Bud Light Platinum Pseudo-Review

I don’t think I’m going to be able to review this one. It’s simply a matter of principle – Bud Light Platinum is not craft beer. It comes in a blue bottle – wait – make that cobalt blue (wha..?) and tastes like Bud Light and claims to have “top shelf taste”. It’s 6% ABV.

For some reason I had been led to believe that this newly-designed box had something to offer the connoisseur. I was wrong. You see, I only heard it from a few eaves-droppings and passings-by, and assumed it was another shot by Anheuser-Busch to reel in the actual beer lover (remember American Ale?). Turns out, I don’t have cable and didn’t see the commercial.

I walked into the gas station today (where else would I find it?) and looked for a single bottle or can to grab for a quick sample. I ended up with a 6.99 six-pack (more than Bomb Beer’s Helles) and thoughts of regret for wasting $7. My kid got Doritos, and I am now of the opinion that the two-year-old chose a bit wiser than his father.

It is, however, a bit warmer down the throat than normal. I mean, after all, they got it to 6.0% ABV, and still kept it from getting any darker than, well, Bud Light.

I expected to see more carbonation in the glass, but it wasn’t very active. It is certainly a clear lager, but why do they have to triple-filter it? Maybe someone who has seen the commercial can tell me what’s so special about it; I only imagine that they took out all the goodness to make it clear, crisp, and marketable. I’m trying to finish it off to reduce embarrassment when someone comes over. Maybe I won’t have a headache tomorrow.

I’ll take the dusty bottle from down in the cellar over “top shelf taste” any day of the week.

A Brief Overview of the Beer Brewing Process

I have heard some people suggest that home brewing is hard. Whenever I’ve heard that point given it’s usually stated by someone who has never tried it. The more I read about brewing the more complicated it seems, but when I take a step back and look at the overall process it’s really very simple. Sure, there are a whole bunch of variables and ways to change or improve your beer, but the guy brewing his first batch shouldn’t be worrying about when to add gypsum or attenuation levels.

I’m about to attempt to give you a brief overview of the entire brewing process so you might can get a handle on how easy it is. I want to remove any barrier you may have with regard to the complexity and sheer work involved. While I can’t make your spouse agree with what you’re doing or make your kitchen any bigger, at least I can try to make you say, “It’s really not that complicated…” I have read books and numerous articles on the myriad aspects of home brewing, and sometimes the whole idea just seems daunting because there’s so much to it.

Home brewing beer is only as complicated as you can make it. There are some very basic steps that if followed will create great tasting beer without any worry. In the words of some anonymous person, “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” Whatever you do, just keep it cool and don’t worry about it. It’s science, but it’s not exact.

To be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to write a decent summary that would be a good length for a post. I could either put it in a nutshell-type paragraph, or I could bother you to read a short story. The nutshell version won’t give you enough information, and the short story would be too long for you to sit at your kitchen table this morning to read it. Stay with me – I’ll try my best.

Beer is made by yeast turning sugars into alcohol. That could also be said for wine, so I’ll revise: Beer is made by yeast transforming the sugars derived from malted barley into alcohol. I believe for it to be classified as beer the sugars must come from barley at a minimum. There are other things that will create fermentable sugars, but we’ll stick to malted barley for now. The sugars are extracted from the grain through a process called mashing. A process called lautering has the brewer draining those extracted sugars and placing the concoction (called wort) into the boiler.

The boiler is where the magic happens. During a typical 60-minute boil, hops are added at specific times to counter the sweet taste of the wort. Sometimes the recipe will call for finishing hops, which are simply hops added at the last 10 or 5 minutes of the boil. The wort is cooled down as quickly as possible (pretty important) from a boil to 70 degrees or so and then transferred to the fermenter. This is the final step of what I lovingly refer to as “brew day” (with the exception of cleaning up), and also an important part: the yeast is added.

For those of you who don’t know, yeast is a living organism. It’s really easy to manage but it requires some attention. Yeast should be activated if it has previously been packed for shipping – sometimes brewer’s yeast comes in a vacuum-packed envelope, and the instructions say to thump the bag several times before opening. I don’t agree with that practice, but go ahead – relax, have a homebrew…

Yeast is added to the cooled wort in a little activity called pitching. After the yeast is in there and the brewer is happy with it, the lid goes on the fermenter and science and biology take over. As long as the fermenter is kept at a consistent temperature, all should be well. Room temperature (typically below 75?) will get you decent ale. The importance is stressed on the consistency of the temperature, even if it’s a bit high. In about two weeks, the yeast will transform the wort into beer. After that, the beer is bottled or kegged and carbonated in either forced or natural processes.

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Bomb Lager Review

Today at the package store I discovered a stack of boxed six-packs that simply said “Bomb Lager,” and under the logo was CRAFT BEER. I’m only guessing that’s what caught my eye. The six-pack of 12-oz cans was $5.99 which, for craft beer, is rare. The guy at the checkout counter asked if I’d had it before, and I replied in the negative. “It’s not much different from Budweiser,” he said. Since there was no description at all on the box, I was purchasing on faith that this was actually craft beer and not some spinoff LLC from one of the oversized breweries. It’s not.

Bomb Beer Company is located in Manhattan and they contract with breweries across the country for production (Terrapin Brewery in Athens, GA started off the same way). Their Website is well done and they seem to be fairly responsive on Twitter, though the brewery is not well-known. They began distributing in Georgia in late February this year.

Their website says it’s a “traditional Bavarian Helles…” and that’s what we expect. I popped the first can this evening to find a well-carbonated, light-in-color Munich original, only somewhat comparable to a Coors or Budweiser (the lagers, not the lights). For those of you who don’t know, Coors and Anheuser (and Yuengling, Schaefer, and the lot) came to the U.S. from Germany and the area. The Helles is also from Germany and was created to compete with Pilsner from Czechoslovakia. What I expected was a light, fresh, clear lager that was perfect for the warm spring afternoon. I was not disappointed.

The Helles style was invented by Spaten, and this is a great specimen – light on the nose. There is a slight bitterness up-front but the finish is dry and balanced. In my opinion, this is better and has more mouthfeel than the traditional mass-produced American lager. After that, though, there’s not much left to say. It’s great to see a beer with the same drinkability as their hugely-mass-produced counterparts from a small craft brewer in the Northeast. I know that consistency between batches is a difficult achievement, and a beer this light is quite fragile and susceptible to many alterations. Bomb has done a great job producing this. I’m having another as I write, and the finish draws me to another sip every time.

I don’t review with numbers; the whole independent review is too subjective to quantify it. I like this beer and the style is spot on. I wouldn’t change a thing. The fact that it’s canned says that they’re looking to ship very far from the Northeast United States, and they should – or at least contract with more distant breweries for a further reach. At the end of a warm spring or summer day, I’d much rather have this than the stuff sold in 30-packs. It’s an inexpensive lager that is still worthy of a glass, and I’ll leave it at that while I have another.

New Belgium possibly coming to Asheville NC

New Belgium Brewing Company has announced that they are looking for a location to place a second brewing facility on the East Coast. Rumor has it (so far) that the choices are now between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Asheville, North Carolina. At this time of writing I believe I have read another rumor that a site deemed a great possibility for a brewery is under contract in Asheville, but mum’s the word.

I’ve never been to Asheville, North Carolina or to Philadelphia. I have, however been to Fort Collins, Colorado, the birthplace of New Belgium Brewing. I’ve researched Asheville in the past as a potential place to live and I liked what I saw during my review. A small town in the mountainous region of North Carolina is much more like Fort Collins than Philadelphia is. Asheville has about 83,000 people and at least seven breweries show up on a Google Maps search. That tells me that in addition to being a college town, beer has a great presence and probably drives a lot of the culture there.

I like the state of North Carolina and their support for beer culture. Their laws seem to make it pretty easy to found a brewery and begin distributing. There are more breweries in Asheville than there are in the state of Georgia. My state could learn a thing or two from North Carolina. Anyway, New Belgium and I have a good history together since I discovered Fat Tire in Colorado. The relationship was even further solidified when, after I moved to Georgia, they began distributing here just a few years ago. That being said, any facility they build on the east side of the country should be as close to me as possible. Asheville is so much closer than Philly is – I may could even help build it for a day if they have some sort of community effort!

So there it is: no good reason for New Belgium to choose Asheville other than my own selfishness. Philadelphia just doesn’t fit for the company culture. I’d like to make it a point to visit the new place either way; it will just be easier to visit more often than if it were in Pennsylvania. Congrats to New Belgium, though – it’s exciting to think my favorite brewery is enjoying this much success!

I’ll be sure to update this post as I hear things, whether they’re confirmed or not. I’m on my way to NC next month and quite possibly could make it to the Asheville area. Until I hear something, though…

Cheers!

 

Update: New Belgium made an official announcement on April 5, 2012 regarding the new East coast facility, and it will be in Asheville! It’s seven hours from my house in Georgia and will be an awesome road trip in the coming years. Ground breaking is expected to be sometime in early 2013, with production beginning in 2015. This says a lot for Asheville’s economy and beer culture, and I would only be more excited about it if they were coming to my hometown. I’m glad New Belgium took my advice – I heard that Philly brushed them off.

Sweetwater Brewing Company Happy Ending Imperial Stout

My neighbor is pretty fit, but his washboard abs just aren’t appearing as one would expect of someone at his activity level. It’s his beer diet, and he has come to the decision to slow down the consumption and perhaps only enjoy a good beer on a weekend day. I don’t think that’s a horrible idea, plus there’s a budgetary reason also for not drinking several craft brews daily (imperial series at that). I figured I could go without beer every day too. I could just pick and choose beers at the package store, and bring them home to think about or keep for a rainy day. Then I found Sweetwater Brewing Company‘s Happy Ending Imperial Stout last night. I took it home and put it on the bottom shelf, behind the milk where I couldn’t see it.

Today went well until after lunch. I had gone for my daily run and was home eating a bite but found myself still hungry afterwards. I opened the fridge and I heard it calling. I couldn’t see where the noise was coming from but I knew exactly what it was. From behind the milk I heard a faint

My History

I suppose my first installment here should be about me and my history with beer. That would be the best way, in my opinion, to establish with the reader my level of experience. I assure you that I am neither a professional beer judge nor a commercial brewer. I’m simply a guy who has a great interest in beer and the business. I am also a budding home brewer and will be sharing my adventures here as well.

I didn’t really like beer as a teenager. No, honestly – the taste wasn’t something I would have craved. Of course, beer to a teenager was “anything you can get your hands on,” and the adults who obliged were definitely not connoisseurs. Whatever it was they gave us probably came from a 30-pack of cans – obviously meant for rapid consumption and inebriation. I doubt many high-schoolers have had much craft beer.

I’ll pause here to ensure the reader that I am in fact aware of the legal drinking age and I do respect it. However, the reality of teenage alcohol consumption cannot be ignored, and I was no different in that respect back in the 1990s. I learned a lot of valuable lessons and was fortunate enough not to have killed myself or generated a criminal record.

I, through an interesting series of events, found myself in the Army out in Colorado as an impressionable soldier, arm-twisted to go out to nightclubs with people whose company I typically would not have had. I gained an affinity for rum & cola somehow (it’s what my friends had), but I never developed the habit of keeping rum at home. My neighbor, with whom I never shared a beer while we were in the Army, had a Mr. Beer kit but never showed me anything about it. Being the person I was at the time, I didn’t really ask. Scott is now and has been a great friend and we talk beer every once in a while. Maybe one day we’ll get around to brewing something with raspberries – the flavor of the cosmos.

Shortly after the Army I met a friend, Mike, who introduced me to Newcastle Brown Ale during an after-work stop at a pub in a strip mall. I remember that we’d ridden bicycles to work that day. It was sometime in 2002, and I fell in love with the stuff. I was very surprised to find a beer from a place other than the mega-breweries that I could palate. I was elated, and wanted nothing else.

Then I found a plethora of other beers with the help of Mike, like John Courage, Smithwick’s, Fuller’s, and all the others no one else I’d ever known had ever heard of. An entirely new world opened up and it was just the beginning of my discoveries.

There’s a franchise scattered across the country called Old Chicago, which features a club one can join and earn points for trying all the different beers available. They call it the World Beer Tour. In my selfish drive to build a large list of beers I’ve had, I must have tried over a hundred just for the points. The tour showed me the sheer variety and complexity of beer, and often got me thinking about its origins and contents. Mike knew so much about what was available, but we never got around to discussing the content of it. At the time we would rather have just consumed.

A few years ago I somehow came across the Mr. Beer starter kit and decided to dive in (if Scott did it in the Army barracks, I certainly had a shot in my own house!) My success with Mr. Beer was such that I figured I could probably make larger batches, so I ordered some proper home brewing equipment and began producing five gallons at a time with extract kits.

I’d have to check my brewing log, but I think I put out 20 or more batches. I’m sure that’s nothing compared to the avid home brewer, but at my house it’s a feat. This summer I’d like to dust off my ale pails and have another go, but this time I want to get into all-grain brewing. I want to have absolute control over the quality and palatability of my beer. I’ll have no excuses for any bad part – whatever it is will be my own fault. I’ll document my brewing experiences here and give the world a chance to learn from what I’m doing or give me tips on how to improve. Whatever the case, we’ll all end up with better beer!

On this site I plan to post articles on many topics related to beer:

  • Home brewing adventures
  • My thoughts on different beers (reviews)
  • The science of beer
  • How-to’s and home brewing tips
  • Beer events
  • Brewery business stories and opinions

I hope I can keep up with this blog. If ever I stop posting and you wonder where I’ve gone, shoot an e-mail to benonbeer@gmail.com and ask what’s happened to me. I am often quite busy with life and writing here will be a challenge! You can also find me on Twitter @benonbeer, and you can subscribe to this blog by going here.

Cheers!

 

-ben