Saturday, December 31, 2005

The many flavors of Irish Stout

Guinness has pretty much cornered the world market or Irish Stout (so much so that the #1 Guinness-consuming nation in the world is Nigeria). In American bars, Guinness is often the only stout on tap. The beer is practically a synonym for all things Irish. But there are other Irish stouts, often consumed by fiercely loyal homtown drinkers, that are available in better beer stores and pubs.

Murphy's Irish Stout, From Cork, Ireland, is drier and more bitter than Guinness, although just as opaque and creamy. The taste of chocolate is quite noticeable, but without any candy sweetness.

A bartender in Shannon, Ireland told me that, outside of Cork, Murphy's is ordered primarily by tourists. The Corkites (Corkubines?), however, are fiercely loyal to their beer, and rightly so.

Beamish Stout is also brewed in Cork, but has enjoyed less overseas success than Murphy's or the big "G." Expect a more pronounced roasted malt taste, which a lot of people characterize as "Burnt Coffee," and a lighter body.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Ale from the other side of the pod

I've developed an appreciation for Greene KIng IPA, from the Greene King Brewery in Suffolk, England. It's a cask ale, very gently carbonated, with a classic English ale flavor that's been largely missing from the pubs in my area for years.

Greene King is much more subtle in character than most American IPAs. Here, brewers like to beat you to death with cascade hops. The English use Kent, Golding, and, I think, Fuggles hops and produce bers with a fine balance, complex flavor, and more complete profile. Cheerio to Greene King.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Nitrogen- it's not just for breathing!

Ever wonder why that Guinness you're drinking has such a smooth creamy texture? It's carbonated with nitrogen as opposed to Carbon Dioxide, which carbonates most beers and soda pop. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller, creating a completely different texture and much prettier foam cascade when the beer is poured.

Nitrogen carbonation changes the flavor, too. More aroma is released, which does wonders for ale styles (and some lagers. Boddington's comes to mind). Some bars have dedicated nitrogen lines through which they rotate a series of beers. If you find one of these in your neighborhood, treasure it and become a regular. A whole new world of beer enjoyment awaits.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Brussels Lace is beautiful

Did you know there's a term for the foam that lingers on the side of your beer glass? It's called Brussels Lace, and supposedly it's a measure of the beer's freshness.

Some beers leave more lace than others. A good german Pilsener, like Dinkel Acker CD Pils will leave clingy rings down the whole length of the glass, whereas no pale or brown ale will leave any. So take Brussels Lace at face value; It's like Anna Kournikova on the tennis court: there for the visual appeal alone.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Proper glassware- a must for beersnobbery

Have you ever really enjoyed a draft beer, yet been disappointed with the same beer out of a bottle? You percieve a huge portion of a beer's flavor with your sense of smell, and bottles simply don't release very much of the bouquet.

That's why any beer geek has the proper glassware for the proper beer. Each glass is designed to best channel the aroma of that particular beer into your schnozz. Different beers have different smells, so of course you'll need to reserve a lot of cupboard space.

Belgian trappist ales are best served ina wineglass like goblet, the grassy aroma of pilsener comes through best in a pilsener glass, and Guiness, of course, must be served in a 20 ounce imperial pint.

Pour the right beer into its proper glass and it just might make the difference between a so-so beer and one you love. Cheers!


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Happy holidays to the world from Beercraft.

-Mark and Bruce

Thursday, December 22, 2005

IPA- The well-travelled beer

Its pleasantly bitter finish and floral hop aroma has made India Pale Ale one of the most popular craft brew styles, and there's some interesting history behind the "IPA" moniker too.

During the days when India was the crown jewel of the British Empire, beer made in England's breweries was in demand in the colonial Indian cities. Since this was prior to the existence of the Suez Canal, the only practical sea route from the UK to India was all the way around the horn of Africa.

For the beer, this was a very long and very unrefrigerated journey. Most beers would go bad on the way. India Pale Ale, specially brewed for export to the subcontinent, had a far greater hop content than other beers. The hops acted as a preservative, protecting the beer from spoilage en route, and the colonists were treated to a very drinkable beer style that could be enjoyed with all the senses.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A beer to impress your date

Next time you're out on a date, order up some belgian Lambic. These beers use natural yeast that settles in from out of the air. By themselves they are dry and sour, so the brewers flavor them with fruit: Cherries (Kriek), raspberries (Framboise) and Peach (Peche) are often used.

The result: an absolutely unique beer that will knock her socks off, leaving you fre to continue trying to knock off the rest of her clothes.

More info on Lambics

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Beercrft newspaper column #1: Holiday Ales

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Jingle. Jingle. The arrival of the Holidays also means the proliferation of holiday beers on store shelves and in pubs everywhere. Some beer lovers find these spiced seasonals gimmicky, while others swear by the big flavor as the perfect winter nightcap. Rest assured, however, that there are plenty of holiday-themed beers that please the palates of seasonal celebrants everywhere.

Some say that the holiday ale tradition dates back to medieval times, when beer was a monastic thing. Supposedly, monks would brew special beers using special ingredients to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We’ve yet to run into a myrrh ale, so it’s hard to vouch for this story. More likely, some guys with tie-dyes, ponytails, and goatees brewed them up as a marketing ploy. At least on this side of the Atlantic.

Whatever the motivation, holiday ales are popular around the globe, and have been so for a while. While some are available year-round, many holiday ales are only distributed from November to January.

By general convention, holiday beers are dark, sweet, substantial ales, usually spiced with clove, cinnamon, and/or nutmeg. Many emphasize the “warming” quality with alcohol contents ranging from 6-7% by volume, as opposed to the 4-5% range within which most American lagers fall. Be careful, the extra percentage points can make themselves known in a hurry.

It is in the judicious use of spices that the best seasonal beers begin to distance themselves from the also-rans. Spices are a potential buzz kill for beer. Unless
used VERY sparingly, and at the proper time during the brewing process, they will overwhelm the flavor profile of the beer leaving it tasting like a biter spent teabag.
the spice essence should be most prominent in the aroma and less so in the flavor (Christmas trees are a joy to behold, but not as much fun to drink).

With this in mind, we hopped over to Acme Pizzeria to sample and suggest several locally-available holiday ales.

First up: a classic, Anchor Holiday Ale. The Anchor Brewing Co. produces a different holiday beer annually. Each year, a unique spice blend is used, and the brewers add a different pine essence.

This year’s caramel brown beer has a clove-tinged bouquet with a noticeable pine aroma. spices, are most pronounced on the front of the tongue, and the beer finishes with a balanced malt/hop taste. Anchor is a bit heavy on the “Holiday” side of things, so it might be a bit much for light beer drinkers. For those who like their Christmas spirit in liquid form, though, a couple of pints of Anchor Holiday beat eggnog hands down.

Some aficionados keep a few bottles from each different year on hand and hold "vertical tastings," opening them all and distributing a few ounces of each beer to each participant to taste, contrast, and discuss the beer from each year

St. Gootz Christmas Ale, from Vermont’s Magic Hat brewery, is more subtle. It’s like a German Dunkel Weizen with a mild mix of undefined spices, which linger briefly on the palate just inside the threshold of perception. Essences of clove and rasin are evident.

The beer is a rich maple color, with an attractive tan head. It balances toward sweet malt instead of hops, and its surprisingly light body makes St. Gootz a good choice for people who don’t like hevier beer. It also goes surprisingly well with pizza.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is an easily found bottled alternative that looks great in any refrigerator. It wins scads of medals in beer competitions and is generally regarded as the queen of holiday beers. Celebration leans toward the dry side. Chinook and cascade hops lend a Pacific Northwest microbrew taste with a spicy bite.

Finally, there’s the local player. CB’s Christmas Ale, by Custom Brewcrafters, reminds us that there’s a lot more to the Honeoye Falls-based brewery than brown ales and IPA. This beer is skillfully spiced, with a cinnamon essence. More important, the spice is layered upon a rock solid, well-balanced beer that doesn’t attack your mouth with bitter hops, nor is it cloyingly sweet from too much malt.

One of the good things about being in Rochester is we get to enjoy these beers in their proper context; it would be more difficult to savor brews this robust in the 80 degree heat of Arizona. Thanks to the brewers and sellers of these fine ales for turning the bitter cold into an asset. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

Monday, December 19, 2005

American Brown Ale

I ordered a Sierra Nevada Brown Ale last night. It was fantastic.

Usually, I find brown ales too bland for my taste. Even Bass and Newcastle Brown have never really impressed me. But the Sierra Nevada had the hop kick that the British browns lack. Bruce coined the term "American Brown Ale." I ordered another.

Hey, it's all in the name of research. Cheers!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Beer for the ball game

I admit that I'm sort of a beer snob, but even I have limits, and one of those limits is the ball game. For some reason, excellent beer does not go well with sports.

If you're at a professional sporting event that isn't polo, you have no business sipping a Sam Smith's oatmeal stout. To me, it's totally wrong for the atmosphere, and if one drinks beer for pleasure, environment and mood cannot be ignored as factors.

When I'm sitting behind the first base line, give me a crappy American mass-market lager, preferably a Genesee or Iron City, any day. Play Ball!


Friday, December 16, 2005

Belgian beers

It's almost ludicrous to describe a beer as a "Belgian," because that little country pumps out over two hundred styles of beer. There are mass market lagers (Stella Artois, Jupiler), the famed trappist ales (Orval, Duvel), lambics (Lindemann's Kriek, Gueze, et. al), red beers, etc.

Belgian beers are idiosyncratic, often sweet and somewhat musty in flavor. Because the brewers of Belgium use very iconoclastic strains of yeast (in some cases, just wild yeast from the air), it is very difficult to reproduce the flavor of ANY Belgian beers in North America, except maybe Stella.

Breweries like Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY and Montreal's Unibroue come reasonably close, and their Belgians are well crfted and enjoyable. Blue Moon is a piss-poor mockery of Hoegaarden Belgian White ale. If you like it, enjoy it by all means, but it's about as similar to a Belgian white as I am to the Queen of Serbia. -Mark

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A word of caution about megapubs

Megapubs- those places with 80+ beers on draft, can be wonderful places, full of interesting beers and general conviviality. But sometimes, as 90% of the patrons order the special or Budweiser, the more obscure beers sit on draft for weeks between pours.

Obviously, getting a glass of sour beer that's been sitting in the line is not going to leave you with an accurate impression of the brew. When ordering a craft beer, ask for a sample first. If it tastes funny, ask for a second one. You'll be more assured of a fresh pour after some liquid has flowed through the lines, and any bar that takes its beer seriously will understand this.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The first Beercraft newspaper column next week!

Well, the first Beercraft newspaper column is written and delivered. I'll publish it here as well. Expect new columns on a biweekly basis.

Right now, it's running in Freetime Magazine, THE bar and nightlife bible of Rochester, NY! -Mark

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Beer color and strength- no correlation

A common fallacy is that dark beer is stronger than lighter beer. This is often true, but color is not a result of high alcohol content. It's determined by the type of malt a brewer chooses to use.

Case in point: Guinness Stout, one of the darkest beers out there, is only 4% alcohol by volume, putting it roughly on par with watery old Coors Light(4.2%) for strength. In contrast, Pyramid IPA, of medium hue, packs a robust 6.7% abv wallop.

In order to attain the classic dry taste and opaque creaminess of Guinness, the brewery uses a dark roasted malt (I forget which one. Bruce could tell me). The grain is already a deep brown, almost black, when it goes into the kettle.

Alcohol content is regulated through the yeast. As yeast eats the sugars in the malt (fermentation), it converts them to alcohol. A brewer can stop the fermentation when the appropriate alcohol content is reached.

TO balance malt sweetness, hops are added, which give many beers that tantalizingly bitter aftertaste and floral aroma.

The flavor and color of beer is a complex juggling act, and paying attention to these things, instead of just the alcohol, infinitely heightens the enjoyment. Maybe I'll have a Guinness with dinner tonight.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Perfect beers for the Holidays

With Christmas looming ever closer, you might want to take a break from the hassle of shopping and settle in with a glass of winter ale. The perfect beers for the season are dark, strong, and warming. Here are some recommendations for a can't-miss nightcap:

And remember, just because there's no Christmas tree on the label doesn't mean it wont be wonderful on a freezing winter day! -Mark

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Beer of the day: Jever Pilsener.

Cheesy German flash video aside, Jever epitomizes the teutonic lager. A fresh, new-mown hay nose and balanced flavor, with just enough of a bitter aftertaste to make you want another sip, makes Jever a great choice for a night out. Careful, they pile up fast.

Damn, the video and flash on that site is cheesy, though.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The good, the bad, and more of the bad

Reflecting upon last night, it's probably not a good idea to serve Spaten Optimator in pints.

Optimator is a Doppelbock, a very delicious, very malty, very big beer. If you're unfamiliar with the style, it'll knock you on your ass. Anyway, I onloy had two pints.

The beer at the party I subsequently attended, however, was Yuengling Lager. There's been a bit of a promtional push for this beer in the northeast, and it's easy to find and cheap. My friends swear by Yuengling over Labatt Blue (the other tolerable cheap lager around here), but I have yet to be convinced. For lagers from Pennsylvania, gimme an Iron City any day. It's refreshing, and I'm a sucker for the aluminum bottles.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Beercraft Blog gets a new lease on life.

Bruce (my commercial brewer partner) and myself will now be writing a bimonthly column about beer in Rochester, New York's Freetime Magazine. I'll reprint the columns here.

Also, the website itself will be live again soon. I've been taking a class on web programming, and the new site will feature a searchable database of the beers we've reviewed.

In the meantime, I've learned a few truths about specialty holiday ales, one of which is that they tend to taste like a fermented Christmas tree. Look for more discusisions of Holiday beers in a week or so, when I publish the first Beercraft column. -Mark

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Okay, lools like the Beercraft website will be live again soon, and now, it's dynamic!

Yep. I learned how to create a database in Access and ASP, and I'm in the process of adjusting the site's look and layout. We'll be reviewing craft beer again and now the info will be searchable. Bruce, Bob and I also recorded the first beercraft podcast, which we're curently editing down into something listenable.

Anyway, beer. Last night it was Magic Hat Jinx scotch ale. Good enough for our table to go through four pitchers. Order it if you see it. -Mark

Friday, April 22, 2005

Stammtisch a total bust... or was it?

No Germans showed up for my evening of German conversation, but I did discover the joys of Aventinus!

So, not only did I avoid a total loss, I actually won! At $7 a bottle, so did the bar.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Today is the start of a new tradition- Stammtisch. I've gotten some Germans who are living and working in Rochester to agree to come out on a weekly basis for beer and German conversation. What can I say? I need the practice.

So German beer will be in order, and I'm not feeling like hefeweizen. The clear choice: one of Germany's most bitter Pilsners,Jever! Keine Kompromisse.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Beer at the baseball game...

I'm really not a fan of the light lagers pissed out by major American breweries. They taste of corn and fizzy water. But i'll make an exception at a baseball game.

I was in Buffalo yesterday, watching baseball in Dunn Tire Park. I had a Genesee and a Budweiser. They both went great with the classic ballpark setting and the shitty hot dogs. -Mark

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Now that Bob has returned to the US after a three-year stint in Munich, Beercraft's two beer reviewers are busily dragging out the homebrewing equipment once again. In doing so, Bob found a for year old bottle of LaChouffe Belgian Abbey Ale, stored since before he left.

We cracked that sucker, and it was amazing. Age had mellowed the ale ever so slightly. I'm gonna get some and try that trick in my basement. -Mark

Thursday, March 31, 2005

It's amazing, but I finally found a good American hefeweizen. Usually, they're friggin' terrible, all over the top with that bubblegum taste. I like to drink my beer, not chew it. But I am really impressed with Flying Dog In Heat Wheat. they made a weizen that's as good as some of the German brands.

Making a pilgrimage to the beer store tonight. I'll probably pick up six different American IPAs, since that's what stateside breweries tend to specialize in. -Mark

Monday, March 28, 2005

Zywiec Porter really rocks! And it makes you tired!

Look for a Beercraft update tomorrow... three new reviews.

I'm also trying to figure out how to hold the first event... details to follow


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Just got back from Beers of the World, my local beer superstore.

Bought six bottles for review, a wheat beer from Flying Dog, A Long Trail porter and some other stuff. Hopefully, we'll pull the reviews together on saturday.

We're also preparing the podcast, where Bruce and Bob will conduct an audio review. More to follow on this project. -Mark

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Nothing elates a beer lover like the discovery of an untried, delicious brew. Last night, at the Old Toad, I was privileged to find two exceptional and exotic beers.

First up was Champion Rider from the Southern Tier Brewing Company. The guys at Southern Tier make incredible beers, and this foray into custom brewing is a testament to their excellence. Developed as a collboration with Old Toad bar manager Joe McBane, Champion Rider is a surprisingly distinctive pale ale. The aroma is lush and very floral. The body is crisp and refreshing, and hops and malt are skillfully balanced.

Champion Rider will only be available at the Toad, which is a shame for non-Rochesterian beer lovers.

Kapuziner Hefeweizen, from Germany's Kulmbacher Brewery, also scored some big points with me. I had never seen this beer on draft in the USA before. Hell, I never even saw it in Germany. Gotta love the Toad for taking the time to find the obscure beers.

Hefes are tricky with me. They're either really good, mediocre, or American. This one ponies up. Kapuziner achieves the sublime orangey hue and banana/clove aroma of Paulaner (the holy grail of hefe). It doesn't carry as robust a flavor as the big "P," buts stands head and shoulders over Tucher, Hacker-Pschorr, and other lesser examples. I'd place it as slightly better than Franziscaner, itself a worthy choice in any bar. -Mark

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I went to Magnolia's deli in Rochester this evening with beery intentions. The deli hooked up with a pretty cool specialty distributor that brings in all sorts of unexpected brews. I opted for Paulaner Salvator, my third-favorite doppelbock.

I rate the top-echelon doppels regularly available for purchase in Rochester, NY, in this order:

1. Tucher Bajuvator (Nuremburg)
2. Ayinger Celebrator (Aying)
3. Paulaner Salvator (Munich)
4. Spaten Optimator (Munich)

Tucher presents the best balance of malt sweetness, with just a hint of hops. It also has a nice, substantial mouthfeel and a finish that's sweet, but not cloying. Ayinger is a close second, and I like the little plastic goat you get with each bottle.

Tonight, I had to settle for Salvator. Poor me. Excuse me while I pour myself a glass of euphoria.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Had a Spaten Optimator at Quimby's pub in Henrietta, NY.

It's a typical suburban pub, but with a great beer selection. You gotta love finding Anderson Valley IPA and Optimator when you were expecting Labbatt Blue and Bud.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005