Archive for February, 2014

NINETY-NINE BOTTLES — #3 Grand Canyon American Pilsner

When I stop at beer outlets during my travels, I have no difficulty finding local or at least in-state IPAs and usually ambers and stouts. But pilsners is another matter. One hot day last summer, at a Bellingham, Washington supermarket noted for its wide selection of beers), I counted over 40 pale ales, IPAs, Black IPAs, and variations thereof. But no pils from the area, the state, or even the country.

But a couple of weeks ago, on a trip that took me through Arizona on the way to southern California, my pils pilgrimage achieved partial success. When I stopped at a store in Flagstaff, I found a pilsner that was brewed in nearby Williams. The name: Grand Canyon American Pilsner. The description on the bottle described it as medium-bodied with “a hint of Saaz hops.”

Good, I thought, I’ll be spending a couple of late afternoons beside a pool in Palm Springs, this should just hit the spot. A few days later, before I headed to the fridge to fetch my first bottle of this American pilsner, I checked out the brewery’s description of the beer on my iPad. It was described as a Bohemian style lager with “loads of Czech Saaz hops.”

Good, I thought once again. Pilsner Urquell and other Bohemian pils are among my favorite summer beers and, even though it was only mid February, it sure felt like summer beside the pool.

Well, my expectations were not realized — the loads of Czech hops didn’t seem to be there, more like the hint the bottle promised. But, I did like the beer, even if it wasn’t what I was looking for.

It poured a clear and golden colored. On the first sip, it seemed more medium-bodied than I expected from a pils. This was no doubt because of the Munich and Vienna malts the web page description said were included in the recipe. It was like a cross between a Vienna and a helles lager — with the slight sweetness of the malts balanced by the hops, that were noticeable but certainly not forward.

All in all, the beer was very satisfying. Sometimes I want something with a bit more (but not too much) oomph than is found in the crisp refreshment of a Bohemian pils — and Grand Canyon’s pil, with its noticeable maltiness,¬†offered a very enjoyable alternative.

I’m still going to go for a Pilsner Urquell when the days get really hot this summer. But if I can get some friends who are going to Flagstaff to bring some Grand Canyon American Pilsner back to Albuquerque for me, I’ll put it in the back of the fridge and save it for the not too distant days when the weather is not too hot and not to0 cold, but just right for this very enjoyable beer.

NINETY-NINE BOTTLES — #2 Alien Imperial Stout

“When I first started in this business,” a craft beer brewer told me several years ago, “I had to keep telling people: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK.” He was referring to most beer drinkers’ belief that beer should be the pale yellow color of the megabrands that dominated the twentieth century.

The fear included stout — the British Isles ale that most people associated with Guinness. But fortunately, Guinness had such good publicity, that stout didn’t seem as frightening as the other dark beers that craft brewers were creating. Now, stout is one of the most popular of the craft beers — next, of course, to IPAs. And they aren’t just Guinness clones. There are English, Irish, and American styles, along with oatmeal stout and Russian, or Imperial, Stout.

Last week on a cold, dark late New Mexico afternoon, I lit a cheery fire and settled in my easy chair with a glass of Sierra Blanca’s Alien Imperial Stout. It poured an opaque dark brown, with a tan head. My first sip introduced me to the mocha coffee like malt notes, with traces of hop that kept any potential sweetness down. (As the glass warmed up, the sweetness did come through, but not overwhelmingly so.) It was a well-rounded beer, medium to higher bodied, with ho harshness.

When I talked to Rich Weber, the owner of Sierra Blanca, he told me that they used a higher mash temperature, so that the residual sugar would prevent the taste of alcohol from becoming dominant. The beer used both Magnum and Fuggles hops, the latter providing an earthy balance to the potential malt sweetness.

But WARNING! The Guinness served at Irish pubs and available in “widget” cans on this side of the Atlantic, is around 4.2 percent alcohol by volume and is designed for someone having a few of an evening. It’s designed so that you can have profound thoughts and still have them make sense to anyone who might decide to listen. Alien Imperial Stout, in contrast, is 8.2 percent. Its kind of like a winter warmer, a beer that you can have one, or at most two of on a cold winter’s afternoon. Any more and your profound thoughts might become suspect.

I enjoyed my glass of Alien Imperial, banked the fire, had a bowl of hearty beef and vegetable stew, and then returned to the fireside to read my book.