On judging a book by its cover…

I recall a dinner party several years ago when we came to the conclusion that it’s good to be suspicious of any wine that has an animal on the label.  That might seem silly, but given the wide selection at your typical liquor store (let alone some of the really big stores), sometimes it feels like the label is as good as any other criterion for trying (or not trying) a particular bottle. After all, do I really want to go through the checkout line with a wine called “Cupcake” or “Mommy’s Time Out”?  On the other hand, a tastefully understated label will look nice on the dinner table and won’t embarrass me when I bring it to the checkout clerk.

So I am perfectly capable of making judgments on the basis of extraneous factors that are unrelated to the flavor of the beverage inside, and on that basis I haven’t ever been tempted to buy beers from Shipyard Brewery, even though they are in the top 20 craft beers by sales, because the label art always struck me as garish.  I’m not sure what changed this month, other than the continuing search for variety, but for the sake of interest I brought home a mix pack of four Shipyard IPAs.

The big picture, in my opinion, is that I was right to judge this book by its cover.  Like the label art, thesIMG_0422e beers were all in your face with very little in the way of subtlety.  The Black IPA pictured here had an abundance of both hops and smoky dark malts, the flagship IPA was fine but not special, and the Monkey Fist struck me as a pretty standard West Coast style IPA.

If there was a winner here, it was probably the XXXX IPA, part of “Pugsley’s Signature Series.”  IMG_0428(Pugsley is the brewmaster, not the character from The Addams Family.)   This was easily the most balanced of the four beers in this pack and had a flavor that would be worth enjoying on its own as well as with a meal.

Good friend Steve brought a few of his usual beers to share over our annual round of rehearsals (for a Christmas caroling group) and pot-luck dinner parties that fill up our November Fridays.  These included Killian’s Irish Red Ale (which isn’t really all that Irish–the name was sold to a brewery in France that is owned by Heineken and Coors purchased the rights to use the name in North America), Yuengling (a pretty standard American lager), Michelob Amber Bock (which was fine but didn’t really have the usual alcohol content of a bock) and Beck’s Dark (which I remember from my youth when “dark beer” was something exotic).

Four beers from Shipyard and four random beers brings the tally up to 146.  I’m bringing a couple of interesting beers to our Thanksgiving weekend and will probably encounter a few while I’m visiting.  Cheers!


Catching Up

So I’ve fallen way behind over the last two months, a combination of the usual craziness of the fall (start of school plus coaching every afternoon) and an incident on the Mass. Pike that fortunately didn’t injure anybody but unfortunately had me spending lots of time talking with insurance agents and car salesmen as we dealt with the necessity of replacing our beloved but badly damaged Subaru station wagon. Anyway, this will have to be a quick attempt to get the tally up to date with the hope that I can do some more thoughtful posts now that some of the extra-curricular distractions are fading in the rear-view mirror.

There were six different beers in the Saranac Summer Sampler. Saranac strikes me as a “discount” craft brewery–lots of variety, nothing outstanding, but reasonable quality at a price point a couple of dollars below some of the bigger name craft breweries. The most interesting beer in this mix was a Ginger Pale Ale–like the name suggests, this had a ginger beer accent on top of a typical pale ale with a really strong fresh ginger taste. Note that ginger beer is not the same as ginger ale—ginger beer, even if it doesn’t contain alcohol, is traditionally brewed and fermented (not sure if the alcohol is removed or whether it’s just not fermented long enough to develop a high alcohol content in the soft drink), whereas ginger ale is carbonated water with sugar and ginger flavoring. My notes say that the Wild Hop Pils was also pretty good, that the “Cloud Splitter” was a nice execution of the wheat+orange+coriander style (they add some oats, which maybe helps to round out the wheat finish), and that the Everyday IPA was fine but unexceptional. I was not a fan of the pomegranate-infused “Jugglernaut” and didn’t really like the Kölsch very much either.

Professor Chuck sent another can home with Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave.  This one was a pretty standard West Coast IPA called Red Betty that came from Central City Brewing in Surrey, BC (Canada)–more evidence that I should try to get over my prejudice against beer in cans.

Had a couple of old standbys on one of the last warm Indian Summer afternoons with friends who live on the water in Bristol, RI: Bass Ale and Sierra Nevada’s flagship Pale Ale. At least on this particular day, I enjoyed the Bass more—it seemed better balanced with more malt than the Sierra Nevada. The Bass Ale red triangle is supposed to be one of the oldest registered trademarks in the world, so presumably they have been doing something right for the last couple of centuries.

Faithful reader and commenter Elizabeth shared a local Rhode Island beer that she found, a coffee milk stout from the revived Narragansett Brewery.  For those who are not Rhode Islanders, coffee milk is a local treat that is made like chocolate milk but uses coffee syrup instead of Hershey’s.  This was a fun beer, but one probably not to be enjoyed close to bedtime–apparently there was enough real coffee in this beer to give it a powerful caffeine kick that left me restless for most of the night.

Another birthday dinner at Flatbread Pizza had me trying a White IPA from Two Roads.  Though this is an unfiltered wheat beer, their web site notes that they don’t do the spices typical of this style, which may be why I was left with a better impression of this beer than some other wheat beers.

Two autumn samplers and one random pumpkin beer also crossed my path over the last couple of months.  My favorite pumpkin beer was in the sampler from Long Trail–it had a nicer malt body than the Sam Adams which seemed like a better match for the pumpkin pie spices, but was less in-your-face than the Shipyard Pumpkinhead.  (More about Shipyard in a future post, I promise.)  The Sam Adams Harvest Pack also included their flagship lager (which doesn’t count as new–one bottle went into a nice batch of chili), their Oktoberfest (which was disappointing), and a Saison (which also left me a little flat).  The Long Trail sampler’s other beers were the flagship ale (my favorite in this group), an IPA (nothing special here) and a brown ale (Harvest Barn Ale) which was fine but not memorable.

If I’m counting correctly, that’s 19 new beers since the last entry, which brings the total for calendar 2014 to 138 different beers.  Holiday season will no doubt help to pad the total as parties and evenings out give me the opportunity to try beers one at a time rather than in larger lots.  Then it will be time to take stock and decide whether this is a project worth continuing after a year of taking photos and careful notes.  Cheers!