Monday, May 31, 2010

Drink like a Viking: Viking Hot Chocolate

Summer is fast approaching, and that usually means drinking thirst quenching, lighter beers that go down easy in the heat. I'm a big fan of summer seasonal beers, but I believe any time is a good time for a good beer. So I like to do what a lot of beer lovers and beer geeks do and mix it up a bit. Its not uncommon for beer lovers to get a stash of winter brews and break them out in the summer months. Styles such as double bocks, barley wines, imperial stout, spiced holiday ales and the like are perfect winter warmers. It is nice to see how these beer fair with a little age on them, and to drink them "out of season." So what better beer to show as example of this than a glass of Hot Chocolate from the Viking Brewing Company of Dallas, WI.

Viking Brewing established itself in 1995, and this is a very small, local micro brewer with distribution limited to the state of Wisconsin. They brew a number of beer styles both ales and lagers, and they brew a number of different seasonal beers. Hot Chocolate is their December-January seasonal release. This beer is a chocolate stout by style, and is very unique and interesting in the fact that it is brewed with organic cocoa and cayenne pepper.

Hot Chocolate pours to a slightly hazy, deep brown to black color with a tight, soapy, tan head that fades, and a moderate to soft carbonation. The nose on this beer is excellent with dark chocolate, coffee, cocoa and roasty aromas. The palate is soft with good dark chocolate, cocoa and coffee flavor. The body is a little thin for a stout to my tastes, but only a minor flaw in my opinion. This beer finishes with more good dark chocolate and coffee flavorful up front, then ends with a nice, spicy, peppery burn that hits the back of the throat and lingers.

The cayenne pepper finish really starts to heat up after this beer warms a little, and I for one love it, making it a very enjoyable drinking experience. Some beers that use hot peppers can be gimmicky, but that is not the case here. Cayenne works well with the cocoa, coffee, and dark chocolate aromas and flavors in this beer. Flavorful and unique, this is the kind of beer well worth trying any time of year. For more info visit:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hop Monster: CascaZilla

Now here is a monster of a beer. A few years back I visited the Ithaca Beer Company, in Ithaca, NY. This is an outstanding little brewery, and every beer I have had from Ithaca has been impressive. One of my favorite beers from this brewery is their American red ale simply known as CascaZilla. This beer gets its name from a gorge in Ithaca known as Cascadilla and the "monstrous" amounts of Cascade and Amarillo hops used in the brewing of this beer.

Hops are the seasoning in a beer, the more hops used at different stages of brewing, the more aromatic, flavorful, or bitter a beer will be with hop character. Cascade and Amarillo hops are know for their zesty citrus aromas, flavors, and bitterness, and they are in this beer by the bail load. What I love about CascaZilla is that huge hop character is balanced with the use of a generous amount of caramel malts, giving this beer is beautiful red color, but also some malt sweetness to stand up to all those hops. So what you have here is an excellent example of a hoppy American red ale, with lots of big hop aromas, flavors, and bitterness, with some good malt character as well.

CascaZilla pours to a beautiful, bright, deep amber to ruby red color, with a tall, off white head that fades, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose is just fantastic on this beer, with lots of zesty aroma of lemon peel and grapefruit. The plate is firm with some good sweet toffee flavors paired with a very nice, tangy lemon/citrus hop flavor. This beer finishes with more of those good toffee and citrus flavors up front, then ends with big smack of grape fruit and lemon hop bitterness that lingers.

Very impressive beer with tons of character. At 7% abv, this is the kind of beer you will want to sip and savor. It makes a great aperitif beer, would work well with a number of dishes, and is a great beer to have after a long hard day at work. Well worth seeking out if you can find it in your market. For more info visit:

The United States of Beer

The greatest thing about this picture? There is either a brewery or brewpub in all 50 states. We have come a very long way in 30 years. God Bless America.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What is new is old: Old Bisbee Brewing Company

Nice to see Arizona's newest brewery is located in Bisbee, AZ the home of Arizona's very first. The Old Bisbee Brewing Company opened its doors on March 14th, 2010. The line up at the brewery tap room looks pretty impressive with a Scottish ale, a pale ale, a hefeweizen, a pilsner, an IPA, a nut brown ale, and an Imperial Stout for starters.

Amazing how far craft beer has come as just 22 years ago, in the same town of Bisbee, the legendary Electric Dave opened up Arizona's very first brewery in 1988 with the founding of the Electric Brewing Company.

For more information visit:

Craft Beer Legend: The Electric Brewing Company, Bisbee, AZ

We really have come a very long way when it comes to craft beer in the United States. These days we pretty much take for granted the easy access and variety of choices we have in our markets. Craft beer might be a little hard to find in some places, but at the very least you will always be able to find Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, or even Red Hook. That was just not the case 20 years ago. If you wanted craft beer? If you wanted to visit a microbrewery or brewpub? You really had to go look for it, and when you did find it, the choices were few and far between.

The name Electric Dave might not mean anything to the average beer drinker. It might not even mean too much to a casual beer geek. But some of us remember the name Electric Dave, and why that name is an important one in the American Craft Beer Movement. So, who was and is Electric Dave and why should you as a beer lover care? Dave Harvan is quite simply a craft beer legend.

In 1987 "Electric" Dave Harvan successfully lobbied the Arizona state legislature and opened Arizona's very first microbrewery in the border town of Bisbee, AZ. The Electric Brewing Company established in 1988 has gone though a lot of twists and turns in the 22 years since its founding, but I am happy to say, this tiny, little microbrewery is still cranking out beer. To think of a craft brewer in a tiny Arizona border town 22 years ago? That is amazing to me. That is a true craft beer pioneer, and why Electric Dave is a legend among beer geeks.

Electric Dave's most popular product was and still is his Electric Beer. This beer is a pale lager by style, and in the Arizona heat a beer like this makes perfect sense. Crisp, clean, smooth and drinkable. I would rather have this locally brewed Arizona beer than a Bud, Miller, or Coors or that Mexican swill that is Corona. People in Bisbee, AZ were drinking local back in a time when the big three American brewers AB, Miller, and Coors totally dominated the market. There is a lot to be said for Electric Dave giving people a local choice back in the late 1980's. Dave also brewed up an and American pale ale called Electric Ale, an IPA called Industrial Ale, and an oatmeal stout called Old Frog Grog.

Electric Dave got himself in a bit of trouble back in the early 1990's for mailing some "Mexican oregano" to a friend on the East Coast and would up going to jail for 5 years. Brewery operations ceased until 2000 when Dave was released from jail. The Electric Brewing Company has limped along with sales of Dave's beers waning at periods and making the brewery profitable business a real challenge. The Electric Brewing has actually had to shut down production, and Electric Dave has had the brewery up for sale. Things are looking up though.

In 2007 two Tempe, AZ business partners came to an operating agreement with Electric Dave and have taken the reigns of the Electric Brewing Company. They operate the brewery in Bisbee which still brews and bottles all of the Dave's Electric beers. In 2009 Dave's Electric Brewpub opened its doors in Tempe, AZ. The brewpub will feature all the Bisbee brewed Dave's beers, as well as experimental and seasonal beers brewed in house at the brewpub in Tempe.

It is great to know that a craft beer pioneer like Electric Dave and his beers live on. And while Electric Dave might not be in charge of the operations anymore, and his not brewing the beer himself these days? What he did, when and where he did it, will not be forgotten, and why Electric Dave will always be a legendary figure when it comes to American craft beer. For more information visit:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Battle Tested: Battlefield Brewery, Frederickburg, VA

It really is a wise old saying to not judge a book by its cover. If you were to venture down Route 3 in Fredericksburg, VA and and entered the Chancellor Center, you probably would not think much of this non-descript strip mall. You would find the usual suspects of retail shops and restaurants. What makes this strip mall a little different, and why it matters if you love great beer? There is a brewery in this one, and a pretty awesome one at that.

It does not look like much from the outside, but since The Pub opened in 1995 it has been a favorite watering hole for locals. This is very much a local place offering standard pub fare, domestic and imported beers on draught. It has a nice bar/pub area on one side, and a nice restaurant area on the other. The food at The Pub over the years has gained a local reputation as being outstanding, and with over a 100 choices on the menu, there really is something for everyone. I've been impressed with the quality and variety. When is the last time you saw fried ravioli on an appetizer menu, or had a Monte Cristo sandwich? Salads, burgers, chicken, steaks, you name it, The Pub serves it, and the portions and quality is just awesome. As good as The Pub was and is, last year they did something that took them to another level.

In October of 2009 the Battlefield Brewery set up and started brewing operations literally about 10 feet from the bar where the taps flow. Here is what Battlefield has to say:

Among the sixteen beers we have on tap, our selection includes the best imports and domestics brewed and now, we offer our own beers. Artfully brewed in our own microbrewery here at The Pub. We have five different styles on tap. Three taps dedicated to our customer’s favorites: Chancellor Ale, an American style Pale Ale, Iwo Jima Red Ale, a hearty Irish style Ale and Coral Sea Kolsch, a German style Ale aged like a lager. The other two taps we rotate different styles like Porters, Belgian style ales, IPAs, Wheat and various other ales and lagers. Try some of the freshest and tastiest beers you will ever experience.

This is a very small brew house, producing a very limited amount of beer that must venture to The Pub to try. I for one, love that. This is what fresh, local craft beer should be all about. Having visited Battlefield on four separate occasions now, I will concur with the statement that Battlefield beers are some of the freshest and tastiest beers you will ever experience. This brewery has been brewing for less than a year, but in that short time frame that are producing some fantastic beers. Fresh, flavorful, stylistically accurate and delicious. If you love good craft beer, you are going to be very happy with a trip to The Pub and Battlefield Brewery. I've enjoyed everything in their regular rotation as well as a fantastic stout, Belgian ale, and IPA.

Things got even better with the recent release of 2 liter swing top growlers for beer to go. $24 will get you the growler and refills are $8. Well worth the investment for such great beer. The Pub gets it right on so many levels. Great atmosphere, great food, great service, and the most important thing, great beer. The restaurant part is family friendly, so you can bring the kids, the bar/pub part is great as well if you want to hang out with the boys and have a few. Smoking is allowed in the bar, so that might be the only knock on this place for a non-smoker. With the addition of Battlefield Brewery and the house brewed beers, it makes this place a destination visit for anyone who loves great craft beer. You would be insane not to stop here if you are a beer lover and you find yourself within a 50 mile radius of this place. For more info visit:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Quite possibly the worst beer on the face of the earth: Corona Extra

With the summer fast approaching, barbecues and cook outs will start to be found in backyards all over the place. Nothing goes better at a good cook out than beer, right? Guess again. I remember attending a friend's cookout a few years back, that might have been a total disaster. My friend was nice enough to give me some some fair warning, and disaster was avoided. My friend told me what type of beer would be served. He said, "Don't worry about a thing,there will be plenty of food, and plenty of beer.". Me, being the beer lover that I am, asked: "What kind of beer?". His answer: "Coors Light, and Corona, that is all I drink.."

I knew I was in BIG trouble. So, being a good guest (never go to a party empty handed) I brought a 12 pack of Corona and a few limes for my gracious host, and for me, some Negra Modelo,and some Tuppers' Hop Pocket in my cooler. It was a great cook out, but it reminded me at the time how far the craft beer industry still had to go. No one, and I mean NO ONE was interested in craft beer. Corona was as exotic as they were going to get. Which was fine for them, but not this beer lover. So what about Corona? It can't be that bad, it is wildly popular. It is the number one imported beer in America, and the ten most popular brand in America, how bad can it be?

When I say this beer quite possibly be the worst beer on the face of the earth? I am as serious as a heart attack. I can understand why this beer is so popular. It is popular for the same reasons Coors Light, and Budweiser are so popular. Beers brewed to have the widest range of appeal, that is meant to offend no one, means beers with little flavor or character. These types of beers sell, and they sell well. I get that part. What I don't get, is, why people are willing to pay more for Corona. Here is a beer that is priced about the same as some quality, local, micro brews, yet it is a mass produced, bland, lager. All I can say is, hats off to the marketing department at Corona, they got a winner on their hands. Great marketing. Serve it ice cold, and squeeze a wedge of lime in a Corona, a dash of salt, and you will mask the true flavor of this beer. I think who ever decided to market this beer, and thought of serving this beer with a wedge of lime, is brilliant. Thank God for ice and limes.

Corona Extra pours to a straw gold color with a slight white head, and a lively carbonation. The nose on this beer is horrible. Corona is marketed in clear glass bottles, and with clear glass, or green glass, beer can become what is known as light struck. I won't get into the science of it, but the bottom line is, light,and heat are deadly enemies of beer. It makes a beer smell and taste skunky. The nose on the bottle of Corona I drank was very skunky, no malt or hop aromas were present. The palate? More of the same, a slight skunky flavor, mixed with lots of fizzy carbonation on the tongue, and a very thin, and watery body. This beer finished with more skunky flavor that ended with a black hole of nothing.

In a word, this beer was disgusting. That is the true flavor of Corona folks. I dare even the most loyal Corona drinker to try this one without lime and at a temperature above freezing and tell me they really enjoy it. As a beer, it is a mass produced, bland lager with little flavor and character. How does Corona get over and why is it so popular? People drink it ICE cold, and with a healthy dose of lime to mask the flavors. Or on the odd chance you might get a bottle that is not light struck, lime adds some flavor, to a beer that has virtually none. Try a Corona that's true flavor isn't numbed with cold, or spiked with lime, and you will understand what a horrible beer Corona really is.

What really boggles my mind, is, people are willing to pay more for this beer. You might as well save yourself a few bucks and squeeze a lime into a Miller Lite, or even a Milwaukee's Best, those beers have as much flavor and character as Corona. Corona drinkers are being duped, and ripped off in my opinion. What are you really paying for? A painted bottle? The quality is just not there, it is just great marketing of a poor beer.

I will leave you with this. I attended a beer dinner with Micheal Jackson, The Beer Hunter. Before he passed away in 2007 he was the most recognized authority on beer in the world. As chance would have it, Jackson and I was in the men's room, making room for some more beer. Someone asked Jackson when he was doing his business; "That coming out like Miller Lite?".Jackson replied: " I was thinking more like Corona. ." True story.

Step right up and don't be shy: Magic Hat Circus Boy

With the summer months fast approaching, it is now time for a kind of beer that will quench your thirst. One of my all time favorite beer styles in the warmer months is a South Bavarian style known as hefeweizen. These beers are brewed with up to 70% malted wheat, sedimented with yeast and are known for their tart, thirst quenching character. I love the classic German examples of this style, as well as the fantastic domestic examples. That being said, I also like new and innovative twists on beer styles, and Circus Boy from the Magic Hat Brewing Company of South Burlington, VT is a great example of what I am talking about.

If you want to be a beer geek and split hairs? This beer technically isn't really a hefeweizen. It is indeed a wheat beer sedimented with yeast, but is very unique in the fact that it is also brewed with a portion of lemon grass. For me this is a real stroke of genius. The lemon grass really works in this beer, giving another dimension, and making all the more delicious and refreshing.

Circus Boy pours to a hazy, golden color, with a thick, tall, creamy, white head and a vibrant carbonation. The nose on this beer is interesting, with pungent lemon grass aromas with hints of estery banana and clove. The palate is firm, with good, tart malted wheat flavor, estery fruit, and some lemon grass sourness. Circus Boy finishes with more good tart wheat character up front, then ends with some sour lemon grass and citrus flavors that linger.

I understand how this beer could be hit or miss for a lot of beer lovers. I don't think there is any middle ground on a beer like this, you are either going to like it, or you won't. I for one like this beer, and it is a natural with Thai cuisine. I could see matching a few bottles of this with papaya sald, or coconut lemon grass soup. It would also work well with the ubiquitous pad Thai, and red and green curries. It is a great summer refresher, and a great beer to have on its own to quench your thirst. Available year round, I enjoy this one in the summer months. For more information visit:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Power to the People: The People's Pint

Beer has been and will always be a drink of the people. It crosses all cultures, all social strata, all boundaries. Go pretty much anywhere in the world, and you will find beer. For me, local beer is beer at its very best. There is nothing quite like drinking a quality, fresh, handcrafted brew from a tiny local brewpub and brewery. Beers that literally go from the tanks right into your glass.
We are very fortunate in the U.S. these days. Thousands of little brewpubs and craft breweries dot the American landscape, and beer is being brewed and produced in places it never was in the past. From major metropolitian areas to little country towns, if you look hard enough you will find a brewpub or brewery. I love finding little brewpubs or breweries off the beaten path. Part of the thill of a beer hunt is the actual hunt itself. You never know what to expect, and you must make the trek if you ever want to get an ellusive taste of a beer that can only be found in a local market.
A great example of what I am talking about is The People's Pint in Greenfield, MA. This is a small brewpub/brewery established in 1997 produces outstanding ales while offering exeptional food, in a laid back casual atmosphere. This is a small, cozy place, in a small New England town. The People's Pint does not take credit cards, but takes cash and personal checks if you can believe it. When was the last time you paid for a meal or a round of beers with your check book? Its is just one of the quirky things I love about this place, but make no mistake the beer is the star here.
The People's Pint uses traditional British brewing methods, and their beer styles are decidedly British. Here you can enjoy an IPA, a stout, a porter, a bitter, an ESB, a mild, a brown ale. You will also find some Irish, German, and Beligan beer style in their line up, and all will be stylistically accurate, fresh, and flavorful. I have enjoyed a number of beers from the People's Pint and was very impressed. I reviewed a few of their beers on my last visit, and had this to say about their May Day:
Sampled on draught at the brewpub, and a growler to go. Pours to a beautiful, deep amber to red color, with a thick white head, and a moderate carbonation. The nose on this beer is excellent with lots of good sweet and caramel malt aroma, paired with vibrant piney and citrus hop aromas. The palate is firm with good sweet and caramel malt flavor, flavors of ripe fruit, and tangy/zesty hop flavor. May Day finishes with more good malt, fruit and hops up front, then ends with a zesty burst of citrus hop bitterness that lingers.
The People's Pint is local, fresh, delicious craft beer. The food is outstanding as well, and the cozy, laid back atomsphere is welcoming as the service. This is what a great brewpub exepericence is all about. Growler to go, as well as 22oz bombers, so you can take some great beers home with you. For more information visit:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fully Loaded: Pizza Port Trigger Hoppy

If you ever find yourself in and around Orange County, CA a trip to the Pizza Port Brewing Company is an absolute must for beer lovers. Pizza Port has three locations, and I was fortunate enough to pay their Carlsbad, CA location a visit on a recent trip to California. The concept of a pizza place with a micro brewery is an awesome one in my opinion. Beer and pizza? Does it get any better?

The quality and variety of pizzas and beers at Pizza Port are tremendous, and this place has rightfully earned its stellar reputation over the years. Pizza Port brews a variety of beer styles, and also offers a pretty impressive list of guest beers from other California brewers and beyond. This place quite simply is beer heaven.

I enjoyed a number of beers on my visit, and was happy to sample their Trigger Hoppy which is a an unofficial sub style of India Pale Ale called Belgian IPA. These beers usually combine the bold and aggressive hop character of American IPA with the funky, spicy, sour, and wild characters of a number of Belgian ales. Trigger Hoppy is a great example, with lots of big aromas and flavors.

Trigger Hoppy pours to a slightly hazy golden color, with a bright, white head that slowly fades, and a vibrant carbonation. The nose on this beer is excellent with a big smack of zesty, citrus hop aromas, paired with some earthy, spicy yeast, and some good pale malt aroma. The palate is firm with good biscuity and pale malt flavor, paired with some citrus/grapefruit hop flavors. This beer finishes with more good spicy and earthy yeast up front, then ends with some pale malt sweetness and some zesty, citrus hop bitterness that lingers.
Outstanding beer from a very impressive brewpub. The pizzas and the beers here are fantastic and is well, well worth a visit. For more information visit:

Monday, May 17, 2010

Practitioner of the Craft: Craftsman Brewing Company, Pasadena, CA

When one thinks of Pasadena, California, one immediately thinks Rose Bowl, and the Tournament of Roses Parade. One does not think great craft beer, but I am happy to say the city of Pasadena has an outstanding craft brewery in the Craftsman Brewing Company. Established in 1995 by owner and founder Mark Jilig, this is a very small, very local, one man operation that only produces about 2, 500 bbls of beer a year.

Craftman Brewing is an example of grass roots brewing at its very best. For to get a crack at these beers? You will need to make the trek to Southern California, and try Craftman beers at their source in their very local markets. Craftman might be small, but the beers that Mark Jilig brews are anything but. Mark is a true practitioner of the art and craft of brewing and the variety of beer styles that Craftsman brews is amazing. That is the true beauty of a local, small craft brewer or brewpub. Brewing on a small scale allows the brewer to experiment and to try an number of styles that a lager brewer just would not be able to even attempt to brew because of scale.

Belgian beer styles, British beer styles, German beer styles, American IPA's, fruit beers, beers brewed with herbs and spices, lagers, ales. You name it, odds are Craftsman has brewed it. I was not able to visit the brewery on a recent visit to Pasadena, CA but was fortunate enough to try two outstanding Craftsman beers on draught at an outstanding beer bar in Old Town Pasadena called Lucky Balwin's. This place has 63 beers pouring, and they are heavy on California and West Coast brewed beers, something that is a very good sign indeed. What is even better is they carry their hometown brewed beers, Craftsman, which are prominently featured at Luck Baldwin's.

I was able to enjoy the Craftman .5 IPA. This beer is a great example of a small beer that isn't big on alcohol, but delivers big on hop aromas, flavors, and bitterness. This was a great pint after pint beer, one that you could have a session with and lose a day at the bar enjoying. I was also able to try a pint of Craftsman Saison which was a zesty, herbal, sweet and spicy version of saison, with complex aromas and flavors. This is one to sip and savor and not to be missed where ever you find a Craftsman tap. Local beer is a very good thing indeed. For more information visit: For more information on a good place to try Craftsman beers visit:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This is a test. This is only a test: Guinness Black Lager

Guinness Black Lager? That is correct, a new beer from Guinness being test marketed in six of the nine northern counties in Ireland's province of Ulster, and Malaysia. In Malaysia this one will be know as Guinness Premium Beer. This move isn't all that surprising, as Guinness is but one of many brands owned by drinks giant Diageo. Diego is marketing this one as a drink straight from the bottle ice cold kind of a beer. Depending how this one sells in the test markets, we might or might not see this one show up in the United States.

Not sure what to make of this. I love Irish brewed Guinness Stout, so I would want to give this one a try. I like the fact they are making an Irish version of schwarzbier or at the very least an Irish dark lager. Irish stout is big on flavor but is low in alcohol. Not sure if the loyal stout drinker would switch up for this one. I believe Guinness is going to make this one a little less robust in flavor and bitterness, and that might attract the drinkers who don't like the big flavors of an Irish stout.
Hard to say if this will fly or not. Guinness has tried and failed in the past when they have attempted new offerings with the iconic Guinness name brand. Only time will tell with this one. For more information visit: and their owners: