We've had a good wine-filled run, but it was only a matter of time before beer worked its way back into "What We Drank."
As always, this is what our editors and contributors are drinking.
Just when I was ready to give up on South African beer, I noticed something new on the shelves at the local supermarket: cute jug bottles, Red Stripe style, from Shongweni Brewery in KwaZulu Natal, an eastern South African province. I immediately snatched up a bottle of each style.All were delicious, but the Robson's West Coast Ale, described as a "California-style" lager, really hit the spot. I'll argue the problems with labeling a beer "West Coast" another day; this time I was interested in how a South African brewery would emulate what's perceived to be a "California" style.
The first thing I noticed was the gorgeous russet-brown color of the beer -- a far cry from the golden hue of most craft lagers. All Shongweni's brews in their Robson's Real Ale line are bottle-conditioned, creating sediment and a lovely cloudy element to the appearance as well as bready, fruity esters on the nose and palate.
Unless you've been a beer geek overseas, like me, you simply cannot grasp what it's like for a beer lover to go over two months without a beer of this caliber and then to open one, pour it into a glass, swirl up the lees at the bottom, and then pour them in a spiral shape over the head of the beer. (Yes, I drink the lees, and if that's wrong I don't want to be right. I always remind my bar patrons that it's a complete source of vitamin B complex.)
The beer was beautifully balanced, with fruity yeast and hazelnuts on the nose, a nuttiness to the midpalate, and lovely layers of hops resulting from four separate additions of Cascade and Northern Brewer -- normally in the U.S. "West Coast" means "we hopped the sh*t out of this one!", but this is one smooth brew.
Great lacing and good head retention helped the beer keep its sexy till the end. Thanks to Shongweni for ending my craft-beer celibacy period in style.This bottle, along with four other Finger Lakes pinots, survived for a few days after last Wednesday's Taste Live event. As a result, we've been able to pour some of the strongest local pinots for a variety of friends and family.I'm encouraged. The pinots are improving, and they're improving because the conversation has reached a new level. If you're not on Twitter, you missed the chance to follow -- and join -- the conversation with Finger Lakes winemakers who were talking about what it takes to make stellar pinot noir. We went over oak, yields, site, sorting, stems and more.
That doesn't mean there's one simple answer for making great pinot. Have you ever met two winemakers who choose to do things exactly the same? I haven't. But the thoughtful conversations leads everyone to think more about their own practices, and what can be improved.
That's what a collaborative ethos can do for a region. It doesn't mean all of the wines will taste the same; it means the stronger practices will become more common, and the wines will improve while showing diversity. It's nice to see that starting to happen with pinot.
I had never heard of Founders Brewing Company until a couple weeks ago when a beer geek mailing list I'm on blew up with hype about this Michigan brewery finally coming to New York (they had never been distributed here previously).
I responded to the thread and asked the local beer gurus "What's the big deal here with Founders?" The replies were enthusiastic and can be summed up in the last one I received "Of all their beers, even the worst is better than most craft beers."
That's high praise from this group, so I was anxious to try some, which I got to do last week at Rattle n Hum in Manhattan.
First I had a glass of their imperial IPA, Double Trouble. I drink a lot of IPA and I thought this was outstanding -- one of the best DIPAs I've had. Hoppy as hoppy can be, it was still balanced, which is the key to success with this style.
Then I moved on to this Kentucky Breakfast Stout, know among beer lovers as KBS.
Brewed with coffee and chocolate -- then aged in bourbon barrels for a full year -- this is a big (11.25 abv), complex beer that clearly is meant as breakfast, not for along side breakfast. All the flavors you'd expect are there -- chocolate, dark roast coffee and bourbon...lots of bourbon -- but also some cola/root beer notes and subtle smokiness. It was a bit sweeter than I typically want in my stout, but it was well balanced. One of the most interesting, layered beers I've ever tasted.
If there was a Facebook page honoring spring, summer, autumn and winter I’d surely be a fan. I live for seasonal sports, seasonal holidays, seasonal clothes and I most definitely look forward to seasonal beers.
So far this spring I’ve already had quite a few seasonal brews. My favorites have been Kolsch-style beers from Otter Creek and Stoudt’s as well as Sierra Nevada’s Glissade. I wasn’t a big fan of the Anchor Bock but I did put down a few cases of Genesee Bock before my local store sold out of it.
Having been tempted by a friend to try a maibock style, I was ready and willing to give this Victory St. Boisterous Hellerbock a go.
To be honest I didn’t know that this was ultimately in the style of maibock until some Googling at home. I was sold completely at the store because it was a seasonal Victory product.
The aromas of sweet caramel and apricot are balanced nicely by hops. On the palate, full and round with delicate carbonation. Although at first there is a case for this being a sweet beer, by the finish it dries out enough to make me think I need to buy more. Although high in alcohol, it isn’t out of balance.
Great stuff and by the reaction of the German down the road, it is true to its roots as a maibock style.
Tom Mansell: Galen Glen Stone Cellar Grüner Veltliner NV (Lehigh Valley, PA)
I went home to Schuylkill County for Easter and decided to drink really local. Galen Glen Vineyard and Winery is located in Andreas, in eastern Schuylkill County, and is part of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail.
This wine reminds me of Kiwi sauvignon blanc at first with its grapefruit and bell pepper notes. Crisp acidity helped it pair well with the traditional ham (as well as halupkis, kielbasi and other coal region favorites).
On the finish it reveals its true Grüner nature, the classic white pepper mingling well with other grassy aromas.
It's a solid effort and I was happy to see such a wine representing my home turf. It's also nice to see people experimenting with Grüner Veltliner, which I stubbornly refuse to refer to as "Gru Vee."