I've already reviewed the now-famous Not Your Father's Root Beer (here), now here's a guest post from my friend and fellow beer lover Hunter Williams, to review Not Your Father's Ginger Ale:
It's been a while since my last post, so a big thanks to everyone who has been checking in, reading old posts, and using this website while I've been away. Things have been busy here as I've been working on finishing my MBA and planning a move to Washington State. Oh yeah, there was that month my wife and I spent backpacking through Southeast Asia and Japan too... (eventually I'll be posting on some interesting Asian whiskies, wines, rums and beers).
Today it's a beautiful spring day in Southern California. The skies are blue, without a hint of the typical June gloom, and we just got home from a friend's PsyD graduation party where we sat in the backyard, ate some great food and enjoyed the sun. I can't think of a better context to be writing about two fruit beers I just discovered that will be perfect for summer.
The first beer comes from a category most readers won't be familiar with. It's called "radler." Radler is a German word meaning "cyclists," and traditionally refers to a 1:1 mixture of beer and sparkling lemonade. Legend has it that a German innkeeper who regularly supplied beer to passing cyclists (that's my kind of cycling!) realized in a panic that he was going to run out of beer on a particular busy day, and began mixing his remaining beer with lemonade. If this story isn't true, it's just as plausible that cyclists who wanted a slight buzz, but still wanted to be sober enough to continue their ride, invented the drink. Radler is more popular in Europe than the U.S., and is a subcategory of "shandy" (beer mixed with any soft drink).
The radler I tasted is sold at Trader Joe's under the JosephsBrau imprint. JosephsBrau is brewed by Gordon-Biersch, a brewery in San Jose, California founded in 1997 that also has a chain of affiliated brewpubs. JosephsBrau Radler is a refreshing mix of beer and lemon juice that has me coming back for more every time I crack open a bottle. Not because of its nuance or complexity, but because of its down-to-earth lemony sweetness. In fact, it reminds me of the lemonade served at the graduation party I was at today; one is never enough, but two might leave you feeling like you've had too much.
For the second beer, we're moving from lemons to huckleberries. UFO Huckleberrry Hefeweizen is exactly what it sounds like: a big, bold hefeweizen flavored with refreshing huckleberries (as one reviewer wrote: "What does a huckleberry taste like? A blueberry. But better"). UFO is made up of two east coast breweries, one in Boston, and one in Windsor, Vermont. They focus on wheat beers, often mixed with northern berries like huckleberries and raspberries. This is my first sighting of a UFO (ha!) beer, but I'm interested in trying the other beers they have to offer.
JosephsBrau Radler: Can be summarized in two words- Lemonade Beer. Delicious, refreshing.
UFO Huckleberry: Fruity and wheaty. If you like blueberry syrup on your pancakes, you'll like this.
It’s 6pm on St. Patrick’s Day and Trader Joe’s is out of Guinness. I should have planned ahead instead of waiting until the last minute to stock my kitchen with this dark nectar of the Emerald Island, but I didn’t. And now it’s too late. My wife is home already, pulling corned beef and cabbage out of the crock pot where it’s been stewing all day. Am I going to have to return empty handed?
Grabbing a 6-pack from one of the California craft breweries seems antithetical to the spirit of the holiday. Craft brewing is still taking off in Ireland, and in every local pub from Dublin to Dingle, it’s still Guinness, that dark Irish stout, that’s on tap.
I’m standing in the beer aisle with a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, staring at the empty Guinness spot on the shelf. Turning to walk away, my gaze falls to the bottom shelf where I see another can, the same size as one of those hefty Guinness pints. And what’s that? It has “Irish Stout” splashed across the label! I’ve never tried Murphy’s before… but I recall that in the pubs we went to in Ireland, if they had two stouts on tap, Murphy’s was always the second. Should I buy these cans, or continue my quest at other stores?
It’s St. Patty’s Day, and I can’t go home empty handed. The smell of the corned beef is probably filling our apartment. I bet our dog is pretending to mind his manners, sitting “patiently” in the kitchen, waiting for a scrap. It goes without saying that my wife has already snuck some small pieces. I have to get home. Murphy’s it is.
This St. Patrick's Day, why not try something different? While everyone else is downing pints of Guinness, branch out and try the lesser-known, but equally delicious Murphy's Irish Stout.
Murphy's isn't as popular as Guinness (maybe it has something to do with the samurai?), but it is Irish. And that means that this smooth and drinkable stout still qualifies as a St. Patty's Day thirst quencher. In fact, if your fridge is empty, chances are Murphy's is still on the shelf somewhere... long after the Guinness is all sold out.
Murphy's isn't a carbonated drink, not in the traditional sense of the word. Stouts don't travel well, and any oxygen in the can will quickly change the flavor of the beer. So Murphy's, like Guinness, contains a nitrogen widget that simulates the creamy head of a draft pour when opened. Grab an imperial pint glass, tilt it to the side, and carefully let the ice cold liquid slide into your cup. The result should look something like the two-toned perfection pictured below.
Murphy's Irish Stout
Nose: Toasty malts, faint notes of dark chocolate or cacao, with the typical stout sourness.
Taste: Full-bodied, milky smoothness. Coffee.
Recommendation: Don't give in to the peer pressure. You've already tried Guinness. Try your Irish luck and grab a 4-pack of Murphy's!
Okay readers, time for a vodka tasting!
I'm normally not that into vodka, besides the occasional martini, but these bottles were impossible to pass up. The Medea was being sold at Costco with a ridiculous flashing LED label (see the "Hi" in the picture? You can program that to say whatever you want). The idea of a light up vodka bottle seemed so gimmicky that I had to try it. I mean, c'mon... if it's terrible, the world needs to know!
Blue Ice was on the clearance shelf in the back of a Ralph's/Kroger's for seven bucks (always worth checking the clearance shelf!), so I grabbed it because why not?
Before we get into these particular vodkas, a word about vodka itself. "Vodka" comes from the old Slavic word for water (Maybe that's where the 'ol "Vodka in the water bottle" trick came from). Vodka seems to have originated in either Poland (shout out to my people!) or Russia, somewhere in the 14th century. It can be made from any type of plant that has a high concentration of sugar and starch. Examples include rye, corn, wheat, potato, molasses, soybeans, rice and beets. Vodka can be either unfiltered (more traditional) or filtered, often using a charcoal filtering process. Repeat distillation removes results in a cleaner product without flavors that are desirable in other liquors like whisky and bourbon.
Blue Ice is a potato vodka made from Idaho Russet Burbank potatoes, running about $20/bottle. It has won numerous awards, beating out many premium priced vodkas along the way, but its real claim to fame is that it is the first spirit certified "gluten free" by the U.S. government. Hopefully this gives you a moment of pause: "Aren't all spirits gluten free?" The answer is "Yes!" By virtue of the distillation process, even grain based liquors are gluten free, and this is nothing more than Blue Ice trying to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors.
Medea is a grain-based vodka from the Netherlands that runs about $30/bottle. Despite the slightly tacky flashing label, this is actually a decent bottle of vodka that has won several awards. It too is gluten free, although you won't find that on the label.
Nose: clean and light.
Taste: Mild, sweet vanilla.
Nose: warmer and rougher.
Taste: Light alcohol.
Recommendation: Both are good clean vodkas worth checking out.
Exploring the dark depths of my liquor cabinet this weekend, I made the happy discovery that I had two similar-but-different bottles of Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon hiding in the shadows behind a nearly empty bottle of dry vermouth and a forgotten bottle of Amaretto that I still haven't figured out how to use.
Evan Williams (or Evan Williams black label) is a middle shelf whiskey most people are familiar with. As a straight Kentucky bourbon, it's aged a minimum of four years and is produced at the Heaven Hill distillery in Louisville, along with a number of other recognizable brands like Heaven Hill and Elijah Craig. Although some version of "Since 1783" appears on every bottle of Evan Williams, whiskey historians (yes, that is a job) have pointed out that it has not been operating continuously that entire time, and a more accurate date might be somewhere in the early 1900s. Because of it's affordable price point and (relatively) smooth flavor, Evan Williams black label is the second best selling bourbon in the world, following only the value priced Jim Beam.
This is a really fun match up between two single malt island Scotch whiskies. Laphroaig (La-froyg) 10 is the standard island single malt Scotch. If you want to know what people mean when they talk about "peat" or "smoke" in a whisky, ask for a dram next time you're out at the pub. It won't be cheap, and it's an acquired taste that many find initially unappealing. But like a dark cigar, if you put the time in to work your way up to it, you'll be richly rewarded.
You don't have to be a moustached, woodworking, flannel-wearing outdoorsman to enjoy a good whisky. But in this music video, Nick Offerman (best known for playing a gruff, anti-government government employee in Parks and Recreation) makes a good dram appealing anyways. Pay attention to the background, many of these scenes were filmed on location at distilleries in Scotland. I think I spotted scenes at Lagavulin and Oban. Any others that you recognize?
It's one of those rare rainy fall days in Los Angeles, which can only mean one thing: It's time to break out the Islay Scotch. For those unfamiliar with the nuances of Scotch Whisky (not Whiskey... that's Irish), it comes from 5 basic regions: Highland, Speyside, Lowland, Campbeltown and Islay (although some will drop Campbeltown and only refer to 4 regions, others will also include the Islands). Scotch Whisky regulations are strict about labeling—you can only label a whisky as being from a locale if it was actually distilled there, although distilleries are allowed more specific about location if they should so choose. For example, a whisky distilled in Orkney can be labeled as Orkney Scotch Whisky, rather than by a more generic geographic term.
Have you taken advantage of the buy 6, get 30% off wine deal at Kroger stores? (You can find this deal in many Kroger affiliates like Ralph's as well, although in some states the discount is only 15-20%). If not, you should. They tend to mark up their prices compared to Trader Joe's, so it's the only way I'll buy wine there. There's no real downside to buying 6 bottles at once. Even if it takes you a month or more to go through all of them, you can add a little style to your kitchen by displaying them with a nice wine rack.
My routine whenever I go to the store is to swing by the wine aisle just to check for sales. Frequently, you'll find an additional sale being offered on top of the regular buy 6 discount-- either a simple $2-3 coupon hanging off the neck of a bottle, or an additional buy 6 deal from a particular group of wineries offering you a discount on your total grocery purchase. As a result, I've picked up some halfway decent bottles of wine for under $6, and buying in bulk usually means I get a discount on gasoline too, discounting the bottles even more. Plus, buying 6 at a time encourages experimentation, and I've been pleasantly surprised by some random wines that I normally wouldn't even have considered. In my humble opinion, the buy 6, get 30% is not only worth it, it's the only way to buy wine at Kroger stores.
Maybe it was the garlic that I had just finished chopping, or the parsley in the delicious quinoa salad my wife had just made, but my first whiff of New Belgium’s Pumpkick was an instant flash forward to the fourth Thursday in November. This feels a little early to be thinking about Thanksgiving, but who am I to argue with one of my favorite Colorado breweries? This is the first Pumpkin beer on the shelf at the local Trader Joe's, so maybe they're just getting a jump on the competition.
Smart business move.
Commonly Fine is a blog about great beers, wines and spirits... at great prices.