Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday's overrated beer: Yuengling Lager

I live in Western New York, a region that until three years ago had but a cursory knowledge of Yuengling beers. You could get the lager at about two restaurants, as well as our local beer superstore, but that was pretty much it.

Yuengling, however, made a huge marketing push in our area for their Traditional Lager. Bars had the lager on special all the time, at insanely low prices. Because people are sheep, it soon became the order du jour when out on the town. The campaign was extremely effective, especially among young adults.

Yuengling is America's oldest brewery. That gives them all the street cred they need, but they can't really get a pass for their lager. It's not thin or watery, but it is full of that delicious corn adjunct flavor. Corn corn corn corn corn.

You see, barley, the grain from which beer is made, is a more expensive cereal than corn. So less discriminating breweries use corn to kinda round out the barley. Sometimes you can barely taste it. Other times, as in the case of Yuengling, the corn flavor and aroma grabs you by the nose and shakes you.

Oh, by the way, the Indians call it maize.

So, while not a terrible beer, it's cheaper and worse than the yuppies who order it think. That's why I consider Yuengling Lager overrated. I like my corn, err..maize, on the cob, not in the pint glass.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Brewery tours: friggin' whee

The post below this is newer, but for some reason the act of posting erased this entry. Effeng blogger. Anyway, I kinda like this one, so I repasted it.

I've been on a bunch of brewery tours, of both micros and famous international-type beers. I'm here to tell you they're always waaay overrated. When you get right down to it, dumping grain into boiling water and letting it sit for a month...isn't very interesting.

Even the Guinness tour. "You're going to Dublin? OMG! You have to do the Guinness tour!" I can't tell you how many seasoned world travellers gushed about the freakin' Guinness tour. As if Arthur Guinness himself would take me, along with seven other lucky winners, around the factory in a little boat down a black-and-cream river of stout. And, one by one, each other lucky winner would do something verboten to fuck it up, and small rhyming freaks would cart them away, until it was just me and my Grandpa at the top of the brewery.

Turns out, it's a self-guided tour through the former brewery, past a bunch of old barrels and videos about how Guinness is made. The tour culminates nicely in a round glass room high atop the building, where they give you one lousy freakin' pint of Guinness, and then "hey, me boyo, why dont you hurry yer arse out of here so the next wave of American tourists has a place to stand?"

As you can imagine, touring a microbrewery is even less interesting. Usually, you're "touring" a space the size of a small apartment, while an irritated guy whose job it is to make beer, not conduct customer relations activities, points at the fermenter and says "that's the fermenter, where the beer ferments."

I guess what I'm trying to say is a brewery is like your hot neighbor's panty drawer. It's nice to see the panties serving their inteded consumer function of being removed in your presence, but much less interesting to see them just sitting, bunched up, in a drawer.

Unless you're really into that sort of thing.


Beercraft newspaper column #23: "Light" beers

Three wimpy cheers for our choice of light beers!

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Americans have always loved beer, but as our populace grew fatter, we began to look at ways of living a healthier, less overindulgent lifestyle. Enter “light” beer: you get a fraction of the calories without sacrificing the gratification of drinking a bunch of alcohol.

Now, the obvious question is “if you’re so concerned with your weight, why try to swill down a beverage so culpable for fat production that they named a type of gut after it? Wouldn’t you just switch to wine or something?”

It’s kind of like veganism.

You ever look in a vegan’s fridge? It’s probably chock full of foodstuffs made of bean curd or wet grain, molded into the shape and approximation of meat. “Not Dogs.” “Tofurkey.” “Veggie Ribs” (we’re not kidding, these things exist).

There’s nothing wrong with choosing to eat only vegetable products, but for crying out loud, why does it all have to distantly resemble meat?!? Can’t it just be freakin’ vegetables? WHY?

But we digress.

It turns out, people really like beer. It’s the beverage associated with good times, good friends, and satisfying, resonant belches. People wanted to lose weight, but they still longed for their brewskis. Thus, the light beer market was created, and the megabreweries jumped in with every marketing dollar they could muster.

Light beer, when it first appeared in the 1970s, was received with great fanfare. It had lowered calorie content, yet was exactly like regular lager, in the same way that your bathtub is exactly like a swimming pool. Still, it gave people something to swill while mingling awkwardly, along with the misguided idea that they were sticking to rigorous diets. Thanks to very high-budget marketing, light beer soon became a dominant presence in the market and a necessary part of each megabrewery’s brand portfolio.

Obviously, Americans are still drinking the stuff by the kegful, so we’re not going to try to crusade against it. Instead, here are a couple of the more, um, palatable light beers you might find:

Amstel Light is the best-known imported light beer, and it isn’t half-bad, for what it is. Kind of like a Heineken, without the intense flavor, Amstel still manages to deliver some authentic beer taste. You may need to drink twice as many, but Amstel still offers a modicum of, um, “refreshment.” At 3.5% alcohol by volume, it can’t actually be classified as water.
Beck’s Light also comes to us from European shores. With less alcohol than Amstel (and correspondingly less flavor), Beck’s also manages to retain some beer flavor and color. It’s fizzy, but still palatable, and a good alternative at the office Christmas party when you want to be social, but still don’t want anyone to experience the real you.

A good friend of ours drinks Miller Lite almost exclusively. It’s ironic considering the guy looks like a beer keg with feet. Anyway, it’s actually not the worst of the worst, sharing the skunky cabbage aroma and corny taste with its heavier, more caloric cousin: Miller High Life. Once again, the fizz factor is very high, so you can pretend you’re drinking a beer soda.

Look, we can’t do this anymore. Between you and us, all these beers are wimpy and watery. It’s the nature of the beast. Take our advice. If you want to drink a robust, delicious beer and still cut back on the calories, the answer might come as a very pleasant surprise. Guinness Draught.

Yep. We’re talking about that jet-black stuff with the dense, creamy head. People think it’s heavy because of the dark color, roasty flavor and velvety nitrogen carbonation. In reality, it has just one more calorie per ounce than Miller Light. The black patent malt gives it a full flavor unequalled by any light lager.

Of course, you may have to develop a taste for stout, but if you can acquire a taste for that nasty, swampy, fetid ultra-light slurry water, choosing the Guinness should be a no-brainer.

By the way, some people actually enjoy light lager, and more power to them. Beer should make you happy, in whatever form you prefer. Far be it for us to judge; our motto is “Drink what you like.”

Even if you’re wrong.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Fall is gimmick beer time

Every autumn, a bunch of microbreweries put out a pumpkin ale. This is a wonderful beverage for anyone who enjoys beer and pie at the same time. Personally, I prefer to chew, swallow, then swill.

We'll be doing bonus reviews of various pumpkin ales over the next few days. Hope you enjoy novelty.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

All beer and no play...

More intensive blogging will resume shortly. Currently, I've been traumatized by having to write a column on 'light' beer.

Foks if you wanna drink beer, drink beer. If you don't want the calories, drink something else. Why choke down a watery near-beer when you could have a delicious, full-flavored

Monday, September 18, 2006

Getting ready for the colder weather

Yesterday was likely the last 80-degree day we'll see this year. It's time to clear the fridge of the pilsners, hefe-weizens, and light lagers in order to make room for the porters, stouts and barley wines of winter.

It's almost like the turning of the leaves, as bright gold and amber becomes chocolate brown and black. The strong, darker ales aresimply my preference during the colder months. They're warming and hearty, just the thing after a day of being outside in the snow.

And I'm already looking forward to the first Pilsner of the next summer season.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thursday's Beer from the Other Side of the World: Tiger

Singapore is known for a lot of things: Security, order, horrific punishment of litterers and vandals. It is not, however, known for beer.

Maybe this is a shame. I picked up a bottle of and it surprised the crap out of me.

To be honest, I expected a thin, light, ricey lager; that's pretty much the norm for asian beers available in the USA. What I got, however, was a fragrant, heady beer with a pleasantly golden hue. The first sip showed Tiger to be the product of a a quality brewery. It's dominated by malt sweetness and aroma, but the bitter hop finish is a perfect counterpoint. The result is a beer that's sweet and hearty, but still eminently refreshing.

I'd say Tiger tastes similar to Efes Pils, another awesome beer from a brewery that, from an American standpoint, isn't only easy to overlook, but it's hard to find in the first place. Thanks to Singapore's Asia Pacific Brewery for creating a gem.

I just hope they don't cane my ass for chucking the bottle cap.



Monday, September 11, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #22- Oktoberfest

Ein Prosit, Der Gemütlichkeit! Oktoberfest ist da!
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

In Munich, you can almost smell it in the air.

As the summer wanes and cooler breezes blow through the cobbled streets, the restaurateurs and hoteliers of this old Bavarian capital brace for their busiest time of the year. Over by the main train station, on a flat plaza called the Theresienwiese, workers will erect tents that dwarf anything the circus could bring to town. Soon, these tents will house the largest beer event — indeed the largest public celebration — in the entire world: Oktoberfest.

First held in 1810 as an extravagant horse race to commemorate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen (pause for breath), Oktoberfest has come to embody that part of the German national character that doesn’t involve being punctual, cleaning obsessively, and occasionally taking over Europe. Nowadays, the festival hosts over 6 million visitors from around the globe.

Anyway, the main festival has spawned hundreds of knockoffs around the world, so most everyone is familiar with the rituals. Link your arms. Sway back and forth. Wait for the world’s drunkest band to yell “Zicki-zacki! Zicki-zacki!” and respond with a hearty “Heu! Heu! Heu!”

But what many folks outside of Germany might not get to experience is the Oktoberfest beer. It’s a style all its own, brewed every fall and spring (in spring, however, it’s called “Märzen”).

Oktoberfest is darker than most lagers; a rich amber color. It’s also considerably sweeter, the malt producing most of the flavor with just enough hops to bring the beer in balance, leaving no residual bitterness. After a few of them, you’ll probably notice a slightly higher alcoholic content (in the neighborhood of 6.5% alcohol by volume). We recommend serving it in the traditional Mass glass. It’s one liter of pure liquid deliciousness.

Unsurprisingly, the best Oktoberfest beers are brewed by the big Munich breweries: Spaten, Paulaner, Löwenbrau, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräuhaus. These are the only beers allowed for sale at the big Fest in Munich, and each brewery has its own ridiculously huge tent.

All of these beers are available in the US during the fall, but they tend to go quickly and aren’t always restocked. Check with your favorite specialty beer store and buy by the case.

The Germans, of course, would argue that a festival beer is meant to be enjoyed socially, not in the isolation of one’s own home. Fortunately the 19th annual Irondequoit Oktoberfest is coming up on September 15. Also, you can find the brews on tap in many bars, pubs and restaurants in the area. Unfortunately, you’ll be hard pressed to get anyone to serve you the beer in the proper one-liter glass.

The Oktoberfest beer style has caught on among American microbreweries as well, and throughout the fall it’s easy to find some very good examples. Examples by Saranac, Custom Brewcrafters, and the Ithaca Brewing company are available in the area. American producers may not have the authenticity of the multiple century-old Munich breweries, but they’re usually excellent beers in their own right, often a bit more bold than their Teutonic counterparts.

So let’s all give a hearty toast and enjoy the coming of Autumn in the Bavarian way- not by wearing comical leather shorts, but by raising our glasses high and giving the traditional Oktoberfest toast: “Oins! Zwoa! Drei! G’suffa!” This is how beer is meant to be enjoyed.

In other beers:
The High Falls Brewery continues to re-introduce Genesee Cream Ale to Rochester. Vice President of Marketing Gregg Stacy has held tastings of the old stalwart at Monty’s Korner and Johnny’s Irish Pub, and surely there are more on the way. It’s nice to see the brewery fostering interest in one of its classic brands.

Dundee’s IPA, also from High Falls, is out and available around Rochester, and it’s very good. If you’re not a fan of floral, bitter beers, this probably isn’t the brew for you. But hopheads can rest assured that the IPA holds its own.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday's overrated beer: Carlsberg

Carlsberg is one of the great names in brewing. They perfected a lot of what goes into modern lagers. They've funded incredible art museums. Truly a class company.

Too bad their beer is so damn average. It's very bland, mildly skunky,absolutely unmemorable. That's the best I can say about it. If you want a good Danish lager, go for Tuborg (which is owned by Carlsberg). Problem is, Tuborg is much harder to find in the States.

Even Carlsberg isn't sold on their own brand. The slogan is "Probably the best beer in the world." Probably? Who the hell is their ad agency? I guess, with a beer as average as Carlsberg, you don't want to overstate the case. People might ask for their money back.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Oktoberfest on the wind

It's almost time for the festival of festivals,

I've always loved this form of ritualized beer drinking, and so did my German mother. Hell, until I was seven, I thought the German word for "three" was "G'suffa!" So we're gonna hold our own Oktoberfest. Cheesy German oom-pah music, Spaten Oktoberfest beer (served in the 1-liter Mass glass, of course), pretzels, and Wurst. If you want to join in, let us know.

Officially, there are ten days to go until the blessed event, but what the hell, I'm going to start right now!


Monday, September 04, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #21- beer basics

Beer 101: What am I drinking anyway?

Lager or ale, what are the differences? It all boils down to the type of yeast used during fermentation. Due to its microscopic nature, yeast was the last ingredient in beer to be recognized. The German Beer Purity Law of 1516 originally listed three ingredients as the building blocks for beer; barley malt, water and hops. Yeast was added later as technology improved and humans discovered that by looking through a microscope they could see a whole new life to beer. Literally. They found tiny little animals living their entire life cycle in beer. That is enough to make some of us envious. This yeast consumes the sugars that are produced by the malted barley. The waste products that the yeast excrete are alcohol and carbon dioxide. Two very necessary components in finished beer. Who said potty humor can’t be educational?

Ale yeast was isolated first and is much easier to handle. Ale is considered to be “top fermented, and lager “bottom fermented”. This has nothing more to do than the feeding habits of the two yeast strains used in beer production. Fermentation temperature and duration are other factors that differentiate the two beer styles. Ales are fermented in the range of 60-70 degrees for five to ten days. The warmer fermentation temperature allows the yeast to produce esters which give the ale a fruity flavor and aroma. English ales are legendary for this flavor character. Look for a Fullers London Pride for a tasty example. Porters and stouts are also a part of the ale family.

Lager yeast was isolated in the latter part of the 1800’s. Lager beer is fermented in the 40-50 degree range for ten to fourteen days. Yeast move slower in lower temperatures, the slower fermentation does not produce the esters found in ales, thus producing a much cleaner flavor. After fermentation, the beer is aged, or lagered, for a period of two to four weeks at a temperature of 33 degrees before filtering. Before the invention of refrigeration, lager was fermented and aged in caves for natural temperature control. Lager only became popular after refrigeration became economical. Your Budweisers and Heinekens fall into this family. We’ve all heard the marketing gimmickry tied to lager beers. “Cold aged” and “Cold filtered” are done out of necessity and are not secret patented processes. Warm filtering would be a challenge. Thankfully not all lagers are created equal. Oktoberfest, Munich helles, European Pilsner and dopplebock are also members of the lager family.

Whatever your personal taste desires, be it heavy, light, dark, sweet, or hoppy there are ales and lagers that will fit any occasion. Remember this the next time you reach for “the coldest tasting beer in the world”.

In Other beers: The Keg on Gregory Street is now proudly serving Ithaca Beer Co.’s Cascazilla, a very fine strong red ale. The waning days of summer are winding into Autumn. A friendly reminder of this was the first taste of Custom Brewcrafters Wee Heavy. Barrel aged and cask conditioned at Monty’s Krown.