Imbibe Hour


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Something Skunky this way comes. How quickly and easily beer can go bad.

Look closely at the picture to your left.  Aside from the fact the height level of beer in these glasses is slightly different, one of these things is not like the other.  They are all filled with the same beer, Stella Artois, but can you tell what's wrong?  Before you start emailing me hate mail, or beating yourself brainless, the reality is there is nothing you can physically see that is different.  There is though a distinct difference I experienced with these beers after I took this picture.  One of these beers, is perfectly fine, the other two have been ruined by a very common problem.  The problem is, two of these beers are "skunked".  (Just for the record the first beer on the left is the one that is fine :)  ).

So what does this mean?

The term "skunked" beer or "skunky", is a product of having beer exposed to blue light, that will break down the hop compounds (isohumulones), and produce a very undesirable aroma/flavor, that basically smells like a skunk (sometimes going by a more scientific name as 'methyl', or 'isopentyl mercaptan'). [Randy Mosher, Pg. 61 "Tasting Beer"].  Sunlight is a good source, but this will also happen in one of the most common beer purchasing environments, and that is the cooler-lit cases of a beer store isle.

Beer as we know comes in a variety of  formats, bottles and cans being the most common.  As we all know cans are metal, and we can't see through them and neither can light.  Having beer on tap, comes from a keg, basically filled from the brewery at time made and then shipped to somewhere for consumption.  This no doubt prevents the beer from the chance of being skunked.  I will say though, I have been in many a drinking establishment where some idiot at a bar is drinking his "craft" beer, doesn't like it or it's unappealing, or perhaps it might rarely be off in some other way, but he will actually thinks it is skunked and says so.  Believe me I've seen it with my own eyes, as the bartender (who can often be the proprietor) will just roll his eyes usually and bite his tongue, and pour the schmuck something else.

This leaves then the other common delivery of beer that we all know as the glass bottle.

Skunking can happened to bottled beer not even opened because bottles are essentially clear.  I mean you can see through them when you look at them right?  Of course.  Beer bottles in the US are mostly brown, this prevents "some" skunking but not entirely.  The biggest culprit of skunking happens in either green or clear bottles.  These bottles offer NO protection whatsoever.

I have always wanted to test this theory out and set out to do so.  The perfect candidate seemed to crop up and I chose it because it is often stored in a green bottle, and it just recently started showing up in cans.  That beer is Stella Artois, a basic European Pale Lager.

I grabbed a few cans, and a six pack at a store and proceeded set up my test.  The bottled six pack I have to admit was "sort of" sitting in a refrigerated section for awhile, in of course a typical store.  It would be pretty much impossible to buy a six pack of Stella that had been lying around in darkness, because that isn't how they are displayed of course.  This is also why this problem is so common among beer on the shelf in green and clear bottles.

I decided I would try three Stella Artois beers in three different ways.  One was from the can.  The second would be from one of the glass bottles I bought from the six pack that I had stored away in my basement and wrapped up so that no light could get to it.  The third bottle would be a bottle I would take from this pack, and place outside in direct sunlight for 15 - 20 minutes.  All beers would then be chilled in my fridge to be tasted together for consumption and reviewing.

I did this, and the results were really amazing.  This is science and it doesn't lie.  It was also real fun to do.  You can do this with any green or clear color bottled beer and I suggest you also try this experiment at home.  It will really open your eyes to imbibing beer. To see how this turned out, watch the video below.  Cheers!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dukeing it out again with Australian Shiraz. Mollydooker wines say you gotta do the shake

I really enjoy a good Australian Shiraz wine once in awhile, and sometime ago, I came across a wine called "The Boxer" from a winery known as Mollydooker.  It was a real fun,very well balanced shiraz full of flavor.  I made sure to actually remember this wine which is something I rarely do in imbibing, but this one made me take note.  It was awhile ago, so the only thing that comes to my mind back then was that it was extremely enjoyable.  There is a lot of wine out there, and it can get confusing also, but often it's out of reach by either being too obscure or sometimes just too expensive for myself.  However, Mollydooker wasn't like that for me and I made a mental note to get this wine again.  It's memorable 30s style cartoonish pugilist character easily would help me recognize the bottle on the shelf as well.

The new vintage came out recently and I was all set and ready.  I know wine enough to trust my own palate, and know pretty much the basics if you could call it that, and will always love wine and its incredible variety around the world.  I do tend to focus on specific varietals from specific regions, since they are what I like to drink.  I certainly by no means am an "expert" but know plenty enough to get around. I was basically all set to crack this open and have at it, when I noticed something I hadn't seen before.

With the bottle tightly clenched in my fist, on a day I was trying to find a bottle of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, I turned the label and was reading perhaps to learn more about how it was made, or just anything interesting.  On the label it simply said, to make sure to do the Mollydooker shake before serving.


There wasn't much else it said, but like all good companies with a marketing presence they had a nice website for you to visit to find more about them and their product.  The website went into describing that the bottle had to be SHAKEN first before being served.

I thought this was kind of a novelty at first but with a nice simple fun video they explained their reasoning.  You can see it here.  I remember back in my wine tasting days that there was one fun incident where a guy I knew pulled a wine out from his cellar that he wanted me to taste.  His decanters were full of other wines and being used and he wanted to decant this but had no option.  He stuck his thumb over the bottle and gave it a quick shake.  He jokingly mentioned to me in a fun playful voice, "This is what I call cheating".

It was all very much wink and a nod after that, but no harm or foul seemed to be done.  Thinking back to the event though it made me wonder if shaking this wine would even make a difference.  Mollydookers website goes into a brief discussion also about why this wine should NOT be decanted, but SHAKEN.  I was skeptical, but was willing to try it out.  In fact I thought it would make a great video.

So here below I give my opinion and thoughts on the Mollydooker shake.  Enjoy and Cheers!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trying to wrap my head around this one. Heady Topper makes a rare appearance

It's happening again, and to some extent I understand, but other times I sort of just shake my head.

I was out on my usual beer run in DC and in one of my go to stores which once in awhile gets some obscure beers.  My eyes scanned the shelf selection, recognizing much of the same beer I had seen on the previous visits not too long ago.  Yeah nothing new...

I did remind myself to either ask the proprietor if something new came in, or if something might be coming, but more importantly I always tell myself to look again in the same spot.  I often miss items on shelves, and have found new ones by scanning them again with razor like precision.  My eye drifted to an empty corner of the book shelf where some Surly use to sit in the past, and some Dark Horse plead the 5th still remained.  There were some cans there that practically blended into the wood work, but there were many of them and in a sparse black design almost seemed to be invisible.  I did realize this was a new product on the shelf, but then looking closely it hit me what exactly I was looking at, and I had to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Several cans of Heady Topper from a brewery in Vermont called The Alchemist, were on the shelf, a very highly desired beer.  From their website the beer is described as a "Double IPA that will put hair on your chest".  As far as I know, the beer has a limited distribution range and having it show up here seemed a complete fluke. Big IPAs seem to be the rage with many beer fans, and lots of people want to have this beer and many beer related sites rate it very highly.  In short, the beer is highly coveted, but has limited distribution.

I went and reviewed the beer, and have to admit it is really enjoyable.  This seemed like some sort of karmatic retribution for myself.  A good friend of mine had recently moved away from the area and took a job in Vermont.  Both of us being big beer fans, he sent me emails about his trips to Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist, in a way taunting me.  Suddenly it seemed like the beer gods felt sorry for me and decided to drop a bunch of Heady in my backyard.  The irony wasn't lost on me.

However, it occurred to me that highly coveted, obscure, and great tasting beer might have a price to pay.  A recent Youtube comment from "zodiak3000" brought it to my attention that the beer was going for crazy prices on Ebay.  This was sounding all too familiar.

Having just went through the Founders CBS madness, I plugged in Heady Topper in the Ebay search bar.  The first listing came up, four cans...  60 dollars.  Wow, I sat there stunned.  Other listings showed single cans going for 10-12 dollars, with many days still left in auction for the price to go up.  When I mentioned to a family member back in Canada that I paid 7 dollars for a can of this beer, they asked me if I was crazy.  Suddenly looking at Ebay I don't feel so bad, but more importantly, a basic beer in a bar in DC goes for that amount, usually higher (and you wont get 16oz of it either which is the size of the can).  Telling the prices to others what they were going for on Ebay, a good friend just simply said, "there's one born every minute."

Suddenly this is where I feel torn, but I also feel this is where the great divide really happens among consumers when it comes to beer.  Nobody bats an eye, or gets wildly upset, seeing people buy bottles of wine for forty dollars, but someone purchases a can of beer for over 4 dollars, they need their head examined.  There was also a great article recently in the Washington City Paper that asked why is craft beer so expensive in Washington?, and it hints of the economic reality of what people will pay for certain things, compared to elsewhere, and how this relates to "craft" beer.  It's a great article, you should check it out.  It certainly put things into perspective when I took a three and a half hour drive North to Selin's Grove PA to check out the tavern and Selin's Grove Brewpub/Brewery, and have phenomenal craft beer for 3.50 - 4 dollars a glass.

This is where I feel torn.  One part of me wants this drink to be taken seriously, the other part doesn't want it to be outrageously expensive and wants it to be accessible to all.  But one thing is all too common, it's just economics 101.

Hopefully, it just doesn't get too far out of reach for myself, to enjoy good drink.

Here's my review and thoughts on Heady Topper - The Alchemist,  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fruit beer goodness, and from all obscure places... Wisconsin.

While jumping around the imbibing trail, beer is often on the radar for myself.  However, in my search for good beer, even great beer, my thoughts have usually drifted to tried and true tested beer hot spots.  Often I am thinking of West coast state breweries for their hop pleasures, or countries with long brewing traditions such as those of Germany or more importantly Belgium, and the breweries that have made those countries the standard for which beer is measured.  In the end the best beer for myself is in the United States, with it's array of breweries, multiple styles, and it's focus on innovation and perhaps pushing boundaries to the extreme.

Nevertheless, when I was on my search for great beer in the US, an obscure brewery to me came up from Wisconsin called New Glarus.  Wisconsin?  I thought... the place that is known for cheese?  Dairy?  But beer?  Beer WORTH drinking in Wisconsin?  get out of here..

The idea that Wisconsin was to have a brewery that could make fascinating beer not unlike great breweries in California, Oregon, Michigan and so forth seemed like an afterthought.  However, when looking at New Glarus it was obvious this place was doing something very unique.

From their website: "New Glarus is run by an enthusiastic couple Daniel and Deb Carey, who have successfully combined business management and brewing professionalism."  One thing I noticed when checking out their website was that there were some beers here that had an emphasis on fruit as a main ingredient.  Two particularly stood out.  One was a beer titled "Wisconsin Belgian Red", a beer with a pound of Door county Montmorency cherries in every bottle, lagered in oak tanks and balanced by Hallertau hops for a year.  The other "Raspberry Tart" is a classic Framboise made in a similar manner.

New Glarus is not distributed very wildly, but somehow I needed to try these beers having read their descriptions and salivating.  It didn't hurt that both beers were also highly award winning, and also quite coveted by beer fans.  Long story short I was able to acquire the two products, and also get a bottle of Unplugged Enigma, which is as a sour brown ale not unlike a fantastic Flanders Oud Bruin.  I am very grateful for getting it since it is no longer being brewed.  In short it was amazing.

Below is both a review of the Belgian Red and the Raspberry Tart.  Make sure you make an effort some day to try these fantastic brews if you can.  Cheers!

Raspberry Tart

Wisconsin Belgian Red