Sunday, December 26, 2010

2008: The Jeffrey Pine

A few months ago, we bought some magnums of Anchor's Christmas ale, ranging from 2005 - 2009, and supplemented the collection with a sixer of 2010 Christmas Ale. Because we can't think of any reasonable way to do a proper vertical of all this beer, we're drinking the magnums throughout this winter and collecting our thoughts as we go through them.

The 2008 featured the Jeffrey Pine, which doesn't seem like a very interesting tree until you start reading about its distilled resin (a.k.a. turpentine). I thought all turpentine was the same, but apparently that from the Jeffrey Pine helps with respiratory ailments quite well, and can help with burns & other skin problems. But maybe the awesomest property (which sets it apart from other pine trees) is that the turpentine from the Jeffrey Pine is explosive. Explosive! 

But enough botany for today. The 2008 Anchor Christmas ale is a bit different from the two more recent vintages (though not explosive), but it shares several common characteristics. It still has prominent notes of ginger, molasses, anise, dark chocolate, and dried figs, but the vintage has a new property - wine. The aroma definitely has a vinous character, which is something we haven't yet had in any of the newer vintages.

The flavor carries a lot of the same characters in the aroma, but is heavy on the citrus - it reminds me of fruitcake. Rich, sweet, spiced flavor and heavy on the dried candied fruits. As for aftertaste, Mr Wort Hog suggested that it's like those Nestle Nips candies (could there be a worse brand than something that refers to a WWII racial slur?). The 2008 spices are subdued - nothing real prominent like the newer versions, but we still get some nutmeg and mace. 

This beer has a medium body, dry finish, and mod carbonation. It's dry like the '09, but has a bit of alcohol warmth we didn't get before. Overall, we like it and appreciate the complexity added by a couple years of aging. There are definitely some pretty consistent themes across the years so far, but the 2008 brought some new complexities that make me interested in the older vintages still hanging about in the cellar. I'd say that the 2008 is more interesting than the 2010 or 2009, but not compelling enough to seek out as a specific vintage. We'll see how the older versions fare in later posts...

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gift of Current Online Beer Menus

I love it when beer bars list their current offerings online; conversely, it's frustrating to go to a place specifically because they listed online something you wanted, only to arrive and find out the tap list was outdated.

I was in LA a couple of months ago and spent one evening after work at the Blue Palms Brewhouse. They update their beer menu on a computer at the bar, and project the list onto the wall above the bar. The same list is published to their website. You know for sure, by the minute, what's available. Check it out - it's a pretty cool menu approach.

Free State does a pretty good job of staying current, but it seems they switch out kegs so frequently, it'd be hard to keep their website current unless they updated it daily. They do, however, tweet every day about their daily food specials and when new beers go on tap. I'm not a fan of having to scroll through their tweets, so I usually just call them. There's almost always at least 1 beer they mention on the phone that isn't on their website. Beer Kitchen has been doing a great job of ensuring a current beer list, as is the Foundry. Until recently, Waldo Pizza just threw out general logos on their beer page, and most of them weren't for beers they currently had. Now, however, with their updated website, they give you a full PDF download of their entire - and current - beer menu. (which, by the way, contains some pretty great beers right now - Expedition Stout on tap!)

I hate having to call and ask what's on tap, and I'm sure employees find it a pain to have to track down someone who can answer my question. Kudos to those bars & restaurants who put forth the time & effort to keep an online beer menu that's up-to-date and reliable. To those places that don't publish tap lists online - please consider doing so. It can't be too hard to update at least once a week, and does have an impact on a beer lover's decision to visit your business.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Year in Waiting: 2009 Anchor Christmas Ale

image from wikipedia
I'll never forget the first time I went to Monterey, Ca. It was 1995 and my first time to the Northern California coast. It was also the first (and only) time I'd run over a seagull (a complete accident, but it was in front of a bunch of nuns!), and the first time I'd ever seen the majestic cypress tree. The Lone Cypress is visible on the 17-Mile-Drive loop, which also goes past Pebble Beach.

When I saw that the tree on the 2009 Anchor Christmas Ale was the Cupressus Macrocarpa (Monterey Cypress), I instantly recalled this trip. Though I didn't drink any beer on that vacation, I had a lot of chocolate. A lot.

And the 2009 Christmas Ale pays tribute to the Great Chocolate Consumption of 1995 with a heavy dose of cocoa in both aroma and flavor. Right away, you're met with aromas of chocolate and oranges, accompanied by molasses, anise, and cherries. While the 2010 was reminiscent of molasses crinkles, the 2009 brings forth images of well-made fruitcake (not the crappy kind with cheap candied fruit) and chocolate-covered orange rind.

The flavor is heavy on dark, rich, bitter cocoa - the kind you'd only get at a specialty shop... the kind grandma doesn't care for because it's so bitter. The orange character pops up again in the flavor, followed by some spices - notably, clove and mace.

And the body is quite different from the '10. This one is much drier, lighter in body, and more highly carbonated. That lightness in mouthfeel, the dryness - they pair extremely well with the bitter, dark cocoa components of the aroma and flavor.

So far, we favor the 2009. But we still have five more magnums to go.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Partridge in a Ginkgo Tree

Back in September, Mr Wort Hog and I made a trip to Goebel Liquor & bought six magnums of Anchor Christmas Ale (2009 - 2005). We weren't sure what we'd do with them, but they were so damn cheap we couldn't leave them there on the shelves. It seems unfair to do anything but a vertical, but trying to drink 9 liters of beer in one go between us seemed a bit ridiculous. Besides, this isn't Oktoberfest. So, over the next couple of weeks, we're drinking them all. Yep, you read that right.

Every year since 1975, Anchor has made its Christmas ale with a different - and secret - recipe and a different tree on the label. This year's tree is the Ginkgo tree (does memory improve with consumption?); we didn't get a magnum of the '10, but did pick up a sixer of the vintage. I think that's probably a more reasonable size for verticals. We're starting with the newest first, so a bottle of the 2010 starts this run of reviews (and yes, I'll actually post them in a timely manner, unlike my still-outstanding Germany posts).

The 2010 has a fantastic aroma; it smells like a molasses crinkle! Tons of molasses & ginger in the aroma, with nutmeg & dried fig not far behind. There were also notes of cherries & juniper or spruce in there, with a little bit of cookie-biscuit (you know, like those British "digestive" biscuits - vanilla, graham, and grain).

The flavor isn't much different, melding ginger, dark chocolate, toast crust, candied orange peel, and a little coffee. The finish is moderately bitter from the roasted malt and a decent helping of hops, but ends a little on the sweet & creamy side.

There are a lot of flavors going on here, and they all pair very well with each other. However, I think a few years of hanging around in the bottle will improve the complexity and depth of flavor. The different components just need more time to "marry". It's definitely worth picking up a six-pack or two and drinking one or two bottles now, saving the rest for next year. The richness and complexity of the Christmas Ale is something that is sure to change over time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dashing through the snow with beer throughout the day

We spent this past weekend in St Louis for another homebrew competition. This time, it was St Louis Brews’ annual “Happy Holiday” competition. Judging was held Wednesday & Friday at the Schlafly Taproom, while Saturday’s sessions were at the relatively new Hill Brewing Company (soon to become Ferguson Brewing Company). We tried a few beers at Hill: Classic American Pilsner, Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter, and Chocolate Stout.  

If you’re interested in checking out a pre-prohibition pils, theirs is a good one to try. It’s a style that isn’t very easy to find, but is interesting, moderately complex, flavorful, and refreshing. It’s made with barley and flaked corn, so there’s a decent amount of sweetness, but it’s balanced by hop flavor and bitterness and kept light in body by the corn.

In the KC area, if you’re lucky, you’ll find John Barleycorn at Free State. And if you’re in Nebraska, a trek over to Lucky Bucket will land you yet another Pre-Prohibition pils simply called the Lucky Bucket Lager. There aren’t many around, but this is a style that seems to be gaining some interest with craft brewers; keep your eye out for it.

On our way back to KC, we stopped for brunch at Broadway Brewing. We’re probably some of the last craft beer people in KC to go to Broadway, but I’m glad we finally did. There was a live band playing folk music in the back corner, which was perfect ambiance for the cold, snowy day. Broadway's known for focusing on local ingredients, and their menu is a welcome change from your standard pub fare; I had a chorizo & roasted red pepper quiche and Mr Wort Hog enjoyed some lamb hash. On tap was an APA, a Rye Pale Ale, a winter strong ale, and something else that escapes me. 

While we were there, they put on their cream ale – replacing the He’Brew Vertical Jewbelation, a blend of the past 7 years of Jewbelations, aged in Sazerac rye barrels. In fact, they had all seven Jewbelations on tap in addition to the Vertical Jewbelation! I was a bit disappointed to find out that these were kegs of *re-brewed* Jewbelations - instead of kegs that had been tucked away for years - but quickly forgot my disappointment in my glass of the Vertical Jewbelation. 

If you want any of them on tap, you’ll need to drive to Columbia or Omaha, as those are the closest cities with one of the 88 “chosen” bars. Or, find a gift pack (which has all the beers, an empty bottle as the shamash, and a glass) and drink your way to your own beer menorah!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bottle Caps: Now Available in Not-Bent

A recent discussion with a bottle cap collector reminded me of this. When we were at Goebel Liquor back in September, we got to talking to one of the guys working there (who was extremely knowledgeable about beer, by the way... all of the staff there was). He went into the back room and a few minutes later came back with a bottle opener for us. But not any standard bottle opener, oh no.

This is a bottle opener that doesn't bend your caps.

It appears it's just a piece of bored wood with a book binding screw through it. Looks easy enough to make, and removes caps with nary a dent. Pretty darn cool.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bring Back the Magic

As you may have heard, tragedy struck outside one of our very favorite beer bars the other night. Eric the Magician, who performs magic tricks for children at Waldo Pizza, was shot in his car after his weekly shift. There doesn't seem to be a known reason for the act of violence, but the three teenagers involved in the crime were all apprehended. One of them, 17, has been charged with assault & armed criminal action.

Thankfully, the gunshot was non-fatal and appeared to incur no permanent brain damage. Eric's still in the hospital, but word is he is doing well. Waldo Pizza has made a couple of updates to their Facebook site, and the latest provides information about a fund set up to help Eric.
We have established a fund for Eric called the Eric Price Help at Hand Fund. You can bring (or mail) your much appreciated donations to either Waldo Pizza location or to the UMB Bank at 8442 Wornall KC, MO 64114. Thank you very much. Please keep Eric in your thoughts!
You can read more on KMBC's site or The Pitch. And please continue to support Waldo Pizza and other Waldo businesses.