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16 February 2011 @ 01:03 am
Top 5 Concept Beers  
So I work at a brewery (yeah, I post links to websites under construction). We specialize in what we like to call "culinary beer". Our output consists of beers such as our Smoked Cherry Rye (rye malts smoked with cherry wood), Licorice IPA (brewed with anise seeds and fennel) and my favorite, Stouty Stouterson (imperial oatmeal stout brewed with sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and raisins). We're pretty big fans of odd beers, "strange brews", if you will.

The idea of "concept art", to me, implies that the overall idea and point to the piece was conceived before actual planning for the final product started. For example, the generic idea of "a collage of Holocaust photos" could be moving, could be sappy, depends on the execution. Or "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" would be a great name for a film. Whether or not it actually is was left to the folks who made it.

Beer is art, and don't let anyone tell you different. If you disagree, then you haven't been exposed. There's nothing wrong with that, though. There's one thing I share with all of my beer enthusiast acquaintances, and that's a former affinity for sissy yellow beer. We swap stories of sitting outside Safeway asking adults to score us some Hamm's, or drinking Bud and looking down on someone who drinks PBR. We didn't get it, but there's a whole beautiful creative world of craft brew out there, waiting for all of you. Embrace it.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Concept beers. It's happening. Sometimes you come up with what seems like a great idea, and the final product is garbage. Happens in beer a lot. I've bought a lot of beer because it sounded awesome, and it was anything but. So submitted for your approval, here are five great concept beers that accomplish the goal they set out to accomplish, and taste great doing so.

5. Wells Banana Bread Beer

You'd expect a beer that might kind of taste like banana bread. And you'd be wrong. This beer tastes exactly like banana bread. Now, I love banana bread. A lot. So this beer was made for me. You get the banana (and lots of it) in the nose and the taste. You'll also pick up a lot of breadiness from the malts that complete the desired effect. A well balanced delight.

4. Saison du BUFF

Saisons are Belgian farmhouse ales that are traditionally brewed in the winter and consumed in the summer months. A great beer to consume while working given their (usually) low alcohol content. This particular saison is a collaboration between three of the better big American breweries: Stone (CA), Dogfish Head (DE), and Vitory (PA). The idea was to incorporate parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Herbs and beer go hand in hand, but these four from an obnoxious Simon and Garfunkel song are not ingredients you come across often. A very spicy, peppery refreshing brew.

3. Wild Devil

"Sour" is not a word that you really want associated with a beer, right? Well, those crazy Belgians have been using wild yeast to attain sour notes on their beers for ages. Exposing your beer to wild strains of yeast and bacteria allow sour notes to shine through. Not really lemony, think "yogurty". Leave it to an even crazier American brewery to combine the process with an IPA. You think IPA, you think bitter, citrusy, piney. All of those notes are here, but over shadowed by funky Brettanomyce sourness. One of the most intriguingly flavored beers I've ever had.

2. Full Sail Session Lager

Go to any hipster bar and you'll see it: people drinking the cheapest swilliest beer available even though there are plenty of decent beers available. It's kitschy, it's old school, it's a tradition. PBR, Schlitz, Olympia, Old Style, Lone Star. Every region has a throwback beer, but unfortunately, most of these beers are brewed under contract by a really big really terrible beer company. When Olympia was bought out by Pabst, the folks at Oregon-based, employee-owned Full Sail Brewing picked up their 11 ounce stubby bottling system and used it to produce the best session retro beer on the market. Light, refreshing, perfect.

1. Bitches Brew

Dogfish Head Brewing is probably, all things considered, my favorite brewery in the US. It's an easy and obvious choice, but I'd be dishonest to say otherwise. This beer was thrown together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Miles Davis album of the same name. A HUGE imperial stout brewed with honey and gesho root in the style of an African beer. This beer is sweet, warm and a tad easier to drink than most stouts this big. Rich, in-yer-face, yet smooth. Think you can't make a beer taste like music? You haven't had this.

Try some. Let me know what you think.
Danidanithesquirrel on February 16th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
I love these reviews. I really dislike beer but I love food and drink. So, hearing the flavors described by you makes me excited about them.
Nickbeforetheflood on February 17th, 2011 10:13 am (UTC)
I'm convinced I can turn anyone onto beer. I did a beer-pairing for my wife and her cousin, who is a wine person and she was all about it. Beer is so diverse there's always something out there for everyone, save teetotalers.
Danidanithesquirrel on February 17th, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
I'm up to the challenge!
I drink ciders almost exclusively. Do you want to recommend me something?
Nickbeforetheflood on February 17th, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC)
Ciders are a great place to start. That's how I weaned my wife from Smirnoff Ice into beer. Now she drinks 13% Belgian Quadruppels with me and loves it.

So fruit beers. Fruit Lambics</i> are a great place to start. Lambics are fermented spontaneously, meaning they use wild yeasts which impart a sour flavor. Infusing fruit is a natural choice. Lindemans is a Belgian brewery that makes a lot of these, and the ladies that come into the bar I work at love them. I see Lindemans at Safeway, Albertsons, etc all the time so it's easy to come by. The downfall is they'r all around or under 3% ABV.

Other fruit infused beers are probably a good place to start. If you have a bottleshop near where you are, you're in luck. You can fnd all kinds of great stuff. San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewing makes a watermelon wheat beer that even I drink on a sunny day. You'll find a lot of wheat aleas made with anything from tngerines to peaches to berries. A fairly accessible commercial brew is Pyramids Audacious Apricot Ale. This might be the frst beer my wife said she "liked".

Sticking with the idea of ciders, there's are some apple beers too. Quebec's Unibroue has aseries of brews called Ephemer that are similar to lambics, but not spontaneously fermented (that I know of) and have a higher ABV, but may be hard to come by.

Moving away from fruit beers, wheat ales are a good bet.
Witbiers are a perfect starting point. Another belgian style (you'll discover the Belgians have perfected the art of beer) that is light colered and fairly light bodied. Almost always brewed with coriander and orange peel or zest. Other spices can be used. Usually citrusy and refreshing.

Another recomendation I give to a lot of non-beer drinkers (and we're really moving the opposite direction here) are stouts. But only certain stouts. Many are infused with chocolate and coffee and can be pretty user-friendy. Young's Chocolate Stout goes over pretty well with newbies, and is fairly easy to come by.

Getting into beer that tastes like beer, the best starting points are the lightest bodied and flavored beers. Ales such as Hefeweizens, Kolsch beers, pale ales, and ambers/reds are the beginning of the road for many. With lagers there are pilsners, maibocks, marzens/oktoberfests. All of these styles are vastly different but are pretty user friendly.

Ales are prodcued with top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures, lagers with the opposite. That's literally the only difference. Ales are a much broader category because the yeasts are so diverse. Lagers are what Americans drink. Bud, Miller, etc. all brewed in the vein of German and Czech beers but without the flavor. Just thought that clarification was needed.

Anyway, those are good places to start. Like I said, if you have a bottleshop in your area, then hit it up and use it. They're a rare commodity and are such a great resource. Chances are if someone likes beer enough to open one, they can recommend a beer for you based on what you already like. tell them you like cider and see what you get. Grocery stores are getting better and better as the demand for microbrews and imports in the US gets bigger. So if there are a ton of beers in big bottles you've never heard of skim through for the styles I listed above.

Wow that was a lot. And I'm not spell checking either.
Nickbeforetheflood on February 17th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Absolutely.
Ugh. I should have spell checked.
Danidanithesquirrel on February 18th, 2011 02:48 am (UTC)
Re: Absolutely.
My local liquor store (wellswine.com) has that Apricot Ale, which sounds amazing. I'm gonna have to do some more searching and try a couple things you recommend when I head over there next.
vogdoidvogdoid on February 16th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
I gotta try that bitches brew. We had the banana bread beer the other day--very nice.
Nickbeforetheflood on February 17th, 2011 10:14 am (UTC)
The Bitches Brew was a limited release, but it did really well. There was a whole Brew Masters episode about it, so I'm sure they will have a pretty big demand to make it again.
I hate music, I don't want to hear any of it!luckyhoss on February 17th, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
I love sour and wild ales.

My friends and I do beer-tastings every now and again, and we tried that banana one. Pretty good.

I've been seeing SO MUCH IPA stuff... black IPAs, double IPAs, EPA/IPA mixes. I kinda want that trend to die. I've finally learned to embrace a (balanced) hoppy beer, but let's not go crazy.

Has the Surly brand made it to your neck of the woods? That's made in my area. Their seasonals can be pretty wild, although I don't care for the beers they make year round. They are usually known for being very hoppy.
Nickbeforetheflood on February 17th, 2011 11:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, working at abar in the northwest, people freak out when we don't have an IPA on tap. The black IPA thing is kind of bizarre since they're black, and the 'P' stands for 'Pale'. I've been noticing a lot of 'Cascadian Dark Ales' popping up. That term is probably going to replace 'Black IPA' since beer people are such purists.

I love a big hoppy IPA, but ba;ance is crucial. Like I said, I'm i nthe northwest, and there are tons up here that are just hop bombs with no backbone.

Haven't seen Surly around here, but I'll keep an eye out.