Spring is summer's tease, running warm to hot, cool to downright cold, sometimes. Last week the Blue Dome was shivering.
But this week Mayfest monsoons subside and skies clear, and the solstice is what, a month out? All of a sudden, it's sizzling and the heat index rises till late September.
Anybody need a beer? Yes, it's time to tap the keg with Urban Tulsa Weekly's 2010 Summer Brews.
As per usual, we assembled a panel of extreme experts, six local beer enthusiasts (you'd know their names and recognize them in their respective clubs and restaurants, if not on the city's streets.) We gave them 20 brews from which to choose, and their decisions form what we consider this summer's best.
Throughout the year, and certainly since our last review (See "Autumn Brews," Nov. 5-11, 2009 at urbantulsa.com), area distributors have been jockeying for position in choosing new product, while coaxing local liquor stores to stock brews new to Oklahoma -- some are seasonal, some from hallowed regional microbreweries who've finally got a foot in the door.
And so our sudsy safari courses the USA from coast to coast, corner to corner, country to country as we toast the foam and flavor, suds and substance of some of our great national and international resources.
It may be due to the increasing success of local and regional breweries and vendors along the way, such as: Mustang Brewing Co. (Mustang, Okla.), Choc Beer Co. (Krebs, Okla.), Marshall Brewing Co. (Tulsa), Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City) and the distributors who haul it all in, case after case, week after week.
Every half year, we make an effort to taste beers that are relatively new to Oklahoma, including new brews from our top local breweries. You'll find this semi-annual dispatch to be no exception, with several brews on the list that have made their Oklahoma debuts in the past year. With this week being the fifth annual American Craft Beer Week, we want to do our part to help support local and regional breweries.
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There is, of course, no one "right" way to rate beer, but here's the UTW formula:
We employed a "blind" taste test, which means the panelists had no idea which beer they were sampling until after they rated it, and then it was revealed, sometimes to great shock and amazement.
Our 20 brews were divided into six categories: ambers, wheats, IPAs, pale ales, lagers/pilsners and "others."
You might notice there aren't any porters or stouts on the list, and there's a reason for it. Generally these dark brews are appreciated more fully in the cooler months, when a hearty soup or stew calls for a beverage to complement its rich depth and caloric content. The heavier the beer, the more you're thinking fireside chats and roasted chestnuts.
(Look forward to our Autumn Brews edition for insight into some of these heartier beverages.)
The brews reviewed were not tasted from bottles. Rather, they were poured into pint glasses to help bring out the full flavors and aromas of each and every beer.
Of course, since no one likes a warm beer, the brews were kept at a perfect chilled temperature until they were brought out for tasting.
Our rating system utilizes an allocation of points from 1-5 (with 5 being the best) to measure the appearance, aroma, palate and flavor of each brew.
To judge appearance, the panel observed the color, clarity carbonation, head size and its longevity.
Our panelists judged whether the aroma was, sweet or fruity, hoppy or malty, skunky or just bad.
For palate, the tasters sipped each brew, attempting to "feel" the beer inside their mouths as it progressed from the front of the mouth to the back.
Finally, our precise panel judged the flavor of each brew at the start, middle, finish and the aftertaste.
Our experts began with one beer and finished after 20. They ate great pizza and all had a great time at UTW headquarters.
Now, without further ado . . .
We begin the rankings at No. 20, and in that spot this year is Big Sky Brewing Co.'s Scape Goat Pale Ale. We've reviewed this brew once before, in 2008, and figured we'd give it another try. Brewed with pale, crystal malts and Kent Goldings and Crystal hops, this beer won gold medals at the North American Brewers Association competitions in 1997 and 1999. Our panel's praises weren't so high. The tasters didn't have much to say about this brew but determined it was flaccid, flat and fruity.
The panel noted it had a slightly skunky aroma and had no real unique characteristics. If for no other reason, try Big Sky's brews for their fun labels and unique names (one beer is called Moose Drool, and another is named Trout Slayer).
Coming in at No. 19 on our list is Asia Pacific's Tiger Lager. If you're looking for a brew that will give you Rocky's eye of the tiger, you'll need to look elsewhere.
This lager, brewed in 12 Asian countries, is light on color and light on taste. Our tasters noted it was watery and would make a "good float trip beer." One panelist noted that this over-carbonated brew had an aroma of corn and a sweet corn finish.
With a red flannel-inspired label and an all-that-is-man name comes beer No. 18 on our list, Great Divide Brewing Co.'s Hoss. Based on the Marzen lagers of Germany, this rye lager is brewed with hints of cherry and dark fruits.
After tasting, our panelists weren't too inspired to unleash their inner Paul Bunyan, with two of our tasters noting that this brew wasn't even worth talking about, and another wondering if this beer was "smuggled across the border in large bales." Others on our panel wondered if the name even fit the beer, considering how light and thin the brew tasted. Try Hoss with bratwurst, barbeque chicken or pork tacos.
The first of two brews from Capital Brewery in Middleton, Wisc., comes in at No. 17 on the list. Capital's Special Pilsner didn't seem so special to UTW's panel, despite winning the gold medal at the 2009 Beverage Testing Institute World Beer Championships. Our tasters commented that it was bland, one-dimensional, overly carbonated and had an unpleasant finish.
Capital produces up to 16 beers a year, and luckily for them, another one of their brews finished higher up on our list.
The first amber on the list makes its appearance at No. 16. with Napa Smith Brewery's Amber Ale, which uses seven malt varieties and three unique selections of hops in its brewing process, inspired mixed reactions from our panel. Some panelists thought the beer possessed an unpleasant finish, with one taster acknowledging that it "finishes like John McCain." Ouch.
In contrast, a few of our tasters found the beer's fruity finish to be quite pleasant and considered it a very drinkable beer. For a beer hailing from Napa, Calif., the fruity finish sure makes sense.
Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing Co.'s Pilsner makes its way onto our list at No. 15. Revered as one of the first microbreweries to make a mark in Oklahoma, Boulevard and its brews have been a mainstay on this list in recent years.
In our 2008 edition of Summer Brews, their Lunar Ale placed first out of 33 beers. The following summer, Boulevard's Single-Wide IPA finished tenth out of a whopping 39 brews. Last fall, their Smokestack Series' Saison Brett took the bronze medal in our tasting. With the established popularity of Boulevard's Unfiltered Wheat Beer in this region, we decided to give another one of the company's offerings a try.
Although it's a relatively new brew, debuting less than a year ago, Boulevard's Pilsner is steeped in history. Kansas City was once home to several small, regional breweries, such as the George Muehlebach Brewing Company. When those breweries began to disappear, so too did the classic American lager. The Pilsner is a tribute to that legacy -- even the label is a throwback to Muehlebach.
This beer is brewed from Pale, Pilsner, Munich and Cara 50 malts in an all-malt recipe. The UTW tasters found this brew to be over-carbonated and lacking a good, distinctive taste. Pair the Pilsner with seasoned chicken, fish or spicy Mexican and Asian dishes for a smooth, crisp taste.
Ties Go to the Drinker
There was bound to be at least one tie on our list, and the first of three begins here. Tied at lucky No. 13 are Capital Brewery's Wisconsin Amber and Flying Dog Brewery's In-Heat Wheat.
Our panel found Capital's Wisconsin Amber to be a nice-looking beer, but a little thin-bodied and less malty than typical amber. The panel decided it would make a good session beer. If you're looking to get through hot, sticky lawn work with a brew, one taster said that it would even be a "good lawnmower beer." Try it with fish to bring out all of the flavors.
Originally opened as a brewpub in Aspen, Co., but now based in Frederick, Md., Flying Dog Brewery is a little off-the-wall -- just look at their labels! Drawn by Ralph Steadman, better known as the illustrator of Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" and "The Curse of Lono," the labels are true to Thompson's Gonzo spirit.
Flying Dog makes its return to our list after its Tire Bite Golden Ale placed 15th in last year's Summer Brews. Our tasters found In-Heat Wheat to be generally solid, noticing the fruit and spice flavors of this German-style Hefeweizen and enjoying the beer's smooth finish -- a result of the malted white wheat used in the brewing process. This brew goes well with fish, chicken or salads, so it appeals to all types of eaters. One taster commented that he would buy this beer, so if you want sound advice from the panel, prepare to put this wheat brew on your shopping list. (Or keep on the lookout for Flying Dog's 20th anniversary brew -- Raging Bitch IPA.)
Next on the list we have -- ladies and gentlemen, you guessed it -- another tie! For No. 11 between Oklahoma's own Mustang Brewing Company's Washita Wheat and Anderson Valley Brewing Co.'s Poleeko Gold Pale Ale.
Despite being an Oklahoma brewing company, Mustang's offerings are currently brewed at Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin while their in-state facility continues to expand.
Washita Wheat is brewed with Oklahoma Red Wheat, American and European barley and Cluster and German Hallertauer hops, and our panel noticed the citrus flavors and aroma of this brew.
The tasters discovered that the brand-new beer has a thin finish, and while one panelist said there wasn't much to distinguish it, another said it was easy on the palate.
Brewed in Booneville, Calif., Anderson Valley's Poleeko Gold Pale Ale uses Pacific Northwest hops to establish a distinct style, unlike any domestic or imported beers. Possessing an unusual lightness for a full-flavored ale, this brew seemed bland on appearance and aroma to our panelists. Some noted it possesses a pleasant finish, while one taster commented that it tastes like "six-point Budweiser." Accompany it with spicy dishes for a nice cool-down.
Uncorking the Top
The top 10 begins with another regional product -- Krebs-based Choc Beer Company's Waving Wheat. Choc has been a local mainstay on our list for the past few years. In our 2007 edition of Summer Brews, Choc's 1919 Beer placed 10th. The following summer, Choc placed two offerings, the Signature Biére de Garde and the Krebs Original on our countdown. Last summer, the brewery's Last Laugh, an unfiltered wheat ale, was included in our list, too.
Waving Wheat, the top-rated wheat beer on our list, is a Belgian White, and our panel generally seemed to enjoy it.
A few of our tasters noticed the citrus and spice flavors that come from a blend of spices and orange peel. One member of our panel even wondered if he could take the rest of the six pack home with him. (The answer was no. But he was invited to UTW's office happy hour.)
Up next is a three-way tie for No. 7 between Choc's Summer Belgian Blonde Ale, Mad River Brewing Co.'s Steelhead IPA and Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA.
With Choc's second-straight entry on this list, their Summer Belgian Blonde Ale, produced a wide-range of opinions from the UTW panel. But it was all good.
One taster thought this brew presented a slightly bitter finish, while another thought it was exotic and savory. It seemed as if the beer might have been missing something and could use some sort of garnish, such as an orange. There was really no consensus on this one, though. Belgian Blondes are what they are.
For the first India Pale Ale to appear on our list, Steelhead Double IPA provided a powerful fruity punch to our panel, even causing one panelist to exclaim "tooty fruity alrooty!" as the evening picked up.
True to its "double" name, this brew is maltier, hoppier and stronger than regular IPAs and is brewed with Amarillo hops for a fresh citrus flavor and aroma. The tasters couldn't agree whether there was good balance between the bitters and fruit flavor, so you'll have to put your own taste buds to the test for this one. Overall, if you were looking to try an IPA for the first time, this would be a good place to start. Pair this brew with red meat (cooked or raw) to make a great meal.
The final member of this three-way tie, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA is the first full-production IPA from the brewery. The name comes from a device called the "hop torpedo," which was designed at the brewery and provides a revolutionary method of dry-hopping. With layers of flavors ranging from citrus, herbs and -- pine -- this brew also evoked differing opinions from the panel.
While one taster called it the "Budweiser drinker's guide to IPAs," another said it was an exceptional beer, complete with a great look, taste and flavor. So if you want to give IPAs a try, or if you like great beer, this is another brew to add to your list.
Coming in at No. 6 is the top amber on our list, Anderson Valley's Boont Amber. Possessing a sweet aroma and a smooth finish, this good, sturdy beer was well-received by our panel. One of our tasters went as far to say that the beer is fruity, "but not so much that I don't feel like a man afterwards."
Not often do we combine "fruity" and "manly," but there are exceptions to every rule. If you're a man who likes fruity-tasting beer, give this one a try. This smooth and drinkable beer goes well with steak, chicken and pasta.
Come On, Get Hoppy
We like to keep tabs on our local brews, and Tulsa's own Marshall Brewing Co. leads us into the top five with its Atlas IPA.
Brewed with pale and caramel maltings of American two-row barley and Columbus, Amarillo and Cascade hops, Atlas IPA was highly regarded by our panel. Most tasters noticed the hoppy nature of this brew, though only one panelist thought it was "too hoppy."
Another taster said that while the hops are definitely present, they aren't overpowering. Suggested food pairings for this IPA include Mexican, Indian and Cajun dishes, fish, crab cakes and several cheeses. Once again, Marshall Brewing Co. has done Tulsa beer drinkers proud.
Making its mark on our list at No. 4 is McSorley's Irish Pale Ale. Of all the brews we sampled, the history of this one might be the most interesting. McSorley's is brewed in Pennsylvania for a pub in Greenwich Village in New York City called McSorley's Old Ale House. This isn't your normal pub, it's the oldest bar in America, opening in 1854 and operating continuously since then. Untill 1970, women weren't allowed into the bar, which has seen the likes of John Lennon and Abe Lincoln and UTW Publisher Keith Skrzypczak pass through.
McSorley's Pale Ale, our panel noted, has a good appearance and is slightly bitter, in the way a beer should be. One panelist noted that this would make for a good introductory pale ale, too. This brew only recently became available in Oklahoma, and now that it's here, it's a must-try.
We're getting closer to top honors as we skip jump again to reach a tie for No. 2 on our list between Santa Fe Brewing Co.'s Pale Ale and Stevens Point Brewery's 2012 Black Ale.
The highest-ranking Pale Ale on our list, Santa Fe Brewing Co.'s offering provoked one of our tasters to note that "this one will make me a pale ale drinker."
A full-bodied brew that compares to its English counterparts, this beer asserts its American origin with Cascade and Willamette hops. Our panel thought this beer had a smooth finish with a great bitter flavor and was generally well balanced, thanks to the maltiness from the German yeast used to brew this classic in the making.
Thousands of years ago, the Mayan civilization developed a calendar that many believe ends ominously on December 21, 2012. Apparently, the Mayans knew a thing or two about brews, as well.
The Stevens Point 2012 Black Ale, hand-crafted with Pale, Munich and Roasted malts with Cluster, Saaz and Cascade hops, is a brew the UTW panel found to be a creamy and sweet beer with a good black licorice finish. Only one taster had any negative comments, mentioning that he didn't taste any hops or malt in the flavor, noting it was simply a dark beer.
With that, ladies and gentlemen, we've reached the pinnacle of our summer brews countdown, the top-ranked beer as chosen by our panel -- and it sure has a local feel.
And the Winner Is ...
Coming in at No. 1 is Wild Brew IPA, a true Cinderella story, is a collaborative effort from Marshall Brewing Company and Choc Beer Company to promote the 12th Annual Wild Brew, an annual community event that supports the George Miskch Sutton Avian Center near Bartlesville.
Eric Marshall of Marshall Brewing Company said the two local brewing companies were happy to collaborate with each other to promote not only the event, but Oklahoma breweries as well.
"Everybody is friends with everybody, and everybody wants to see everyone succeed," Marshall said of the relationship between in-state breweries. "We're good friends with all the breweries in Oklahoma."
Marshall said the brew turned out exactly how they wanted.
"It kept more of a traditional approach," Marshall said. "We definitely wanted the Belgian characteristics, with sort of a spicy note, but that finishes dry and hoppy -- but not too hoppy. There've definitely a lot of balance to it."
Marshall said he wouldn't rule out collaborating with Choc again, and if our panel's ratings are any indication, it might not be a bad idea.
This Belgian-style IPA wowed our panel and finished wings and feathers above the competition by combining the strengths of both breweries. Choc is known for its Belgian-style ales, while Marshall is recognized by its flagship Atlas IPA (See No. 5). Our panel enjoyed the great aroma, good bitters and smooth finish, while noting the abundance of hops. One taster even referred to this brew as "the gateway drug of IPAs."
Interesting note: This may be one beer best consumed relatively quickly, at least for now. Wild Brew was only recently introduced to the public, and the beer's lack of conditioning means its flavor profile was relatively short lived, as two panelists observed when they sipped it again from a previously opened bottle at the conclusion of the UTW tasting. "It tastes like a completely different beer," one of them said, theorizing that Wild Brew would benefit from additional conditioning.
Despite tastes from around the country (and the world), a local brew comes out on top of this list. So as we have coined and said for years, buy local!
And a Hoppy Memorial Day to all!
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