Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer – BACON! Smoked Red Ale

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Bacon doughnuts, bacon gum, bacon mints, and now… bacon beer? One of the hottest crazes to sweep the nation lately has been bacon-flavored products, and not even beer seems to be able to escape its allure. In 2011, Oregon-based Rogue Ales teamed up with Voodoo Doughnut to release its Bacon Maple Ale, but now homebrewers can join in on the swine-inspired fun. (Which I did, for your reading pleasure.)

Northern Brewer’s BACON! Smoked Red Ale homebrew kit is available in both extract and all-grain varieties, featuring cherrywood smoked malt to cement the smoky, meaty character. However, what sets the Northern Brewer kit apart from crowd is the inclusion of liquid bacon extract. At first glance, this vial is intimidating; it appears thick, smells of a combination of brine and bacon, and doesn’t shy away from potency. Keep in mind, though, that this 30ml of extract is enough for 5 gallons of beer.

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Out of the box, the extract version of the kit contains specialty grains (chocolate malt, honey malt, Caramunich, and the aforementioned cherrywood smoked malt), dry malt extract (amber and wheat), dark malt syrup, an ounce of Willamette hops, 30ml of bacon extract, and your choice of dry or liquid yeast.

While steeping the specialty grains and during the boil, a strong smoke and barbecue aroma fills the air as the cherrywood malt works its magic. When I added the bacon extract after the boil, I could sense how meaty this beer was going to turn out.

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Disclaimer: Each homebrewer has different equipment, technique, and experience. Your results may vary.

Despite the aggressive pork notes that emerge while brewing the beer, BACON! cleans up nicely within the glass after a few weeks of conditioning in bottles. While Northern Brewer’s stock photo shows a radiant ruby color, my version was a little bit darker, bordering on mahogany. In the nose, the bacon still stands in the spotlight but isn’t overpowering. In fact, there’s a pleasant balance between the meatiness and a honey, caramel sweetness. This balance continues into the body, where a mild amount of chocolate contributes to the complexity.

Overall, my version of this beer had a bold but not overwhelming bacon characteristic; I went back and forth on questioning if I would’ve liked to see a more brash beer — without compromising the drinkability of how it is now. All told, I enjoyed what I ended up with and will probably explore this kit again in the future.

B / $50 (extract version) / northernbrewer.com

Review: The Pretentious Beer Glass Company

You are pouring your beers into glasses, right?

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The Pretentious Beer Glass Company is the solo effort of Matthew Cummings to bring custom, homemade glassware into your home. Each glass is carefully handcrafted on a lathe and the personal individuality manifests itself within the finished products in the form of slight variations in angles, thickness, and dimensions. Matthew is quick to note that because each piece of glass is unique, final sizes can vary, but part of the appeal stems from receiving a one-of-a-kind glass.

Currently, the Pretentious Beer Glass Company manufactures six types of glasses, pictured above. From left to right: Hoppy Beer Glass, “traditional” Ale Glass, Subtle Beer Glass, Malty Beer Glass, Aromatic Beer Glass, and in the following picture, the Dual Beer Glass. While the names of the glasses clue drinkers in to what beer style works best, both the site and packaging contain recommended styles for each vessel.

PBGC Dual Glass

A quick breakdown of the glasses…

Hoppy Beer Glass: Similar to a snifter or tulip. This is great for IPAs and other beers within the pale ale family, as well as bigger Belgian beers and sours. Etched finger cutouts contribute both visual appeal and added grip.

Ale Glass: The jack of all trades within the set, the Ale Glass is fashioned after a pint glass, with a twist. The added moustache adds a touch of class to your favorite beer and can handle your typical American-style ales, German bocks, or whatever comes in between.

Subtle Beer Glass: Reminiscent of a stange. Perfect for those lighter, more delicate brews such as pilsners, kolsches, witbiers, and assorted lagers. It features facets and indents to distort the density within the glass in order to trick how light shines through the liquid.

Malty Beer Glass: This glass is not only pretty, but also functional! Perfect for unfiltered and bottle-conditioned beers, the Malty Beer Glasses utilizes concentric levels to separate yeast sediment from the beer.

Aromatic Beer Glass: This glass has a wide bowl and draws comparisons to a stemless wine glass or snifter. The shape helps concentrate the nose while the protruding bottom further aids nucleation to improve head longevity and intensity. Beers with a focus on esters and imperial strength work well with this glass, especially double IPAs, stouts, barleywines, tripels, and quads.

Dual Beer Glass: Do you love Black & Tans but hate tinkering with spoons to perfectly layer the beers? The Dual Beer Glass solves that problem and opens the door for more creativity: This glass is divided down the middle so that two separate beers can be poured into their own compartments, then combine while taking a sip. Outside of the traditional stout and IPA (black and tan) classic, I’ve had success with weizenbock + tripel, stout + tripel, and lambic + stout mixtures.

The Pretentious Beer Glass Company is currently a small-scale operation, but it does offer custom orders and may start expanding into wholesaling in the future. Glasses are sold individually, in sets of four within a style, or a full set of glasses which contain all of the styles except the Dual Glass.

$35 – $170 per set of four / etsy.com/shop/PretentiousBeerGlass

Review: GrOpener Bottle Opener

GrOpenerRecently we received a sample of a unique new bottle opener, dubbed the GrOpener. Despite the somewhat lewd sounding name, the GrOpener is actually a portmanteau of the words ‘grab’ and ‘opener’, both of which frame a rather straightforward description of how the product works.

Touted as a bottle opener that is swift and easy to wield, the GrOpener is proud to exclaim that is only requires one hand to operate, leaving the other free to channel surf, munch on snacks, or hold another beer. On a more serious note, it is also a useful tool for those who only have the use of a single hand due to disability, amputation, arthritis, or otherwise.

In its video promotions, GrOpener creator Mark Manger effortlessly pops bottle caps off in a single, fluid motion without fail. During my own trials, I found the GrOpener to be a little more temperamental; at times, the caps flew off, while others required a little more force and maneuvering. Also, the impact of the metal opener hitting the bottle while opening would sometimes cause more highly carbonated beers to start foaming over.

As a bottle opener alone, the GrOpener is a fine product, but I found some of the other features to be the most useful and distinguishable. For starters, while prying the caps off, it does not bend or otherwise deform the caps, which is beneficial to those who collect them or seek to recycle them for homebrewing purposes. The GrOpener also contains a small magnet near the business end to not only help it latch on to the cap, but also attracts it after removal for easy recovery. The magnet also secures the GrOpener to the refrigerator doors for convenient storage. For those pesky can tabs that never seem to lift easily, the backside of the GrOpener also doubles as a lever.

While I am clearly not as deft as Mr. Manger in opening bottles in dramatic flair, the GrOpener still performs up to expectations. Bottle openers typically serve a single, relatively simple, purpose, but the utilitarian forethought exemplified in the GrOpener is nice to see. It is light, magnetic, opens caps without distorting them, can be used single-handedly, and the index finger hole doubles as a secure attachment point to carabiners for travel.

A- / $16 / gropener.com

Review: Brooklyn Brewery’s Silver Anniversary Lager & Summer Ale

This year, Brooklyn Brewery is celebrating its 25th Anniversary and to commemorate the event, it is brewing up a special treat. Silver Anniversary Lager is a twist on its normal Brooklyn Lager where the brewery instead seeks to create a doppelbock-strength version of the beer, which, when combined with the added yeast for bottle-conditioning, creates a beer that should be ripe for drinking now or even improve with age.

Brooklyn Silver Anniversary

To aggrandize the release even further, Brooklyn Brewery worked with four local artists to collaborate on labels that will be shipped on the bottles throughout the year. Some of these works were adapted for the release, while others were specifically created for the Silver Anniversary. Keep an eye on your local shop’s shelves and try to collect them all!

Delving into the beer itself, it takes on a surprising clarity in the glass that is accentuated by the dark mahogany color. An active, bone-white head settles on top of the liquid, and due in part to the yeast added to the bottle, slowly bubbles up and grows as it sits.

The nose is crisp and refreshing, and while Brooklyn Brewery states that Silver Anniversary Lager is brewed to doppelbock specifications, it doesn’t take on an intense sweetness like the style is wont to exhibit. The aroma consists mainly of pale malt, hints of caramel, subtle notes of cocoa, and a surprisingly fruity kick of citrus and grapefruit. Mild amounts of black pepper serve as a spicy balance to the sweeter and bitter aspects of the beer.

Throughout the taste, I consistently found myself impressed by just how balanced Brooklyn Brewery was able to craft this lager. There is a flexible give-and-take that spans from delightfully sweet caramel, toffee, and chocolate to an almost bracing bitterness from Cascade hops that delve into the bitter, juicy rinds of orange and grapefruit. The Cascade and Willamette hops also couple to deliver a spicy and floral note. The finish returns almost entirely to the malt, as the caramel and pale malts resurface and linger long into the aftertaste. 8.6% abv. A- / around $14 per 25.4oz bottle

Brewed in an English Pale Ale fashion, Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale welcomes the summer into season with crisp malts and fresh hops. When the humid weather rolls around, heavy beers usually aren’t the most refreshing option, but why sacrifice flavor to fulfill the need to quench your thirst?

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Brooklyn’s Summer Ale strikes a nice divide between the smooth malt and juicy hops from the nose to the body. The malts keep much of the bitterness at bay, instead luring the beer towards a creamier, bready tone. However, the hops eventually gain more ground and impart an earthy, fruity, and slightly spicy influence, especially in the form of orange peel and lemon zest.
In the face of heat, Summer Ale stands up to the challenge of differentiating itself with its strong English characteristics. At times, the malt does tend to become a little heavy, but the hops and high carbonation go a long way in soothing the mouthfeel. 5.0% abv. B / $9 per 6-pack

brooklynbrewery.com

Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Line Reviewed

Discriminating drinkers aren’t immune from the mainstream, and ultra-micro-craft brews aren’t always available when you’re looking for a six pack at your local convenience store. What then about the biggest beer of them all? Today we look at the complete lineup of Budweiser beers, which now includes six different bottlings. Thoughts follow.

As the oldest beer within Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio, Budweiser defines the very meaning of a “brand.” Not only has the Budweiser name produced off-shoots of varying flavors and target demographics, but the beer’s popularity extends beyond what is contained within the bottle. With the iconic Clydesdale mascots and extensive marketing program, even consumers who don’t necessarily like beer are drawn into the fold.

BudweiserJust like its commercials, Budweiser lager is a classic. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser and its various siblings with rice, and the impact is readily apparent. The aroma and taste take on a neutral characteristic because of it, but it leans towards sweet as a result of the rest of the malt bill. In contrast to some of the lighter Bud offerings, this original Budweiser exhibits a noticeable graininess in the form of buttery cereal grains that add flavor. While not the focus by any stretch, hop influences creep in the nose and flavor by contributing a light fruitiness and earthy spice. C- / $6.99 per six-pack

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Review: Stone Enjoy By 4.20.13 IPA

FStone Enjoy Byor those beer drinkers who can’t get enough hops, there’s nothing worse than opening an India Pale Ale and finding out that the bottle you just bought is several months old. Unlike some beer styles that can improve and mature with age, IPAs and other hop-forward beers are notorious for dropping off quickly because the hop qualities are one of the first aspects of a beer to fade. Unfortunately, not every brewery utilizes bottle dating to inform consumers about how old the beer they are buying actually is, which is a blight that most people have been burned by.

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Review: Band of Brewers Third Shift Amber Lager (2013 Bottle)

third shift amber lagerMillerCoors is getting the creative juices flowing with a new brand straight out of the company think tank. The Band of Brewers, a collaborative group of brewers spanning across the MillerCoors network, have joined together to release to release Third Shift, an amber lager within the Märzen style. While February marks the first month that this beer is available for distribution and release to the masses, it has enjoyed success in the past by winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest in 2010. It also has seen limited, tap-only allocations in the past year, of which Chris had the pleasure of testing last August.

Third Shift is dedicated not only to the brewers who worked throughout the nights to create this beer, but to all those who put in the effort and long hours in their pursuits and careers. And to these workers go the spoils, as their reward comes in the form of slightly buttery and toasted malt, a light honey-like sweetness, and earthy, spicy hops. An obviously German influence permeates throughout this beer, both in malt and hop selection, and everything is tied together with a crispness that leaves a smooth aftertaste in the finish.

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