Boffo Beer Blog, Week 3 : Shiner Frost

This week it was time for a bolero and cowboy hat as I downed one of the quintessential Texas brews. Well, actually I wore no hat nor string tie, but there’s no exaggeration to say that Shiner is a brand as synonomous with the Lone Star State as cowboy boots, long-horned cattle and oil rigs. I sampled one of their seasonal, winter beers – Shiner Frost.

Shiner is the label name for Spoetzel Brewery and the town it’s located in. The small town between San Antonio and Houston has become something of a tourist attraction because of the beer, promoted in the state with a series of witty TV ads. Unlike the two Michigan breweries I’ve looked at so far in this series, Spoetzel has a lot of history. It was founded by Kosmos Spoetzel in 1909, Somehow it *ahem* even seemed to come through the Prohibition years A-OK.

Despite the popularity of the brand (now making over 6 million cases a year), it’s stayed in Shiner and every drop of their various brews come from that one spot. And a wide range it is. They are best-known for their Bock, which they note means “goat” hence the ram on their packaging, but they offer some other year-rounds including a Black lager, a light blond lager and Ruby, a grapefruit-infused lager. Although their bock seems like it would be a strong brew (as anyone who’s had authentic German or Dutch bocks would assume), it comes in at just 4.4% alcohol and a decidedly lighter flavor than its Euro cousins, seemingly in keeping with Texan tastes which seem to run towards beers lighter both in taste and alcohol strength.

As varied as those are, the more interesting choices from Shiner are typically the limited-time seasonals, such as a Pecan porter and a Smores-flavored one, both part of their winter package. The one I tried, Frost, is also a part of the winter sampler from them.

Spoetzel describe Frost as a “Dortmunder Style” beer. Dortmunders were originally brewed in Dortmund, Germany, and are closer to pilsners than anything else, although a little maltier and darker than most pilsners. The Texans go on to say Frost is a “deliciously distinctive seasonal (which) brings a hint of malty sweetness that quickly fades to show a crisp, hoppy character” perfect for frosty days. It comes in at 5.0% alcohol, about average overall but surprisingly a bit higher than most of the other offerings in the Shiner family.

This weekend, I opened the 12-ounce bottle and found it had quite a head when I poured it, although that quickly dissipated. It was a little cloudy and a deep golden color, as it were indicating what it was – a slightly more robust version of a normal lager.

I had it with some piping hot pepperoni pizza making for a nice late lunch. Now, perhaps like you, I’ve never been all that clear on the differences between the terms breweries love: “malty” and “hoppy.” But seems like the malty comes from the grain – wheat beers, for instance taste discernibly different than ones made from corn – and relate to how “smooth” the beer tastes and how sweet. The hops on the other hand, give it the character and bitterness (or lack of.)

Well, my first impression was of a rather ordinary beer but a little bitter. Seconds later, it actually seemed to leave a more bitter aftertaste. If there was a malty sweetness, I missed it.

Now, that’s not to say it was a bad beer. Not at all. It’s flavor and texture were decent, and preferable to some of the really watery light lagers so favored in these parts. But the aftertaste was a little on the strong and bitter side for my liking and it didn’t pair that well with the tanginess of the pizza sauce. I’d say this might be a beer better suited for having with a lighter, blander snack like plain potato chips or microwave popcorn.

Not a bad drink, but not one that stands out enough to make me likely to choose it again when there are so many fine brews out there left to sample. Overall, I give Frost a 6 out of 10 for flavor, 6 out of 10 for strength and

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three out of five billygoats!

‘Me’ And The Reading List

Well my year’s reading list is off to a good start – I just completed the first book of 2020, the much-publicized Me by Elton John. I’ve been a fan of John since I was a small kid (which coincided with the peak of his chart domination in the early-to-mid-’70s) so it held obvious appeal to me. Happily the kiddo got me a copy for my birthday late last year and once I started into it, I couldn’t put it down. Well, technically I did put it down, many times, but still, reading the 340-ish page autobiography in a week was fast work for me and an indication of how interesting it is.

Elton reveals many surprises about himself in the book but perhaps the biggest surprise to the reader is how little he actually talks about his music. Although he does mention briefly the inspirations for songs like “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, he spills very little ink actually analyzing his records or giving detail into the writing or recording process. What he does do though is give the reader great insight into what his life was like during the various time periods – and he pulls no punches.

The flamboyant singer hides little if anything of his troubled life, from his rocky relationship with his temper-tantrum throwing mother (whom he credits for his own bad temper) to his cold and distant father to the years of trouble caused by cocaine and over-drinking. He admits to feeling lucky he didn’t catch AIDS and succumb to a fate like Freddie Mercury (one of a number of close friends in music he shares stories about) and is able to mock his own lavish lifestyle which very nearly drove him to bankruptcy despite being one of music’s most successful and biggest-selling artists. The book is part anecdote, part cautionary tale.

Happily it’s also part redemption story. It might have taken him 60 years or so, but John (now 72) seems to have put his life together quite well and sort his priorities better than he did when young. He’s married, sober and a doting father to a couple of boys, for whom he apparently wrote the book.

Definitely a worthwhile read for any Elton fan, or for anyone looking to see what lifestyles of the rich and famous were like in the disco era.

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 2. Founder’s Get Dirty

Well, another week, another flavorful brew from the Great Lake State of Michigan, odd since I’m about 1000 miles from there! This week I try Founder’s Brewery’s Dirty Bastard Ale … pardon the French, I didn’t name it, only drink it! Apparently there’s a lot going on up in the Automaking state.

A little background info finds Founder’s isn’t quite as old as Bell’s we looked at last week. Founder’s began in Grand Rapids in 1997. A couple of friends started it in a 9600 square foot brewery in the city center, and began brewing… run of the mill beers. A year later, they opened their own taproom in the building to sell their drinks, with the two owners doing double duty as bartenders. It was a hit…not.

They teetered on the verge of bankruptcy for a year or two before making a bold decision about bold beer. Simply brewing ordinary lagers that taste like every other big beer in a small building isn’t cost-efficient nor a way to distinguish themselves. In 2001 they decided to go big or go home – brew beers with “complex flavorful ales with huge aromatics and big body.” Not your daddy’s Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Things turned up for them after doing that. In 2004, their KBS was voted the second-best beer in the world by publication Beer Advocate. A couple of years after that, they were selling in the Carolinas and New Jersey as well as their home state. By 2010, they had 69 new employees, by 2015, over 300 more. In 2017, they opened a second taproom in Detroit. The bars host live music and trivia nights to enjoy while sipping the brews.

The brewery now puts out a wide range of beers, some seasonal , some year-round. They have stouts, “Brut” IPAs, even breakfast stouts and espresso-tinged ones. The one common element: strong, rich tastes unlike the multinational lagers. I’m impressed with their commitment to environmental issues, them being a supporter of charities like the Conservation Alliance and Grand Rapids Parks as well as attempting to make their buildings energy-efficient with initiatives like using hot water from brewing to help heat them.

Things got better for Founder’s when they decide to brew beers that had “personality” and Dirty Bastard was one of the ones that turned it around for them. They began brewing it in 2002 and it’s now one of their mainstays. A strong 8.5% alcohol, this is not for the faint of heart, beer-wise.

I popped open a 12 ounce bottle with a late lunch of some take out fried chicken and fries and a strong jalapeno. The first thing I noticed was how heady it was when I poured it and the deep red color. It reminded me a bit of Rickards Red, a tasty bev I favored back in Canada, but a bit darker. Definitely unexpected in an American brew anyway. The brewery describe it as “seven varieties of imported hops complex in finish, with hints of smoke and peat paired with a malty richness.” I don’t know exactly what peat is supposed to taste like (and “mossy” doesn’t explain it away much better) but this was a surprisingly smooth beer. The seven hops certainly gave it a strong flavor but it was smooth and not very bitter. In fact, much like last week’s choice, this one had some sort of sweet underlying taste – a touch of Michigan maple or chocolate even perhaps.

Again, a strong beer that seems perfect for a winter night or with a hearty hot dinner, or perhaps even to have with a nice warm slice of apple pie; probably not the drink for a hot summer afternoon when you have things to do still on the agenda or if you prefer your beers to imitate the contents of one of those thousands of clear Michigan lakes.

All in all, I give it 8 out of 10 for flavor, 7 out of ten for strength (8.5% is nice but means often one is enough!) and overall,

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four and a half Hot Rods out of 5!

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 1. Bell’s Best Brown Ale

Earlier I was mentioning that reading more was one of my resolutions (again) for this year. Another resolution is to try a new beer every week. I’ll keep you filled in and reg”Ale”d here as we sip through the year.

Now, I’m not what most would consider much of a drinker – I’ve never even had a margarita and probably last had a bottle of rum or vodka around the time Nirvana were the new kids on the musical block – but I do like beer. Rare is a good dinner I have without having a cold one accompanying it; likewise sitting watching a baseball game isn’t quite a hit without a nice chilly lager or ale. I’ve always enjoyed trying different varieties, but like many others, I find myself in rather a routine of drinking one of the national brands that are readily available, cheap and pleasing enough but rather a boring quaff compared to the hundreds of different types of more flavorful and exotic labels on the supermarket shelf here (or the stylish LCBO ones back in Canada.)

So in 2020, I’m going to give a go to at least one new, less common beer each week and I’ll give you my thoughts on it, and maybe a little background. I’m no cicerone – I had to look up what the term is for a beer enthusiast in fact – but I know a good one when I taste one and can at least tell the difference between say a Coors Lite and a Guinness. So I hope my comments will be of interest to you and maybe get you to experiment a little more with your sudsy savorings.

So, this week I started with Bell’s Best Brown Ale. I mean, if you start something different why not start with the “best”?

I was drawn to it because I like dark ales. And I like owls, and the beer features a nice wintry picture of a Great Horned Owl on the can. I picked up a 12 ounce can, but I’ve seen it on shelves in bottles as well.

Well “hooo” is Bell’s Brewery? I found it is a Michigan microbrew founded in Kalamazoo in 1985, two years after founder Larry Bell had begun a home brew store. His first beer sold was a Great Lakes Ale he made up in a 15 gallon soup pot! By the early-’90s he had expanded and become the first Michigan brewery with an on-site pub and restaurant, all the better to enjoy his expanding range of beers. The company has expanded its brewery several times and offered a range of different beers through the years. One consistent thread for them seems to be that they prefer to offer darker, heavier beers, rather an anomaly in a state known for light, watery even, lagers. They’ve put out a bock, a stout, a white ale, and their “Two Hearted Ale”, a brew picked by the American Home Brewers Association as the Best Beer in the U.S.A. in 2017, not long after they’d expanded to Texas and other south-central states and topped 300 000 barrels a year in sales, or about 70 million bottles per year.

Best Brown Ale began in 1988 and is described by the brewery as a “smooth toasty brown ale with hints of caramel and cocoa.” they add it’s brewed with American hops and “best enjoyed with the changing of the seasons.”

So, I popped open the can and had it with a winter’s day lunch. The color is a nice, dark rich coppery color. It made a little bit of a head when I poured it, but not much. Certainly not a “fizzy” beer.

It tasted very good. At 5.8% alcohol, it’s a bit stronger than typical beers, but not a real strong one, and it tastes accordingly full-bodied. This packs a lot more of a kick than a multinational lager, but it’s not overpowering in taste nor does it seem overly heavy or likely to weigh you down. While it didn’t seem overly bubbly, it also didn’t go flat in the time it took me to eat lunch and enjoy it. The flavor was unmistakable as an ale – if you like your beers watery and light, this isn’t for you – but while it had a bit of a pleasant hoppy bitterness I could also detect a little, subtle sweet aftertaste. Maybe that’s the caramel they mention although to me it seemed more like a fruit flavor, although I’m not sure precisely what one.

All in all, Best Brown Ale may not be the best ale out there but is a good one. While I had it with a turkey sandwich and some veggies for lunch on a mild winter day, it seems like a perfect drink to go with a hearty stew or tasty roast dinner on a winter’s night, or maybe to be enjoyed with someone special in front of a roaring fire.

A good start to the project. I give it a 7/10 for flavor, 7/10 for strength and overall ,

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4 hoot owls out of 5!

Reading Is Contagious?

I mentioned at some point last year that one of my resolutions was to read a bit more than I had the previous year. Well, while struggling to bounce back from an unwanted Christmas gift of the flu, I finished off the appropriately-named Contagious by Jonah Berger. Despite the name, it had nothing to do with my ailment or any other disease.

The Berger book is another pop psychology type effort which he acknowledges was inspired in no small part by Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point . Berger looks at some “viral” pop sensations and tries to dissect what it is that makes them popular and much-shared, from the story of a $100 sandwich to growing moustaches for charity. He theorizes that if people follow his formula, including making stories that appeal to strong emotions and make the person telling it seem smart or “cool”, that they can make their own videos or ads become wildly popular.

Whether or not he’s got the formula scientifically figured out, I don’t know. But the book itself is an interesting enough read. What it doesn’t have though is the charm and way with words that Gladwell’s works have which make a lasting impression and makes it one of those tomes you just can’t put down. Nonetheless, it is worth a read and if you are looking to start up an advertising campaign or promotion it just might be “the tipping point” that makes it a winner.

Contagious marked the 13th book I read in 2019, actually one less than 2018. For the record, while I liked all the books I consumed, Freakonomics was likely my favorite non-fiction and Younger my favorite novel… unless I count Grace, Fully Living which I really liked. Of course, I also wrote that one, so I’m a bit biased!

So enter 2020 and a hold-over resolution from last year, once again I aim to read more than I did last year. Elton John’s biography Me is getting me off and running – or actually sitting and reading – towards that goal.

Whether you read one or 13 or 113 books this year, I hope you’ll find words which will entertain and inspire you in 2020…and when I do the same, I’ll let you know here.

Waking Up to The New Decade

It doesn’t feel much different today than it did last week, but of course it is. Welcome to the 2020s.

Of course, in reality very little is yet different just because the calendar has been switched. But there’s the mindset. The perception that things could be different. So strong is that urge inside of us that “any resolutions?” is right behind “do you want another drink?” as the most common of late-night December 31st questions around the world. Which leads to Greta Thunberg.

A year ago, most of us had probably not heard of Thunberg. An anonymous, surly Scanadanavian teenager. A year later, she’s Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”.

Many were disgruntled by this. An article displayed prominently on Yahoo News asks “who better than a finger-wagging teen bereft of accomplishment, or any comprehension of basic economies or history to” be so honored. “Has there ever been a less consequential person to be picked?”

My first reaction was essentially the same. In some respects, the President of the U.S. nearly deserves the award by default every year, because good or bad, few influence world events nearly as much, year in, year out. As such Donald Trump would have been a worthy person to be named. After all, he’d been on the magazine’s covers seven times during the year. Of course, if he had won the “honor”, many would have been quick to rein in his bragging by reminding us Hitler and Stalin had also been named “Persons of the Year”.

Many thought the “Whistleblower” who reported Trump’s call to the Ukraine which spiralled into the Impeachment hearings would be the appropriate person. Up until his or her report about the president’s iffy phone call, no matter what he said or did in the White House had carried repercussions with them. That all changed with the “whistle blower” who would make Trump the third president to be impeached. That’s quite a role in history! And it’s worth noting, un-named “whistle blowers” had been honored similarly by Time in 2002.

I thought Boris Johnson was an apt winner. The Brit with hair and a lack of caring about convention to rival Trump’s had in only three years gone from Mayor of London to a national politician to an appointed Prime Minister to a PM with a strong majority mandate supporting his drive to “Brexit.” Preumably he’ll take the UK out of the European Union and throw a monkey wrench into plans to have, and expand, one united continent/country. That’s pretty major as well.

Thunberg, on the other hand, was a quiet, rather ordinary (albeit slightly Autistic) Swedish kid who turned 16 during the year. She’d come to some attention in her country suggesting kids express their concern by skipping school. Shockingly, that caught on. Before you knew it, she was addressing world leaders and globe-trotting with her “finger-wagging” and message about the perils we are putting the planet in by ignoring climate change and refusing to change behaviours. “You say you love your children, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes” she says. Surprisingly she’s found sympathetic ears among the highest offices in countries like France, Canada and her own Sweden. governments are beginning to change policies because of her chastising and more and more of her counterparts from around the world are starting to speak up as well.

I have to admit, I find her a bit tedously sanctimonious. But while we can debate the minutae of the numbers, it is obvious that we as a species can’t continue to deplete the planet’s resources and burn all the fossil fuels in the way we have been for the past six or seven decades.

I remember being passionate about the environment when I was Greta’s age. Signing petitions, writing letters, feeling a comradarie with others of my age and interests. People of my parents’ generation undoubtedly looked on with fond memories of their own Hippie youths.

That’s something that seems all too lacking in most of today’s youth – the rather interchangeable “Gen Z” and “millennials.” All too much it seems like they’re passionate about video games and upgrading cell phones and not a whole lot more. A number of them seem reluctant to even go outside, let alone look at the world beyond their screen and ponder its future. Which is what makes young Greta special.

It’s a new decade and we should feel like the “future is unwritten”, to quote Joe Strummer. We should feel like the future is going to be better and change can come about. But that won’t happen by sitting on our hands and waiting for it to happen. So here’s to Greta Thunberg for doing her bit to make sure we don’t do that.