Friday, October 26, 2012

Schlafly Oktoberfest

In the most satisfactory way, this is a beer that meets excellently my expectations. 

Schlafly Oktoberfest, 5.5% ABV

Schlafly describes its Oktoberfest as a "traditional Bavarian Marzen."  Such a simple but delightfully accurate description.  

This Oktoberfest is good because it does not try to be something it is not.  And it excels because it is so very good at being what it is. 

Some Oktoberfest beers are overambitious.  Often typical pale lagers try to become Dunkels, and fall miserably somewhere in between.  

The Schlafly version does not make that mistake.  This is a proud and delicious lager.  Nothing more, but certainly nothing less. 

It pours a dark apricot, but not quite copper.  The liquid is hazy and fades to a lighter orange tint at the bottom. 

The thin head evaporates rapidly.  Meager remnants cling to the glass; not much at all, actually. 

This Oktoberfest's aroma is delicate but pleasing in what it offers.  Very subtle scent of malts. 

The strongest spices are up front, although they persist with some gentle rolling in the mouth.  Mouthfeel is very light offering the slightest bit of stickiness.  

Throughout the drinking experience, the overwhelming impression of Schlafly's Oktoberfest is that of it being refreshing.  This is a smooth, very well crafted beer. 

Upon finish, it offers a bit of a grainy aftertaste, which is also good. 

Among many very good seasonal beers offered this time of year, Schlafly's Oktoberfest is one of the best.  

The source of its success is not in anything overwhelming.  It's not flashy.  Instead, this Oktoberfest is the solid performer of its class.  

Schlafly offers a take on the style that meets nearly perfectly the consumer's expectation. 

And, for that, it should be rewarded:

Four out of a possible five stars. 


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lagunitas DayTime, a follow-up

I originally reviewed DayTime by Lagunitas in September.

I was not overly impressed then. 

With continued sampling since, I have actually liked DayTime less and less.  

Graphic courtesy The Lagunitas Brewing Co. website

And not liking DayTime has hurt.  Lagunitas is one of my favorite craft breweries.  I am tempted to say it is my very favorite.  

It is for certain the brewery that introduced me to craft beer.  I stopped drinking mass-produced beer immediately after drinking my very first Little Sumpin' Sumpin'.  

So, to not be blown away by DayTime has been disappointing.  

Other "sessionable" IPAs, such as the All Day IPA by Founders, are more enjoyable for several reasons; better balance, for one.  DayTime, I originally thought, suffered from a huge aroma that was sadly followed by weak flavor.  

I described it to friends as a light lager heavily dry hopped.  

But I am coming back to DayTime.  Giving it another chance; probably its 50th or so with me.

A fellow craft beer enthusiast suggested trying it again, but drinking it, this time, from the bottle.  

Admittedly, I had not drank DayTime from the bottle during previous sessions.  

So, looking to love this beer, I am about to drink DayTime again.  From the bottle.  

And you are invited to join me.  

Here goes: 

Immediately, jammed my nose in the mouth of the bottle.  Quickly overwhelmed by lovely pine cone.  Such an excellent, strong aroma. 

First sip...


Certainly bitter...

So, at first taste (again...), it has a bitter character without distinct flavor.  What does that mean?  

Most west coast IPAs are very bold in the centennial, citra, and cascade hops that usually constitute them.  DayTime, at least at first, is just bitter.  But not a flavor from any distinct hop variety that I can initially identify. 

A little better as I continue to drink...

DayTime is "what it is."  

I am just disappointed that it is not what it could be.  Devil's Backbone offers a 4.9% ABV Vienna Lager that is certainly sessionable,  but also hoppy.  And, compared to DayTime, much more robust in flavor.  

DayTime's best quality continues to be its powerful scent.  It is also okay on the backend, where it offers some pleasant soda-like bubbling.  

But, I have to admit, with pain, I am still not sold.  

Lagunitas has entered a niche in the beer market.  It has tried to create a sessionable but yet flavorful, hoppy beer.  

Unfortunately, (and it pains me to say), Lagunitas has failed on meeting the flavor aspect. 

I would drink DayTime.  It is only "bad" relative to other beers offered in Lagunitas' outstanding collection.  

My original assessment remains.  I have not been convinced by DayTime. 

Two out of five star. 

But Lagunitas still wins... I drink DayTime with some disappointment  I remain thrilled as a fan of the brewer as I anticipate with great, great excitement: Soon, the arrival of Brown Shugga'!


Friday, October 19, 2012

RFD Washington: Regional Food and Drink

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Image courtesy RFD Washinton DC's website 

RFD, short for Regional Food and Drink, is a pub in the Gallery Place neighborhood (810 7th Street, NW) of Washington, D.C., heavy on beer, but woefully light on service. 

I have now visited twice and both times departed terribly disappointed, mostly by the ineptitude of RFD’s staff.

First, let us discuss the positive: 

RFD has an incredible selection of beers (link to PDF).  Their list (another PDF) of bottles and drafts probably rivals those of other beer bars within the District. 

RFD’s beer selection may even be more immense and diverse than Churchkey’s. 

During a happy hour visit, I was pleased to discover Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale as a discount offering. 

The food menu, consisting primarily of typical bar-grub, is decent.  The one solid item I ordered, a chicken and strawberry salad, was worth the nine or so dollars at which it was sold.

Great beer and passable food – what, then, could be the problem? Well…

During my initial visit to RFD, on a quiet Saturday afternoon, I sat at the near empty bar and casually struck conversation with one of my few fellow patrons.

So far, so good...

...However, throughout the visit, I observed the woman tending bar struggle to correctly identify beers from the many bottles RFD offered. 

Moreover, she often looked at me quizzically after verbally placing orders. 

A couple of times I had to indicate which of the twenty or so drafts I desired by physically pointing to my selection on the menu.

However, the most poignant and disappointing experience was being served Firestone Walker’s potent barleywine when I ordered their delicious “Wookey Jack,” one of my most preferred beers.  

However, I chalked my initial poor experience with RFD to an inexperienced server. 

Given the vast selection of beer, I really wanted RFD to meet the expectations that I had for it.

Convinced that my first experience was more unfortunate than genuinely telling, I chose RFD as the place at which to drink and dine while a visiting co-worker was in town.

RFD was the obvious choice given the taste for good beer that my co-worker and I shared. Also, I figured my companion, mostly a tourist, would appreciate RFD’s convenient location in proximity to the metro station.

Sadly, the poor service I experienced during my first visit to RFD persisted during this second visit as well.

We were seated on the covered back patio during a beautiful, crisp fall night.  If only the dining experience could have matched the spectacular weather.

Our server often forgot about us. He was regularly absent at length.  Once, I was prompted to speak with the hostess and request that she locate said server. 

Before departing, my table requested our checks “split” amongst the parties, to which our server assured us he would.  Upon his return, he indicated that he did not split the checks, nor offered explanation.  He also had no apology to share, and rapidly scurried off.

RFD is not worth a visit.  Which is a mouthful of a statement, given it offers in excess what TheCraftBeerGuru considers most dear. 

To my surprise, RFD teaches that great beer can not overcome terribly poor service.

Skip this place.  Take the time to travel deeper into the District, wander to Logan Circle, and visit the much more inviting Churchkey, instead. 

RFD "earns" one star out of five, with that lone star being offered for the notable selection of beer.  And that, alone. 


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Churchkey, D.C.

Warm ambiance, inviting conversation, and an oh-so delicious collection of beers.  

Welcome to Churchkey, DC. 

Logo via Churchkey website.  Churchkey, DC: 1337 14th Street, Washington, D.C. 20005

Churchkey is a modern tavern located in a neighborhood of Washington, D.C. popular for revelry and fine eateries, Logan Circle.  

Specifically, Churchkey is the bar upstairs from another trendy and perhaps slightly more upscale watering hole, Birch & Barley.  

And Churchkey receives TheCraftBeerGuru's highest recommendation. 

The atmosphere is intriguing; sort of a dark speakeasy of days long past mashed successfully with  modern industrial decor.  

Initially, two obvious characteristics promote Churchkey above its peers within the District: 1. Robust collection of beers, both on draft and in bottles. 2.  Knowledgeable barstaff.  

As time passes during a visit to Churchkey, a much more significant quality presents itself: the sense of kinship among patrons and staff alike. 

A common passion, that for beer, is an easy conversation starter.  

Let's consider Churchkey's competition...

...Too often, in D.C., bar crowds tend to be isolationist in nature, patrons tending only to those parties accompanying them.  Perhaps for good reason.  Bar visitors in D.C. tend to be busy people.  Their conversations, often, important.  Even more often, sadly, companions need to be impressed, and require devoted attention.  Thus, mingling otherwise, is often limited. 

Now, back to the bar being presently considered...

The opposite is the case at Churchkey.  This is the type of place where strangers quickly stop being that, and just as quickly, become friends instead. 

Here, the bar tenders are delighted to speak the language of beer.  More satisfyingly, neighbors at the bar are equally as conversational.  

Churchkey offers a trendy D.C. style accompanied by a gracious spirit, more akin to the friendly pubs of the Midwest.  

This is the type of place where beers are shared.  In a city where politics rule, at Churchkey, conversation at the bar is, instead, about hops and barley. 

I can not speak to the food choices at Churchkey as I did not partake.  I can say that the prices, as I experienced, were fair.  I spent a full afternoon belly to the bar, enjoying a wide range of brews.  Yet, my experience resulted in a bar tab that I found very, very reasonable.  

Tremendously positive impression... 

Visit Churchkey for the beer. 

But stay for the experience.  

And, when you do, please tell them that sent you


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Oatmeal Stout by Mendocino (Seasonal)

Underwhelming and disappointing...

Mendocino Brewing Company's Seasonal Oatmeal Stout, 6.0% ABV

I approached Mendocino's Oatmeal Stout anticipating a big, bold beer similar to its kin, Founders' Breakfast Stout or Samuel Smith's take on their own oatmeal stout. 

What I received was something much less rich and fulfilling. 

Mendocino's Oatmeal Stout pours dark, in fact opaque.  A very small head is produced which quickly fades.    In the glass, this oatmeal stout looks a lot like root beer. 

Unfortunately, I would soon discover that it tastes much like root beer as well. 

Upon first sip, the immediate reaction is to its over-carbonation.  This oatmeal stout is only bold in this facet, carbonation, and not in flavor and aroma; two areas of which I would have preferred it to be robust. 

That aroma, as mentioned, is extremely mild.  In the faint scent that exists, I detect the very weak hint of bread and, perhaps, some nuttiness. 

Mendocino's Oatmeal Stout is lacking in all the characteristics in which I would expect such a dark beer to deliver.  Richness is absent.  As is fullness and thickness.  This is a very thin, bland take on a stout of any sort.

Some flavor profile is revealed by swirling in the mouth.  Even with such effort, however, this beer's vigor leaves so very much to be desired. 

And, worse, the most dominant flavor that I do notice is in the aftertaste. Which is, unfortunately, of an unpleasant burnt sort of offering.  

In conclusion, the Oatmeal Stout by Mendocino tastes too much like Coca-Cola and is hardly competition for much better takes on the oatmeal stout style from competitors within its class. 

I struggle to rate it even this highly: suggests a very meager two out of five stars.  


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Abita Pecan Harvest Ale

This is a beer I approached with great trepidation.

Pecan Harvest Ale, by the Abita Brewing Company. 5.0%

Two factors provoked my hesitation: 

1. The Abita Brewing Company, while no doubt a quality brewer, is not among my most preferred.  

2. I have a strong distaste for another style of exotic seasonal beer, pumpkin ales, and I was afraid the Pecan Harvest Ale may be similar in all the sort of over-powering characteristics I dislike. 

Alas, my concern was unfounded. 

This is a beer that I enjoyed tremendously.  

The Abita Pecan Harvest Ale is not overwhelming nor extraordinary.  But it is a solid beer.  Enjoyable and satisfying. 

It pours a rich copper with a head that's initially quite full.  However, the suds rapidly expire with only faint remnants of their once-presence left fading on the glass. 

The initial aroma is mild and malty in nature.  However, as the Abita Pecan Harvest Ale is consumed, the scent becomes stronger.  So, that is to say the quality of the scent is positively influenced by air and, likely, my nose diving deeper in to the glass with each vessel-emptying sip.  

By the final tip of the glass, the aroma has reached its climax.  It is at this point, in the now quite tantalizing scent, where the influence of the pecan is most noticeable. 

The initial mouthfeel is slightly creamy.  And the taste is surprisingly moderate.  In fact, just that word exactly summarizes this beer well, in general: "moderate." 

Unlike, and happily so, many pumpkin ales I have tried, the featured ingredient in Abita's Pecan Harvest Ale enhances the beer's features rather than trump them. 

Unexpected bitterness adds to this harvest ale's pleasant complexity.  Despite measuring only 20 IBUs, there is some spice in this, and it hits hardest in the back of the throat.  

Had I not seen the label, I may not have identified the pecan inclusion.  It's influence, while subtle, is apparent in three areas: 

1. As discussed, in the aroma. 

2. In the lingering aftertaste. 

3. By the effect the nut's oil has on balancing the stronger than expected bitterness. 

The Pecan Harvest Ale by Abita is very well done.  

It is a great example of a brewer effectively utilizing an unusual ingredient to enhance the positive characteristics of a beer rather than smothering them.   

Kudos, Abita.  Three out of five stars from TheCraftBeerGuru.  

And, you have me looking forward to trying more of your lineup.  A success, indeed. 


Monday, October 1, 2012

The Pursuit of Great Beer

This weekend, college football afforded me -- nay, "made necessary" -- the opportunity to road trip along the  southeastern corridor of the United States. 

One task, supporting my Alma Mater, provided the means to work toward the completion of another: the discovery of excellent craft beer. 

Upon arriving in Tampa and tailgate festivities, I was greeted warmly by friends, and quite coldly (in all the best ways), by this delectable treat:

A buddy had recently traveled to the Midwest and, upon my suggestion, returned with a few of these in tow.  This was my first Surly experience, and Furious was as delicious as its hype had me anticipating it would be.  

My tailgate beverages of choice consisted of an old stand-by, and an offering from a stand-by brewery that I had never before seen: 

1. The Love by the Starr Hill Brewery 4.6% ABV

The All Day IPA was new to me. And, as a sessionable hoppy brew on a warm day: satisfying. 

The Love, on the other hand, I am certainly familiar. Given the heat of the Gulf coast and the soft tolerance I have developed for such temperatures since relocating, it seemed natural that a crisp Belgian Wheat would serve to refresh accordingly.  

I returned home with quite the collection.  Mostly local beers from North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida that I do not typically find in my proximate shopping area. But also a couple from outside the region that are occasionally hard to come by: 

Of these, I have only so far sampled the heralded Jai Alai offered by Cigar City Brewing of my once home, Tampa, Florida.  And, I must say, as a knee jerk reaction, it is excellently crafted indeed. 

So, the search for exceptional beer continues.  Surely, this monumental trip was successful in advancing that endeavor.  But the journey must continue.  

I look forward to where this epic search next takes me.  And I hope your explorations satisfy as well.  

And, until next time...