Yards IPA

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I really want to like Yards. They're a local brewery and their selection is varied and even interesting. They've got this historical Philadelphia thing going on and heck, their labels are cool! Plus, you know, I'm a homer. If the beer is made close to here, I'll try it out. Yet, every beer I have from them seems to underwhelm. They're never bad, per say, they just never seem to really knock my socks off. Their IPA is a pretty good example:

Yards India Pale Ale: Pours a nice amber color with a decent head. Typical IPA hoppy smell (which is good), but the taste is pretty light on flavor (which is bad). You get some maltyness and the bitter hoppy slap at the end, but it's all rather weak. And there's a little bit of an aftertaste too, something that makes this beer hard to recommend. The beer nerds at BA seem to think more of this, so perhaps the tap I had it from was screwed up or something (it was at a crappy sports bar that had a whopping 2 craft beers available, so that's not beyond the realm of possibility). Maybe it's just that I've been having some exceptional IPAs of late, and this is certainly better than the light-lager swill most sports bars specialize in, but I still say give this one a pass. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass.

Inexplicably, I still have not given up on Yards. They've somewhat recently started a series called the Ales of the Revolution, where they're recreating beers (allegedly) brewed by folks like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson (and apparently, there exist Bourbon Barrel Aged versions of each, though I haven't seen any around yet). Maybe I'm a sucker for the revolutionary gimmick, but I want to try these.

Double Feature: IPA

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During lat night's end of the Phillies season (sob), I was drowning my sorrows in a couple of India Pale Ales. I love a good IPA, but sometimes I feel like IPAs taste a bit... samey. However, the two I had last night were both exceptional and distinct.

Stone IPA

Stone IPA: Stone is known for being very aggressive in their marketing and their beers. This is one of their more "normal" brews, but damn if it isn't one of the best IPAs I've ever had. It pours a light, clear golden/orange color with a decent sized head. Smells floral and citrusy. The taste starts sweet, with a crisp, bitter finish. Refreshing, tasty and superbly balanced mixture of sweet and bitter. I actually had this on tap earlier this week and loved it then too (honestly, it seemed even better on draft, though that could have been because of all the drinking done before I got to this one). Not sure how many of these I had on that occasion, but it's definitely something I could drink all night. It's a solid A, and one of my favorite discoveries of late.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA: Dogfish Head is a brewery known for its mad scientist stylings, producing flavor and alcohol bombs that are best consumed in relatively small quantities. This one, though, is very drinkable. Pours a little darker than the Stone and the smell is less citrusy and more bitter. Not as refreshing as the Stone either, but there's a more flavorful bitter finish. Bitterness is definitely the center of attention here. It lingers a bit longer and is more complex than most IPAs. I guess not as well-balanced as the Stone, but it's hard to really find any fault here, especially if you're a hophead. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.0% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

There we have it. It's hard to beet this duo, though I've got another double feature planned with a few more aggressive IPA style.

Yuengling Traditional Lager

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In Pennsylvania, if you want a Yuengling, all you need to do is ask for a "lager". This seems to amuse outsiders quite a bit, but for us, it's just normal. Yuengling is pretty much my default beer. It's available everywhere, it's dirt cheap, and it actually tastes good (a thousand times better than macro beers like Bud, Miller, etc...). I've drank so many of these that I don't know that I can really write a review, as its taste is pretty much hardwired into me. I take a sip, the muscle memory kicks in, and I grin. Does it knock my socks off like something out of a Trappist brewery? Well, no. But I can drink 6 of these without having to take out another mortgage. And I can actually find them in a bar. (I'll give it a B.)

Yuengling Poster

Once you leave PA, it doesn't seem anywhere near as ubiquitous, though everyone seems to enjoy it. Friends at school would often load up their cars on the way home, not just so they had their own secret stash, but because their pops wanted some too. (Of course, when the default beer at college is Natural Light, Yuengling actually does seem like some sort of Trappist rarity, but I digress.) There's something about the Yuengling brand that's just endearing. Perhaps it's the storied history - it is America's oldest continuously running brewery, after all. Or maybe it's just local pride. Whatever the case, it seems to strike a chord with people around here. Would it continue to do so if the brewery expanded their distribution?

A few years ago, Yuengling expanded their operation to Florida, effectively covering the entire east coast. I remember seeing it on tap in Florida once and being shocked (alas, they didn't quite have the "lager" lingo down, earning me a confused look from the bartender). I assume west coasters have never even heard of it. Well that will probably be changing soon:

Now, the fifth-generation brewing scion and sole owner is poised to make his riskiest move yet to expand the nation's oldest beer maker. Yuengling (pronounced ying-ling) announced last week that it signed a letter of intent to buy a former Coors brewery in Memphis, Tenn. The facility would be the Pennsylvania brewer's largest and could more than double the company's overall capacity and allow it to expand distribution into multiple states beyond its 13-state footprint in the Eastern U.S.
Will it make it all the way to the west coast? I wouldn't be surprised either way. The company is apparently quite conservative when it comes to expanding (which makes sense, considering their longstanding history), so maybe this will just be a mid-west thing. I'd be curious to see how west coasters like this beer though. The storied reputation in this area and limited distribution elsewhere could end up being its downfall if expectations get too high. In any case, if you've never heard of it and you start seeing it popping up, give it a shot. It's not liquid crack or a transcendent experience or anything, but it is a great session beer. (thanks to Jay for the link)

Update: Funnily enough, the beer nerds at BeerAdvocate call this an "American Amber / Red Lager". I just labeled it as a "lager" without even thinking. Heh. I was also expecting the judgement of the beer nerds to be a bit harsher, but a "B-" is probably about as good as I could ever hope for here.

Triple Play

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The Phillies are in the playoffs, which basically means lots of beer drinking (hopefully continuing throughout October). Tonight, a solid win to take the series to 1-1 and three craft beers:

Yards Extra Special Ale (ESA) - Drank straight from the bottle, so I don't know the color, but it seems like a dark beer. Not quite a Porter or a Bock, but along those lines. BA has it as an "Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)" and that seems appropriate. It's got a lightly bitter, chocolatey finish that actually works reasonably well. This isn't exactly my preferred style of beer, but it was very drinkable and I'll probably have another one later this week (game 4?) B-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank straight from the bottle (like a man!)

After this, I cleansed my palate with a helping of Doritos and grabbed another brew:

Dundee Oktoberfest - Holy crap, it's a stealth macro! If you count Genessee as a macro, I guess. I don't especially care about that sort of thing, but I was a bit surprised. Anyway, I saw this one and thought I should give it a shot given my recent Shoktoberfest Adventures. It smells of an Oktoberfest, but the taste is a little different. Not bad - a little spicier than your typical Oktoberfest, but otherwise pretty similar. Probably somewhere near the bottom of recent tastings, but still a lot better than typical macro beers. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank straight from the bottle (like a man!)

Some more Doritoes and pretzels, and now the coup de grâce:

Fire Island Lighthouse Ale - Wow, is this bad. Maybe I just got a stale bottle, but it was very bland and not at all interesting. About the only thing it had going for it was a medium drinkability and good carbonation. Taste was stale and bland. I'm surprised I managed to finish it. D

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank straight from the bottle (like a man!)

Go Phillies.

Unibroue Don De Dieu

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Canada's Unibroue brewery has quickly become one of my favorites. If nothing else, they make La Fin Du Monde - perhaps my favorite beer evar. But everything I've had from them has been fantastic (or at least worth a try) and thanks to their habit of bottle conditioning ("ale on lees" as they say on the bottles), their beers seem to be available far and wide (and won't break your wallet either). This one has been evading me for a while, but I finally caught up to a bottle:

Unibroue Don De Dieu

Unibroue Don De Dieu - Translates literally as "Gift of God", which is pretty audacious, even for French Canadians. While that may be setting the bar a bit high and this beer doesn't quite reach the heights of Unibroue's best, it's certainly a worthy effort and still at the top of the brewery's offerings. Pours a light, hazy orangish color with a small head. Smells strongly of citrus and coriander/clove (a spicy combo seemingly favored by Unibroue, at least for their lighter beers) with the flavor to match. Good carbonation and nice medium drinkability, which is surprising considering the high alcohol content. BA calls it a Belgian Strong Pale Ale, but Unibroue says it's an "abbey-style triple wheat ale". Well, it would certainly place well in either category for me, though again, it's not quite the perfection that is La Fin Du Monde (though it does have a similar flavor profile). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a tulip glass.

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

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To follow up my Shoktoberfest adventure, I did a quick search of my cellar (i.e. my fridge) and settled on a bomber of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale. There used to be a great beer bar in the gleaming metropolis of Norristown, PA called the Moody Monkey. Before my recent obsession with craft beers, the Monkey represented my primary exposure to the craft beer world. It's where I discovered the joys of Ommegang (pretty much by accident) and a friend of mine would always order some Dead Guy Ale (he was a Grateful Dead fan, so I'm guessing his initial inspiration wasn't born out of good taste, though it's certainly a good beer). I had some of it way back then, but it's obviously worth revisiting, so here goes:

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

Rogue Dead Guy Ale - Pours a light amber color, about a centimeter of head, nice malty smell. Definitely not an Oktoberfest, but drinking it right after two of that style was interesting, as it has some similar properties. Not as sweet or dry, but still kinda nutty with a nice, lightly bitter finish. It's also more flavorful and better balanced than the Oktoberfests that I had. BA lists it as a Maibock style of beer, which appears to be a lighter strain of traditional Bocks. I really enjoy this beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank from a pint glass.

Double Feature: Shoktoberfest!

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October is probably my favorite month of the year.  When else can you watch a shitload of crappy horror movies, stuff your face with candy, and decorate your house with (fake) corpses and mutilated pumpkins?  And then you've got your seasonal beers, usually falling into two broad categories: pumpkin ales and Oktoberfest lagers.  I have to admit that I'm not exactly an expert on either style, but both seem to be rather distinctive and there's only one way to learn, right?  So last night, during a double feature of cheesy slasher films, I broke out a couple Oktoberfest beers and gave 'em a whirl.

Victory Fesbier - The Victory brewery is right down the road from me and I've enjoyed most everything I've tried from them, so I figured this would be a good place to start. Pours a nice amber color, not much head at all. It's got a good, malty smell, and even though I'm not a big Oktoberfest guy, the nose does seem to represent the distinctive properties of the style.   The taste starts malty sweet and ends with a little bit of a dry, nutty character (again, seems pretty distinctive of the style). It's an eminently drinkable beer, though I don't think it's as well balanced as I'd like. Something about the mixture just seems a bit off, so it doesn't really knock my socks off, but it's still quite good. I'll give it a B-.

Beer Nerd Details: 5.6% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

After finishing, I cleansed my palate with a slice of pepperoni pizza and popped open the next:

Flying Fish Oktoberfish - I guess NJ is semi-local as well, and this particular beer seems to have a pretty good reputation. Pours a darker amber color than Festbier, but even less in the way of head. Smell is similar, but not as strong. Taste is a little more balanced, though a little less Oktoberfesty. Again sweet and malty to start, but the finish is a little less dry and more caramelly than nutty. Again, very drinkable, but not a beer that has me pining for more either. A slight overall improvement over Festbier, I'd give it a B.

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

Neither beer particularly impressed me, but I get the impression that Oktoberfest style beers aren't really like that. They seem more geared towards a session than a single tasting, which I suppose is the point of an Oktoberfest. Don't want to overwhelm you or anything, least it will ruin the party.

Update 10/16/10 - During a trip to an abandoned asylum, we stopped at some weird French bistro where the sign out front had a font usually reserved for Chinese restaurants. I wasn't expecting much, but then they handed me the beer menu. The fact that their selection necessitated a separate menu in itself was promising, and the selection was surprisingly good. If I hadn't just had some last week, I'd have ordered a Russian River Damnation (exceptional beer, though the $12 price tag for a 375 ml mini-magnum bottle is probably a bit much), but instead I sampled two seasonal beers:

Ayinger Oktober Fest Märzen - Now this is an Oktoberfest I can get behind. Smell was not powerful, but still distinctly Oktoberfest. No balance problems here. Starts off sweet, ends a bit dry, making you want to drink more. I could have drank 10 of these (it was a relatively small glass, but I'd finished it off before the meal arrived). It's not an overpowering, blow-you-away type of beer, but again, that's the way this style goes. I'd never actually heard of it when I ordered it, but apparently it has quite the reputation and has only recently made its way to the states (from Germany). If you can find it and you like the style, give it a shot. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.8% ABV draft. Drank from a snifter glass (that was entirely too small!)

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale - I've had a few Pumpkin ales recently, and they seem to fall into two camps: sweet, overpowering pumpkin taste (Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale is a good example of that) and spicy, with little or no pumpkin taste. Semi-local Weyerbacher's take on the style leans more heavily on the spicy side, though there are hints on the pumpkin taste as well. A pretty good blend and a big taste. Overall a solid entry in the style. B

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a pint glass.

The haunted asylum as actually pretty awesome. The entire area is pretty creepy - there are dozens of abandoned buildings in the sparsely populated area, and the architecture was... weird. Lots of strange underground tunnels and arches and whatnot. The actual haunted house portion of it was pretty typical, but at one point you end up in the basement, and the creepy atmosphere there is less about the cheesy lighting than it just being a creepy place.

Introduction

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Greetings.  My name is Mark, and I like beer.  I've always liked beer, but only recently have I begun to really plumb the depths of the beer world.  Sure, I had some craft brews here and there over the years, but living in PA means I have to deal with PLCB, which means the only places I can really experiment at are bars, and most bars around here have crappy selection (especially out here in the suburbs - it would be nice to live near a Monk's or a Eulogy, but I have to make do with what I've got).  Otherwise, experimentation means buying a ridiculously expensive case of beer that I'm not even sure I'll like.

In any case, I've recently become acquainted with the joys of violating the US Constitution (Amendment XXI, Section 2) by purchasing beer across state lines and bringing it back to PA (thank you, Delaware, for having awesome liquor stores with great beer selections).  I started my little interstate crimewave earlier this year and have burned through a pretty large selection of beers. I've even discovered a place relatively close in PA that has a great beer selection, but I kinda like being a scofflaw in this respect.

Of course, I'm having trouble keeping track of what I'm drinking and how well I like it. I've kinda been spamming my forum with posts on the subject, just in an attempt to keep up, but I don't want to bore my friends with it if they're not too interested. I've been blogging for over 10 years at this point, but it's always been something of a generalist endeavor, so I figured I could give a niche blog a chance. I'm not that familiar with the rest of the beer blogs, but I'm starting to read around and I figure a niche blog will have a better chance fitting in than if I rolled the occasional beer post out on my other blog.

At this point, I should inform you that I'm pretty unsophisticated about my beer consumption. I like to think that I have pretty good taste, but my palate is nowhere near as attuned as some others seem to be. I read the reviews on Beer Advocate and wonder where on earth these people are getting these smells/tastes from. Speaking of which, I hope this blog never gets that dry and boring. BA is a wonderful resource, but it also kinda sucks (a topic for another post) and a lot of the stuff there seems to take the joy out of drinking beer. It's like they think I should drink a beer whilst sitting in a dark isolation chamber, cleansing my palate after every sip, and writing pages of notes in some sort of formal code.

So look, I'm going to drink beer in less than ideal conditions. Sometimes I'm going to be out at a bar and in no condition (read: drunk) to accurately convey my thoughts. Sometimes I'll smoke a cigar whilst imbibing. Most of the time I'm going to be drinking while consuming salty snacks and watching bad horror movies. I'm almost always going to compare a beer to others of a similar style. I don't know why, but I almost never see that in reviews anywhere - comparative reviews should be more common. Context matters, but that's a problem easily solved through acknowledgement (and it's another big reason why the reviews at BA kinda suck).

All of which is to say that I'm most likely going to make an ass of myself on this blog, but that's kinda why I blog in the first place. I blog to learn, and a big part of that will be making mistakes. I'm not pretending to be an expert here, I just want to gain a better understanding of the subject by describing what I'm drinking and how it's making me feel. Writing has always been a good way to accomplish this sort of thing, so here we are. At some point, I'll probably be trying my hand at homebrewing, which I'll most likely be documenting here as well.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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