Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

17 February, 2018

A Smoked Lager by Any Other Name: Smoked Lager by Sam Adams

A couple months ago I wandered lonely as a cloud through my local grocer's liquor store and came upon Sam Adams' American Craft Lagers Variety Pack. As a lover of lagers it was quite refreshing to see an assemblage of beers that had been given a generous amount of time to age, weren't barrel aged, nor described as "juicy" yet had a plethora of flavors on offer. Many breweries whose stock-in-trade is the IPA throw in a pils or unleash an Oktoberfest in the autumn seemingly to demonstrate that they are not some one trick pony but lagers generally don't get a lot of love. And, truth be told, a lot of these black sheep of the brewery lagers are just not very good.

The variety pack was lead by Sam Adams' flagship Boston Lager. Filling in the ranks were Noble Pils, Fresh as Helles (a helles with orange blossom), Coffee Black Lager, Kellerbier, and Smoked Lager. The last one was especially pleasing to find as smoke beers are close to my liver and like the Brigadoon of the brewing world. Not only was I blessed with a plethora of lagers but my purchase entitled me to a free ham. You don't get porcine lagniappes with those trendy hazy eyepahs.

One notable aspect of the variety pack that didn't occur to me until I got it home was how utilitarian the names are. (Did Peter Singer do the labels and marketing?) "Smoked Lager", "Coffee Black Lager" – not even "Al's Smoked Lager". If someone ever remakes Repo Man for the craft beer age, they will surely hire whoever came up with these names as production designer.

And the labels. They are moderately spartan with an image against a mostly solid background. Other beers get a scantily clad woman who adheres to conventional conceptions of beauty or a pistol-wielding cat riding a unicorn. Here the Kellerbier label has a rendering of what appears to be Delicate Arch out in Utah. Huh? On the other hand, the Fresh as Helles label has an appropriate Pantone shade of orange and I must admit to liking the absurdity of a bear holding a coffee cup on the Coffee Black Lager label. If only it was extending it ursine equivalent of a pinkie finger. Overall, though, the look of this variety pack just feels thrown together.

But what's truly important is what lies beneath the label and behind the glass when the lip of the bottle is between my lips.

Smoked Lager is a lovely deep amber hue and quite clear. My initial pour produced a rather small tan head although my subsequent attempt at getting the beer in my glass provided a much more generous topping of foam which was more befitting of a fine lager. Inside there was a lot of bubbles which, again, pleased the aesthete in me.

I was surprised by just how sweet the beer smelled. Some caramel, some stone fruit. The smoky scent registered as medium on my highly unscientific syringolic scale but was oh so nice. To round things out was a touch of grassy hops.

Thankfully Smoked Lager proved to not actually taste particularly sweet and the honeyed aroma belied a light-medium body. While there was some sweetness there, the rich smokiness stepped forward. It was paired with a gentle bread flavor as toasty and earthy tastes hovered in the background. A dash of peppery hops and generous fizz added to the crisp lagery goodness.

The finish was dryer than I expected and more bitter as well. Again, it was the fizz and spicy hops. But some smoke lingered as well. Schaumhaftvermoegen levels were at Defcon 3 with several streaks of foam lining my mug.

This is a very good beer. Bamberg, Germany's Schlekerla is the standard bearer for smoked lagers even if only because theirs are most commonly found on store shelves here with the other brewers in Bamberg choosing to keep things local, generally speaking. Sam Adams' take on the style isn't as smoky as Schlenkerla's but by no means is it merely an accent. To the fore yet still something that an open-minded non-rauchbier drinker wouldn't immediately flee from in terror. The smoked malt was done so using beech wood. This variety is very common though I am not sure why. Perhaps an Old World legacy?

The one thing that didn't thrill me about Smoked Lager was the carbonation. A tad too much fizz. It gave the brew a sharpness that detracted from the smoke whose mellow richness should be allowed to shine. But this isn't a fatal blow.

Junk food pairing: Presumably the free ham deal is over and has moved on to pretzels or cheese. So pair your Smoked Lager with some Lay's Barbecue Ham or Kettle Brand's Maple Bacon potato chips.

And remember, smoke is the new haze in 2018!

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|| Palmer, 9:12 AM || link || (2) comments |

04 February, 2018

You might say the secret ingredient is salt: Lulu Peach Gose



Like many countries around the world Poland has jumped onto the craft brewing bandwagon. Or so I've read. Here in Madison it's easy to find Okocim's pale lager and I see Żywiec's lager on the odd occasion but, by and large, Polish piwo doesn't demand much shelf space here in Madison. Chicago, on the other hand, is a different story. With its large Polish and Polish-American population, there is much more Polish beer to be had. Warka and Tyskie are a couple other brands that come to mind that are commonly seen down there. Plus you find porters and bocks instead of simply pale lagers.

My guess is that most of the brands I see on Chicago shelves are owned by larger breweries and likely ones that are owned by a multi-national conglomerate. But I've seen increasingly more Polish piwo in Chicagoland stores that aren't pale lagers labeled with familiar names. It's entirely possible that some/most/all of actually brands owned by bigger players but it seems like at least some would pass muster with the Polskie Brewers Association as being "craft" or "independent".

I am interested in Polish piwo not least because I am part Polish. But there's also the fact, or so I've read, that Poles smoke beer in a way that Americans generally do not. Alas, I've not yet found any Polish smoke beers but did recently come across a some goses from Poland and came home with one - Lulu Peach Gose.

When it comes to goses, I've become pretty snobbish about the salt. On one hand you've got those where it acts like the shake or two that one would put on a meal: it enhances the flavor of whatever you put it on or in. Over at the other side there are goses that taste salty or, rather, where you taste salt. I've not encountered one that, if left out, would attract deer, but it tastes salty. In between is my sweet spot. I like a fairly prominent mineral flavor. If you were to add just a pico-mole more of NaCl molecules it would actually taste salty. A sub-saline kind of taste, I guess you could say.

Owing to recent controversy about sexist beer labels and sexism within the craft brewing industry, I took especial notice of Lulu's labels. They all feature women but manage to portray them in a way that doesn't give you the impression that their underwear is at their ankles. I saw no words that could lead the drinker to think that, by consuming the piwo in hand, they would get laid by a comely Polish maiden. However, I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a Lulu Boyz Instagram page.

Well, onto piwo.

Lulu pours a hazy light gold. Although my poor photography doesn't really get it across very well, a nice white head atop the honeyed liquid made for a very pretty sight. There were lots of bubbles inside while the head was alive with activity. I could hear the white noise of the fizz as bubbles burst. I rather like an aural component to my beer.

Moving on in the panoply of senses, the aroma was replete with fresh peach. (Peach pulp is used here.) It smelled really nice. Some lemony lacto and a touch of salinity were also present.

The taste was pleasantly peachy – juicy even, as is the new parlance. I was surprised at how mild the tartness was. A little citrusy with a mild tang. Nothing like many American versions which can also be used to remove calcium deposits from tile. Coriander lurked in the background along with a hint of graininess. On the saline scale, it was right where it should be with a good mineral taste but not really salty.

This is a 3.5% A.B.V. beer and was very light-bodied. But the recipe includes oats and so Lulu had a smoothness to it I've never tasted in a gose. It contrasted nicely with the tartness as well as the generous fizz.

Lulu tartens up at the end as the peach fades, though never entirely goes away. I even caught a little spicy hoppiness here too. Overall, a fairly dry ending.

A few spots and a couple short streaks were all my glass was left with.

While I grant you that this was a beer better suited for summer, it was very tasty nonetheless on an evening in the depths of winter. It was light and fizzy with a gentle tartness and plenty of fresh-tasting peach flavor. And they got the salt just right too. It made for a wonderful sweet and sour taste. The standard bearer for fruited goses, in my humble opinion.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Lulu Peach Gose with some salt & vinegar potato chips for an intense gustatory experience.

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|| Palmer, 12:32 PM || link || (1) comments |