April 8, 2011

Top 3 Seasonal beers (per season)

I've been meaning to get this post up for a while (well ever since I wrote the initial "Top 10" post back a few months ago) and have a pretty good idea of how it's gonna go, but as it always is, lets see where this one leads to.  

Most of these beers could probably realistically be on my Top 10 list, but their availability and brewing season offerings make them a "well-kept" secret and unfortunately unavailable during the entire year for consumption.  They are all exceptional brews and could probably stand on their own, but it took a lot to narrow it down to my favorite three varieties per season.  And as this is my blog and I'm the one writing it, I'm going to get started with my most favorite season of them all, which was so nice, they named it twice: Autumn/Fall. 

#1 - Ayinger - Oktoberfest-Marzen This was a wonderful discovery and I have to lay credit to my father on this one.  He collects beer caps or crowns as they are more often referred to.  The cap of this beer actually is depicted in the foreground of the photo to the right and shows a family with a Bavarian-esque tablecloth (blue and white checkered) sitting outside in the orchard having a beer.  As Ayinger is a privately owned German brewery located just outside of Munich.  Because it's a German brewery, they have to abide by the German purity laws of the early 1500's (otherwise known as Reinheitsgebot - Thank you Wikipedia for the spelling on that one) The purity laws regulate what can go in the beer and basically strip it down to it's most basic ingredients.  This beer is exceptional in the fact that it is in the pleasing burnt sienna color and smells just like an Oktoberfest should.  It's not overpoweringly malty or hoppy as the balance is pristine.  It can be found locally in Wegmans (if I don't buy them all during the season) and is well worth the price tag.  It goes down smoothly and is just the most exceptional Oktoberfest beer I have ever tasted.  I defy someone to find its equal!

#2 - Custom Brewcrafters Oktoberfest Lager
Located right down Route 65 in Honeoye Falls, NY is a small little brewery which has gained quite a following in the recent years.  If you haven't been to CB's recently, I implore you to go pay them a visit (and preferably go during the fall season so you can taste this beauty).  CB's Oktoberfest lager is a well balanced a little darker colored Oktoberfest which you can purchase in a growler during the months of September and October (and maybe November if you get lucky and they still have some left over) But light and crisp might be two good words to describe this solid lager.  It has a slightly higher alcohol content at 6.2% ABV, but the recipe has stayed the course over the years and this is brewed in the Oktoberfest tradition.  Exceptionally balanced and fresh as well, Custom Brewcrafters Oktoberfest Lager makes the middle of my seasonal list as a solid favorite that I can drink a TON of before it ever gets old.  I implore you to give it a whirl if you haven't.  If you enjoy Oktoberfest beers, this one will not disappoint!

#3 - JW Dundees - Oktoberfest
With the surge of all of the microbreweries in the recent years, that has really given a wide variety of choices to beer connoisseur worldwide.  This particular beer comes straight from my hometown of Rochester and is a wonderful fall season offering as well.  Brewed right on St. Paul Street in Rochester, this marzen style lager is dark auburn in color and crisp too.  It's brewed with a variety of fall spices that give this beer a unique flavoring that I have not come across in any other styles of Oktoberfest.  Additionally, the fact that it is brewed right here in Rochester from a "hometown proud" brewery and I feel like I am supporting jobs in my city definitely helps.  Priced very reasonably at $6.99 per six pack this lager is on that I look forward to and given any choice, will always go for this beer over a mainstream Samuel Adams or other similar varieties.  Smooth and with a fizzy spicy head on it, the head retention is middle of the road and it definitely makes the top 3 list as a fine specimen of the fall season.  Definitely worth the taste.

WINTER - The winter season always is a great season for drinking beer, the weather is getting colder, the beers are darker in coloring and often a little more intense and although the autumn season has passed, winter always has you coming back for more.  Here are my choices for the top 3 beers of winter. 

#1 - Michelob's Winters Bourbon Cask Ale
This heavenly creation was initially consumed by me at Cobbs Hill in Rochester during a midnight sledding run a few winters ago.  We piled several of these in a snowbank and then hit the hill and enjoyed these beers post sledding run.  It was a chilly night, but these kept us all very warm.  As any of you that read this might have asked for a recommendation for a good solid winter beer during the "off season", undoubtedly this was likely my first utterance to you.  Plus it's got a sweet snowman on the label and you can't go wrong with that! :o) Well, not to get too technical right away, but let's dive into the divine details of this delectable offering. First thing you notice about this beer is the fact that it is aged in old wooden bourbon barrels.  This gives is a "warming sensation" that you can definitely taste throughout the entire beer.  Coupled with the Madagascar Vanilla Beans that this fine "winter warmer" is brewed with, that takes the bourbon edge off of this beer and makes it go down SO smoothly.   Much to my chagrin though, I received word this spring from one the account managers of Anheuser-Busch that they will no longer be producing this beer due to not being able to brew without variations in the recpie/taste.  So it is with a heavy heart that I say RIP Bourbon Cask Ale, you will
be missed...
#2 - Dogfish Head - Chickory Stout
Dogfish Head is a small microbrewery that prides itself on some unique beers that it creates.  When I think of Dogfish, I often relate it to the same category as Goose Island brewery becuase they are trying stuff that none of the other breweries around want to venture out and give a shot.  I came across this creation and it almost ended up on my traditional top ten list.  The only reason that it did not was that I found out after the fact that it is only available during the winter months.  This beer as you can see in the picture to the right, is a deep dark brown in color and not translucent at all.  It has a foamy head with larger bubbles and good head retention and legs on the glass.  The chickory flavor makes this a nutty flavored brew that you cannot afford to miss.  Smooth to the finish with a pleasing aftertaste on the palate, Chickory Stout is a very close 2nd place as a wonderful beer that you could curl up next to a warm winter fire and enjoy all evening long.  The only drawback that I have is that sometimes the Dogfish varieties can be a little pricey, but then again in the words of a famously funny former co-worker...good hooch don't come cheap. This will not disappoint. 

#3 Saranac - Carmel Porter
Recently re-discovered at the Roc City Brew Fest that happened in Rochester, NY in the last month or so, Carmel Porter is a treat that to me, as it tastes like candy.  I'm a big fan of porters and stouts and as far as beers go, I consider them the bees knees.  My rule of thumb is: the darker the better.  Saranac is brewed right down the thruway at the FX Matt plant in Utica, NY, which makes this another hometown style beer.  Initially turned on to this delectable treat from a college beer lover, I got several text messages when the fire ravaged the Saranac plant several years ago to which I replied, "better stock up on Caramel Porter!"  As a darker maltier offering from Saranac, Carmel porter balances the dark malts with a sweet caramel flavoring that is even evident in the creamy head.  After talking with the rep at length at the Roc City Brewfest, I found that this beverage is only available on limited release every year during the snowy months and is one that if I am in the mood to have a brew with friends and be able to have several in the evening, this is a "go to" beer for me.  Not overpoweringly sweet to taste and with a nice balance, I almost wish this porter was available year round.  But maybe my desire for this one is what makes it so good and to claim the last spot on the seasonal list!

SPRING - Spring time is a time of rejuvenation, a time for celebration, the snow has melted, the grass is finally turning green again, the temps are (hopefully) rising and there is a certain rebirth in the land and peoples attitudes around town.  Additionally, to add to the awesomeness of springtime, almost every brewery that I know of offers a spring season and most often they are Bock beers (Bock is the German word for goat) and that is why there are goats on the labels of most spring beers!

#1 - Genesee Brewing Company - Bock Beer
I cannot say enough about the creation that is Genny Bock Beer.  I honestly look forward to seeing the massive cases and displays of bright green Genesee Bock beer.  Only sold in 12 packs cans and available for a short period of time (from about late February to early April) this malty treat is best experienced with 2 beers the first time it's consumed.  I only say this because the initial taste is a little shocking, but after you get thru the first can and onto the second, it is absolutely wonderful! There is a certain stigma in the Rochester area about Genesee and if people could drink two of these bocks, I think we could put those all to rest.  Dark brown in color and deeply malty with just enough of a hint and balance of hops, Genny Bock is light on the wallet (as most Wegmans have it priced at the uber reasonable $6.99 per 12-er.  As I type this though, I am in search of the final cases of this around town as I think I need to stock up because it's selling out everywhere!! Don't let the 70's-esque label fool you, this is GOOD, no wait, strike that, GREAT beer!

#2 Anchor Steam Brewing Company - Bock Beer
Anchor Steam makes some amazing middle of the road, what I refer to as, drinkability beers.  Their spring offering has never let me down.  As you can see from the label with a prominent goat head, this bock is brewed in the traditional spring fashion and has the malty characteristics that a genuine bock would carry.  Brewed in SanFrancisco, California, this beer is a tad pricey, but if you are out at a fine dining establishment and obviously don't want to buy into the Miller/Bud/Coors crap-o-la out there, this one is a fine choice.  Dancing around your tongue, bock beers have a very complex taste that often cannot be described in such a short time.  Initially hitting your tongue at the sides to blast your buds with the malty goodness, this one is a little paler in color, but finishes smoothly and is a nice end to a meal out on the town, or a good companion to have while having drinks out with friends.  Bottled in a stout, squatty bottle, the cap signifies the trademark anchor that is prevelent in this brand of beer and as the spring season goes, this one is definitely worth a few swallows!
#3 - Unknown beer - unknown brewing company
As the picture displays, this third choice in the spring season is a tough one.  I"ve tried beers from all over and really haven't come up with something that I can find as an acceptable 3rd beer for my list.  So in that vein, I'm leaving it up to my readers to send me a comment on the blog and tell me what spring seasonal beers I should try.  I feel it imperitive though that I point out that I'm not too big of a fan of hoppy beers and I've sampled the Sierra Nevada - Glissade, the Samuel Adams - Noble Pils, and about the closest I can come to something that MIGHT make the list is the old Sam Adams - White Ale (but I'm not sure if that's even made any more...) So with that being said, I implore you to send me your suggestions (ideally as a comment to this post) and I will definitely give them a try, if I can find them and report back with my findings.  As anyone that read the "top 10 list" can attest to, this is an ever changing list and up to my discretion, so if you don't like my choices, you can stop reading and go drink your Miller Lite :o)

SUMMER - Ahhhhhh, one of the best seasons around.  In Rochester, NY it only lasts for about as quick as you can say, "Oh my God, it's actually WARM out!" but it's good while it lasts.  There are a lot of beers that you can booze with during the summertime,  but since this is my list and I drink almost anything (except for Ram's piss - shameless Beerfest reference) I'm only going to give you my top #1 of summer (because I already gave you 10 on the last post!)

#1 - Sierra Nevada - Summerfest Lager
I came across this delectable offering from Sierra Nevada whilst wandering the aisles of Beers of the World in Rochester, NY a few summers ago.  I was looking for that "easy drinkability" beer and one that I could bring with me in a 6-pack to a friends house, have 5 and still have an excellent time, while not being too sick of the "lime" or "lemon" or "cirtus" flavorings that are so prevalent in summertime beers.  This one has none of the above.  Sierra Nevada hit the nail on the head, so much so that it is my ONLY choice for a seasonal beer during the summer months.  Now I'm not saying that it's the only thing I'll drink during the summer months, because anyone who knows me knows that ain't true....but it's a great summer lager and it's exceptionally well balanced and one that I can rip thru a 6 pack and not even really notice.  It's light, but not too light - as I really enjoy the darker varieties of beer, and drisp and refreshing when served really cold during the summer months.  I don't know what it is about this brew, but I'm excited for the sun to shine so I can crack a few bottles.

And there you have it.  A comprehensive list of top ten beers and additionally 3 extra credit beers that you can only get during the appropriate brewing seasons.  Tastes change thru the year and if you're doing it right, your beer choices should as well.  So I hope you've enjoyed this post, feel free to comment on your own favorites and if you see me around, lets have a beer :o) Cheers!

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