Saturday, November 11, 2006

Drinking beer with Trader Joe

Trader Joe's is perhaps my favorite grocery store. The prices are good (if you're careful) and they stock lots of fun house brands. You can get house brand everything at Trader Joe's: even beer.

About half of Trader Joe's beers are made by an entity called the Steinhaus Brewing Co. and most of these beers are about $5 a six-pack.

First up is Frugal Joe's Ordinary Beer. This beer not only ordinary, it is a rather poor example of a "macrobrew" with the sweet and prickly graininess of six-row malt and not enough hops. Frugal Joe isn't just "frugal", he's a cheap bastard. You might be paying four bucks a six-pack, but it's worth it to bump up a buck for some of the other brews.

Gila Monster is a simple amber beer with a smooth mouthfeel and a bit of adjunct flavor. It's not that bad, but not that good either. It looks good, with lace down the sides of the glass and a sustaining 1/8-inch head, but this beer is otherwise pretty malty on the palate and a bit too sweet for my tastes.

Next up we have the Jumping Cow Amber Ale. This beer has a fantastic appearance. It's a light amber ale with a rocky head that leaves lace behind. It doesn't have much of a nose (most cheap beer doesn't offer much in the aroma department), except for a hint of malt and adjunct. The Jumping Cow is very, very smooth with a very light caramel malt flavor, some fruitiness and a bit of a coarse bitter finish.

We move on to the Fat Weasel Ale. This beer pours ridiculously clear with tons of carbonation that forms a rather impressive rocky head that settles slowly into a fairly dense layer of foam. This is a real good lookin' beer, unfortunately it gets worse from here...

First, the aroma is kind of bubblegum-like and grainy. Next, the taste is sweet and grainy with an unpleasant bitterness in the finish. This Fat Weasel tastes more like a strong European lager than an ale, with a grainy and bitter fusel alcohol-laden finish. Forgot whatever anybody else says about this beer: it is nothing more than a bad malt liquor masquerading as an ale. I'd sooner drink Haffenreffer Private Stock instead of this crap.

Overall, the Fat Weasel is good for a fairly cheap buzz, but only if you like your beer grainy and bitter.

Fortunately, Trader Joe redeems himself with Black Toad Ale, a dark ale that poured into an Imperial pint glass, has a nice thick off-white head and grainy, cocoa-like aroma. The first sip is smooth, with some light roasted malt flavors balanced by a bit of chocolate and lightly bitter hops. The bottle may say dark ale, but this beer has me thinking black lager instead of porter, as it is very clean tasting. The finish is nicely balanced with a pleasant roasted character. Overall, a pretty drinkable dark beer and a good buy.

All of the above beers (brewed by Steinhaus) can be had for less than a dollar a bottle. Some of them (such as the Frugal Joe's Ordinary Beer and the Fat Weasel Ale) have their flaws, but offer a lot of flavor for the buck. Next time we'll sample some of the Trader Joe's Brewing Co. beers, most of which are replicas of German beer styles, such as lager and bock.

Monday, July 24, 2006

How 'bout some Rhinelander, eh?

I recently picked up some Rhinelander beer for $5 a 12-pack. Why? Because there's nothin' like the pure, clean taste of the Northwoods.

The "pure, clean, taste of the Northwoods"...what exactly does this mean? If you've ever been to Northern Wisconsin (or in my case, Northern Michigan) you've no doubt enjoyed the clean, fresh air. That's what Rhinelander beer tastes like to me; like a clean breath of fresh air. The crisp malt flavor is like the first breath I take early in the morning up at the lake. The genius of the flavor of Rhinelander beer is in it's simplicity. According to the Huber Brewery, Rhinelander is made with two-row malt and Galena hops, water and yeast. That's simplicity in a bottle, or these days, a can.

Rhinelander Original, formerly known as Rhinelander Export, has a fairly long history in Wisconsin. According to the Cheap Beer Server, Rhinelander was originaly produced in Rhinelander, Wisc., starting in 1882. The brewery was successful with this beer up until the early 1960s, when the brand was bought by the Huber Brewery, much further south in Monroe. I've never tasted the original Rhinelander, so I can't say if the beer has changed much through the past few decades, but I can say that it hasn't changed much in the last few years since I started drinking it.

Huber recently decided to put Rhinelander in cans instead bottles, which pretty much coincided with the phasing out of venerable returnables. My first encounter with Rhinelander beer was in these heavy, brown returnable bottles. To be precise, I first encountered Rhinelander Bock, which I believe is no longer produced. A few years later I was able to try the pure, golden Rhinelander beer. The beer with the "Rhine taste", whatever that is. Anyhow, I miss the returnables, but for now I'll buy the beer in cans, especially when it's on sale.

Rhinelander is a great summer beer that offers more real beer flavor than Budweiser, Miller and Coors products.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Berghoff - America's best 'cheap' beer

For those of you who have tried the Berghoff range (Huber Brewing Company; Monroe, WI), you'll know that this beer provides one of the best bangs for your brew bucks. I live in suburban Chicago and have ample opportunity to find Berghoff beer in my local beer stores, almost always priced a few dollars less per six-pack then most craft or even regional 'special' brews. Recently, Main Street Liquors in Countryside, IL had all Berghoff beers (lager, dark lager, pale ale, etc.) on sale for $3.99 a six-pack. That's a great deal on a beer that is usually priced nicely at $4.99 a sixer. The sale was at the end of June, but they frequently bring the sale back.

Of all the Berghoff range, I still prefer the tried-and-true workaday lager beer over all others, though the others are made with considerable care and quality. Even the reception hall where my wedding was held had Berghoff Dark on tap! (Tap Berghoff in Chicago can be an elusive proposition).

I've been drinking Berghoff beer for at least 15 years, and it's always pleasing on the palette as well as the wallet.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The World's Best $9 Pitcher

I think the world's greatest $9 pitcher of beer can be had at Moody's Pub, 5910 N. Broadway Ave., in Chicago, Ill. This dark, dank and ridiculously smoky establishment pours wonderfully tasty pitchers of Anchor Steam for just nine bucks. The pride of the San Francisco brewing scene, that American Classic, Anchor Steam. That caramelly malt flavor backed by a bracing bitter finish is what makes this beer so tasty and is made especially enjoyable on tap at Moody's for a measley nine bucks.

Of course, there is more than just the Steam at Moody's. Other cheap and tasty beers on tap include Becks, Berghoff Dark, Michelob and Michelob Light. When me and my companions first walked into Moody's, we were overcome with smoke; not cigaratte smoke, but smoke from the grill -- the instense aroma of onion rings and burgers. To be honest, I'd never entered such a smoke-filled establishment in my life and after briefly being struck by the curiousity of the very dark, smoke-filled room, me and my companions fled to the outdoors and the huge beer garden.

A summer evening at Moody's is very pleasureable outside in the beer garden, sitting underneath a canopy of trees on a huge deck on a warm June evening, almost completely in the dark. (You can't be afraid of the dark to sit in the beer garden at Moody's and I'm not talking about the dark beer.) One strains the eyes to see their companion across the table, lit only by a flickering patio candle. Lighted globes mark the perimeter of the space, while a lone, naked lightbulb points out some steps that must be carefully navigated by the wait staff, and serve as a built-in sobriety test for patrons.

I would like to go back to Moody's and actually taste the onion rings that we smelled all night long; although the smoke from the grill was so thick I felt like I had conusmed a plate of them. I'm told the burgers are classic and can't be missed. Other fare is offered, too, and the menu can be browsed at