In 2005, Molson Brewing Company merged with Coors. In 2007, Miller Brewing Company and Molson Coors merged operations in the US. Finally, in 2008, Anheuser Bush merged with InBev. What does this mean for you? If you are buying a beer at your nearest grocer, chances are you are feeding one of two companies, and buying the same shit. The state of the world beer market is fairly abysmal if you start to look at it. These two conglomerates own such a major share of the market that it might as well be a monopoly. From the faux craft abomination that is Blue Moon to King Cobra, it all feeds the same ugly beast. Their influence on grocery store chains, let alone government regulation, is staggering, coupled with their ability to push for legislation that makes brewing and distribution difficult for small local craft breweries. Luckily, independent craft breweries have been exploding all over the country in the past few years, reaching heights of popularity and dedication never before thought possible. People are beginning to respect beer the same way they respect wine. So here at the Union Weekly, we decided to plunge in and explore the endless depths of flavor offered by these smaller breweries. We picked up 14 beers from all over the country ranging from the super light pilsners to the darkest, roastiest stouts. During the process, we explored the art being put out by breweries like Fort Collins Colorado’s New Belgium, which is an employee-owned company with a deep commitment to sustainability; or Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery which spends a lot of time researching ancient brewing traditions and recreating them for the modern world. It might sound expensive to get into craft beer, but think about this: it costs substantially less then getting into wine or whiskey, has at least two to three times the alcohol of a glass of Natty Ice, and tastes way better. Here we offer up the six best beers as agreed upon by the staff for your consideration.
Dogfish Head’s Chateau Jiahu
-KEVIN O’BRIEN (thumbs up)
I paid for the Chateau Jiahu, and while I still cannot pronounce the name of my purchase, I still maintain the memory of its weird sweetness. The bottle has the image of a robed Asian woman, with just enough of said robe dislodged to reveal a tasteful tramp stamp. The label is enough reason to buy this beer, but it is the smooth texture and notes of grape that will keep you coming back for more. Made in consultation with archeologists to recreate an ancient brewing process, this beer is only improved, in my mind, by its exclusivity.
-MARCO BELTRAN (thumbs down)
The grossest part about this beer, other than the taste, was the lingering sting that remained after I took a sip. There was a slight floral taste that was overpowered by whatever the fuck they mixed with this shit. Probably piss. The only time I would recommend this would be if you had money to throw away and had destroyed all your taste buds by drinking watered down rubbing alcohol in the parking lot of your high school. The only way I can describe this stupid shit is like drinking piss from someone’s dirty butt crack.
Coronado’s Idiot IPA
-MICHAEL MERMELSTEIN (thumbs up)
Coronado Brewing Company is one of my favorite India Pale Ales (IPA). While I usually like the extremely bitter syrupy IPAs, Coronado is more sophisticated. The hops are definitely up front but it blends subtly with the great floral notes and ends roundly on the back of your tongue. Idiot IPA has a great crisp mouth feel, not too watery. In a constant battle to see who can make the biggest, dumbest, bitterest IPA, Coronado Brewing pushes the style without sacrificing things like refinement and drinkability.
-ANDY KNEIS (thumbs down)
Hmm, what an apt name! Ha-ha, just a joke to start off my review of this beer. It was fruity with a bitter aftertaste. Does that really sound like something you want to drink? Bitter fruit hooray, line me up. Alright, I guess that was negative enough. I thought the beer was pretty good and the name was fine. At least it’s not called Dunkel or some shit. If this sounds like something you might want to try, I won’t judge you if you promise not to judge me. If you can do that, you have learned an important life lesson, and you may even have enjoyed a beer along the way.
The Lost Abbey’s Serpent Stout
-KATY PARKER (thumbs up)
I drove to this beer-tasting event, and had therefore reserved only a few, responsible, lady-like sips for the beers that sounded cool or had fun labels. Serpent’s Stout was described to me as a “chocolate beer,” and I didn’t hear anything else about it because I am generally overjoyed when non-chocolate foods can be changed for the better. It was... I don’t know, I just feel like my life is a little bit better now. It was dark, deep and rich with sort of a roasted, bitter feel. I feel like I could analyze and write an essay about it. That means it was really good.
-KEVIN O’BRIEN (thumbs down)
I am sure the Serpent Stout is good to some people, my contention is that those all of those people do not have a single tongue between them. They must have lost their tongues. They must have had them cut out Old Boy style. This beer is so strong and abrasive that I found anything beyond a quick sip of this beer to be an act of insanity. If you were to finish an entire bottle of this supposedly “chocolatey” and “roasty” beer, your tongue would most probably be worn down to a disgusting, wormlike and wriggly nub.
New Belgium’s Dunkel Weiss
-ANDY KNEIS (thumbs up)
If I can be perfectly honest with you, reader, I enjoyed this beer. Once someone mentioned it was supposed to taste like a banana, I began tasting banana, one of the best fruits. Someone (probably Merm, our resident Beerman) said it also had raisins in it or something. I also tasted raisins on my next sip. The Dunkel Weiss beer was like the Rorschach test of beers. I was able to project whatever tastes were suggested to me. My deepest fears and passions were projected onto this beer. It took me to hell and back and I am a stronger, slightly drunker man for it. Thank you Dunkel, thank you.
-ANDY KNEIS (thumbs down)
This particular beer was pretty underwhelming. Everyone agreed it was good, but no one really loved it, and no one volunteered to write a Pro or a Con review for it. Sure it tasted fine and maybe there was a hint of a banana stuffed with raisins, but is that what you really want for your life? Is that any way to live, to simply coast by, only enjoying beers that are just “good?” Take my advice, grab a different beer. Grab a beer that is spectacular. Grab a beer that teaches you to love again. Squeeze every last raisiny drop from your short, pathetic life with a beer that elicits some kind of response. Please.
Lost Coast’s Raspberry Brown Ale
-NOAH KELLY (thumbs up)
Lost Coast’s Raspberry Brown is just the right amount of dark and sweet. The heaviness most dark brown ales posses is lessened with the raspberry flavor. This makes it significantly smoother to drink with any kind of hustle. Don’t get me wrong, I love sipping on a nice chocolate stout, but I really start to get grossed out when it loses its icy-coldness. With the Raspberry Brown I’m not forced to just sip, I can drink it according to how fast it’s losing its temperature. I’m in charge of my beer, not the other way around.
-MICHAEL MERMELSTEIN (thumbs down)
Raspberry Brown Ale is a horrible thing. What was supposed to be a delightful dessert to our beer gorge turned out to be a complete disappointment for me. It tasted like a messy medicinal raspberry muffin, and with an unsatisfying mouth feel. Lost Coast is a California brewery that is fairly hit or miss for me, and this is absolutely a miss. None of the traditional qualities I associate with beer come through, the hops are disguised behind the cloying raspberry extract, and the malts present themselves in the form of chocolate and coffee notes that clash really hard with the raspberry flavor.
New Belgium’s La Folie
-MARCO BELTRAN (thumbs up)
This beer was a sharp contrast from everything else we tried that night. A sourness that I did not expect, which Michael Mermelstein described as sour cherries, made this my favorite beer of the whole night. It had a sharp fruity flavor that you might expect from a wine or some fruit drink thing, but it’s not the flavor you would expect from a beer. New Belgium’s La Folie changed my whole outlook on beer; to find different flavors that change my perception of what a beer is supposed to taste like.
-NOAH KELLY (thumbs down)
Right off the bat, I knew I was not going to like this beer; La Folie is a sour beer. I have no desire to put sour beers in my mouth, and yet here we are. And I’m not a fan. This isn’t sour like lemons, which can be addicting, it’s sour like something went wrong during the fermentation process. The beer is definitely tart, but it also has this off-putting alcohol after taste that makes me unhappy to have it on my tongue. If you like sour beer, you might like this, but if you don’t like sour beer, don’t touch it.
Full disclosure: I’m not a great brewer. I’ve done the brewing, and I’ve made what I consider to be a pretty good beer, but that’s really because I had a lot of help from my dad. My dad got into homebrewing about a year ago, and he invited me to give it a try. He’s made six beers, and all of them have been fantastic. Not because beer requires a low level of skill to make, but because my dad is by profession a mechanic and has studied engineering. Make no mistake; good beer requires a ridiculous amount of engineering.
The process of brewing begins with the mash. Cereal grain (most popularly malted barley) is steeped in water raised to specific temperatures, so that the starch in the grain is turned to sugar. This mixture is known as wort, and it tastes nothing like beer. The wort is then boiled and hops are added for flavor and aroma. Yeast is added and fermentation begins. Yeast is an amazing little creature that eats sugar and releases alcohol and carbon dioxide. Let it loose in some wort and it’ll make beer. This process takes about a month or so, and the beer is (usually) kept in a closed container with some sort of valve to allow CO2 to escape and prevent beer explosions. The beer foams and warms up as the yeast have their feast, so it has to be kept someplace cool to keep the temperature optimum. As food becomes scarce for the yeast, they go dormant (a convenient alternative to dying, wouldn’t you say?) and sink to the bottom of the container. But they’re not out of the woods yet. When it comes time to bottle, a little bit of sugar is added to get the yeast to come back for an encore in the confines of the sealed bottle. Because it’s a pressurized environment, the yeast’s CO2 is not dissipated into the air, but becomes carbonation for the beer. And thus, a beer is born.
I tried to be as user-friendly in that explanation as possible, but there are about a thousand little touches that each beer requires. Specific temperatures allow for specific chemical processes to take place, effecting the composition of the beer. Even in the slumber of fermentation, a brewer has to pay attention to the temperature of the beer. Ingredients have to be added at exact times in exact amounts, at (again) exact temperatures. If you’re the type of person who burns cookies in the oven, brewing is not for you. On the other hand, if you’re a culinary wizard, you’ll probably find this all rather natural. Beer is, essentially, a fermented broth.
As to my beer, it wasn’t all cupcakes and rainbows. It was unseasonably cold, so my fermenting beer was moved into my room with me. The morning smell of beery CO2 conjured up memories of hangovers and mistakes. I was insistent on making the kind of beer that I love best: Imperial India Pale Ale. But as I learned after I’d begun making it, that sort of extreme flavor profile requires an extra-dose of anal-retentiveness. So my Sleeping Giant Imperial IPA (did I mention how much fun it is to name your beer? SO FUN) ended up having a long finish (that’s a nice word for aftertaste) instead of the hoppy dropkick I’d hoped for. It also ended up overcarbonated, and every bottle now produces about 10 times the normal amount of foam. A sleeping giant indeed.