Ben on Beer Show #1

Here’s a reference to most of the stuff I talked about in The Ben on Beer Show number 1: Arrogant Bastard Ale can be found at – ego beware. Reviews and ratings can be found at Beer Advocate. You can read my written overview of the brewing process at this blog post.

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New Belgium Blue Paddle

Randy Mosher, in his book Tasting Beer, says to have patience when pouring to get good foam. His method described in the text usually goes past anyone’s level of patience while waiting for a beer (depending heavily upon the quality of the beer and the head retention). Given that, I present you with an astonishingly boring video of my pouring New Belgium’s Blue Paddle, a Pilsener I have evidently been unaware of until I found it in a sampler. I poured it according to Mr. Mosher’s directions in the book. No one typically wants to wait this long for a beer at home:

Blue Paddle is a decent Pilsener, but I’m comparing it to my memory of Pilsner Urquell and the likes of Stella Artois (a Belgian Pale Lager). There’s a bitterness that I’m looking for in this one but only finding smoothness and the slightest citrus note. It could be that my palate is wrecked tonight, making this little chat of ours moot. It is very drinkable though – 4.8% ABV and 33 IBU with that hint of citrus, perhaps lent by the Saaz, Liberty, and Target hops. From the bottle:

Blue Paddle Pilsener Lager crafted with malt-only brewing and noble hops, explores the boundaries where American Lagers seldom journey. Reflective of Europe’s finest Pilseners, BLUE PADDLE delivers a refreshing bitterness, vibrant finish, and a subtle but intricate depth of flavor.

If that’s all really there, my palate is certainly not detecting it tonight. It has a light sort of taste that now makes more sense after I’ve let it warm up a bit. Even then it still doesn’t have that smell of vomit that other beers of the same color possess. It’s clean all-around and, served cold, goes down the gullet with much haste.

Pick some up when you get the chance and try it – even if you have to buy the whole sampler. New Belgium is proud of what they make and rightly so; top quality beer is all I have ever had from Fort Collins (and soon Asheville, NC!).


Choosing the Brewery of the Month


I’m not sure where to start. I’ve been working with Donovan at Anairo Media trying to get the show together and it’s come down to this: How do I write a show?

While I figure that out, I need some help from Craft Brewers around the globe. I’d like to feature a brewery-of-the-month so that formerly undiscovered craft breweries can have that much more of a voice by being introduced on the show. I’m all about advocacy and would like nothing more than to convert someone from common light lager to awesome craft beer. Here’s what I need:

I would like craft breweries, one at a time, to vicariously get up on stage with me and tell the world who they are and where, how they got started, what they make (styles, etc.), where they are distributed, and what they hold for the future. More or less what you’ve printed on your “About Us” page on your website, but with a personal touch. Craft beer comes from people who want to make it, not factories. There is a lot more than just quality malted grains and fresh hops in those bottles – it’s passion and a love for the art of brewing. We’d like to share some of that with our readers/listeners/watchers, and I’m sure you would too.

So here’s my call to action: send me an e-mail and/or fill out this form so we can get started on the part of the show that features your brewery!

Unibroue Trois Pistoles

I just drank this Trois Pistoles (translated by Google as “Three Pistoles,” but I’m guessing it’s supposed to be “Pistols”) and my breath is atrocious. This stuff is thick, like an Imperial stout, and feels like a loaf of bread.


It’s got a bottle-conditioned taste to it as it is in fact bottle-conditioned, and subtle and smooth carbonation. I can’t really see the carbonation in the glass, and there’s little head retention. The label states at the bottom “bottle refermentation,” and that’s what defines “bottle conditioning.” Dogfish Head does this a lot, as do most home brewers. A little bit of priming sugar (and sometimes more yeast) added when bottling reawakens the remaining yeast in unfiltered beer, which consumes the sugar through fermentation inside the bottle. This creates the by-product of carbon dioxide which can’t escape. The CO2 is then forced back into the beer – carbonating it for your pleasure. This differs from forced carbonation in which a keg or other container is pressurized with CO2.

Unibroue has been brewing Trois Pistoles since 1997 and they describe the flavor as I never could:

Slightly sweet. Enhanced by accents of roasted malt, cocoa, ripe fruit and dark spices with a smooth finish like an old port.

They also include “Brown Rum” in the description of the aroma, which somehow more accurately describes that nose-flavor than I would have ever considered words for. The sharp fruitiness lent by the roasted malts and high alcohol content really make it come alive when you uncap it.

I recommend this Canadian monster for an after-dinner dessert, as long as it’s a light dinner. On the other hand, you could probably just have one or two for dinner. That would save time and get you to bed early too.

New Belgium Somersault

It’s no secret that I’m a die-hard New Belgium fan, and I have been since long before they were known coast-to-coast. I had a difficult time at first with Fat Tire in the beginning as I had not yet honed my tastes for good beer. I finally got off the corn/rice mix years ago and have been enjoying all the new beers New Belgium has to offer ever since.

A number of weeks ago I picked up a sampler with Somersault, the Summer Seasonal. Also in the pack was Ranger (IPA), Blue Paddle (Pilsener), and Dig (Pale Ale). I still have yet to try the Blue Paddle but I fear my temptation will win sometime this week. Anyway, Somersault, from the bottle:

SOMERSAULT Ale is a fun roll around on the tongue and a perfect, summer lounge-around ale that is easy to drink. Color is blonde with a suggestion of amber. SOMERSAULT tumbles out with citrus aroma from Centennial hops, a tuck of soft apricot fruitiness, completed by a smooth, upright finish with oats that were pitched in a long, slow mash. SOMERSAULT’s all around!

When I popped the cap this evening, strong hops hit me in the nose. It’s a dark golden color (that suggestion of amber they speak of) and a light carbonation, much to the same degree as Fat Tire and Ranger IPA. It’s a 5.2% ABV beer, which is the lowest of the seasonal brews. This is in part due to the lightness of a summer ale and is something I appreciate – no one needs more alcohol (a diuretic as you may well know) on a hot summer day. The finish is fruity, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s from the apricots. It’s got that type of fruitiness you find in Shock Top and Blue Moon, but not as strong and with no coriander. I’m sure that described is succinctly.

Somersault is that lounge-chair kind of beer and very easy to drink. I’m having a hard time writing because I can’t put it down. After the first, I noticed that my glass must have been very clean and it showed the quality of head on this ale. Look at that lacing!If you see it in the store or within a sampler, pick one up and enjoy! I guarantee you’ll like it as much as I do. If you don’t, I’ll buy your surplus of it.


New Belgium Dig

I fished around the house for something to drink tonight while I was writing and reading, but I didn’t want an Imperial ale or anything thick. I was also limited by what I currently had in the tiny beer fridge (the fridge is tiny, not the beer) so there wasn’t much to choose from. I’ve slowly been dipping in to the beers I have yet to review because I simply can’t resist. So far I have tried to stay away from a beer until I have the opportunity to review it as I taste it for the first time. I’ve been taking notes and pictures to post reviews later of beers I don’t take the time to write about yet. Dig is different because it drove me to write this tonight. I simply clicked “New Post” and started typing as I sipped. Here it is, disorganized and sincere, complete with a picture from my iPhone at the kitchen table:

Hoppy on the nose, awesome head retention. First sip: I am genuinely smiling. I’m a huge Ranger fan, but I can’t drink it every day for the sake of my palate. This has that clean hoppiness (hoppyness?) that I love about the Ranger IPA, but such a subtle finish that makes it damn refreshing (and palatable every day). If I swirl a bit I can taste a strong floral hop flavor, and not much malt. Something is toasted. Dig is related to Fat Tire in the mash tun.

Keep in mind that I don’t read any reviews or much description about a beer before I review it.

Such a perfect pale ale! At my table tonight I wish I had an overly warm spring day to complement this experience. It is such a joy to drink this beer. I think it would be a great idea to review this again on-camera. I can talk about this for twenty minutes. And no, New Belgium has not offered me anything for this glowing review. Not that I’d refuse a free glass, hat, shirt, or a parking space at the Asheville facility.

Clear skies, bright sun, light breeze. The time of year where the sun is warm but the air is still cool. The part of spring that’s perfect because the gnats have yet to make their appearance. Sitting on the deck out back, watching the kids play in the sprinklers. Hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. Friends and neighbors over, and all is well. This is the beer for that day. And that evening. At 5.6 ABV Dig is appropriate for multiple servings at social occasions.


Dig is a seasonal spring ale, and soon it will be gone. Somersault is out by now, which tells me that I should have tried Dig before today. I was reluctant to get a 12-pack and waited until I found it in a sampler with Fat Tire, Ranger, and 1554. Let me tell you – it’s worth the 12-pack.

I don’t even know what to close with. It’s bedtime and I want another one. I want spring to stay. I want everything to remain bright and new, and everyone joyful and just out of the winter’s dim mood. I can dig that.


Beer Wars

I know I’m late to the game, but I just recently had the opportunity to watch Beer Wars, a documentary on how craft brewing is having such a hard time against the big three. One thing I learned watching the film was that I should do a blind taste test myself to determine the difference among Coors, Budweiser, and Miller. The folks in the documentary were 100% confused about what they were drinking, and I figure I need to have that little experience on my belt to explain to the public how shitty the corn/rice beer is.

Craft brewers produce something that is admittedly for a select market, but that doesn’t mean everyone else should go and piss off. We’re connoisseurs, not snobs. However, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a variety of beers where I live. When I go to a package store, I find it annoying that I don’t see much that I haven’t already had. My location severely limits my selection of craft beer and that bothers me most of the time.

The fact that mainstream media has a stronghold in the Southeast doesn’t help my case at all. Quite a few people believe what they hear other people say in front of them in the checkout line at Wal-Mart, and the major cable news stations are gospel. So when it comes to deciding on beer, that 64-calorie bullshit seems cool on the commercial…

If anyone had the chance and the desire to learn about the history of beer, they would certainly and quickly find out that until the 1800’s in the United States, beer wasn’t so light on color and taste. It was dark at times, murky, nutritious, and necessary for survival. The push to sell more and beat the competition led to the unfortunate majority of beer we have on the market today.

Still, the United States has the most diverse beer market in the world. With a reported 1,938 craft breweries in this country operating in 2011 (including brewpubs), we have a nearly endless selection across this land. I share my favorites with my readers all the time, and I get new favorites every month. I just discovered the Clown Shoes series of beers by Mercury Brewing Company, and the Muffin Top – a “Belgian Style Tripel India Pale Ale” – is exactly what it says. To me, anyway.

Back to my point, which is really just a call-t0-action: Learn about beer. The history, how it’s made, and the immeasurable variety of it that we have to choose from. Vote with your dollar. Craft beer is good for the economy, and I’m not going to elaborate on that point. To know your beer is to enjoy it. If you have any questions or need some pointers on where to begin your craft beer journey, just ask me.

Oh, and one last thing (I’m going to make this a point at the end of every podcast): enjoy your craft beer responsibly.


Review: New Belgium Shift

I tweeted the other day about comparing canned to bottled beer, assuming that I would be able to get the Shift Pale Lager from New Belgium in both packages.

According to this article, though, Shift is only packaged in a 16-oz can. New Belgium is putting Fat Tire and Ranger IPA in cans (12 and 16 oz) as well as the 12oz bottle, so I’ll definitely get to do a blind bottle-to-can comparison.

In the mean time, here are my thoughts on Shift:

The initial nose-in-glass gives a likening of Ranger IPA – the finishing hops are very present to begin with (Shift and Ranger IPA have Cascade hops in common). Head retention is awesome – like that ocean fizz that hangs around for days. That could be the last bit of conditioning in the can showing off, though. Great stuff.

This brew is somehow especially appropriate for the end of a long day. It’s not too filling or overpowering in mouthfeel, yet at 5.0% ABV it is difficult to say it’s not a perfect beer for a Tuesday sunset. And one 16-oz can is enough, especially if it’s before dinner. It has a palate friendly bitterness at 29 IBU, so it won’t ruin supper – you could even start eating before you finish it. I did.

There are so many pale brews out there that one could partake in the early evening – it’s difficult to say which one I’d pick over the other. Being me, I’d choose the one I’d never had before. If the choices were smaller, Shift would definitely be at the top of my considerations.

Again – I don’t quantify my beers, so you’re not going to get a number score. New Belgium continues to impress me with their products and their love of the craft and the culture. They’re serious about what they do and it shows. I recommend Shift to anyone who likes a crisp, cold, palatable beer after work. It’s way more rewarding than anything from the big three.


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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