Friday, November 7, 2008

The Session #21 Favorite Beer(s)

The Session #21: Favorite Beer(s)

A World of Brews hosts the 21st installment of The Session. The topic “What is your favorite Beer and Why?” was chosen by Matt C. This being my first post on the Session I thought it very appropriate, as this topic comes up a lot. I didn’t realize to the extent that I am asked that very question: “Shaun, what is your favorite Beer?” In fact it just happened yesterday. 

I was at Lucky Baldwin’s in Pasadena, California and one of the good beer people at that establishment asked me that question. My typical response is one that I have been uttering for years, “Well, my favorite Beer is the one that happens to be in front of me at that time.” A fairly non-committal response that gets me out of digging deep and coming up with something profound.  A safe response most likely rooted in shear laziness.

The real response requires some heavy lifting and I have skated at times with another go to answer, “there is a time and a place for every beer,” which is really what it is all about for me. Begin.

One of the first Craft Beers that I tasted long ago, as many other brewers, was San Francisco’s own Anchor Brewing Company’s Steam Beer. I was working in the legal world in downtown Los Angeles in the late 80s and the Craft Beer offerings were slim to none. Other Craft Beers available were Pete’s Wicked Ale and Redhook ESB, all great beers served at Steps restaurant on Bunker Hill across from the law firm where I worked. We were young and thought we were cool wearing our ‘greed-is-good’ suits and ties sipping these new Craft Beers. Hot stuff. There was something about Steam Beer. It came from a historically rich and diverse part of the State that was exotic and a world away from the craft beer desert of Los Angeles. Rich malty aroma and flavor with a distinct bitterness. The color is what really grabbed me about this beer. That copper color got me. It looks like no other beer at that time we were spoon fed from the big brewers.  It was also the beer that got me into home brewing which propelled me into professional brewing. I think Anchor Steam is best consumed at the brewery. There is something about that brewery on Potrero Hill with the copper kettles and the beautiful tasting room. A must.

Every year the Great American Beer Festival, in Denver Colorado, I drink a pint or two of New Glarus Brewing Company’s Wisconsin Cherry Red one ounce at a time as that is the legal festival pour. A delicious beer with intense cherry flavor and aroma, but not as overbearing as Lindemans Kriek. Which is a lot like Kool-aid. Soft Belgian flavors accompany the complex malt flavor. It's unlike any other beer I have experienced. I have never been to the brewery but there was a time not long ago that I made a deal with one of the servers at the 21st Amendment Brewery. Jasmine was going back to Wisconsin to visit family with her Mother. I made a deal with her that I would pick both she and her Mother up at the airport late at night, take them back to their home in Berkeley if she would bring me back two cases of the Wisconsin Cherry Red and the other phenomenal beer from New Glarus, Raspberry Tart. Well, needless to say it was the best airport pickup I have ever done. I still have some of those bottles stored in my cellar. Good stuff.

The dirty little secret of many brewers, the thing you will not hear uttered or written about in a blog or an article. The hidden secret that some of us hold in the back of our refrigerators while we are out front swirling and waxing poetically about the merits of this beer and that beer; I'm talking about Coors Light in a Can. This light, shamelessly benign beer that is about has far away on a distant galaxy from the Craft Beer universe - the redheaded stepchild of the craft beer world and I love it! This really falls into the category of “there is a time and a place for every beer.” Coors Light is a beer that I want to have when I don’t want a big beer with copious amounts of flavor or when I don’t want a sweet soda or ice tea. On the spectrum of flavor for me it lays a hair away from water and that is exactly why I like it and drink it. And in a Can of course. Unapologetic!

West Coast Style India Pale Ale or for lack of a better term, Robust IPAs. I am talking about those IPAs that are big, hoppy, bitter, malty and rich. Not the East Coast IPAs that you’ve had that must be run through a Randall to eek out any semblance of hop aroma or flavor. I'm talking about beers that are brewed with low to no crystal malt that can give you that cloying sweetness that lays on your tongue like an uninvited guest. Don’t get me wrong, malt flavor is important, but the lack of sweetness is imperative. These IPAs need to be well attenuated, but still have a firm malt backbone that may of been achieved with the addition of Munich and Pilsner malt or a slightly higher mash temperature in order to get some dextrin sugar into the beer - body builders. I think of these IPAs as three-dimensional and that is exactly how I go about constructing our Brew Free! or Die IPA in a Can. Your first impression aside from the color of the beer is the aroma and it should hit you square in the nose. The aroma gives your body the queue that you are tasting an IPA and you should be prepared for the next impression –Taste. These beers should be bitter, but not overwhelming, there is no need to be and this is why many IPAs fail for me, they are profoundly bitter, hop tea, astringent, tongue scrapers. That malt backbone needs to be present but you also need hop flavor. I’m not referring to hop bitterness; I’m talking about the green flavor that comes from adding an immature green flower to the brew kettle giving the beer a fuller hop flavor. My favorite West Coast Style IPAs are Bear Republic’s Racer 5, Russian River IPA, Drakes Brewing IPA and Triple Rock Brewery’s IPAX.

Those are my favorites, sure there are more, but many of you that know me already understand that I have a tendency to wax on. Also, this being the first time I have put my big toe into the Session pond, maybe brevity is advisable. ha! Here’s to brevity, cheers.   -Shaun O'Sullivan


Dwight said...

Anchor Steam was probably the first beer of substance that I enjoyed leading me eventually to today's great world of craft beers. If you get to NYC, check out to find great beer and beer bars and beer events. Just launched in April. Their plan is to spread to other cities next year.

Leigh said...

totally with you on the anchor steam ...