Sunday, June 29, 2008

New brews and fair judgment

I'm still trying to live up to my promise to steer clear of my favorite beers and styles, and focus on new beers -- or at least what's new to me.
As I said before, it's not easy. I have my favorites. And sometimes you want a beer, not a project. Nevertheless, I'm trying to stay on task.
So for my latest purchases, I focused on a brewery I wrote off (Magic Hat), the latest offering from a new favorite brewery (Lagunitas), and a rather expensive offering from a brewery that's burned me on pricey beer before (Rogue).
Some time ago, I wrote off Magic Hat. It's most popular beer -- by far -- is #9, an apricot flavored ale. Now there are few things in this world I hate, but fruit flavored beer is one of them.
You see, I like the flavor of beer. Mixing in fruit flavors (surprise!) changes the flavor of the beer and results in something I'd expect to mistakenly order in Belgium.
Fortunately, Magic Hat brews a number of beers besides #9. The Burlington, Vt., brewery also produces a Hefeweizen (Circus Boy), a light ale (Single Chair Ale), an amber ale (Roxy Rolles) and a couple India pale ales, including Lucky Kat.
As I said, Magic Hat's top seller is a fruited beer. And when your first exposure to a brewery is a fruity brew that tastes more like mead than beer, you (I) aren't all that eager to find out what its other beers taste like.
So when I came across the six of Lucky Kat my initial reaction was to grab whatever was next to it. But I'm trying to push outside my comfort zone. Admittedly, the fact that it was an IPA helped, but a terrible IPA could be worse than a fruit-flavored beer.
The good news is, it wasn't. It also wasn't the best IPA I've ever had. However, it was a solid, hoppy and very drinkable IPA that I'd happily have again. More importantly, it eases my concerns that everything the Magic Hat folks do tastes like a joint project with Del Monte.
The second beer I came across was Lagunitas Brewing Company's Lucky 13. I'm well aware of the adage that you should never judge a book by its cover, but the Petaluma, Ca., brewery's Lucky 13 has one of the coolest labels I've seen lately, sort of a Rockabilly Varga Girl.
The hoppy, amber ale inside was just as good as the packaging (take that, adage). And despite its 8.3 percent alcohol content, it wasn't overly strong or overly sweet.
The last, and most expensive, beer I picked up was Rogue's Brewer's Ale 2008, the Oregon brewery's once-a-year offering named in memory of the brewery's late mascot, Brewer. Sure, the overwhelming majority of Rogue's beers are great. But I bought the $24 beer because the image of Brewer on the bottle looks just like my family's beloved Labrador, Jezebel, God rest her porky soul.
However, this wasn't the first pricey beer I've bought from Rogue. A few years ago I picked up a $20 bottle of Rogue's Brew 10,000, a very hoppy, very good beer. Was it a $20 beer though? Not really.
But there was Jezebel, staring up at me from the front of the bottle. How could I resist? And in the end, I'm glad I didn't. Sure, $24 is a lot to pay for 750 ml of beer, but if I'd paid $12 for two pints of this stuff at a bar, I would have left happy.
The problem with the Brew 10,000 was it tasted like a very hoppy beer, which I can get at half the price. The Brewer's Ale 2008 is a dark ale with a strong, unique taste. It's not something I'd buy every weekend, but I'll certainly be looking for it next year.
How can I resist? They put Jezebel on the bottle.

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