POSTED ON MAY 22, 2013:
Annual sunmer tasting yields good times, good beers
Take heart, my beer-swilling brothers and sisters, for this week, Urban Tulsa Weekly brings you the annual Summer Brews issue, dedicated to the lighter-bodied beers and other potables that so many of us enjoy in the warmer months.
ake heart, my beer-swilling brothers and sisters, for this week, Urban Tulsa Weekly brings you the annual Summer Brews issue, dedicated to the lighter-bodied beers and other potables that so many of us enjoy in the warmer months.
With a crack team of beer experts -- some whose expertise is less questionable than others -- we undertook the incredibly arduous task of drinking beer and eating pizza and wings while on the clock. It was really a taxing experience, but one that we gladly undertook, knowing our sacrifice was for the good of all of our lovely readers. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Gathered into the Urban Tulsa Weekly conference room were three bigass Hideaway pizzas, two things of wings, and our tasters. From left to right, we had Nathan Williams, bartender at Andolini's and beer aficionado; Jeremy Geiger, a veteran of the food service industry who I watched sample more than one beer when we were in college; Josh Royal of R Bar & Grill fame, who demonstrated an uncanny ability to pinpoint where a beer came from just by taste -- often down to the city of origin; Freddy Lamport of Jenks' Bier Garten, who has forgotten more about beer than you or I will ever know; Ashley Vick, a sales rep for LDF Sales and Distributing whose descriptive abilities regarding beer borders on the supernatural; and me, a 43-year-old man who has been drinking beer since the second Reagan administration. Yeah, yeah, mathletes. I was an underage drinker. Is anyone surprised?
Things we learned: Nate Williams likes to use the word "coriander." Josh Royal is very funny. Ashley Vick can't remember to write her name on her papers.
We sampled 25 different seasonal beers, shandies, and ciders, and we did so blindly, so when I express surprise at Royal's ability to name where a beer was brewed just by tasting it, I am expressing genuine astonishment.
For our scoring our taste test, we used a modified scoring sheet from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJPC) which allowed for judging in aroma (12 points), appearance (3 points), flavor (20 points), mouthfeel (5 points), and overall impression (10 points) for a total of 50 points. As there were six of us, the beer scores listed are out of 300.
When the heads had receded, four beers clearly stood out as our tasters' choices for best of the batch.
Ethos IPA from Tallgrass Brewing Co., Manhattan, Kan.
UTW score: 276/300
India Pale Ale can be an acquired taste for some, but this was the hands-down favorite judging from our scores. Lamport summed it up in beer-expert-ese, describing it as "extremely balanced with a nice hop bitter finish." Vick was less formal.
"Freaking yum! Calling all hopheads -- this beer is for you," she said, while Royal just showed off: "This beer is fantastic. I think it's made in Manhattan, Kan., which makes it fresh and sort of local."
Heyday Witbier from Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver, Colo.
UTW score: 259/300
"Lots of bright lemon aromas and taste," Vick said. "More, please."
Williams was more technical, using the word "coriander" for the first of many times. "The coriander really comes through. This is a nice, bright, wheat ale. What a great freaking beer," he said, adding that the "fantastic, clean finish leads to an empty glass."
Mike's Hard Lemonade Shandy from Mike's Hard Lemonade Co., Seattle, Wash.
UTW score: 243/300
This one was a surprise to me, as the Mike's brand was mildly bashed around the table before we began. However, a blind taste test placed it right at the top of our highest scorers.
"If a lemon and a cider ale had a baby, this would be their offspring," Vick said, while Geiger opined that it was "ridiculously refreshing and satisfying. The not-too-subtle infusion of lemony-citrusy fun begs for a second sip. Bring on the summer."
A taster who shall remain anonymous chimed in, "I can see Renee Zellweger loving this." Not sure if that was a compliment.
Fleur de Houblon from Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, N.Y.
UTW score: 238/300
Lamport let his beer knowledge run a little crazy on this one. Check it out:
"Orange zest and a chalky yeast. Cloudy pale straw with a large coarse bubble white persistent head. High carbonation. Mildly sweet malt with low hop bitterness. Some black pepper spice and clove are evident. Medium-light in body with a dry spicy finish," he wrote. See what I mean?
This one definitely made a first impression on Royal, though it wasn't a lasting one.
"Not a bad beer, but not my favorite. I may have scored this brew a little high. As I continue to drink it, I like it less, but I'm too lazy to change my scores," he said.
I'll let readers guess which Andolini's bartender said, "The roundness of the yeast keep this beer popping. Is that coriander?"
Geiger was just flat confounded, describing the brew as "Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Ale." No, I don't know what he meant, either.
Summer Solstice Cream Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Boonville, Calif.
UTW score: 237/300
According to the scores, this was Royal's second-favorite beer of the evening.
"This beer is truly one of a kind except for its winter brother," he said. "The reason it does not get a perfect score is only because there is a flavor added. A little chocolate, with some orange -- it's very similar to a cream soda with alcohol added."
Lamport enjoyed the beer's balance: "Caramel and toffee are apparent, and the malt is balanced by a caramel corn flavor," he said.
"It's very refreshing, but perhaps a bit too sweet for the hopheads and the pilsner junkies," Williams cautioned.
Our middle-of-the-road scores had mixed reactions. Some of the beers getting the highest individual scores of the evening wound up in this middle category, because there's that whole one-man's-trash cliché. There were a couple in here that some of our tasters downright hated, but none universally. We'll save those for later.
Summer Belgian-Style Blonde Ale from Choc Beer Co., Krebs, Okla.
UTW score: 236/300
This homestate brew was well-liked by all of us.
Lamport pointed out that this Belgian-style blonde ale had some banana and clove characteristics, though Royal found it "a little light for a blonde."
Williams liked this one, though: "Overall, this is a great blonde for a patio day."
Saison Diego Farmhouse Ale from Green Flash Brewing Co., San Diego, Calif.
UTW score: 234/300
Immediately recommended by Royal, though Lamport and Geiger were unimpressed, this beer got mixed reviews. While this was one of Royal's highest scores of the night, it was one of Geiger's lowest.
"This one might be a little sophisticated for the average summer brew, but I challenge you to try it," the impressed Royal said. "Don't be scared."
However, Lamport noticed a "slight yeast 'funk,'" which he then compared to a horse blanket. Drink up!
And Geiger damned it with faint praise: "I guess it would pair well with a hot dog covered in black pepper."
Prairie Standard from Prairie Artisan Ales, Krebs, Okla.
UTW score: 230/300
Royal and Williams loved this one.
"Farmhouse ales are very hard to pinpoint and can vary greatly," Royal explained. "I find this one to be in the top of its class. I think it would get even better with some short aging."
Williams didn't want to age it, he just wants to recommend how you use it.
"I like this as a summertime niche for the farmhouse style," he said. "You can use this beer to enjoy the taste of bright, clean hops while eschewing the bitter bite of an IPA."
Früh Kölsch from Brauerei Fruh Am Dom, Köln, Germany
UTW score: 230/300
This was another mixed-review beer.
"Brilliantly clear, with a nice white head," Lamport said.
And Vick got in on Royal's action of identifying where a beer came from.
"Tastes like the motherland," she said, "if I were from Germany, that is."
Again, Williams and Geiger were nonplussed.
"This is skunky enough to keep you wondering what's going on, but light enough to keep drinking it," Williams said, but Geiger's was the least appetizing comment, as he found that "there was a moldy, cat-litter smell."
Mustang Summer Lager from Mustang Brewing Co., Mustang, Okla.
UTW score: 228/300
A well-received brew, this one was.
"Slightly creamy with a crisp, refreshing finish," Lamport said, and Vick gave a literal thumbs-up. Royal, meanwhile, appreciated the authenticity of the beer.
"This is a true representation of the style -- a full-flavor summer lager greatly balanced, well hopped, and perfectly carbonated."
Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy from Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., Chippewa Falls, Wis.
UTW score: 228/300
Another surprise. While everyone knew exactly what this was when they tasted it, reactions were varied. Geiger gave his highest score of the night to this one, but then again, this was the last brew of the evening, and we were all a little hammered, so his score might need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Royal expressed dismay at his own reaction:
"Okay, this is the beer you drink on a boat in Oklahoma. I've never been on a boat, but I hear it's nice," he said. "Please don't tell my friends I like this beer."
It should be noted that he literally drank this beer under the table so no one would see him. Vick snapped a picture of this, but it ended up looking like something dirty was going on, so we shan't print it here.
Happy Camper IPA from Santa Fe Brewing Co., Santa Fe, N.M.
UTW score: 225/300
As we move lower and lower down the list of scores, we begin seeing more and more negative comments, and that really begins with this beer. No one hated it, but perhaps Royal summed it up best when he said, "It's palatable, but forgettable. I would drink and enjoy this beer, but I might not remember it in a week."
Williams offered a back-handed compliment: "You'll love it if you like hops and heat."
Mustang Route 66 American Lager from Mustang Brewing Co., Mustang, Okla.
UTW score: 224/300
True to form, Lamport went straight to the beer's first impression.
"Light golden color with a thin, persistent off-white head," he said, also noting that he enjoyed the clean finish of the beer.
"A bit roasty, and I swear I taste pecans in the finish," Vick said, a little confused. "I'm sticking to that story," while Williams described it as a "classic, clean American lager," as well as a "nine-to-five beer."
Good Juju from Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, Colo.
UTW score: 212/300
Nobody hated this one, but it is, in fact, trending kind of low in our list. As this is a beer brewed with ginger, it's probably a good thing that all our tasters made some comment about the ginger taste in the brew.
Vick pointed out "bright citrus and ginger notes that are perfect for summer, Williams enjoyed that the ginger doesn't linger too long in the beers' flavor. Geiger liked this one.
"I can't imagine sushi not creaming its jeans to be paired with this brave brew," he said. "There's no mistaking the intent of the master brewer -- full flavor ginger in your face."
Oddly enough, Royal offered an unusual tip for maximizing enjoyment of this beer.
"I would never put beer on ice, but this one is the exception," he said. "A little ice helps to retain head retention and creates a creamy mouthfeel. The only warning I would give to drinkers is if you don't like ginger, you might shun this beer."
Nude Beach Summer Wheat from Stevens Point Brewery, Stevens Point, Wis.
UTW score: 210/300
This was one of our choices that had the most disparate scores. While Lamport and Vick enjoyed it.
Lamport called the beer's finish "profound," while Vick was typically charming in her assessment: "Tastes like duck sauce," she said. "Delish."
Royal and Williams had nearly opposite reactions to the summer wheat.
"If you go off of aroma only, this beer is a home run," Royal said. "Lots of orange and citrus. This would be a great summer beer for patios and boats."
But Williams did not find that to be the case.
"Almost no aroma," he commented. "The flavor isn't popping. This would be a strong session beer, depending on the ABV."
Boss Tom's Golden Bock from Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Mo.
UTW score: 192/300
Geiger reacted strongly to this one.
"I could smell cotton candy in the finish," he said. "From then on, I couldn't remove myself from the midway at the state fair, surrounded by bad choices and misguided dreams. It missed."
However, Lamport enjoyed the beer's color and carbonation. "This is an easy-drinking summer bock with a nice finish. Refreshing," he said.
"The aroma reminds me of my childhood," said Royal. "Wait -- let me finish. Sitting at the lake fishing with my dad as a kid, I would always smell his beer. Today's style is so detailed and in-depth, the simple classics sometimes get lost. I remember."
Newcastle Bombshell from John Smith's, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England
UTW score: 183/300
Again, this one wasn't a favorite of Geiger's.
"If the beer had been poured through charcoal, it might have tasted less smokey," he said.
Lamport did not like that there was "little to no hop aroma," and "little to no head is noticeable."
Royal voiced concern, but we were getting late in the evening at this point, so maybe his taste buds were just tired.
He found "aromas of coffee, which is unusual for this style. It actually tastes a bit like coffee. I'm officially confused."
"Slightly skunky" was about all Williams had to say.
The bottom end of our beers included one that exactly half of our tasting crew wondered whether it was from a defective batch. And we couldn't get a definitive answer, so we just went with deciding it was a shitty beer. Also, some of the more entertaining comments of the evening came in relation to these samples.
Shiner Ruby Redbird from Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas
UTW score: 176/300
Lamport was waylaid by the grapefruit in this beer.
"Citrus is big and present on the nose and in flavor," he said. But once he got past that, he described it as "light-bodied and easy to drink."
Geiger was briefly happy with this one. Briefly.
"I loved the smell. The affair was short-lived," he said. "The faint-but-prevalent ginger is weak in intensity, but has the endurance of a triathlete."
Summerfest Lager from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, Calif.
UTW score: 169/300
With this beer, Royal started thinking about admitting defeat, but he was going to go down swinging.
"Okay, this is beer 18, so my taste buds are a little shot, but I can still smell, and it smells like dirty mop water," he said. "I would not recommend this beer to a friend, but I would to a Bud Light drinker."
Consternation registered on Williams' face, as he couldn't reconcile the beer with its name.
"This is malty and brightly bitter, but these are things I seek in a bright winter lager," he said. "A little too bitter for summer in this style. I don't get how this is a summer lager."
Geiger approached the bitterness differently, averring that he "didn't mind the bitter finish as much as the nondescript flavor."
Porch Rocker from Boston Beer Co. (Samuel Adams), Jamaica Plain, Mass.
UTW score: 124/300
A roundly-derided beer, this was the beer that you went to high school with that nobody really liked. Very colorful comments came with this brew.
"Dry and lifeless," said Lamport, duly unimpressed.
Vick expounded a little.
"It's like the bad kid in the neighborhood put one of dad's beers in the pitcher at the lemonade stand," she said.
When Royal tried to guess the beer in front of him, of guessed "Sweaty Gym Sock Brewery." And he got more creative.
I think this is a practical joke being played," he said. "I'm guessing this is a beer suicide with artificial peach flavoring. I scored this beer too high" (he gave it seven out of a possible 50 points).
"I thought the Kool-Aid Man would bust through the Urban Tulsa wall at any minute," Geiger said.
"This tasted kind of like Pine-Sol," said one taster. "At least my mouth is squeaky clean."
Abita Lemon Wheat from Abita Brewing Co., Abita Springs, La.
ABV: Unavailable at press time
UTW score: 108/300
The worst of the bunch, Abita's Lemon Wheat is the beer some tasters thought might be defective.
Hey, Freddy -- what do you taste?
"Medicine, yeast, and aspirin," he said. "There must be something wrong with this beer."
Vick echoed his statement, and Royal reaffirmed the medicinal taste present.
The high amount of fruity notes in the brew put Williams off.
"This beer says to me, 'If you need fruit in your beer, you should put it in after the fact,'" he said.
"I felt dirty drinking this," Geiger said.
Don't hold back, Jeremy. Let us know how you really felt about this one.
So there you have it, faithful readers. A sampling of summer beers for you and yours to imbibe and enjoy. You've likely found a beer to take to the lake, one for Labor Day, another for the Fourth, and one for after you mow the lawn. And let's face it, that's when beer is the best-tasting thing on planet earth.
Damn. Now I'm thirsty again.
More than Beer
Hard ciders and other alternatives
While these weren't our tasters' favorites, they did have a few things to say about our small selection of hard drinks.
Angry Orchard Hard Cider Apple Ginger from Boston Beer Co. (Samuel Adams), Jamaica Plain, Mass.
Despite being from a brewery that at least one taster normally hates, this hard cider was well-received and scored the highest of our non-beer sample.
"This is probably the least-cloying apple cider I have ever had," the taster said. "Very prominent and clean, apple taste with just a hint of cinnamon."
Another taster remarked that this was a "fun, lively cider that celebrates flavor and then helps clean up afterwards."
Woodchuck Hard Cider from the Vermont Hard Cider Co., Middlebury, Vt.
Geiger enjoyed this finish of the Woodchuck more than anything else, but Lamport described it as "bordering on cloying." He also bemoaned the absence of what he called "alcohol warmth."
Williams also enjoyed the cider's finish, among other elements.
"A nice, light, effervescent summer cider," he said. "Drinking more than one wouldn't be a bother. Everyone can get behind this. I like the lightly-lingering apple aftertaste."
Strangely enough for a summer brew, Vick found some especially wintery elements.
"This hard cider invokes thought of Christmas," she said. "Tons of juicy red apples and some spice."
Strongbow Hard Cider from Bulmer's Cider, Hereford, Herefordshire, England
"A tad flat for a cider, if I want to be pretentious about it," said one taster.
Another taster -- the one who hates Samuel Adams products -- didn't like this one, and made an assumption.
"I feel like this cider is more sour and bitter than sweet," the taster said. "I'm guessing this beer is Angry Orchard, but I have never had it."
Incorrect, but thanks for playing.
Upon tasting this hard cider, another taster offered marketing advice for Strongbow.
"I guess females would love this," the beer sampler said. "And I guess dudes who don't like hops. Overall, it's refreshing, but not satisfying."
Another called it an "easy drinker to be enjoyed on the beach during the hot summer months," while another said, "I would actually drink one of these (per year)." That's a ringing endorsement.
Twisted Tea from the Twisted Tea Brewing Co., Cincinnati, Ohio
This was our least favorite of the beer alternatives, but not because there was active hatred for it. It was just kind of blah, being described as "bordering cloying and preferred by the non-beer drinker."
Another participant simply asked, "There's alcohol in this?"
Other zingers included, "Not my favorite style, but served over ice, my grandmother would love it," "you would never know that it's alcoholic at all -- go fishing with this or just trick your dinner guests," and "that very special Robitussin aftertaste that says, 'Gotcha!'"
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