Thursday, 25 December 2008

Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas from Shanghai!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Review: McSorley's Ale

McSorley's Ale from Unknown Brewery in Hong Kong
Rating: C+

Obviously contract brewed, but by whom? Should add that this is definitely not the same as the McSorley's Ale listed on BeerAdvocate, even though it appears there may be some business relationship between the locations in New York and Hong Kong.

Appearance: Red-tinted gold color, very clear. Some lace.

Smell: Light aroma, but including more roast than you would think judging from the appearance.

Taste & Mouthfeel: Flavor more reminiscent of a mild than anything else. Slightly incongruous continental hops finish and aftertaste, but grain and light roast dominate the palate. Fairly light body and carbonation.

Drinkability: Roast character keeps this 3.9% abv brew from being too light. Moderately drinkable. Anyone know who makes this?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Celebrity Homebrewer Revealed!

How's that for a sensationalist headline? Apparently, Friends actress Aisha Tyler has a hobby - brewing beer with her husband, Jeff. The couple has been brewing for more than a decade:

"We actually brewed all the beer for our wedding, which was really cool. It was like a peach-honey beer. It was a very girlie beer - I had to fight for that one. He was like, 'Let's make something that's made with coffee and dirt!' We put a little label on it with our wedding day and everything. It was fun."

Thanks to Admiral for the link. Incidentally, the site's automatic image selection for the story produced some bizarre results for me. "Friends" as a keyword is a little vague, I suppose.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Big Move

Apologies for the light posting lately, I've been packing in preparation for the big move.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be flying to Hong Kong, and then on to Shanghai on the 20th. Once I find a place to live and get settled in Shanghai, posting should be a little more regular again, although with more of a focus on reviews of Chinese beers, the brewing industry in China, and the beer scene in Shanghai. Cheers and 干杯!

Experimenting With Miracle Fruit

Yesterday, I experimented with miracle fruit, an African berry which masks your tastebuds' ability to perceive bitterness and sourness. I had read about the berry in a New York Times article earlier this year, and ordered my berries (in tablet form) from ThinkGeek.

I discovered that it is better to let it slowly dissolve on your tongue, rather than sucking or chewing on the tablet, and it is probably best to take two at a time. Once your tastebuds have been thoroughly befuddled, it's time to try tasting random things around the kitchen and see how different (if at all) they taste.

The best results (unsurprisingly) come from foods which are quite bitter or sour to begin with. Grapefruit tastes great, orange juice tastes like orange creamsicle and red wine tastes like super-sweet grape juice. Tomato sauce tasted very strange, and for some reason homemade vanilla and cinnamon mead tasted just horrible (it's usually very nice, really).

Of course, I also sampled a beer - Key West Sunset Ale. The hops nearly disappear, and the way the malt sweetness came out reminded me of a Double IPA, which may sound strange, considering it was impossible to taste bitterness. I would have liked to have tried more varieties of beer, but I have been slowly emptying my refrigerator in preparation for the big move tomorrow and had quite limited options.

It was an interesting and memorable experience, although next time I may spring for fresh berries rather than tablets.

UPDATE: For your viewing pleasure, a video from the "flavor tripping" party visited by The New York Times:

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Beer Drought Ends in Sudan

Twenty-five years of drought in Southern Sudan is about to end. After a quarter of a century of brewing being banned by sharia-following Khartoum, the semi-autonomous Christian southern region is about to get its own lager:
...the international brewing group SABMiller says it will launch a new lager in Juba in the south of the country in February.

"We will not only be consuming but producing alcohol. It's a serious political message of one country, two systems," South Sudan's Agriculture Minister Samson Kwaje told Reuters news agency.

The new Sudanese beer should in large part replace expensive lagers imported from Uganda, and compete with traditional sorghum beer (which I tried once in South Africa and will not be seeking out any time soon, to put it gently). Thanks to "Leedy" for emailing me the story.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Review: Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat

Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat from Boston Beer Company
Rating: C+

Despite its ubiquity, this is the first time I've tried this beer. Mostly, this is because we always gave a friend of mine grief for ordering it while the rest of us were drinking Double IPAs. Luckily, I'm drinking this in the privacy of my own home, with no one (but you, the reader) the wiser.

Appearance: Golden amber in color, with a big white head. Lots of small particles floating around. Some lacing.

Smell: Aroma is overwhelmingly of maraschino cherry. Nothing else has a chance. Not encouraging.

Taste: Much better than the aroma, anyway. Cherry in a big way, but more black cherry on the palate than maraschino, thankfully. Crisp wheat finish. Avoids being overly sweet, despite the overwhelming fruitiness.

Mouthfeel: Light-medium body, appropriate carbonation.

Drinkability: As far as fruit beers go, this is pretty drinkable. Not my favorite style, nor my favorite fruit. Finishing the glass says something. This exceeded my expectations (granted, they were low).

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Beer Photo of the Day

The double take-inducing Fidel Murphy's pub in Grand Cayman:

(photo from Instapundit)

Friday, 5 December 2008

What to Drink on Repeal Day

Rob Kasper asks what to drink today, in honor of the repeal of Prohibition. My suggestion? If it was available in my area, I would be drinking Great Lakes Eliot Ness, a superb Vienna lager.

Unfortunately, since it isn't available in South Florida, I'll have to scramble for a substitute.

Happy Repeal Day!

Today is Repeal Day, the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. As you lift your glass tonight, give thanks for your right to do so.

To mark the occasion, historian Maureen Ogle has written two columns. One, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, focuses on how repeal was achieved. The other, in U.S. News & World Report, points out that the battle for individual liberty remains far from won:
[W]hen repeal came in December 1933, lawmakers celebrated with an orgy of regulations designed less to generate revenue than to maximize the barriers between Americans and alcohol. States, counties, and municipalities burdened manufacturers and retailers with complicated licensing requirements. Lawmakers separated manufacturers from the public by inserting distributors between the two. A welter of laws restricted the hours and days that people could buy drink.
Those restrictions persist to this day perhaps most invidiously in the form of the three tier distribution system, which surely must be the best way to explain rent seeking behavior to college students in way that is personally relevant. Far from protecting the consumer, the system raises prices, erects entry barriers for new brewers seeking markets, and perpetuates itself through the sale of political influence (financed by those rents).

Prohibition profoundly changed the nation's attitude toward alcohol, and its effects and echoes have not yet dissipated:
Per capita alcohol consumption did not reach pre-Prohibition levels until the 1970s and then only because the sheer number of baby boomers temporarily elevated it. In the 1980s, the national appetite for drink drifted downward again, prodded in part by a new generation of dry agencies and activists, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the federally funded National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Why not further the fight for freedom on Repeal Day? Support the Pop the Cap or Free the Hops organization in the state nearest you, sign a petition to allow competition in alcohol sales, or contact your state representative. The battle against Prohibition was eventually won, but the war is far from over.

BA and DFH Collaborate to Name Beer

The Alstrom Brothers and Dogfish Head are undertaking a collaborative effort to name a new DFH beer, set to debut at the Extreme Beer Fest next February:
...the Alström Brothers are scheduled to brew a limited release beer on December 9 with Sam Calagione and Lead Brewer Bryan Selders at the original Dogfish Head brewpub on Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. The beer's creation and progress will be tracked and discussed online, named by members via a competition, served exclusively at the Extreme Beer Fest, and discussed during an education seminar.
This follows up on their earlier collaboration with Harpoon. The beer, typical to DFH's extreme style, will include maple syrup, chestnuts, green peppercorns and Korean corn tea. The first two seem like a natural pairing, though I'm less sure how the latter flavors will work out. I had given thought to using Korean barley tea, which is delicious, in brewing, but I have to admit I've never tried corn tea.

The brothers are now accepting name suggestions, which will later be voted on. The BA member who thought of the winning name will receive free fest tickets, two nights at the DFH "Brewmaster's Suite," and assorted other booty. I, for one, am putting on my thinking cap.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Review: Samuel Adams Boston Ale

Samuel Adams Boston Ale from Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams)
Rating: B+

Appearance: A pleasing amber/honey color, with a two finger head. Decent retention, sheets of lacing.

Smell: Very clean aroma, with some grain and sweet malts coming through. Continental hops in the background.

Taste: Very balanced and smooth. Grainy malts and a solid bitter backbone. Reminds me a bit of cross between an altbier and an English pale ale.

Mouthfeel: Light-medium body, appropriately carbonated.

Drinkability: This is an underrated beer. Sessionable at 5% abv, tasty, and well-balanced.

Welcoming Zima's Demise

"Leedy" passes along this article on Zima, with the comment "beer technology gone wrong:"
The brand was then hailed as a marketing coup, an ingenious way to sell beer—or rather, a clear, beerlike solution—to consumers who eschewed traditional suds. But virtually overnight, Zima was done in by its medicinal taste and girly-man rep: After selling an astounding 1.3 million barrels in 1994, the year it went national, Zima's sales fell to just 403,000 barrels in 1996.Many drinkers assume that Zima vanished shortly thereafter and has since existed solely as a punch line. But Zima actually survived for more than another decade, until MillerCoors pulled the plug on Oct. 10.
Good riddance. But how did Zima actually come to be?
Zima debuted in the midst of the "clear craze" of the early 1990s, when products ranging from Crystal Pepsi to Mennen Crystal Clean deodorant sought to take advantage of a vogue for (literal) transparency. Coors, then the nation's No. 3 beer-maker, hopped on the bandwagon by devising a simple process for making a clear brew—just filter your lowest-grade lager through charcoal (a process that strips away both color and taste), then make the liquid palatable by adding citrusy flavorings.
Amazingly, Zima lasted for fourteen years. If you were a fan, you can add your name to the 53 others who have signed a petition for its return.

Beer in Space

Barley cultivated on the International Space Station has been used to brew beer, in a joint project between Sapporo, Okayama University and the Russian Academy of Science. Only 100 liters of the 5.5% abv beer have been brewed, and they will be meted out "a few milliliters" at a time to lucky lottery-selected Japanese. A telling remark from the brewer:

Junichi Ichikawa a Managing Director at Sapporo Breweries says, "There's really no beer like it because it uses 100% barley. Our top seller is the Black Label brand, using additional ingredients such as rice. This one doesn't and is really a special beer."

That's what they focus on? This beer is made from space barley and yet the key point is that it has no adjuncts? American craft brewers, German Reinheitsgebot-compliant brewers - your beer is just as special as space beer!

Regardless, I'd love to try it, though I think I'd need more than a few milliliters to form an informed opinion.

Flocculation Shines Light on Origins of Life

Hugh sends in a Popular Science article on flocculation, a topic familiar to homebrewers. Apparently, yeast flocculation may provide a window into the origins of multicellular life:

A team of scientists at Harvard University reported last week that they isolated the single gene that allows yeast to stick together. That gene allows the normally solitary yeast cells to shield themselves from toxins in their environment by banding together in protective balls. Since one of those toxins is the ethanol that the yeast themselves produce, grouping together allows the yeast to survive in the alcohol-rich environment that results from brewing.

What's more, the gene has a built in social value system that prevents yeast cells without the gene from taking advantage of the yeast flock's protective sphere. That social control mechanism is an example of how single cells can regulate function in larger units.

"It does show that when these clump together, they do things they can't do as single cells," said Kevin Verstrepen, the lead scientist on the study. "You can look at it as a model of how single-cellular organisms can cooperate, taking a small step toward multicellular life."

Pretty interesting stuff. Also, flocculation is a pretty fun word.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Review: St. Peter's Old-Style Porter

St. Peter's Old-Style Porter from St. Peter's Brewery Co Ltd
Rating: B+

According to the label, this is an old style porter, resulting from a blend of "old mature ale" and a "younger light beer."

Appearance: Rich garnet color, quite clear. Big, very nice off-white head, with good retention and lots of attractive lacing.

Smell: Round aroma with nuts, roast coffee and caramel coming into play.

Taste: Coffee and toast at the front. Bitter dark chocolate at the finish. Slightly acidic. Hop flavors are typically understated, but bitterness is solid.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, a little too carbonated in my opinion.

Drinkability: Quite decent, sessionable at 5.1% abv. Jason Alstrom notes it would pair well with cheese and crackers. I hear that in a big way. Smoked gouda, maybe?

Great Shirt at ThinkGeek

Here's a shirt for the beer lover in your life this holiday season:

Saussure refers to this chap.

Beer Tasting in Shanghai

Some pictures of Saturday's beer tasting from Shanghaiist. Looks like everyone had a great time.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Homage to Homebrew

Boingboing celebrates DIY virtues with a homage to homebrewing, and amateur enthusiasm across the board:
As an amateur, you get to enjoy these small but noticeable differences. Homebrew has its own design goals, mainly exploring lots of variations that allow you to see how different beers can be. For instance, we've used fresh hops that I've grown when they're in season; we can dry the hops for use later in the year...

More serious home-brewers try to perfect a recipe and repeat it each time, especially those who enter competitions. But not everyone needs to have that goal. To cite a phrase made popular by Perl programmers, there's more than one way to do it. That's what makes homebrew so interesting.
I am proud to say that I have never brewed using the same recipe twice. It's just too much fun to try something different.