Newcastle Winter IPA Review

A few weeks back, Nate and I received some free beer in the mail.  Not a bad deal at all.  In fact, other brewers can take this as their cue to go ahead and send some our way.  At any rate, I like to note up front that I am reviewing a beer I received courtesy of Newcastle. Don’t let that fool you, however—I intend to be honest about what I’m tasting.

Let me first note that this beer is a British IPA.  If you are expecting floral American hops redolent of grapefruit, apricots, citrus tones, etc…well, don’t.  The beer simply isn’t that.  That fact alone might draw some bad reviews and criticism from others, but let’s think about the beer for its intent and not our preferences.  Trust me, this is a whole sub-discussion that I intend to write about in the near future.  Enough with the discussion of what the beer isn’t.  Here’s what it is:

Winter IPA by Newcastle is firmly British.  It is darker in color than many IPAs that we are used to seeing…but not overly so.  The hops are definitely European.  If you drink your beer staggeringly cold, you will likely not appreciate hops as well as if you let it warm up a bit.  My opinion is that I’m tasting Goldings or Fuggles, but I can’t put my finger on it exactly.  I’m leaning toward Goldings because of the tea aroma that I tend to associate with that hop.  At any rate, I’ve seen some complaints about the beer’s lack of hoppiness, which shows how Americanly some of us view IPAs.  Just be ready for earthy and not flowery.

Some touches of burnt sugar and toffee notes are on the nose.  I also catch a bit of cocoa and caramel.  As far as taste goes, the beer is metallic and lingeringly bitter.  The features from the nose noted above carry over to the flavor profile, but I would also like to state another quality about the beer: there seems to be a nuttiness and roasted quality that I associate with home roasted pumpkin seeds. I know that sounds a bit like farce, but that’s the best way I can think to describe it.  Additionally, the finish reminds me of eating a candy like Sweet Tarts or Smarties.  It has a certain juiciness and candy-like touch.  Perhaps a caulky yeast bite on the finish should be noted as well.

Okay, now that I’ve offered my descriptive experience that will sound like lunacy to some, what can you actually take away about the beer?  It’s worth trying.  It is worth not settling into the rut of drinking massive American IPA after massive American IPA (although I myself love the style) and moving toward something a bit more traditional and subtle.  My opinion is that it is drinkable and enjoyable.  Pick some up and let me know what you think.

Newcastle does some… well, new stuff

Not long ago, Nate and I were contacted by a representative with Newcastle who asked if we would be interested in sampling some beer.  We politely replied: give it, give it, give it.  And so it came in the mail a few days back.  We were sent Werewolf, which carries the moniker of being a “blood red” ale, along with a winter IPA.  This post addresses the first beer mentioned, and we will write a post about the IPA very soon.

I don’t make a secret of it, I actually enjoy New Castle’s Nut Brown Ale.  It has gotten me out of many a jam while tippling in local bars that are full of light beer.  So, I hold that beer fondly as beer that can be readily quaffed.  What did I expect when I opened the blood red ale?  Well, it’s hard to say, and I tried to remain a tabula rasa as far as preconceived tasting thoughts went.  Here is my simple reaction.

This beer contains some rye, which added a very minor spiciness to the brew.  However, I am convinced that there is some chocolate malt in it (perhaps it was chocolate rye…not sure).  In addition, there was a fairly metallic and mineral tone that might be considered somewhat classic of some beers that come from Burton on Trent.  Was there a nutty and diacetyl tone that seems to predominate in the Nut Brown Ale?  If there was, it was more restrained and became more nuanced as toffee.

Overall, the beer was very English.  For some of you, that might be euphemistic for something negative.  That is not the case with me; I enjoy rounded English brews, and this one had more bite than typical iterations—perhaps not uncommon with the attitude of the industrial north.  It’s worth picking up and trying.  Move over, Nut Brown Ale.

Right after I Posted it

I am swelling with pride.  As I noted yesterday, I love sharing beer with people.  The experience of teaching someone to brew is especially satisfying to me.  Of course, the purpose of that post was simply to encourage others to share experiences with beer and to be an encouragement along the beer journey.

Fast forward a few hours… I got a text from a friend who I introduced to homebrewing while my wife and I lived in Pasadena: “Hey, buddy.  I just bottled a honey amber ale.  Went smooth cuz of you.  Thanks!”

A few words like that mean a lot to me.  Danny had come over for a few brews, and we talked about brewing methods and bottling, etc.  I know that he paid close attention and really took hold of the process.  I can tell you that I’ve taught more than a dozen people how to brew.  Not everyone ends up picking it up, but I’m sure glad when someone does.

To all the homebrewers out there: Teach someone how to brew the next time you are homebrewing, and you might get a text a few years later that makes your day.  Ahh!  Beer.

Beer Sharing

Few things on earth give me more joy than brewing and drinking the beer that I make.  Flying solo or drinking it with my wife is a more than sufficient means of enjoyment as far as I’m concerned.  Yet, there is nothing like sharing brew with family, friends, and acquaintances.

I love the thrill of seeing eyes light up when I tell someone that I made the beer at home or hearing people express that their concept of what beer can be has been expanded.  In all honesty, that is one of the particular joys I truly look forward to having when Nate and I are running the brewery.  We are beyond excited to sit and talk with people about our beers and their nuances.

We have several opportunities to share our beer with others in the near future, but I am excited about one in particular.  I am brewing for a friend’s wedding.  Not too shabby at all…and I get to experiment with some styles a bit.  Here is what I’m brewing:

Caramel Apple beer: I am using malts that are known for caramel notes, and I made some sugar from apples that I juiced.  Kinda excited about this one.

Pecan Pie: This beer is loosely a brown ale (a fairly nebulous style anyway).  But I also candied some pecans and used homemade golden syrup in it.

Pumpkin Ale: In the past I’ve not been a fan of the style, but I’m going to see what I can do with it…I’ve got some plans.

Oatmeal Stout: Classic and straightforward but bound to be good.

What can I say, I love brewing and sharing beer.  As I write this post, I realize that it is a fairly personally driven narrative about what I’m up to.  However, I hope it inspires you to go and do likewise.  It’s a great week to brew or share some beer with people.

…And we’re back!

Well, there’s isn’t much to say concerning the last few months other than the fact that it was a blur.  Nate and I reached our goal of $40,000 on Kickstarter and are moving toward opening up the brewery (victory!).  It will be a long and rewarding journey.  Our recent activity hasn’t exactly been kind to thankheavenforbeer.com.  We’ve missed out on writing for a while…but will be making a comeback.

I was reflecting just this morning on the fact that we have now been on this site for three years, and that it has been one of the reasons that we’ve been able to meet so many great beer people.  In fact, we both think that it was a big part of our recent success on kickstarter.  So, here is to three years—I am raising my glass in the hopes of having a strong fourth year.  Expect to see plenty about our new brewery process.  Thanks to all of our readers!

The Wilderness isn’t Lonely at all

Well, as many of our readers might have noted, we are nearing the end of our campaign.  Even as I write this we have 69 hours to go. $25,081 has been raised.  Our goal is $40,000.  As you may be able to tell, we have a lot of support…but we also have a ways to go. Here goes nothing.

Nate and I have been writing thankheavenforbeer.com for three years now.  Our writing has been a bit less frequent as of late due to the fact that we are trying to launch a brewery.  For three years now, we have shared information, spread the good word about beer, and mused about opening a brewery.  Some of you have been with us through thick and thin, others of you are new.  Either way, please heed our appeal in the last few days of our campaign and please pledge and spread the word.  Even $25 goes a long way.

Here is the link.

Hardcore IPA – Typical Is Contextual

There once was a time when I exerted a LOT of effort searching out beer stores, trying to find the next greatest beer.  This practice subsided–nearly stopped–when I realized the next greatest beer was the one brewed in my driveway.  That being said, I still get a huge kick when I stumble upon a store with a great beer selection.  On the way home from the lake the other day, I popped into a cool little liquor store, cleverly named “Olive-or Twist.”  The beer selection was small, but great.  They have a nice selection of craft and imports that aren’t typical to the area.  My heart soared at the sight.  One of the brews I walked out with was Brew Dog’s Hardcore IPA.

Like many craft beer nerds, we’ve had a love/love a little less (but not hate!) relationship with Brew Dog.  We’ve enjoyed many of their beers, we’ve liked that they push the boundaries of what ‘beer’ should be, we stood by their side as they were slammed by the critics for their first high alcohol brew (32%), but got a little irritated as they went hog wild trying to hold the title of ‘brewer of the world’s strongest beer.’  That being said, I had never tried Hardcore IPA…a more standard offering of the brewery.  I’ve had their Punk IPA, but it didn’t do much for me.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about Hardcore IPA, so I kept my expectations at a minimum.  And they were drastically surpassed.

Hardcore IPA was EXCELLENT…far more worthy of the B rating it receives on Beer Advocate…but I’ve never been to put much stock in lemming mentality.  I am not going to wax poetic on the qualities of the beer…just go try it for yourself.  BUT, I do want to point out a few observations.

Hardcore IPA does not taste like your standard American craft Double IPA that is bursting at the seams with flavoring hops, usually of the cascade variety.  In fact, Hardcore IPA is more along the lines of an American Barleywine, where the hops qualities are more of a subtlety.  Does everything have to be so damn hoppy all the time?  Don’t get me wrong…I love me some hops.  But when everybody is brewing the same things the same way, you won’t find me there.

The fact that Hardcore IPA could be classified (and rightly so) as a Double IPA (or as Beer Advocate states and “American” Double IPA–waht?!?!) shows that there is a LOT of ambiguity still amongst beer classifications.  One person’s IPA is another’s Barley Wine, and can be classified as such either way. What really hit me is the difference between two nation’s versions of Double IPA and general brewing style altogether.  Part of the reason I liked Hardcore IPA was that it occurred to me while drinking it, that IF the IPA style existed also in the form of a Double back in the early to mid 1800s, I think it would have tasted a lot like Hardcore IPA (brewed in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire).  The beer is very English/Scottish…and not very American…which is a part of its appeal.  I suppose that may be part of the reason the beer doesn’t fare so well on Beer Advocate.  Beer nerds see “Double IPA” and expect the bombastic enamel-eating highly alpha acids that they’re used to.

Ehhh…drink what you like…not what everyone else likes.

Re-Kickstart: An Update and Appeal

Hey, everyone.  Nate and I are down to 20 days in the campaign.  That might sound like a long time but it really isn’t.  So, this is an update that we’ve raised almost $16,000/40% of our funds.  That really isn’t to shabby and the truth is that we a little behind where we would like to be…but the support has been terrific.  However, with less than three weeks left, we really need everyone if we are going to accomplish the funding goal.

As a refresher, we set out to raise $40,000.  There are all levels and types of giving that you can do.  First, we really do need some pledges. If everyone who had seen the campaign would have simply pledged $10, our funding goal would have already been met.  We can’t help but feel that some people don’t give simply because they believe that, “Well, it’s only $10.”  It is something, so please realize that every last bit counts and we need a lot of people who can swing lower amounts.  That is the first appeal.

The second appeal is one where we are asking you to step up the game of telling people.  Do you know 5 people who might be interested in the campaign?  Do have a list of people you would be willing to contact via facebook or other avenue?  Please get the word spreading like wildfire.  We simply cannot do it without the gracious assistance of others.

Those are our two appeals.  We realize that we are calling in a favor but we need to make our goal.  So, please tell everyone you know and pledge whatever you can.

Pilsner and the Confluence of History:The “Discovery” of Yeast

This article picks up where the last one left off, so please take a look at the last post to get a bit of orientation concerning the rest of the discussion.  The first post covers the fact that changes in roasting technique played a role in the history of pilsner.  This post attempts to cover what happened when yeast, more specifically, lager yeast was discovered.

Lagering and the Discovery of Yeast

Lagering beer has a long history well before the actual discovery of yeast.  Making lager was a product of, if you wish to call it such, government intervention.  It was found out that brewing in the hotter months was often a precarious practice due to bacterial infection (although no one really knew it at the time).  Beer could not be produced with predictable results during certain warm months, so it was strictly forbidden.  Bad beer was serious business in German, even to the point of physical ramifications.  Therefore, plenty of beer was stored in cold caves (lager is the German word that means “to store”), which aided in it’s preservation…but no one knew why.  Two significant occurrences came about as a result: lager strains and smoother beer.

Meanwhile, purity law (Reinheitsgebot) was instituted to ensure that beer only contained water, hops, and barley (rye and wheat were forbidden to prevent competition with the baking industry).  And later the law was changed to include yeast.

As noted above, the aging period of the beer at cooler temps reduced the amount of harshness in the beer and prevented bacterial issues from occurring.  Even today, lagers are known for their exceptional smoothness.  Once again, historical necessity dictated future practice.  I can only imagine that the shifting from necessity to norm.  Very interesting!

Second, the first beers of the world were ales.  Ales are able to ferment and function at higher temps.  But what happens with the temps are cooler?  Well, biochemical process dictated that the yeasts strains that could survive at colder temps would be the primary yeast that also ferment the beer.  So, the ale yeasts would die at cooler temperatures, while the lager strains would, albeit slowly, flourish. Therefore, when the flocculated (dropped out of suspension) yeast would be used in the next batches of beer, it would be the lager yeast that survived the best.  As a result, the lager strain become more and more predominate and pure.  Now we are talking lager yeasts.  But yeast was still not well understood for a few hundred years.

Pasteur “discovered” yeast in 1857.  It’s notable that his wife continued his work after he suffered stroke.  But he set in motion a discovery of yeast as an organism and that added to the progress/progression that has brought about much of what we enjoy about beer today.  But I’m skipping ahead a bit because yeast was known and somewhat understood, from a functional perspective, previous to Pasteur’s bombshell.  At any rate, the real meaning for yeast in Pilsner was very much later than the existence of the lager strain (circa 1402).

It is purported that the first person to bring bottom fermenting (lager) yeast into the Czech republic itself was a Bavarian monk in 1840.  Aside from Bavarian beer being delicious, it is pretty far South, which made the travel fairly close.  However, using the word “smuggled” to describe the how the monk got the yeast to the Czech Republic is a telling word which points to the true danger associated taking the yeast elsewhere.  Maybe it is not incidental that a fire up North in Hamburg, which left 20,000 or so homeless and destroyed half the city, turned away the concerns of what was occurring in Bavaria.  So, safe passage was there but maintaining the yeast’s life was the new concern.  Fortunately, the yeast strain kept well and the brewers that received the yeast knew what they were doing, and the strain lived on and two years later the first “Pilsner” was born. The result of the yeast mixed with that really light grains was brilliant. But what could showcase the light, brilliant lager beer?

Glassware was needed to show the true brilliance of the beer…the subject of the next article.

More ink for Our Kickstarter Campaign

Hey everyone, Nate and I are a bit off the grid right now.  I just pulled into Utah on my trek across the country…I’m beat! However, I do want to give a really quick update.  Loren Berlin wrote a terrific article about what we are doing (it also talks about the industry).  Anyway, I feel my strength being renewed.  Please check it out and head over to our kickstarter as well.  Pledge, spread the word, tell your uncle Larry…whatever you can do to team with us.  Even a dollar (that’s where the pledges start).