Genesee Brew House IPA

Genesee Brew House’s IPA

The makers of Genny and Genny Cream Ale, Genny Light and Genny Ice. Yes, there’s craft beer and there’s crap beer. But Genny has branched out, 20 years ago creating the JW Dundee line of niche brews, and now the ever craftier Genesee Brew House line. And it’s priced accordingly. The question is, if it’s prettier now, or just a pig with redder lips?

Their IPA entry lands just where you’d think it will. Nothing to complain about, the body is good and the hoppy side is competent. This could be the baseline IPA for judging all IPAs. Won’t make you sing, but you’d say out loud “hey that’s pretty good.” $9 for a sixer is pricing it, uhh, optimistically. It’s not on a par with many other IPAs on the shelves at a similar price, but if you can find it for a buck a bottle, that’s worth trying out.

Smack in the middle at a rating of 5.0, this really is the baseline of the new crafty crop of IPAs. Balanced, competent, more a product of workmanship than craftsmanship, but find it on sale and it’s worth drinking.

Don’t want to disparage the new GBH line, their Double Bock is great and they’ve got a new Scotch Ale which i’m itching to try. Like i said, there’s nothing wrong with the IPA here, just nothing outstanding.

Saranac Gen4 IPA

Saranac’s Gen4 IPA

Another one from Saranac, yep you can tell i got one of those sampler 12ers. The Gen4 label purports to represent 4 generations of brewing in this family-owned brewery in Utica, NY. But, as anyone local can tell you, most of those years since 1888 were spent brewing absolute swill under the dreaded names Utica Club and FX Matt. God those were terrible beers, but terribly cheap.

The one redeeming quality of FX Matt beer was that it came in a “beer ball” which is a plastic sphere about 3 gallons capacity, so you could get a lot of beer, cheap, without laying down a deposit on a keg and tap. Naturally, when emptied, the beer ball provided minutes of drunken entertainment being kicked around the yard. Until some fool inevitably put his foot right through it, and stumbled around with a beer ball on his foot, which was guaranteed to make the rest of the party fall over laughing so hard.

Now to the future, which is already here, and the FX Matt brewery is restyled as Saranac. Goodbye to the swill, but goodbye also to the infamous $7 case of 24. Saranac beers are pricier, not outrageous, but not cheap. The quality you’re paying for is clearly in evidence with the recipes they’ve been putting out. This entry in the IPA rodeo is truly a pale ale, cloudy and yellow like it ought to be. Label calls it “hop forward”, which it is clearly not, when compared to its recent peers. The hops are citrusy but understated, and the label’s mention of “tropical” is also baffling. Nothing here tastes like a mango.

The beer side of the equation is not as flimsy as the Matt Brewery was known for, but it’s not as stocky as some other IPAs out lately. Notably, Saranac’s own “American Pale Ale” has less hop and more body, and because of that it really beats this Gen4 IPA up. Don’t get me wrong, an IPA is supposed to be thin beer, it’s just that the real-beer taste of their APA was such a pleasant surprise.

This one does have a good balance of sour and sweet, but as usual at Saranac the alk % is not listed. Strike that, turns out they put the alk% in tiny print next to the gov’t warning, and i did not find it on this bottle before getting my deposit back, but this is a “session” IPA, so it’s about four and a half. On the whole, i like the true-to-form IPA body, the cloudiness of the beer gives it authenticity, and the flavor is fine. In the middle of the pack it goes, rating a 5.5 for round appeal without standing out in the crowd.

CB Caged Alpha Monkey IPA

CB’s Caged Alpha Monkey IPA

Let it out of the cage! Good entry from the oddly named Craftbrewers Craft Brewery, which is redundant redundant, in the tiny sleepy town of Honeoye Falls, where the eponymous falls are only about 10 feet tall and 20 wide, but there’s a restaurant where you can dine while looking at the falls, such as they are.

But nothing sleepy about this enraged silverback chained inside a bottle. No stupid fruits added, but there’s a natural fruity aftertaste from the hops which lopes around your mouth for a while, swinging from an old tire. This one doesn’t go bananas on the hops, it doesn’t pucker your pout with bittery blues, but still has a fine upstanding hoppy element, proving that evolution has not left this monkey skuffing knuckles with the rest of the troupe.

The balance is the key, for any IPA which does not try and join the race to Hoppier Than Thou. This one is smarter than that, crafting a brew which is a hearty drinkable beer balanced with that punch of hop the kids love today. Alk content is an eyebrow-raising 6.5%, but not quite the enraged braincell killer that the bottle’s artwork would lead you to assume.

The longer that aftertaste sits in your mouth, the more it transitions from citrus to plums. I could drink this over again, and in fact i think i will have another one. A little too heavy for a Summer drink, both in terms of alk and body, but that leaves nine other months when this beer is entirely fitting.

A healthy 8.4 for this quaff, the 8 for a swarthy build in the pure-beer end of the equation, and the extra 0.4 for balancing strong hops yet not swamping the beer itself.

Saranac Adirondack Lager

Saranac's Adirondack Lager
Saranac’s Adirondack Lager

Tasty stuff. I used to love lagers before the IPA craze hit the USA and brought us a range of expensive ales all trying to out-hop each other. As far as lagers go, i do prefer them to pilseners and non-IP-ales, but the king is still Fosters. The blue oil can with a ‘roo on it was, for a while, the only way to get good Fosters, since the 12-oz bottles were being made in Canada “under license” which meant a license for Canooks to fuck up a great beer.

Then the Fosters 25-oz cans were being made in Canada too, and they were just terrible. The only way to get good Fosters was, for some years, to buy real roo juice at a specialty beer store. But sunshine reigns again, because the 25 ounce cans are now being made by some outfit in Texas, coincidentally named Oil Can Brewery, and they’re once again tasty.

So back to Saranac’s lager. It’s a good solid beer, but just as the Adirondacks are not real mountains, in the broad sense, this Adirondack Lager is just not as tall as Fosters. Good beer, but as long as Foster’s is good again, there’s no reason to buy the Saranac lager at a premium. A regretful 6.1 is all i can give it.

Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA

Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter

You see me use the phrase now and then, “hoppier than thou,” to describe the mania for IPA’s this decade, the nutty competition among craft brewers to come up with a recipe or some technique resulting in the most hop-encrusted beer in the world. Yes, this is unique to America, bless its little green heart. There are some who predict that the next dance craze will be the saison style of beer, some who think it will be the pilsener. I think those people are nuts.

There’s subtle shadings in saisons and pilseners, afficionados can tell between two of the same animal, tiny signs in the carbonation and coloration. Makes me think of a couple guys in mid-evening around a gigantic red pool table without numbers on the balls, and without pockets in the corners, when one of them sips from an oddly shaped glass and exclaims (in a British accent): “Why Master Burgage-Withers! You scoundrelous devil, you’ve used a half-dram of wheat in this pils! Oh no, you’ll not find my palate unawares on any Thursday, no Sir!”

That’s not the kind of crafty brew drinkers we have in America. No buddy, we need a blazing marker on our trail, preferably on actual fire. The whole reason hoppy beers like the IPA are the raging craze here, is that you can tell right away how heavy the hops are. I could see stouts taking off in America, because it’s easy to tell differences: “This one sits like wet cement in my guts more than that one.” But not craft pilseners, or saisons. That’s fruity lah-dee-dah stuff. In our rot-gut whiskey, we just don’t care if it’s single-rot or not.

Now back to IPA’s. There’s the sciencey thing, the IBU, Int’l Bitterness Unit, for some basic signpost, but you really don’t need to get that technical to know if your lips are twisting themselves off your face. The IPA is in your face, and you don’t need to read the friggin’ manual, and in America we don’t say friggin’. There’s one measure for IPA, the hops level and the balance with beer body. Is that two things? Are you sure? Then let me remind you of one of the cornerstones of American Wisdom: “There’s one thing Daddy likes and that’s titties and beer.” So there.

So who is hoppier than thou? This is. Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter IPA will twist your kisser and pucker your nips. It is the hoppiest IPA in the land, and the reason is science but we don’t need to know all that. Basic idea is this: SiNev invented a contraption, assumedly on wheels, which they roll out to the hops farm. Using steam and pressure, they rip the aromatic oils right out of the hop buds before they know what’s going on, fresh picked and suddenly shriveled by Sierra Nevada’s mobile hop-oil vampire machine.

Then they brew a regularly high-hopped IPA, add in the stolen hop oil, and this is what you get. Not only hops, but the souls of sacrificed baby hops. Wooo, that’s the right stuff. To keep all these volatile aromatic oils in solution the alk has to be high, 6.2% in this case, and it comes out the pipe at 60 IBU’s. There are higher IBU’s to be dranked, but now we know, that it’s not about the number, it’s about HOW you hop it up.

And then there’s that pesky balance, where so many brewers get it wrong. Hop Hunter has got it right. A quite pale color to this drink, but they use some very good malts which shine just below the sheen of hop oil. A tiny sweetness, just enough to make the bitter hops into exotic fruit flavors, and it’s really a surprise that they can get such a flavorful beer body into something so light in color. Extra surprise that a malt even exists, which can stand on two legs behind this wild hopslaught.

Suff to say, that the elusive balance is there, and in spades. SiNev knows what they’re doing by now, 35 years in the biz, and with a touch of technical wizardry they’ve solved the puzzle of hops. This is Hoppier Than Thou, bottled. Heck, even my burps taste like a pine branch. By now it should be obvious that this one is in my Top Five IPA’s. In fact, it’s #2 with a 9.5 rating, just behind the exquisite Finestkind by Smuttynose.

Saranac American Pale Ale

Saranac’s American Pale Ale

Hey that’s pretty good. And it’s a good idea too: why should all pale ales be Indian? Here in the Land Of Coca Cola, we know how to make beer, and damn good beer, though we can’t brew it red + white + blue, but we sure as hell can make it green for that great American holiday: St. Patrick’s Excuse For Drinking Excessively Day. So these genii at Saranac figured out that hopping up their regular ale makes it an IPA without the I. Not really pale, i mean it’s got a brown color more than a yellow, but the hoppy delish of an IPA is here in the APA, and with a fuller body than real pale ale.

The taste is fine, nothing outstanding, but that fuller body will definitely make me think about trying this again. It’s a meatier pale ale, and i like that. No idea how strong it is, but it didn’t slosh me. I’d give this one a 7.1, but it’s garnered a bump to 7.2 for being patriotic.

Looking back now, some months after writing this, it was the first one i tried of the heavier-body hard-hopped genre, and it turns out to be something i like very, very much. IP-Lagers, this APA, and a few others have a delicious beer body which can naturally better support harder hops. If i had known then, how fond i would grow of this style of beer, i would have given this a higher rating. So i just did, because i can: the American Pale Ale from Saranac gets a full point boost, up to 8.2.

Rohrbach Railroad Street IPA

Rohrbach’s RR Street IPA

This microbrewery is not as micro as it once was, a sizeable floorplan on Railroad Street in Rochester, the one in New York, not in Minnesota where the Mayo Clinic is. Thus, the name of their IPA. Available only in NY state as far as i know, since the can only has the NY5ยข deposit value on it. And finally, the Rohrbach beers come in 4-pack pint cans, or closer in to the brewery, i understand that they are also sold in 64-oz growlers.

That’s about all the info, since there’s no carton and very little data on the cans themselves. Don’t even know how strong this IPA is, but i can tell you from experience that this is no “session” ale. A fourpack of this obliterated me a few months ago when i wasn’t paying attention. Or i wasn’t paying respect, or what ever… i paid for it the next morning.

The basics are these: medium pale color, light effervescence, good piney nose when poured. Most of all, the major data point here, is that it tastes great. This has a solid beer body underneath the hops, and the hops are what they should be: a kumquat growing on a fir tree branch.

The proper tastes are all there, but the important thing is the balance of the body and the hops, and this crafty brewery has been around since 1991, practically ready for a flood of AARP mailings in beer years. Over that amount of time, you can’t help but become an expert at what you’re doing, and the Rohrbachers have done so.

So, some serious skills went into this IPA, and it comes out the other side of alchemy as liquid exhuberance. Couldn’t tell you what hop species they use, but the result is fine. Fine as in fine gold, not fine as in “ok fine.” I am definitely a fan of this IPA, and i used to buy it frequently before i started concentrating on strange and unusual hoppy beers to broaden my IPA horizons.

What to rate it? Damn, i don’t know. This is one of the first modern IPA’s i tried. Had a smattering of IPAs over the years, before they became a whole industrial segment of their own, and for several years i’d walk past an expanding indy beer section at stores and notice that everyone and their decrepit grandma was making an IPA now, and i rolled my eyes and walked past, and grabbed what i knew.

But things change, one of them is the general economy. As recovery washed away remorse and jobs started falling off the trees again, there came a week where there was enough money to try a nicer beer for a change. That was this beer, the one i’m reviewing right now. So in a sense, RR St. IPA is a sort of baseline by which i measure the modern crop of crafty IPA’s. But how do i rate it objectively, now that it’s a standard?

Well, compared to the elites and deletes i’ve tasted since, Rohrbach’s IPA holds up pretty good. The balance is skillful, the hops are assertive, and the body is quality. The price is good at $9 for 4×16, and once my journey across the IPA landscape runs its course, i’ll probably settle back into buying this one when i want an IPA. Just generally hiqual. So rating it? Oofda, say 8.5.

Moylan’s Dry Irish (Style) Stout

Moylan’s Dry Irish-Style Stout

Big bottle, and got a good laugh out of me with the warning on the side: “Live Ale!”. And a busy bottle, all kinds of logos and symbols and little pictures of medals Moylan’s has won. Apparently this guy’s ggggg-pappy was personable enough to lead troops in wartime, the RevWar to be precise, and since he was Irish and Guiness has made Ireland famous for stout, making this was a no-brainer! Live Ale!

Hearty indeed, like a stout has to be to keep from being bullied, and a crisp immediate aftertaste, as it should be, and oatey and sourey and lands like a brick in your stomach, all these things are what a nice real live stout does. Moylan’s does these things. It’s not as sour and tarry as Guiness, but then again this is America. We need things dumbed down for us.

One thing in Moylan’s favor, a key in their quest for making an American version of Irish Stout, is that they imported the grains used in the beer from the UK, which might mean Northern Ireland, or which might mean a muddy pitch downhill from Birmingham. What we can tell, is that it’s 5% alk, not too scary, and it sure is impenetrable by normal light.

All in all, a good drink if you like stout, which i do but many (many) people do not. So caveat emptor: this is stout. You either eat it or you don’t. For a rating… well, it’s not Guiness. I like stouts so i’ll put it at 7.5 for being lip-smackery but it doesn’t rise to the standard Guiness sets. No shame, almost nobody reaches that level.

Genesee Bock

Genesee Bock Beer

Mid January, that’s the last part of the Holiday Season for me, since that’s when Genny releases their annual bock beer. The beloved weed-chewing jumping goat on the garish green can makes the beer looks like it’s the cheapest nastiest thing in the world, but in fact this is the best thing Genesee makes, and it’s only on sale in Janauary and it sells until it’s gone. For another year. This time, the bock lasted until early March. I usually stock up and it lasts me through May.

Last year i had a few tucked away until November. This year there were three goatbeers hiding in the far corner of the fridge until July. Why the love? Bock is made from the unfermented sugary grainsludge which they scrape out of the vats once a year, and if there’s sugars, then you can enslave yeasts to make beer out of it.

Talk about a hearty beer body. This bock is thick and chewy, color dark and brooding, the sweet syrupy malt-mud concentrates dozens of runs of Genny’s standard beer, which is undrinkable on its own, into a fine melange of flavors which you just can’t achieve by freshly malted grains on their own. Sour, from the over-complete fermentation and some normal hopping. It’s really a masterpiece and anyone who tries it for the first time is shocked that a beer this tasty came from Genny.

The limited run certainly lends extra appreciation via anticipation, but it actually is good beer. I rate it a steady 8.0 for the weight and taste, and because it’s Genny most people won’t buy it, so the price remains pleasingly low.

Spaten Optimator Doppelbock

Spaten’s Optimator Doppelbock

Caramel in the heaviest way, a true German beer with soul built in by law. It has that backmouth sour as it goes down like many German beers, and a squeaky feel on the tongue. Don’t know why, but many German beers remind me of shoelaces. But in a good way. Even i don’t know what that means.

Being a doppelbock (double bock), this is brewed from the leavings of other Spaten bocks, which were themselves brewed from the leavings from Spaten’s regular beers. The silt and scum from a brewing run is high in unconverted sugars, locked away in the dead bodies of little yeast bugs who gave their lives and fortunes for alcohol. Thus, a scoop of double-brewed silt has even more sugars. Enter more unwitting yeasties, and there’s a lot of sugar… they can’t help but turn it all into alcohol, making this double-bock beer a serious 7.6% alcohol.

Worlds of taste from the multifarious malts which went into the constituent beers, and they were all compliant with the strict German Beer Purity Law. German beer is what beer really is, and this third-level brewing is not cheap, but it is the pinnacle of what German brewers are allowed to do under the Rheinheitsgebot of 1516 Anno Domini.

Still mostly in effect after an even 500 years, the Rheinheitsgebot law is constantly under attack by, simply put, jackasses. Both within and outside Germany, people keep trying to claim that gluten-free beer is real beer (it is not), and self-important Euro-zone bureaucrats keep trying to chip away at Germany’s Beer Purity Law on the grounds that it’s “protectionist”. What a bunch of turds.

Five centuries of pure beer have developed German brewers into the world’s experts at making real beer, using only: water, yeast, hops and barley. Nothing else. This forces Germans to make the best of it, and they’ve done just that… they make the best. Some inside Germany want to repeal the Purity Law so they can make all sorts of abominations, like cherry flavors and adding sugars and colorings. Jackasses. All the Rheinheitsgebot says is that they can’t do that and still label it “beer (bier)”. Doesn’t prevent them from making all sorts of abominations, they just can’t call it beer. Because cherry beer isn’t real German beer, it is, in fact, an abomination.

I hereby call on American brewers to support the Rheinheitsgebot, and to abide by it voluntarily. There should be a little ‘R’ inside a square, a small and unobtrusive mark on the label, to alert knowing consumers that the beer inside is absolutely real beer. Water, barley, hops and yeast. Only those ingredients. If you do that, put the (R) mark on the label. If you can’t abide, then no problem. But if you do, then let us know. I would whole-heartedly gear my purchases towards beers that bear an (R) mark. We don’t need a law to enforce beer purity, but we sure as hell need a way to tell what’s real beer and what is carrying additives.

But off the rant for now, back to Spaten’s Optimator…

Knowing what it took to make this beer, and acknowledging the unqualified success in flavor, the rating has to be 9.7 for excellence. A great “last beer of the night” to send you off with that toasty roasty flavor lingering for a long time, and the high proof lending an extra depth to your sleep and extra oddness to your dreams. I dreamt that there was a girl who slept on her ceiling every night. She’d start out in bed but over the course of tossing and turning she ended up on the ceiling, so her folks wouldn’t let her move out on her own even though she was in her 20s, for fear a strange bedroom would end up with her falling 10 feet onto the floor in the morning.

Wow, what a weird/awesome dream. And it came after drinking real German doppel-bock. Thanks, Spaten!