Saturday, December 31, 2011

Whistle Binkies on the Lake (Rochester, MN)

Whistle Binkies on the Lake from front door
Because of an unfortunate and unexpected closing of O'Neill's Pizza Pub until 4 pm, a group of friends huddled in the cold decided to move our gathering to Whistle Binkies on the Lake (WBL) for an afternoon of chatting over the holiday break.   While I expected the company and the conversation to be fun, my memory of WBL wasn't as positive.  However, WBL has improved significantly since my last visit in 2006 (original review below).   My wife notes that I can be excessively influenced by context (which is true), but I don't think it was just the lively banter and good time that made WBL better.  Compared to 2006, the beer variety and serving have both improved, as well as a friendlier menu for this oversized vegetarian.

When the first Burton Ale from Schell's came out in a Budweiser glass, I thought that I was at the same old WBL.  However, besides that the Burton Ale was extremely good, it was well served and was in great condition.  Head was a little thin, but not unexpected at a bar not catering to beer geeks, or it could be the beer as much as the bar. Next, I had a Lagunitas Sucks (yes, that's the name) holiday ale from Lagunitas that I guessed to be a Belgian IPA while tasting it, but BA has it listed as a Double IPA.  Either way, it was a very good beer and served in a tulip glass with a nice head.  Very pretty in the glass and very tasty.  As the afternoon was waning, I ordered one last beer: Odell's Bourbon Barrel Stout on draft.  A nice beer to sip to finish the afternoon of chatting.  However, the three strong taps took their toll, so those of us left ordered dinner.

Schell's Burton Ale
I referenced several vegetarian options in the old review, but I don't remember what they were and I definitely don't remember having a veggie burger option last time.  At any rate, I tried the veggie patty (black bean burger, I think) as The Bourbon: bourbon glaze, swiss cheese and sauteed mushrooms.  Excellent.  WBL does burgers that way I wish a lot more places would do it--just offer a veggie burger option with a range of choices.  Eight burger choices work with the veggie patty after eliminating the two bacon laden alternatives.  Since the burger was enough (calories), I skipped the fries and had the very acceptable coleslaw instead.  A testament to the mix of clientele that WBL must cater to in Rochester, there is also a low carb option of no bun and no potatoes.

Rochester is a unique place with an incredible range of people for a small town, and WBL seems to have adapted to both the changing beer tastes as well as offering a range of food options to match the diversity. While I was struggling in 2006 to find a solid craft beer served well, now the beer list kept me entertained for an afternoon and I left some on the menu to try another day.  Their beer menu has clearly skewed towards the hoppy end of the spectrum, but they seem to be selling enough of it that the Lagunitas Sucks was fresh and clean even though this seasonal has been on the market for a while.  With a veggie burger that I'd return for to boot, Whistle Binkies on the Lake has definitely left me happy that I was able to give them a second chance for a new impression.

Original BeerAdvocate review from Sept 2006 
Brand new building on the south side of town. Odd though that the sign is actually on the back of the building facing the freeway. I get why, but not a very pretty building. It's big and monolithic, especially from the front since there is no sign on a blank side except a very small one on the door frame. Neat and clean, feels sorta like a small town country club next to a golf course.

Whistle Binkies on the Lake 2011
"On the Lake" is a bit of a stretch too. I suppose it is technically a lake but many ponds are as large. View is ok over the lake, but local freeways come together around this restaurant in the middle of a industrial area. Most of the viewing is probably of young college kids for a night with one of numerous drink specials advertised in the bar and bathrooms, or on one of two sand volleyball nets outside the main entrance. Inside the building is shiny new sports bar with large and small screen TVs in all directions, wireless internet, and the wait staff is the standard pretty working through college girl in small tops.

Both Whistle Binkies (Scottish name according to the menu history) are billed as Scottish (English/Irish???) pubs, so the food includes Fish and Chips, Scotch Eggs, Bangers and Mash besides the standard bar food appetizers and burgers. I only had Loaded Potato Skins (w/o bacon--vegetarian), which were fine, a bit bland and underdone, but good. Unlike most sports bars, there were several vegetarian selections, including a pasta special for the day. A bit more enlightened than normal and wish I had been there for lunch to give the special a try.

WBL taps 2011
The beer list is the real selling point. Thirty tap lines from Grain Belt to Erdinger Hefeweizen, and local favorites Summit, Finnegan's, and Rush River. There's the option of a sampler of six beers for five bucks--good price for four ounce samples. I counted about 160 bottles ranging from Smirnoff Ice to Triple Karmeliet, and a lot in between from all over the U.S. and every major beer country. Great place to go for variety when Rochester boasts no brewpubs or other extensive beer bars (that I know of) except O'Neill's Pizza Pub and their own Olde World Pub. Which compared to the other Whistle Binkie, I prefer the new one over the old. Beside the fresh clean feel, it seems a bit more upscale and the menu is a definite improvement over the Olde location--I think I had onion rings there as one of the only veggie options. On the Lake is a bit more TGIFridays.

Overall, it's a nice place that I'll go to again. My Anchor Steam didn't seem to be 100% but the Summit Scandia was good, though still not as good one I had in the Twin Cites a few days ago. I'm a bit of a beer bar skeptic when they have so many, scared of old beers sitting around that the Miller Light and Jagermeister crowd just don't get around to drink, but my initial tastings seemed to be ok. I didn't drink any bottles, so that eval will have to wait for another trip. With whatever reservations mentioned or implied above, it was nicer and better than I expected walking

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wee Mac (Sun King Brewing, Indianapolis, IN)

Wee Mac is a copper ale with mostly gold highlights shining through in spite of being a wee heavy. Slightly off white head falls quickly. Strong malt nose w/o any hops noticed, but there's a stale bread smell that's rather unpleasant. Strong diacytl, I believe. Diacytal flavors, butterscotch, and staleness continue in the taste. Sour and off flavored, and the mouthfeel is watery. I'm generally beer adventurous, but extremely disappointed with this beer and having a hard time finishing it. Avoid.

Serving type: can

Reviewed on: 12-29-2011 18:02:11

Grand Design (Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Grand Design--S'mores infused porter by
Flat Earth Brewing. 
On my recent growler quest, I finally got to Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul, the closest brewery to my house.  Backwards, yes, I know.  My poor excuse is that I am always excited about the new brew, and Flat Earth, while relatively new, isn't the newest kid on the block.  I did the tour of the brewery way back in September of 2007 and have always liked Jeff Williamson's beer but was never a zealot.  I've wanted to be a zealot.  It's hard not to cheer on a former teacher turned brewer, especially since I occasionally dream of the lottery ticket that means I don't have to grade a hundred essays over Christmas break.  I recently drank a couple of Flat Earth bottles plus a portion of growler number one to the left, and here's the part where I admit that I was wrong to push Flat Earth to the back of the fridge.

Today's example is Grand Design, a S'more infused version of the standard Cygnus X-1 (Canadian say my notes from 2007) porter.   No idea how a S'more gets into a porter, but it's right on the money for this one.  Good beer for New Year's Eve that a fairly wide range of folks will enjoy.

Hard pour from growler of
Grand Design.  
Dark brown porter that has glistening ruby highlights when back lit by the soft afternoon winter sun.  Tightly bubbled light tan head that's fluffy when poured hard out of the growler.  The growler is near the end and I traveled with it in my trunk after being opened at a recent social gathering.  Unmistakable chocolate and vanilla in the nose with a slight roast and biscuit underneath.  No idea how Jeff makes this into a S'more, but it seems that adding chocolate to the porter's smokey roast is an important element.  Vanilla may be ramped upped too, but I need to taste the Cygnus X-1 again to distinguish which part is the base beer and which part is the infusion.  Next trip.  Smooth and creamy mouthfeel that washes over and lingers nicely.  Again, clear chocolate and vanilla on top of an ever so slightly acrid roast, full sweetness that's not cloying and a full malty goodness.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

900 English Ale (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Listed as English Bitter on the menu, and as a little sibling of  Town Hall Brewery's award winning 1800 IPA, 900 is a surprising little beer that has more to it than expected.

A thin white head falls quickly and disappears over the dark yellow beer with a copper tinge is pretty in the pint, but not overly magnificent and deceives the drinker as to the flavor to come.  Nose is very subtle--light breadiness below an earthy and floral hop.  So far, so good, but the taste is the real trooper for this beer: caramel, bready malt with a respectable hop twang and excellent hop flavor that's redolent of earthy, woodsy and floral.  Nose opens up after 10 min in the glass.  Malt and the English hops shine more.

Extremely clean and well brewed beer.  As an IPA/DIPA/hop addict, this is a beer that delivers a super hop flavor in a session ale without the scorched earth of a hop bomb or the dizzying height of a ABV monster.  While still a sucker for a big beer, this is a pretty amazing beer with a great flavor, a social ale that doesn't skimp on taste.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ondineke (Kleinbrouwerij De Glazen Toren, Erpe-Mere, Belgium)

Glazen Toren Ondineke at the Blue Nile

One bonus of a day off as a teacher is a little extra time to stop and have a beer and say hi to Al at the Blue Nile on a Thursday afternoon.  Only time for one tonight, so asked Al to serve me the best on tap--same as always.  Leftover from the Belg-a-Rama that I was too tired to make on Friday, I found myself with a pretty glass of Glazen Toren Ondineke in front of me.   Al has a review online as well.

Light thin white head with very tight, small bubbles falls to a persistent film on top of a hazy sunset orange beer. Very yeasty nose--pleasant.  Light hop spice, assertive but not pushy, usual for a tripel, blends with a orange zest, lemon, banana and pepper.  Slightly sweet and bready base supports the intricate spice. Full mouthfeel without being heavy.  Yeast and spice continues in the taste, and kicks up a notch compared to the nose.  Dry, spicy aftertaste.  Yeast subdues as it warms so the spiciness can take over.  Pretty incredible beer that's well worth the effort.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

West Side Belgian-Style IPA (Harriet Brewing, Minneapolis, MN)

Drank a growler last weekend from Harriet Brewing, and their West Side Belgian-Style IPA is my new favorite oxymoron.  Just a few years ago this beer wouldn't have made sense, and now it seems to be the flagship and only year round beer of a new brewery.  I do love beer and the beer world that's ever changing.

Fluffy white head builds up with tight clean bubbles.  Pretty golden ale with copper highlights.  My picture is a bit dark compared to reality. For me, this beer is all about the nose.  Big and overwhelming, it perfect for my below average olfactory abilities.  A brazen blend of strong hop and assertive Belgian yeast.  The yeasty characteristics yield to the hops as it warms, and creates a very pleasant temperature cycle that encourages a nice, slow sip over an afternoon or evening.  

Strong saison-like peppery note.  I don't know the yeast, but it's an assertive yeast with strong characteristics, much like yeast determined beers of 't IJ in Amersterdam.  No indication of the hops used except that they are Northwest, but the clear citrusy smell is intriguing.  A blend of lemon zest, grapefruit, lemon, and a slight pine and resin earthiness.  I think the real genius of this beer is how the hop and yeast spices cross each other's boundaries and create something more than the whole.  

Bready malt base supports a clean hop and yeast spice that matches the nose exactly.  40 IBU seems a bit light for the hop punch in the nose, but the yeast is giving amazing support in the spiciness.  Lingering dryness makes this beer a real pleasure to drink.  I see myself returning to the brewery for another growler as a regular habit, especially paired with a second seasonal growler.

A review of Harriet Brewing itself is coming later when I get time to do the tour.   In the meantime, a trip for a growler fill is well worth the effort if you're around Hiawatha and Lake St.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Amon Amarth-Ragnarok (Three Floyd's Brewing, Munster, IN)

Brought a bottle back from FFF in October, and finally got around to drinking it up.  Couldn't find a description online, but remember that it was a dedication to a local band. For a comparative beer point of view, check out Al's review at The Bitter Nib.  If interested in Amon-Amarth, here's their website

From the side of the bottle:
A beer for the end of ages brewed with our friends in the band Amon Amarth. This Aesir Porter is a robust and hearty beer brewed with local honey and a small portion of smoked malt. When Heimdall sounds the Giallar-horn this is the beer to be hoisted by the gods in anticipation of the coming battle.

A brief search says Aesir is the principal race of Norse gods, and I'll admit a lack of knowledge of Norse mythology and the band Amon Amarth, so didn't follow it much from there.

On to the beer:  Light brown head pours thin, tiny bubbled layer that falls with a nice lace.  Seemingly black opaque body, but a closer look makes it a dark chocolate brown.  Clear roast nose with light grassy and pine hop on top.  Intriguing nose that builds some anticipation for the taste, but the taste is similar but muddled.  Roast is a bit acrid in the mouth, and the hop bite is a standard FFF bite but doesn't blend well with the taste.  Irish stout finish.  Nice beer, but doesn't quite pull together one hundred percent.  Perfectly fine with the bottle, and might even try it on tap if it ever appeared again.  

Warmed up, the beer does a bit better.  Hop nose increases and subdues the roast in the nose.  Pine and an earthy note increase.  Balance improves measurably but still not complete.  A nitro push or just a tap taking the rough edges off would be interesting, but I didn't get that chance (and don't know if it was ever on tap).  Good beer that improves with a bit of time and conversation.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Buzz (Los Angeles, CA)

Buzz wine beer shop  
So, Gloria and I were walking across downtown LA towards Angel City Brewing, and we came across Buzz wine beer shop at 460 South Spring St.  If you have been to downtown LA, it's a bit of a wasteland, and I don't mean just a beer wasteland.  A tough neighborhood that's improving very, very slowly, and to see a good beer store was a bit of a surprise.  With expectations raised, we walked in and took a look around.  Being that we had far too much beer at the hotel already, this was just an expedition to see what was there.  In a hurry, I didn't take a specific survey, but the bottles were a very respectable list of west coast big name beers, plus a nice array of Belgians.  Prices seemed reasonable as well, at least for LA.  I take it as a sign that craft beer can move into even unexpected places.

Buzz beer bottle offerings

Taps tasting area in back of  Buzz

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Artic Panzer Wolf (Three Floyd's Brewing, Munster, IN)

From the bottle
Straw gold ale that looks deceptively light in the glass with a fluffy pure white head.  Clearly the head is the snow covered Artic portion of the name of this Imperial IPA.  Two ways to go big with hops--extremely big on top of extremely big, and big on top of lighter; this beer is the latter.  Gives the beer a massive hop nose--bigger than most Imperial India Pale Ales.  Very clean and singular grapefruit in the nose with a subordinate malt base, a bit of pepper, pine and hotness from the 9% alcohol.  Soft bready malt on the tongue--and--there's the bite.  Feeds the hop beast extremely well.  Hops linger nicely and burns out the palate.  From the website, FFF says "Scorched earth is our brewery policy".  This beer proves it.

Brought this bottle back from the FFF brewpub in Munster on our now yearly trek to see our Boilermaker niece Amanda at Purdue.  Very glad to have Three Floyds en route to a regular destination.  Another bottle of APW made its way to my friend Al, so check out his review of the bottle as well.

Below is the review from the tap when we visited last October.  While still the beer I remember, the review below definitely points to a change in the bottle compared to the glass on tap.

From the tap
9% sunset gold DIPA with very little head or lace in the snifter. Not a big nose for all of the 100 IBU hype, but pleasant with a clean pine, orange, grapefruit, light pepper and malt. Resin and oily pine coat the tongue with a sharp, slightly fruity hop bite. Dry, grassy finish to let you know how many hops were sacrificed to the hop god for this one. Flavor warms nicely and the alcohol becomes much more apparent.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Santa's Night Off

To deliver toys to all the world's children in a single night must be very thirsty work.  Luckily, some try to get on Santa's good side by leaving something besides milk and cookies.  Not wanting to drink and fly, he takes the special gifts home to sample after another successful holiday.  Santa and Mrs. Claus begin their vacation with a New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red, an ale as iconic as Santa's suit with its white cap sitting atop a cherry red beer.  The elves put too much coal in the sleigh, so Santa is a bit disgruntled when he gets to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus pours him a pint of Ridgeway Brewing's Bad Elf to take his mind off the evening's mishaps.  After almost a year of hard work, the exhausted elves get the party started with a glass or three of Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewing.  And to insure that he's always popular, Rudolph manages to hide a keg of Big Sky Moose Drool in the back of the sleigh for the reindeer games.  As the celebration continues in the workshop, Santa is feeling better and reflects on the reason for the season and decants a bottle of Westvleteren 12, a Trappist ale from the monks of the Abbey of St. Sixtus.  To be politically correct and include our Judeo-Christian partners, Mrs. Claus opens a bottle of He'Brew Jewbelation from Shmaltz Brewing to wash away their post Hanukkah and Christmas melancholy.  Now a bit more jolly, Santa chuckles merrily as he begins to reminisce over the myriad of beautiful Christmas trees he saw this special night and pops the top on a Peaks Brewpub Spruce Juice, a Belgian ale brewed with pine needles.  Draining the glass and the memories of this season, Santa turns once again to the job at hand with Anchor's Our Special Ale.  As the spiced winter ale with a unique yearly recipe swirls absentmindedly in a snifter, Santa meditates on how he will continue to match the perfect toy to every nice boy and girl, and he drowsily dreams of next Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 12, 2011

15th Anniversary Escondido Imperial Black IPA (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

Bottle Review 
As advertised, this Imperial  Black IPA is jet black and absolutely opaque, even when directly back lit.  Big fluffy brown head that falls slowly and has a heavy lace.  Heavy hop spice in the nose supported by a range of flavors: burnt sugar, heavy roasted malt, black strap molasses, dark fruit--light cherry and heavy fig, grapefruit, and a dense earthiness.  Very excited for the first sip.  Wow.  Give me a second.
Stone 15th Anniversary Imperial Black IPA

Roasted malt and molasses taste is heavy with a burnt note blended with the serious hop bite.  Supported by the wonderful nose, it is an amazingly fun beer to drink.  10.8% alcohol is not apparent in the nose or the taste, but the Imperial part of the title is showing through in every other respect.  Hop lingers on the tongue and rises in the center of the mouth with the roast for a splendid twang.  Dry off the back.  

Warming up. In the meantime, Stone's normal diatribe on the back of the bottle is really a call to arms.  I would recommend reading it on the website instead--I find it hard to read, even with bifocals.  I thought Stone essays to be charming the first time on a bottle of Arrogant Bastard, but now I'm rarely a fan of the languished language on the bottle backs.  I do agree, at least in part, with this essay that there is a danger of pseudo craft and artisan drink and food movements trying to jump on the bandwagon and watering down the progress.  Keeping in mind the Brewers Association's last count of US breweries is at 1,759 with 725 new breweries in planning stages as of last June, the possibility of a beer bust is very real.  Does the beer industry need to pay attention for a potential 1990s style brewery shake out?  Is there a beer bubble that will burst like the craze?  Maybe.  As a consumer, I'm going to enjoy the ride and hope for the best.  Minnesota is most definitely in the middle of the brewery boom--I'm having trouble even keeping track of the forty two breweries now listed on BeerAdvocate for my state.  

As the beer warms, the alcohol becomes apparent in nose and taste, which has little effect except that the hop is more subdued in the nose.  Now the beer exhibits a stronger balance than when cold, so don't be afraid to be busy and drink this one over time.

Souvenirs from first trip to Stone World Bistro
Growler Review
Living in Minnesota, I recently had the rare treat of drinking a bottle of Stone at home and then having it at Stone World Bistro shortly afterwards.  While at Stone, I bought a growler of the Double Dry Hopped 15th Anniversary Ale for the hotel and wasn't disappointed.  I didn't write it down, but a report on BA says it was dry hopped with Motueka and Pacific Gold hops.  In the hotel room, it pours like motor oil--thick, viscous, jet black and then a fluffy brown head piles up.  Massive hop nose--like smelling hop pellets from a freshly opened bag, which rests on top of chocolate, coffee and an acrid, heavy roast.  Roast continues in the taste with an earthy, chewy hop bite and a full mouthfeel.  Very cool beer that I'm glad to have spent some quality time with on my first trip to the Stone World Bistro.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dark Abbey (Harriet Brewing, Minneapolis, MN)

Picked up my first growler from Harriet Brewing tonight.  Very fun place that I will review when I do the tour, hopefully over Christmas break.  I'm on my second glass of this Belgian dubbel tonight, and the 7% ABV is apparent a bit in the nose and more in the feel.  First glass has a huge bubbly head with massive bursts of gas that collapse in a haphazard way.  The irregular head can be seen a bit in the picture.  For the second glass, the off white head formed much more nicely with tight bubbles and a much prettier presentation.

The nose is my favorite part of this beer.  Strong Belgian yeast combined with a superb dark fruit, cherry and fig on top of a heavy chocolate malt base.  Very pretty and intoxicating to breathe in.  Taste doesn't match up to the smell, for me anyway.  However, I like the growler better than my first draft of the beer at the Blue Nile in October.  I'm quite sure Al served it well, but I'm starting to think that I drank it a bit too fast the first time. Warmed up, the taste opens up significantly.  More yeast notes, dark fruits rest on the tongue more, and there's a light spiciness that lingers pleasantly.  On Harriet's website, they add the description of rum-raisin to what I've tasted, and the alcohol note is reminiscent of rum.  I had planned to order a different beer when I walked in the brewery, but the person in front of me literally ordered the last one, so ordering the Dark Abbey with the West Side was the only option left for the day.  As this has been a very pleasant night, thank god for happy accidents.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bourbon Barrel Stout (Odell Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)

Poured a bit hard into a pint glass, the 10.5% ABV imperial stout piles up high with a tan, thick, rocky head that looks like foamy snow drifts after a storm.  Dark black body that's opaque except for fleeting dark maroon highlights that appear with a strong back light.  Nose seems a little subdued, but a quick swirl opens up a very pleasant roast that predominates over bourbon, alcohol hotness, light hop spice and oak.  Creamy roast taste to start the beer, and a clean spice with caramel, malt and vanilla. Odell website description includes coffee, but I get it only after reading it.  For an imperial stout, it has a prickly mouthfeel, seemingly from a carbonic bite which contributes to the very strong head formation.  Letting the bottle warm up while open, the top-off pour forms a more stable and tightly bubbled head.  Might be a bit over-carbonated in the bottle.  Oak off the back of the tongue with a sting of bourbon.

As this beer warms, the dark fruit, especially cherry notes, come out of hiding.  Didn't notice the fruit flavors at all when colder--a solid argument for drinking beer slowly.  A strong beer should improve as it warms--an important trait for big beers for me.  However, for this beer, the mouthfeel thins and the alcohol becomes very hot in the nose with the increased temperature causing the balance to worsen and become acrid.   Nothing is wrong with this imperial stout per se, but tonight's pint lacks a certain pizzazz. Well worth the price of admission for a good beer that won't become a cult hero.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Allies Win the War! (21st Amendment, San Francisco, CA)

I'm struggling with Allies Win the War! as to how much I like this beer.  Nice dishwater brown head that has a light lace and falls to a thick film.  Very interesting nose that clearly has the dates touted in the label there, but a serious hop spice to blend with the dark fruit, lemon, pine, cinnamon or anise on top of a thick bready malt. Nice start.   Taste follows somewhat with the malty base and solid fruit, but the hop doesn't follow through.  The earthy, peppery spice lingers but is subdued.  The blending of flavors seems a bit muddled and fight each other.  Mouthfeel is lighter than I expected from the thick malt in the nose.  As the beer warms, the alcohol becomes very apparent in the nose, and gives the beer a slightly oily feel.

A collaboration ale with Ninkasi of Oregon, they aged the English strong ale on California dates with Northwest hops.  Falconer's Flight hops must be the nose from dry hopping.  The "superpower" pitch for the beer's name seems to be a stretch, but all in good fun for good beer.  Still a very interesting beer, at least on paper.  I could see myself being really excited about this beer at a festival by reading the description, but I'm disappointed with the realization of the prose.  21st Amendment is a go-to favorite of mine and I'm ok with the four pack have in the fridge, but I don't see myself replacing it with another.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This Bud's for Jude

On the first day of the blog, a home town friend Jude made a Facebook comment was that "Budweiser rocks....Just saying."  I have had Budweiser on exactly three occasions in which "This Bud's for You!" actually rocked my world.

The first time was many years ago at the State Fair (pre-2004 since I did this experience well before the brewery tour below).  Anheuser-Busch (AB) set up multiple semi-trailers back to back in which the history and process of Budweiser was detailed.  At the end of the mini-tour, we received some much deserved samples after sitting through the slick advertising presentations.  Those samples are not in my database, but I distinctly remember thinking "If Budweiser was this fresh and cold all the time, it would be a much better beer to drink."  Under perfect conditions, it's a pretty good beer.  Unfortunately, I have only had Budweiser served this well one other time.

The second time Budweiser impressed me was when my wife and I toured AB in St. Louis just before New Year's of 2004.   The historic nature of the grounds, especially the horses and the stables, makes this a very interesting brewery tour.  Also, the massive size of the facility and the ageing tanks were incredible compared to every other brewery tour I've been on, including Miller and Coors.  Again, the samples were fresh and well served, and not typical of what I've tasted in other locations.  Admittedly, I don't test this theory extensively.  Of all of the interesting tidbits on the tour, the discussion of quality control on the tour was the most amazing.  Unfortunately, I've lost the exact details of the lecture to the mists of memory, but the according to the Budweiser website the fifth and final quality check is for a sample of Budweiser to be flown daily from each brewery to St. Louis for a 3 pm tasting.  Samples are cross checked against a standard base and only those that taste like Budweiser are allowed to be bottled.  I recommend the tour for this part alone (minus my snarky comment of "Too bad the taste testers didn't get a job sampling better beer!").  Regardless of a beer geek's opinion of their beer, AB has to be respected for being able to have a Budweiser taste like a Budweiser everywhere in the world.  I can't get two batches of homebrew to taste the same.  AB's accomplishment is truly remarkable.

The most recent time AB made my day was when I tried Brew Master's Reserve All Malt Lager in February 2006.  I saw it on a beer buying trip to Blue Max, and bought it for a Superbowl party we were hosting.    As pulled the wine sized bottle out of its matching box, "All Malt" and other platitudes reminiscent of craft beer stood as as their proof of quality.  When we tried the beer at the party, it was clearly an improvement over Budweiser, but nothing overly special.  A clean, crisp lager with a nice quality--not surprising from AB since that's their specialty.  What was truly special about the bottle--or so I told anyone who would listen--was that this meant the beginning of the end.  I trust AB's marketing research, and if they feel compelled to brew and package anything other than their regular brands, they see the writing on the wall.  In the words of Joey from Friends, "I know that you know that I know!"  I won't attempt to untangle the relationships between AB and regional brewers like Redhook, Widmer, Kona, Goose Island and others; however, AB has clearly worked to diversify it's portfolio into craft and premium brands for some time now, which is a part of the diversified super beer company Anheuser Busch InBev.