The Burner Beer Project, January Edition
Welcome to the Burner Beer Project. Every month for the next six months, I’ll be discussing beer in this space and looking at four new microbrews from across the country.
The New Year is a time of joy here in the Burner household: January marks the yearly return of a gift from my parents, the Beer of the Month Club. For the next 6 months, my wife, Laura, and I receive a large cardboard box with 12 beers inside, three bottles each of two varieties from two different breweries (3x2x2=12). Next month I’ll talk about the unfettered joy of having beer delivered to your house, but this month I thought I’d talk about the kinds of beer I like so you the reader know where I’m coming from.
If push came to shove, I don’t think I could name my favorite beer. My brother-in-law once asked, in a somewhat exasperated tone, “Don’t you guys ever buy the same beer twice?” The answer, of course, is “Not if I can help it.” I try to buy something new every time I go to the liquor store. (Here in Colorado you can only get 3.2% abv beer in grocery stores and gas stations, so I make all my beer purchases in liquor stores.) We’ll get to the evolution of a beer lover’s tastes in the coming months, but for now I’ll stick to my likes and dislikes.
A quick note before I start: I have no training in beer tasting, I’m not a beer sommelier, and I may not have the right vocabulary. I’m just here talking about what I like in plain terms. I am first and foremost a fan of dark beers–stouts, porters, black ales, and brown ales. I tend to enjoy a roasted flavor with some to a lot of hops. My cheap beer of choice is probably Shiner Bock. If I’m going to spend a little more, I may opt for a 1554 from New Belgium Brewery. But as I said, I’m usually trying something new. Recently I have been getting into IPAs and other hoppy beers. New Belgium recently had a Folly Pack (their variety pack) that contained Ranger IPA, Hoppy Boy, and Belgo Belgian IPA, three excellent beers with varying amount of hops.
On the dislike side, my strongest revulsion is for domestic horse piss. Bud, Miller, and Coors are all the enemy of good beer: not only do they make and mass market unappealing, watery beer, they also tend to co-opt the more interesting flavors coming out of smaller breweries and bland them up for mass consumption. I find the recent ads that equate drinking the beer of choice for Midwestern sorority girls, Miller Lite, with manliness extremely enervating. That beer is chemical-tasting ass and is only worse than Bud Light because Bud Light has so little flavor. This is something I feel pretty strongly about. A coworker was recently extolling the virtues of Coors Banquet beer fresh from the brewery (Golden, CO), and it took everything I had to not start shouting at him. Deep breaths, deep breaths. His shitty taste is his business.
Also, I don’t like wheat beers or wit beers. Nothing fruity, nothing with a lot of odd spices. Cloves, nutmeg, and coriander are not flavors I like in a beer. Basically, if Peter King says he likes it, I’m out. These tend to be Laura’s favorite beers. We’re a two-six-pack kind of family.
On to this week’s beers!
Lancaster Brewing Company (available in Mid Atlantic states)
Lancaster’s Milk Stout, made with non-fermenting lactose sugars, is a pitch-black brew lacking the syrupiness that I usually associate with stouts and porters. It has a smooth and light start and is pretty mild for a stout, generally sweet with a nutty finish. It has a bit of a roasted flavor but not burnt, though it did hang around in the back of my throat.
Lancaster describes their Milk Stout as having a “roasted barley dryness” and “a strong inviting espresso aroma with a hint of chocolate.” There is maybe a hint of espresso, but it isn’t strong, and I wouldn’t call it especially dry, either.
Would I recommend it? Nah, not really. I don’t generally go in for sweet in my beers, and there are better milk stouts out there. Try Left Hand Brewery’s Milk Stout instead.
Amish Four Grain Pale Ale
Very reminiscent of a wheat beer, fruity right up front, a hint of hop on the back side, with lingering sweetness, Lancaster’s Amish Four Grain Pale Ale is amber and cloudy and makes me think of something Belgian, like New Belgium’s Abbey, with less banana notes.
The literature says this “has a smooth flavor featuring rye and malted wheat. Sweet oats are balanced out by … Nobel Saaz hops. [Has] a hoppy mouth feel.” I couldn’t tell there was rye in it, and as far as I could tell, the sweet oats are balanced by nothing, as the overwhelming note of this beer is sweet. I wouldn’t call it hoppy, either.
Laura’s Pick of Month! (Which is further proof there’s not much hops going on here, as Laura doesn’t like hoppy beer.)
Mendocino Brewing Company (available across the country, except for Montana)
Black Hawk Select Stout
The Black Hawk Select Stout is strangely flavorless, closer to a blandish schwarzbier with a slightly boozy flavor. Like Lancaster’s Milk Stout, this is very light for a stout, with a slightly bitter flavor and a stoutish aftertaste that lingers pleasantly.
The Frosted Mug describes Black Hawk Select Stout as having a “refreshing dry crispness” with a “roasted malt flavor that is creamy and smooth.” They also note, “The beer is not as heavy as other stouts…may help convert those who are not normally big stout drinkers.” I would agree with all of that except “creamy.” I have had much creamier beers than this.
Would I recommend it? Yes. At first I was a bit put off by how light this was, but as long as you’re expecting something closer to a black ale than a true stout, this is a nice beer with good flavor.
White Hawk IPA
White Hawk IPA is crisp, dry, and lightly hoppy, with the sort of fruit notes that come from hops that manage to be slightly bitter and sweet without ever being cloying. Bright and amber colored, the White Hawk is 7% abv, so go easy.
The Frosted Mug highlights the White Hawk IPA’s hops–American West Coast hops and English Fuddle hops–saying it is “a very aromatic beer with authentic English flavor.”
Would I recommend it? Yes. This is a nice IPA for someone who wants some hoppiness but doesn’t want to get absolutely blown out by hops. It might make a nice starter IPA for someone who’s expanding their beer horizons.
To sum up, both the White Hawk IPA and Black Hawk Select Stout from Mendocino are recommended as good beers for those transitioning into new styles and those who aren’t looking for intense flavors. Laura also recommends the Amish Four Grain Pale Ale from Lancaster for those who like wheat beers and similar styles.
Join us in the comments to discuss your favorite beers. Also, I’m planning a Spring Seasonal Roundup, so if you have a spring seasonal you think I should try, leave me a note.
*The boxes o’ beer usually arrive at the end of the month, so these posts will usually go up a month behind.