and aromatic. Perhaps it was an off keg.

Either way, the bottle version is very nice. It's got very little malt going on, and even less of that earthy grassy hop sort of thing that the Pale Ale has which is just fine. This is a straight away IPA and the Extra Pale Ale is a great pale ale. I have to wonder if they brewed this beer to finally satisfy people who asked and/or critisized Summit for not having a generic and highly hopped IPA: here it is.

I am generally not very excited about hoppy, citrusy IPAs. They've been done to death and there are dozens available everywhere if you want one. That being said, I do enjoy a classic American IPA from time to time and I can understand the appeal. They're gaudy, uncomplicated, and the American versions are unmistakenly American versions. Sometimes that's what you want, and this is a good one.

Tastes and smells, you ask? Lots of pine and herbal hop notes right up front. Some citrus aromas and flavors slide in gracefully afterward and a merry bitterness follows quickly in three part harmonies. There is a bit of body and slick malt as an after thought, but virtually no sweetness (a gift in this type of beer). Not reinventing the wheel by any means, but it's a pretty nice wheel at that.