My Beer Sucks. Now What?

I mentioned in previous posts that I entered a few beers into some competitions. Well, I got the scoresheets back on the first one of those comps and the results are… not good.

Woof.

Well, in the parlance and scoring of the BJCP they’re technically “good,” but here in reality where we live: they’re straight up bad. In fact, both beers got called “lifeless.” Ouchie.

To be honest, I knew one of these beers had significant flaws. The maibock definitely suffered from some fermentation issues, and had a noticeable green apple flavor that is a tell-tale sign of acetaldehyde. I also got dinged for no carbonation on both beers, which probably drove down the scores both because of the lack of carbonation (and it’s contributions to aroma and mouthfeel) but also from oxidation in the bottle. The stout also got dinged for diacetyl which I didn’t pick up but could be result bottling conditions.

So what now?

Obviously this was a pretty big shot to the ego, but a much-needed one. I get to enjoy my beers both as the output of my hardwork, but also under near ideal serving conditions. That’s not the case for other people, and it’s definitely something I need to take a long, hard look at improving.

For one, I need to do some more research on my Blichmann Beer Gun, because it clearly isn’t operating the way it’s supposed to in terms of bottling from the keg. I also think it may be time to ditch all of my fermenting buckets. I wouldn’t have thought fermentation was an issue with my process – outside of the lagers – but apparently I’m getting significant off-flavors.

I also probably won’t to look at how I store and care for my beer after it’s been kegged. Right now I’m sort of “between solutions” for my post-carbed beers. They tend to sit in a big chest freezer, but not constantly on CO2.

A big purge is on the way as the weather starts to get nicer around here. I have plans to dump a bunch of old brews and some unused equipment. I also plan to build a full-fledged kegerator over the Spring with some help from the guys in my homebrew club.

I’d been underwhelmed with my progress as a brewer over the past year, so this was a well-timed wake-up call. I’m going to revisit the basics and try to hone in every detail of my process. I expect 2018 to be an expensive year with a lot of trial and error, and hopefully some vast improvement.

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Yuengling Has Arrived In Boston and Everyone Is Losing Their Goddamn Minds

Yuengling Traditional Lager, the flagship brew from America’s oldest operating brewery, has arrived in my hometown of Boston. And everyone is losing their goddamn minds about it.

I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade or criticize anyone’s taste in beer, but I do not get the obsession with this beer. To quote my buddy Will from Deadspin and his ranking of 36 Cheap American Beers:

25. Yuengling. Why are people so into Yuengling? It’s quite popular among the Pennsylvania ex-pat community, which is odd given that the beer sucks and Pennsylvanians don’t strike me as an excessively prideful or self-important lot.

That might be slightly harsh – 2 kinds of Busch, 2 kinds of Natty and Milwaukee’s Beast (no typo) are all ranked better – but it’s not far from the truth. I once referred to Yuengling as the “beer that bros from Penn State drink when nana put an extra fiver in their care package and they feel like splurging.” I’m assuming a lot of mine (and Will’s) vitriol stems from the zealous fervor surrounding what is – if we’re being a honest – a fair-to-middling beer.

My theory on Yuengling is that its popularity is due in large part to kids who went to college in the Mid-Atlantic area and could get Yuengling for a few bucks more than Bud/Miller/Coors or any of their lesser cousins (Natty, Busch, Icehouse, Beast, etc). Going to college in Vermont, I had the same affinity towards Labatt Blue (though I probably paid a tinge more, what with importing costs and whatnot). It’s not that these beers are any better than Bud/Miller/Coors (though, subjectively, they are), but more that they simply aren’t Bud, Miller or Coors.

I was a loose cannon for drinking Coors Original; a decision I made purely out of a desire to be different and because no one steal a beer that smells like piss. Which leads me to another point: college kids are no good crooks. No one keeps tabs on how many Bud Lights are in the fridge, so if you put your 30-rack in there, hey man, it’s fair game. You toss a sixer of Yuengling in there, and you’re the guy who brought the fancy beer and you know exactly how many of them you’ve had. It becomes a financially prudent decision.

Because when you’re paying $50,000 a year for college, you don’t want anyone taking your $0.86 beer, bro.

And of course the biggest draw for Yuengling was that you couldn’t get it. DG didn’t distribute to New England (and much of the rest of the country) until now. People often ask with beers like Heady TopperPliny the Younger, or Kate the Great if they are as good as their hype, or if it is just a matter of scarcity. Well, Heady Topper is still my favorite beer, and usually get to have 3-5 cans a year despite its scarcity, so the answer to that question is a rousing “it depends.” I think Yuengling isn’t as good as these “white whale” beers, and I believe that the wide distribution will ultimately prove that it isn’t as good as people remember it.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. My favorite beer in college was Switchback Ale. I went back to Burlington, VT not too long ago, singing the praises of Switchback and dying to have my first pint since college. In the years since college, I got into craft beer, and my palette became more refined. So when I had a pint at Manhattan Pizza (related: I remember their pizza and wings being much better), I was really disappointed*. And I think a lot of people in my age who have expanded their best tastes since college will have the same reaction to Yuengling.

Look – if you like Yuengling, that’s awesome. I like Yuengling. I don’t love it, I don’t understand the massive love for it, but I’m certainly not turning down a pint of it. My point in all this rambling isn’t that Yuengling isn’t a good beer or that people who like it are saps. Not at all. My point is that if you’re a regular craft beer person (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably are), you should expect that Yuengling won’t be the beer you remember from college (or whenever). And if you’re a Bud/Miller/Coors drinker, but love Yuengling… maybe it is time for you to venture (or take a second look) into that equal parts scary and pretentious world of craft beer.

And if you still think I’m wrong about Yuengling, well… you can always buy me a pint and try to prove me wrong. Like I said, I wouldn’t turn it down.

* In the interest of full-disclosure and in fairness to fine folks at Switchback, I heard later that there was some kerfuffle over watered-down beers at Manhattan. I haven’t had a chance to try a Switchback on draft or in bottles (new for them) since then, but I resolve to return to my old stand-by with an open mind and a fairer expectation level.

Beer Review: Jack’s Abby’s Leisure Time Lager

It’s brew day here at The Disco. While I’m letting my grains go through the saccharification rest, I figured I’d review another beer. This time we have “Leisure Time Lager” from Jack’s Abby out of Framingham, MA. I stopped by Jack’s Abby on Friday on my way home from work and picked up a couple of beers to split with my buddy Fay when he comes to visit in August. The “Leisure Time” is one I had kicking around in the fridge from a trip to Bin Ends. I thought a lager would be a good choice while slaving over a hot brew kettle (I’m making my first Black IPA).

Jack's Abby LTL 01

From Jack’s Abby:

We honor our Pops with this beer. His vision built the Leisure Time ice brand decades ago and inspired us to build Jack’s Abby as a family business. Leisure Time Lager is brewed with wheat and a blend of spices including lemongrass, coriander, orange peel and chamomile. A subtle spiciness balances the citrusy and floral hops added to the whirl and hopback. Relax and enjoy! Leisure Time Lager uses locally grown wheat from MA.

OG 11.8 Plato / IBUs 15 / ABV 4.8%

Beer Advocate: 86, N/A
RateBeer: 80, 97
Untappd: 3.55

Appearance: LTL pours a very pale, straw yellow. The color is similar to my Second Son v1. Mostly clear, but a little hazy with good carbonation. The head is white and thin and disappears quickly with decent lacing. It’ll get really cloudy if you pour too aggressively.

Smell: Not much of anything on the smell. I’m catching a little citrus probably from the spice blend and late hop additions. It smells orange-y with a little lemon and miscellaneous citrus as well. Maybe a hint of sweetness in the nose, possibly a yeast smell. There are hints of the wheat in there.

Taste: Crisp with some of the citrusy notes definitely prominent. It’s sweet, but spicy as well. A little hop bitterness in the aftertaste but it is faint. The spices are the stars of the flavor profile with the wheat backbone being a bit subdued.

Mouthfeel: Crisp with a light body and good medium carbonation. A little tingly on the tongue.

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5. Buy it.

Leisure Time Lager gets upgraded to a definite “buy it” for two reasons. First, it usually comes in a 16.9oz bottle for under $4. That’s macro-cheap without the macro-flavor (or lack thereof). Second, this is a great summertime beer to have a around when things get hot. Like near a brew kettle. At 4.8% it is sessionable enough to have a few without being hazy yourself.

Jack's Abby LTL 02

Beer Review: Sam Adams’ Boston Lager (Craft Beer Classics)

Recently Sam Adams released the following commercial:

The premise is simple; Sam Adams’ Boston Lager has been around for so long, and in some senses has been a ubiquitous beer option for so long, that people no longer consider it when shopping for a craft beer. I’ve had fellow beer drinkers say to me, “Well, you know, Sam Adams isn’t REALLY a craft beer any more.” Oh really? Why not? Because they sell a lot of them? AB-InBev (makes of Budweiser and hundreds of other macro-beers) sells $1.8 BILLION worth of product each year. Miller Coors sells $1.2 BILLION. Boston Beer Company, while the largest craft brewery, only sells $97 Million. That’s less than 1% of either AB-InBev or Miller Coors. Sam Adams doesn’t even make the list of the top 15 beer brands. Hardly a “macro” brewery. Maybe because it’s not a unique style of beer? Okay, name me any 2 other Vienna Lagers out there on the market. Didn’t think so.

I like Sam Adams’ ad campaign. It says, “Hey, we’ve been making this beer that we think is really awesome, and we’ve been making it for years. We busted our asses to make craft beer available to the masses. Now that you’ve become one of the people that has embraced craft beer, and you’ve tried all these awesome beer there are out there, and you’ve developed an awesome, sophisticated craft-beer-palette… how about giving our beer another shot? It might surprise you.”

So I say to you, Mr. Koch and crew: challenge accepted.

Sam Adams Boston LagerFrom Sam Adams:

Samuel Adams Boston Lager helped lead the American beer revolution, reviving a passion for full-bodied brews that are robust and rich with character.  Since 1984, Samuel Adams Boston Lager has used only the finest hand-selected ingredients to create this perfectly balanced, complex and full-bodied original brew.

HOPS: Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Tettnang Tettnanger Noble hops
MALTS: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend and Caramel 60
YEAST: Samuel Adams lager
COLOR: A deep amber to golden, 11 SRM
ABV: 4.9%
IBU: 30

RateBeer: 68, 97
Untappd: 3.38
The “challenge” from Sam Adams has inspired me to do this “Craft Beer Classics” series, where I’ll review beers like Boston Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Arrogant Bastard, et cetera. Leave a comment if you have a suggestion for a “forgotten” beer.

Appearance: Clear as a bell. Amber, orangish in color. Solid white head that leaves some nice lacing. This is a pretty beer.

Smell: Sweet and pleasant. I get a lot of the Tettnanger hops’ floral characteristic. There’s a little Hallertau spice in there, too. Not overwhelming, but mellow.

Taste: Malt sweetness and a nice spicy hop flavor. A hint of caramel, too.

Mouthfeel: Clean, dry, the right amount of carbonation. A medium body throughout and a pleasant finish .

Final Verdict: 4 out of 5. Buy it.

Boston Lager is older than I am. Not by much, but still that kind of staying power is impressive. I’ve barely hung around this long, but we’re talking about beer here. If you turn your nose up at Sam’s Boston Lager, or if you just haven’t a glass of it recently that you’ve bothered to enjoy like a newer, flashier brew… I really recommend giving Sam another look (and taste).

Sam Adams Boston Lager 2

Bonus! Here’s a shot of me with the man, the myth, the legend Mr. Jim Koch from Extreme Beer Fest this year. That cross-eyed look on my face is from the Utopia I had just sampled. Incredible stuff.

VinJimKoch