Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I'd like to take a moment to discuss something that I normally don’t write about. But since I get to build a patio cover this summer, probably during the hottest time of the year, I want to talk about Light Beers or what some might call “lawn mowing” beers. I have a feeling I’ll be drinking more of these than microbrews!

What is light beer? Light beer is beer which has been brewed in a special way to reduce the overall alcohol or caloric content, and in some cases, both. Many people drink light beer because they enjoy the flavor or because they believe it is healthier than regular beer. Most light beers are brewed as pale lagers like Pilsner, a traditional Czech lager. Originally, light beers were meant to have lower alcohol contents so that people could enjoy several without feeling intoxicated. Over time, people began to demand low calorie versions of beer and light beers in the sense of “light on calories” arose. Americans now drink more light beer than any other kind and more varieties have frothed up recently to quench that thirst.

I’ve tasted many of these light beers, some of which tasted like sparkling hydrogen peroxide…mmmm. Here are some of my favorite lighter, lower carbohydrate “macro” brews which actually have a more tolerable flavor. All of my information below about calories and carbohydrates is based on a 12 ounce serving.

With only 114 calories and 3.7 grams of carbohydrates, Michelob Ultra “Amber” from Anheuser Busch has some really good qualities. The color is definitely darker than other light beers and has a fuller flavor with hints of caramel and pale biscuit undertones. It's not a mild beer. Consumers who are looking for a no-taste beer to guzzle might not like this one. It has a bitter hint to its flavor, and a nice finish…I also enjoy the 5.0% alcohol by volume. Be on the lookout for three new flavors (Lime Cactus, Pomegranate Raspberry and Tuscan Orange Grapefruit) hitting our markets soon.

Another favorite, weighing in at only 99 calories but 6.8 grams of carbohydrates is Heineken Premium Light. Okay, I’ll admit it, I like the bottle and labeling. The labels are transparent stick-ons, so for consumers with nervous habits, they’re kind of fun to try to remove. The bottle itself seems taller and thinner than a regular Heineken bottle. The appearance of the beer is crystal clear in the glass with a pale, golden yellow color. The smell has a hint of corn, a bit grassy with a crisp-bitter aroma that I associate with the Euro light lager. No skunkiness (hey, I worry, the bottle was green). The taste is crisp and a little bitter (like the smell). The bitterness has that almost “steely” quality to it. It’s richer and better than an American light lager, that’s for sure.

One more from Anheuser Busch is Budweiser Select. This beer was one of my favorite low carb, light beers until their advertisers destroyed its image for me (I’m getting over it now). This beer only has 99 calories with 3.1 grams of carbs (I personally like the 4.3% of alcohol by volume as well). When poured into a glass, it has a very light straw color with a mild, almost non-existent aroma of malt, barley and hint of rice. The taste has little or no bitterness, but you really taste the balance of the malts and barley which masks the typical flavor of the alcohol. This beer has a crisp and refreshing finish which can be enjoyed all day long.

Two light beers on the market which I personally haven’t acquired a taste for (yet), but definitely would recommend a “try it anyway”, are from a couple of big named breweries. The first beer that came out a couple of years ago is from The Boston Beer Company who brings us the Samuel Adams line. It’s still a lager (that’s a little watered down) called Sam Adams Light. This beer has a smooth, complex roasted malt character that with the subtle orange fruit notes from the hops. Having only 116 calories, Sam Adams Light finishes crisp and smooth without any lingering bitterness.

The other beer, just released to us this spring, has to be the first “light ale” that I’ve ever heard of and tried. It’s from one of my favorite breweries, the Redhook Ale Brewery, and properly given the name Slim Chance Light Ale. Even though Slim Chance is considered a light beer, it still has an aroma of raw grain with light yeast “bready” notes. Raw, earthy malts is what you taste first in this beer, but a faint hint of “citrusy” hops and vanilla cream like flavors finish the beer. At 125 calories per serving, this makes a great light beer for those who want to drink out of a microbrew bottle and still watch their weight.

Just a side note, for those that are watching the weight and still crave a beer that’s dark and tastes like coffee, chocolate, roasted malts and toffee, Guinness Draught only has 125 calories per 12oz serving…believe it or not.

You want to have something a little more “orangey” you say? Then Shock Top Belgian White is what you need from our buddies at Anheuser Busch. This beer’s appearance is cloudy and murky along with a golden orange to yellow color. The smell has a hint of wheat and a lot of citrus tones, manly orange and coriander. This beer tasted like a light, wheat beer with an orange fruit flavor. I think what surprised me the most about the flavor of this beer is that the wheat wasn’t overpowering and neither was the orange though is definitely very present, a good refreshing finish.

A returning favorite from Missoula, Montana that’s a “must try” (at least two or three) is Big Sky’s Summer Honey (Great on Tap, if you can find it and let me know if you do). Summer Honey is a full-flavored, summer seasonal ale that is brewed during the early days of spring and released around the first of May each year. This beer is brewed with a unique, balanced blend of spices, Northwest Hops, and Montana honey. There’s a scent of lemon over some hints of malt and sweet honey. The flavor is loaded (but just right) with honey and “wheatish” malt. Floral hop flavors and a bit of lemon zest help to round it out. It finishes surprisingly short and dry given the amount of flavor packed into each sip, and it lingers for a few moments with a combination of malt and floral hops as well as a very light touch of pine. Get these beers while you can, they go pretty fast.

Okay, now I get to tell you about my favorite beer for this summer that you have to try. It’s from the Widmer Brothers who brought us one my “all time favorites” from last winter called “Brrr”. Their new beer is called Drifter Pale Ale of which we won’t talk about calories due to its alcohol content. You can find Drifter on tap around town and in bottles at practically every market. It’s a clear, copper colored ale that has a smell of light hops and a mild malts that give it a buttery caramel scent. The initial taste is characterized by the hops of which “cleanses the pallet” and gets you ready for the “citrusy” flavor of the beer. This beer finishes very smooth and before you know it, your ready for another pint…but watch out, the 5.7% alcohol by volume will get creep up on you.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Wine, Stein and Dine

The 13th annual Wine, Stein and Dine is taking place tomorrow night, 7-10 pm, at Greyhound Park. The event is a fundraiser for Post Falls Education Foundation. I've attended every year since 1998. The event has grown from a small town fundraiser in the conference rooms at Templin's to the huge, crowded food and booze fest at Greyhound Park. I'm looking forward to seeing some of my old favorites and hope there are some new brews waiting for me.

See you there!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The 12 Ales of Christmas

A favorite beer lover’s holiday event is “The 12 Ales of Christmas” at Capone’s Pub & Grill in Coeur d’Alene. Attendees enjoy 12 samples of their selected winter brews, snacks, door prizes and a commemorative T-Shirt to boot! Make sure you have a designated driver or a cab waiting (phone numbers will be provided with your event ticket) to get you safely home after the extravaganza. Call Capone’s for advance tickets and pricing. 667-4843

UPDATE - The Post Falls location is not doing “The 12 Ales of Christmas”. A quote from the nice girl who answered the phone tonight "that's a Coeur d'Alene thing." She did mention they were planning a special evening featuring IPAs. When more is known about that, I will post. Post Falls' Capone's: 457-8020.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fall/Winter Brews

When the days get shorter and the temperature drops, the best way to warm up is with a frosty pint of dark, rich beer. Despite a lousy year for farming hops, many of the nation's most celebrated breweries are still churning out seasonal favorites just for winter. Here's a sampling that would even make Homer Simpson proud.

My new favorite fall beer is Late Harvest Autumn Ale from the Redhook Ale Brewery.
This beer’s appearance is a dark copper ale that’s slightly hazy. It pours with an eggshell white head that’s kind of thick and chunky. The aroma mainly consists of slightly toasted malts but the taste has a hint of toffee or butterscotch that’s semi sweet, with a little hop near the end to balance the thing up. I also get a touch of pleasing smoke at the back of the throat. Good smooth palate. Overall, I have to say this is a rather nice, satisfying amber for time of the season.

One of my new favorite brews of which I fell in love with last winter, both on tap and in bottles, comes from our northern neighbors at the Laughing Dog Brewing Co. in Ponderay, Idaho called Cold Nose Winter Ale. The Cold Nose pours a deep, rich mahogany that doesn't let much light through with great head retention that is khaki/tan in color. Aromas are of molasses, prunes, spices and sweet malt, with some smokiness and very light hops. The taste is not what I expected, sweet with some serious coffee flavors, a slight bitterness from the hops and a hint of molasses makes this ale very tasty, smooth and extremely likable.

Got the holiday blues?
Well then, I have the remedy…my “new” favorite winter beer on tap and in bottles called “Brrr” from the Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. With its clear, antique copper color and nice creamy head, this winter ale’s aroma is mostly hops with a hint of sweet malts, which further accents the juicy hop bouquet. The scent of earthy pine and citrus dominate and do a good job of hiding the 7.2% alcohol kick, which is present in the nose behind the hops and sweet malts. The flavor of smooth, mild caramels, pale malts and hints of roasted barley do their best to balance out the heavy dose of bittering hops. Believe me, after enjoying a couple of these “Brrr”s, you’ll be hanging up the mistletoe. 

Two beers that are hard to find but a must try for the holidays are…

K-9 Winter Ale from the Flying Dog Brewery. With the smells of Christmas, mainly Christmas cooking, this ale has a strong scent of chocolate cookies. I don't smell any orange peel when I put my nose to the glass, but I get a tiny undertone on my tongue. I also get a fair amount of nutmeg and allspice which would explain the relationship to cookies. Some caramel malts come through on the beginning, but chocolate malts and spices come out on the finish. Allspice and nutmeg combine with some chocolate malts, these are balanced by a citrusy hoppiness that is very present. This beer has two mouthfeels, it is slightly creamy with a “bite” of carbonation.

If you prefer something a little more “fruity” this holiday season, then you have to try Frambozen Rasberry Brown Ale from the New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado (who brought us the famous “Fat Tire”). This ale begins with the aroma of fresh, red raspberries, followed by the ripe scent of a fruity, brown ale with depth and delicate malt notes. It is deep ruby in color, with flavors just as rich. It has a very juicy raspberry taste along with a hint of chocolate…kind of like a raspberry truffle. I have never had such an authentic flavor in a raspberry beer. Sweet malts are subsidiary, but contain a perfect amount of sugar. Easily, my favorite fruit beer this winter.

If you would rather enjoy even more of these ales in the comfort of your home or hotel room, Daanens Deli in Hayden has a plethora of these seasonal beers from the good ol’ USA to the European brews in bottles that you can purchase and have your own celebration whenever you want. The last time I was at Daanen’s, I counted over 30 different types of beers that would be perfect to try during these colder months of the year.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Picks for Summer 2008

Now I get to break down my picks for this summer. Starting with the most common beers that you would find at most restaurants and grocery stores to the beers you really have to look for in North Idaho.

Last year I gave kudos to Coors with their “Blue Moon” Belgian-style wheat ale which is now a favorite for many beer consumers year round…but now I get to give their competition a plug.

Anheuser-Busch’s Beach Bum Blonde Ale

As the summer months gradually increase the temperatures of our weekends, adults everywhere can look forward to enjoying one of A-B’s specialty, seasonal beers while relaxing in the sun. Now available for a second year in bottles and some taps around town, Beach Bum Blonde Ale, an all-malt, traditional American blonde ale, is just the thing to refresh beach bums traveling to the coastline or those who prefer to stay home. This blonde ale, which draws its deep golden color from a choice selection of pale and caramel roasted barley malt, is brewed with imported Alsace and Hallertau hops, as well as Cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest. Using a dry-hopping technique, hops are not only added to the brew kettle, but also included in the aging tank, giving the specialty beer its distinct and pronounced hop aroma. Beach Bum Blonde Ale’s slight malty sweetness makes it a delicious complement to summertime fare, including barbecue dishes, fresh salads and fish. To best showcase its deep, golden color, pour and enjoy this seasonal ale in a pub-style glass.

Pyramid’s Curve Ball
This beer I have to plug again. Inspired by the traditional Kölsch style beers of Cologne, Germany, Curve Ball boasts a clean, crisp, slightly herbal taste and a lighter body. With its new and improved taste to compete with the “other” citrus summer beers, Curve Ball is the perfect accompaniment to summer grilling and ballpark outings.

Big Sky’s Summer Honey (Great on Tap)
When the days get longer and the air gets warmer, we get outside quite a bit. And we build a big thirst. Summer Honey helps us shake off the winter and slakes our thirst for a refreshing brew. Summer Honey is a full-flavored summer seasonal ale. Brewed with a unique, balanced blend of spices, Northwest Hops, and Montana honey. Summer Honey is brewed during the early days of spring and released around the first of May each year. Light colored, light bodied, and very drinkable, Summer Honey sacrifices nothing to create a flavorful beer that can be enjoyed during the height of the summer.

Skinny Dip
From the makers of Fat Tire of which I just have to use their verbiage because it’s just so witty,
New Belgium’s Skinny Dip is a full-bodied, figure-friendly beer that’s designed for the summer dress code. With the same amount of calories as most light beers, it makes this brew perfect for the lightly attired summer months.
Cascade hops frolic with kaffir lime and ample malt to create a bright, citrusy nose that’s as crisp as chilling in a mountain pond. If you like the taste of Fat Tire, you will love this brew. Skinny Dip is a most revealing beverage.

"Fruity" Beer
Now I’m going to begin a tradition of including a “fruity” beer to my summer line-up. This year’s entry is from Hawaii, the Kona Brewing Company’s Wailua Wheat Ale. This golden, sun colored ale has a bright, citrusy flavor that comes from the tropical passion fruit that they brew into each batch. It’s a slightly tart, refreshing wheat ale with a fresh citrus aroma and crisp finish. Tropical passion fruit is added late in the brewing process to retain the delicate fruity flavor and aroma. Wailua Wheat is an excellent beer to enjoy after a day on the water or at the beach (or even after mowing the lawn or playing softball in your "pau hana" summer league!). It typically pairs well with lighter fare like grilled fish and shrimp, roasted chicken, salads and Asian foods. Perhaps even a dish of vanilla ice cream. Wailua Wheat’s packaging is eye catching and inviting, featuring a paradisiacal Wailua Falls scene from old Hawaii.

Hard to Find Favorites
My “newest”, hard to find, favorite summertime beer is Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice Seasonal Ale.
This copper colored ale is smooth, malty, and lightly sweet, with a delicate hint of spice for that oh-so-drinkable, extra velvety flavor. The character is lighter in body than its cousin, their wildly popular Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale. This beer is silky and creamy, perfect for our warm weather. But why do they call it Cerveza Crema? Two reasons: One, this beer has become a favorite among many of their Hispanic friends, so it's named in their honor. Two, it sounds cool, and cool is what you want when it’s hot. Serve at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit for the most optimal flavor and enjoyment.

The hardest beer for me to locate is from the makers of Shiner Bock. Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner Summer Stock.
This brew has an appearance of brilliant clarity and an extremely light yellow color. The aroma is one of soft sweet malt. There's a little hint of caramel along with a very slight scent of pear ester. Even though this beer is light on the aromatics, I like the generally complex way that a lot of things seem to be going on at once. The flavor of this beer is soft and gentle with a sweet clean maltiness. It tastes of fresh pale malt with just the slightest hint of softly, barely toasted sweet bread. The beer is extremely well balanced. It is sweet, but there is an unmistakable lightly pepper-like hop edge. This is such a soft, delicate beer that there is absolutely no room for flavor flaws to hide.

Summer Brews

For beer lovers, this expanding seasonal choice is a nice problem to have. But it begs some questions: What makes for a great summer brew? What traditions are behind these seasonals? And what foods work best with these beers?

Ideally, great summer beers should be crisp, refreshing, and food-friendly, with light to medium body and moderate alcohol, yet still be packed with aroma and flavor. Various beer types qualify, but the best summer "models" tend to hail from Germany and Belgium, two centers of brewing excellence. And for quality summer quaffing, no style outshines the wheat-based brews from these two beer-loving countries. 


Most beers are made with at least some malted barley, for practical reasons. With a hard husk and relative lack of glutens, barley performs poorly in the bakery but ideally for malting and beer brewing. Wheat is the exact opposite: The grain has no encasement and it's rich in glutens and other proteins useful in bread-making, but it tends to gum up the brewing process. In fact, it's almost impossible to make beer solely from wheat.

In the Middle Ages, when all beer production was "micro," farmer-brewers rarely had the luxury to choose which grain to use, they simply employed what was available. In southern Germany and present-day Belgium, wheat was part of the mix. Through trial and error, it was discovered that including a proportion of wheat in the mash leads to a highly desirable beverage, a lighter-bodied beer with refreshing, thirst-quenching acidity. And so, a great beer style for the hot weather evolved. 

Because of the paler color and yeasty haze of these ales (yes, they are technically ales, made with top-fermenting yeast), especially compared with the darker beers, people called them "white" beers —witbier or bière blanche in Belgium, and Weissbier in Germany. 


A true holdover from the spice trade era (15th and 16th centuries), the Belgian witbier is brewed from malted barley and raw wheat, and spiced (mostly) with coriander and Curaçao bitter orange peel. Hops come into play nowadays, but subtly. A bright, refreshing style that almost died out after WWII, this hazy, pale yellow-gold beer has made a big comeback in its homeland and has a bevy of sincere imitators in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even Coors Brewing Company puts out a Belgian-style white under the Blue Moon label. An excellent Belgian prototype widely available is Hoegaarden.


Go to any outdoor café or Biergarten in Bavaria during the warm weather, and you'll find scores of tall, slender glasses used solely for Weissbier on the picnic-style tables, bearing insignias from breweries like Schneider, Franziskaner, and Weihenstephaner (the "world's oldest brewery" — since 1040!). While there are various styles of Weiss or Weizen (wheat), including the oxymoronic Dunkelweiss (literally "dark white"), the Hefeweizen ("yeast-wheat") is the choice for the summer. 

As the name indicates, this "bottle-conditioned" beer contains unfiltered yeast sediment — accounting for the cloudy appearance — and full flavor. Most Hefes are brewed with at least 50 percent malted wheat and are delicately hopped with aromatic, citric strains. Unlike their Belgian colleagues, however, German brewers still observe the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, meaning that spices and other flavorings (besides hops) are verboten in the brewing process. And yet, the orangeish, thick-headed Hefes are often chock-full of amazing fruity and spicy elements, ranging from fresh apples, banana, and Juicy Fruit gum to cloves and nutmeg. The responsible agent: ancient strains of yeast, enhancing the naturally fruity arc of the wheat. 

These beers are arguably best on a hot day after a workout — extremely restorative. They are fantastic food companions too, with slightly more heft than the Belgian witbier. Fruity, spicy, and geyserlike in carbonation, Hefes are second to none with spicy ethnic foods, especially Mexican, Chinese, and Indian, which have their share of fats and oils to cut through.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Winter brews

Brewing beer has historically been a specialty of regions where winters are harsh and grains are grown, like Germany and the British Isles. For centuries, brewers have made seasonal beers for winter that are fuller in body and maltier than standard styles. Some are festively spiced, others are simply turbocharged versions of year-round recipes. Malty winter warmers have less water in the mix delivering more nutrition and higher alcohol than summer quenchers. These beers are best served no cooler than 50o, which is ideal for showcasing their flavors. Serving “ice cold” suppresses flavor; a good strategy only if you’re not keen to taste your beer.

Winterbraun, from the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA, is a full bodied brown ale with a rich chocolate taste created from roasted chocolate and caramel malts. Czech saaz hops give it a spicy flavor. The beer has a dark mahogany color with tan head and a medium body with sharp, but mild, carbonation. The finish is roughly sweet, with some bitter to balance and a slight hint of coffee. Relatively smooth as brown ales go.

Samuel Adams Winter Lager from The Boston Beer Company is a spiced lager or Weizenbock. Highly carbonated and spiced, this lager triggers cravings for gingerbread and egg nog. Walnut malt flavors with subtle notes of cinnamon and orange peel make this beer fit seamlessly into the beer drinker’s routine.

Another great beer from the Boston Beer Company is Samuel Adams Holiday Porter. A traditional, British style beer that is robust and full bodied. With it’s rich malt complexity it has become a favorite among our winter seasonal brews. In total, five varieties of malted barley are used in the brewing process including a variety of German malt called Carafa.

Thirty-third Annual Christmas Ale, from the Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco who are also the brewers of Anchor Steam Beer. Every year since 1975 the brewers have created a distinctive and unique Christmas Ale, which is available from early November to mid-January. The Ale’s recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label.

Jubelale, the first beer ever bottled by Deschutes Brewery, is a festive winter ale. Highly anticipated every fall, it’s in a category of its own with a flavor and following that is impossible to match. Dark crystal malt creates a luscious holiday note while the roasty flavor and bountiful hops excite your tastebuds. Jubelale is the perfect holiday beer and only available October through December.

Winterhook, from the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, WA, has a rich, full body and deep chestnut color which makes it the perfect beer for chilly winter days. The taste is not far from from the aroma, producing a strong pine flavor, with a slight citrus kick. Along with hints of chocolate and caramel, the alcohol is completely concealed and the flavor was inviting and interesting without overpowering.

2° Below Winter Ale from the New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado (who also brew Fat Tire) created this seasonal beer with a bright, warming blast of Sterling and Liberty hops. By pushing this beer into a final, nearly freezing state, its ample structure develops a brilliant clarity. Dry-hopping during fermentation creates a rosy, floral nose with a hint of pepper spice and subtle, estery undertones.

My favorite winter beer (best on tap) is still Snow Cap, from the Pyramid Brewery in Washington. A rich, full-bodied winter warmer crafted in the British tradition of holiday beers. This deep mahogany colored brew balances complex fruit flavors with a refreshingly smooth texture, making it a highly drinkable and desirable cold weather companion. It has a warming 7.0% alcohol by volume. The Malts: 2-Row Barley, Caramel, Chocolate malt. The Hops: Willamette, East Kent Goldings. Availability: Mid October - January.

Funniest Winter Beer Label this year is Ridgeway Brewing’s Warm Welcome from England with a classic Christmas painting of Santa coming down from the chimney while the fire was still ablaze. Besides the government warning on the label, it has some other great literature to read to your holiday guests.