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Boffo Beer Blog, Week 7 : Mermaids And Unicorns Promise Mouth Magic

Well I tried for a truly magical beer experience in the latest Boffo Beer Blog. I sampled True Vine’s Mermaids & Unicorns beer, to go along with a bowl of beef stew and a cheese bagel. Expectations were high, especially when confronted with the mirth-filled 12-ounce can, brightly colored and bedecked with a picture of, yes, a mermaid riding a unicorn. This should be some special drink!

Unlike some of the small breweries I’ve looked at so far, True Vine is really new and still quite small. Based out of Tyler, Texas ( a smallish city not too far out of Dallas), it’s barely five years old. Inspired by reading a biography of the Guinness family, a married couple, Ryan and Traci Dixon began brewing some beer in their own garage around 2014. With good feedback from the locals, opened a tiny, 2000 square-foot brewery in town in 2014. Mermaids & Unicorns was one of their first two flavors and remains a mainstay of their small company, which now boasts about ten or so brews, all with lively, whimsical can designs. There’s a coffee porter, a peach-infused one and one that wins for the name alone, Chubby Angel Babies. True Vines say they are guided by the principles of integrity, community and love.” Hard to find fault with that.

They’re now available throughout a good number of locations in Texas, but haven’t matched the success or growth of some of their Lone Star counterparts – yet. But, like some of their bigger competitors, they recently opened a taproom and restaurant on site, with artisan pizzas being a menu star and live music on the weekend an added draw. What they don’t have yet is as detailed or complete website as many microbrews.

Anyway, I popped open the can full of expectation, and poured the brew into a frosty glass. Although the brewer itself doesn’t seem to detail their drink online, Specs says it comes in at 5.5% alcohol and features a “malty, bready (flavor) with hints of peach and orange.” Upon pouring, it looked a pleasant enough golden tone, slightly cloudy, but seemed to have little fizz and produced only a minimal, thin head. Waiting to be ridden away to beverage utopia on a unicorn being hugged by Splash-era Daryl Hannah, I expected something wildly different and wonderful.

The unicorn turned out to be more of a run of the mill donkey and Daryl nowhere to be seen or felt. The first impression of it was that it had a relatively mild flavor with a noticeable bitterness. More sips did reveal a tinge of citrus, but a very subtle one. It was fairly “smooth” to use that million-dollar beer buzzword, but nothing out of the ordinary in any way. It paired fine with the stew, but didn’t noticeably bring out the flavors of the food or drink; with the cheese bagel somehow the drink’s bitterness seemed a little amplified.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression this is a bad beer. It’s not. It’s perfectly acceptible and a unicorn’s horn above some of the mass market convenience store competition. The can is a keeper for collectors and the drink worth buying it for. What it is not however, was particularly memorable or distinctive, let alone magical. I’ll grade it about 7 out of 10 for strength, 6 for flavor and all in all….


three unicorns out of five.

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 6: Stone Cold Good. Or Stone Good Cold!

To borrow from Guy Fieri, this week we took our taste to “Flavortown”… Little Big Flavortown. Or perhaps, Big Little Flavortown. This week’s sampling was Stone Brewing’s Stone IPA, the flagship brew for the California-based brewery. In a little over twenty years, Stone has established itself as one of the biggest micro-breweries in the land. Or one of the smallest “majors” depending on how you look at it!

Stone Brewing began brewing in 1996 when Greg Koch and Steve Wagner decided they loved rock music and beer. However, their careers in music weren’t going anywhere exciting, so they decided it was time to make some music for the mouth instead. They began in San Marcos, California, the pair and one other employee making 400 barrels of India Pale Ale that year. Their mission was to give people an option other than watery, yellow big-brewery lagers. They picked their gargoyle logo since, they say, gargoyles ward off evil and they wanted to keep “warding off cheap ingredients, chemical additives” and other things that ruin a good beer.

Obviously, they did just that and people approve. Twenty years in, they’d managed to add over 1200 employees to their team, and were brewing some 388 000 barrels a year. They have a number of taprooms where you can sit and enjoy, including San Diego Airport and most intriguingly, Shanghai, China! They expanded their California operation and recently opened a brewery in Richmond, VA to lessen transportation times to eastern locations – useful since they’re one of the very few small breweries which now sell in all 50 states. Through the years, they’ve added new drinks to their menu including Xocerveza, a stout “inspired by Mexican hot chocolate” and Russian stout, “fairly well known style but in the 1990s… practically unheard of.” However, their bread-and-butter has always been robust India Pale Ales, and the Stone IPA is not only their best-seller, but the gold standard for their roster of over a dozen varieties.

They describe it as a beer with “bright hop fruitiness, piney vibrancy and a pronounced tantalyzing bitterness”, utilizing eight different types of hops. They further consider it to have “medium body and no perceivable sweetness”…which sounds a bit contradictory for a “fruity” drink, but maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I popped the cap off an attractive 12-ounce bottle out of their Richmond brewery and enjoyed it with a dinner of “Goulage” (actually a hearty pasta-based meal with beef and tomato sauce mixed in) and a cheese sandwich.

Pouring it, it displayed a nice, rich golden color, deeper than regular mass market beers but not as dark as many an IPA, and found it really foamed up in a thick, frothy head. The first taste showed its hoppy bitterness and quite a strong flavor. Not unpleasant but strong, fitting for a brew with 6.9% alcohol. Having it along with the meal though, it was better yet, pairing very well with the pasta meal, which diminished its bitterness a little. It had a little aftertaste, but not a very strong or displeasing one. What’s more, it still worked well with some tart green grapes I ate for dessert, with the beer cutting the tart feeling in the mouth a wee bit while the grapes added just a hint of that missing fruity sweetness. I didn’t chew on a pine cone to see if that added the “piney” nature, although somehow it did seem like an “outdoorsy” kind of beer that might be a good camping companion. Stone itself recommend pairing it up with a range of strong-flavored foods from tacos to Asian salads or jambalaya, all of which seem like palatable suggestions.

A strong but likable drink, although not for someone who favors things from the Big Brewery Lite aisle. I give it 8 out of 10 for strength, 7 out of 10 for flavor and all-in-all


Four spiky-haired chefs out of five!

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 5: A Christmas Story In Your Glass

December 25th may have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to keep the Christmas spirit going. And in this week’s Boffo Beer Blog, we’ll have a Christmas “spirit”… Karbach Brewery’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out Seasonal ale.

The Houston brewery offers up a few year-round favorites and a variety of seasonal offerings, available throughout Texas and the south-central States. “It’s all about the beer,” they say, suggesting “we don’t take ourselves seriously but you can be damn sure we take our beer seriously.” They use “classic German techniques to make beer for everyone to enjoy.”

Among their regular brews are Hopadillo, with its colorful armadillo-adorned can, and Crawford Bock, whose cans have the now questionable distinction of being dressed up like a Houston Astros jersey. (Tap your can once for fastball, twice for curve…)  You can try them out in the city at their brewery and restaurant, which offers a variety of dishes that pair well with beers of every stripe, including fish and chips, king-sized pretzels and of course, Texas chili. They periodically have special events, including a “Galentines day” later this week with a “market and movie night” showing ’90s cult fave The Craft.

Among their seasonal varieties are a chocolate stout and the one I tried, Yule Shoot Your Eye Out, for winter offerings. Of the Yule beer and its 5.6 % alcohol rating, they say it’s a “red ale brewed with orange peel (and) loaded with smooth caramel malt and a citrus twist. We triple dog dare you to find a better holiday ale.”

Cracking open the 12-ounce, leg-lamp adorned can is nearly as exciting as opening a wooden box to reveal a “major award.” Pouring it reveals it does indeed live upto its billing as a rather festive clear, reddish drink which produced a thick, bubbly head. The beer itself seemed a little more fizzy than some and had a decent aroma.

Now, this one is a bit different than the past three beers I sampled here in two ways. One is that it’s a yuletide offering, and I’m sampling it in February. This is about the end of the run for it this winter, as according to Karbach, “oh fuuddge! It’s only here for a limited time.” And I found I actually was consuming the first one on the very “best before” date printed on the bottom. So, while certainly not stale nor flat, it’s entirely possible “Yule” get a better feel for the drink if consumed closer to the production date, around the time Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick is bringing pink bunny pyjamas to good little boys far and wide. Secondly, this one I actually purchased a six-pack of rather than just one individual bottle or can.

I mention that because I actually cracked open the first at night, having it after dinner while watching some TV. I had another the following afternoon with a light dinner of some left-over roast ham in a kaiser and a jalapeno or two. I found the environment seemed to make a difference and it seemed slightly different between the two sittings.

Drinking it on its own, I found it a little unusual and not what I’d expected. Not a lump of coal in the stocking, but not a Red Rider winner either. It seemed a little watery and while it left a slight, not too unpleasant bitter aftertaste, I could really detect the caramel of the malts. It almost made me think of the effect one would have if downing a typical mainstream lager a few minutes after sucking on a Werthers candy.

Paired with the lunch, it fared a bit better, The sweetness was cut and the flavor seemed to hold its own nicely against the sandwich and cut the heat of the hot peppers a little. Perhaps that’s why Karbach recommend having it with stews or “game”. What it didn’t seem was a typical strong ale.

All in all, it won’t make you cuss like a faulty, smoking furnace would but it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you have to write about what you want for Christmas! I give Yule Shoot Your Eye Out a 6 out of 10 for flavor, 7 out of 10 for strength and


three leg-lamps out of five!

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 4 : Dogfish 60 Minute IPA

Another week, another craft beer to savor. This weekend, I chose Dogfish’s 60 Minute IPA to try.

IPAs are “India Pale Ales”, an old style of beer developed in Britain in the 19th-Century but most popular on our side of the Atlantic. The beer involves using more hops than lighter beers, and roasting the barley more to give it more flavor and strength than a typical lager. The Brits began brewing it for troops stationed in India, hence the name, and found this style was not only popular with them, but stood up to long periods of storage (as would be necessitated by shipping to India from England then) better.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, I find, is an interesting piece of the coastal Delaware landscape and economy. It’s a micro-brew sure, but offers more. Like their own restaurant and bar, but more uniquely a cool, 16-room inn you can stay at! And when you wake up, you can brew some Dogfish coffee… yep, they have their own line of breakfast bevvies too! Dogfish seem to revel in their quirkiness and have metal artwork decorating their grounds and commission “off-centered” artists to design fun labels for their various beers.

There are quite a few brews on the Dogfish roster, but most seem to fall into the “IPA” category. Among them is “American Beauty”, a drink put together with the co-operation of the Grateful Dead. That’s one to look out for on a future Boffo Beer Blog. Today’s 60 Minute IPA is said to be their most popular drink and differs from the 90 Minute IPA in how long they boil the hops. They began making it over 20 years ago, and describe it as having a “bold, timeless flavor…pungently, citrusy, grassy hoppy and floral” It checks in at 6% APV, a bit stronger than your routine brew. They use “northwestern hops” which apparently are stronger but not necessarily more bitter than most other varieties.

I cracked open the 12-ounce bottle to have with a late-afternoon meal of a salami sandwich and finger food veggies from olives to celery. I poured it to find a thick, long-lasting head on it and a mildly cloudy, rich amber color. It looked rather like many popular wheat beers.

Tasting it was equally pleasant, if not more so. Dogfish got this right. I’m not sure what “grassy” would taste like, nor if it would be a positive trait for the tastebuds, but this drink does indeed exude hops and a touch of citrus yet lacks the intense bitterness many “hoppy” drinks have. It left my mouth a wee bit tingly, and while it seemed to keep its strong yet not too bitter qualities in the aftertaste. It offset the spicy heat of jalapenos and the sweetish bell pepper slices equally nicely. Indeed, it was unusual in having such a strong hoppy flavor without being bitter like a pre-ghost-visit Scrooge.

Dogfish say this is “most balanced IPA on the market.” I think they may not be too far off the mark saying that. Overall, I’d say this would be a pretty good choice to go with a number of meals or situations. I give it 8 out of 10 for strength and 9 out of 10 for flavor and all-in-all



four-and-a-half out of five dancing teddy bears.

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


three out of five billygoats!

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,



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 ,


4 hoot owls out of 5!