Review: Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is a beer of mystery.  Why two hearted?  It has a picture of a trout on the bottle label, and as far as I know they come standard with one heart.  And gramatically, shouldn’t there be a hyphen in the name, as in ‘two-hearted’?  Then there’s the issue of the brewer itself.  Bell’s was founded by Larry Bell as Kalamazoo Brewing Company and, while moving the brewery just outside the Michigan town, it still maintains a strong presence in the municipality.  The song “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1942 Glenn Miller film vehicle “Orchestra Wives” starring, among others,  George Montgomery and Cesar Romero (and Glenn Miller, of course).  Anyway, the song has this line in it: “Hiya Mister Jackson everythng is A-O-K-A-L-A-M-A-Z-O / oh what a gal …”, yet, according to IMDb, there is no character in the movie with the last name Jackson.  Who is Mister Jackson and what is he doing in the song?

What’s not a mystery is why Bell’s Two Hearted Ale has developed such a following.  It’s an IPA that shows a little restraint.  Hey, I enjoy the IBU arms race as much as the next hophead, but sometimes it seems as if the focus on hops has a “these go to 11” vibe to it.  Apparently I’m not the only one.  I’ve mentioned this New Yorker profile of Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione before where the issue is touched upon:

“We are trying to explore the outer edges of what beer can be,” Calagione says. But the idea makes even some craft brewers nervous. “I find the term ‘extreme beer’ irredeemably pejorative,” Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, told me recently. “When a brewer says, ‘This has more hops in it than anything you’ve had in your life—are you man enough to drink it?,’ it’s sort of like a chef saying, ‘This stew has more salt in it than anything you’ve ever had—are you man enough to eat it?’ ”

I don’t think I’m being pejorative if I say that Two Hearted Ale is not an extreme beer.  I certainly don’t mean it to be perjorative in any way.  It has the assertive floral hops aroma and tongue-tingling finish that a good IPA should have, but there is nothing overpowering about them.  They’re distinct, but there’s a nice transition from the subtle sweetness of the malt to the pleasing bitterness at the finish.  The color is clear and golden with readily visible carbonation and a finger’s width of head that laces nicely on the side of the glass.  Carla made special note of the pleasing mouthfeel.  There’s nothing about this beer that gets in the way of savoring it.

If I were trying to explain to someone what an IPA was supposed to taste like, I’d hand them one of these.  Is it my favorite of all time?  I don’t know.  I haven’t tried them all.  But I like this one.

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale:  A
ABV: 7%

(Yeah, another beer not from Budweiser gets an ‘A.’  Full disclosure: we’ve bootstrapped the reviews with stuff we already tend to drink, and — surprise — we like what we tend to buy.  We’ve stocked up on things that aren’t the usual suspects for us recently, however, and I strongly suspect we’re going to be seeing some variability in the ratings real soon now)

UPDATE: You owe it to yourself to go to the comments and read the one from … wait for it … Glenn Miller III about who “Mister Jackson” is.  Hours after the comment came in, I’m still walking on air.  Thank you, Mr. Miller.

A Year of Beer: Rock Bottom’s Tappings for 2009

When we were at Rock Bottom Thursday night for the Buffalo Gold Ale Mug Club tapping, Brewmaster Mitch shared with us several upcoming events that will be happening at the downtown brewpub.

First of all, the next Chef and Brewer Dinner will be Wednesday, January 21st at 6:30pm. This one will have a Winter Harvest theme. The menu is as follows:

  • Appetizer: Hearth Roasted Cedar Planked Salmon with a Honey and Rosemary Glaze – Paired with our Cincinnati American Light Lager
  • Salad: Whole Grain Harvest Salad with Spinach tossed in a Cherry Balsamic Dressing – Paired with our White Tiger Hefeweitzen
  • Entrée: Bacon and Blue Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon served with Horseradish Whipped Potatoes and a Wild Mushroom and Green Bean Ragout – Paired with our Brown Bear Brown Ale
  • Dessert: Carmel Pecan Bread Pudding with Homemade Carmel Sauce – Paired with our Old Curmudgeon Scotch Ale

The cost is $35.00 a person (excluding tax and gratuity) and you need to call 513-621-1588 for reservations. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to miss this one, but the ones we’ve attended in the past have been exceptional.

Next, we happened to get the list for all of the Rock Bottom tapping for this coming beer. And they look amazing and intriguing:

February 19 – Fire Chief Ale, March 12 – Lumpy Dog Porter, April 16 – Catcher in the Rye IPA, May 7 – Goat Toppler Mai Bock, June 4 – Happy Pilsner, July 2 – American Dream, August 6 – Silver Mullet Mild, September 17 – Rocktoberfest, October 15 – Pumpkin Ale, November 12 – Liquid Sun Belgian Tripel, December 10 – St. Nick’s Barley Wine

Don’t you just love the names? I’m really looking forward to trying the Catcher in the Rye IPA. You can find this listing both on the Local Events page and the Rock Bottom page here at Hoperatives. It will also show up on our Upcoming Local Events roll as these events draw nearer.

Yeah, we tried it: Budweiser American Ale

So this is the third review I’ve written for the site.  Both of the previous beers have gotten “A” grades from me, and I stand by them.  I do worry, though, that new readers (hey, it’s not like we have any longtime readers) might take me for a pushover. Besides, if you think I got it wrong, that’s what the comment section is for.  Plus, if you’re an official Hoperative (which means you’ve sent us an e-mail asking us to be one), you can write your own review and send it to us.  We’ll put it up.  You didn’t know that because I just made it up, but Carla agrees so we’re good.

Today I’m reviewing Budweiser American Ale in a review category we’re calling “Yeah, We Tried It.”  That should be a tip-off that the fine folks (and I mean that sincerely) in St. Louis (or Leuven, Belgium, for that matter) probably shouldn’t be expecting an ‘A.’  And I’m sure they’re in the process of alerting the media right now as a result.

It’s obvious to anyone who has two brain cells to rub together that this was Anheuser-Busch’s (now A-B InBev) attempt to blunt the craft beer movement.  Logically this has a couple of problems.  First, I don’t think anyone who’s really into craft beer has been waiting around hoping against hope that they could buy once again buy something with Budweiser on the label.  Secondly, while it may not be to my personal preference, a lot of people really seem to like plain old Budweiser.  They sell enough of it, after all, and have for a very long time. That counts for something.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, and all that.

What I really don’t get, though, is why they went with an ale instead of a lager.  Lagers are their heritage.  It’s in their DNA, for crying out loud.  I know the motto of the flagship brand is “America’s Great Lager” which doesn’t leave a lot of room for another one (“America’s Other Great Lager” probably wouldn’t cut it), but c’mon, just do an Amber Lager and call it ‘Budweiser Amber’ and stick it in the fancy bottle.  Better yet,  do a Pilsner and be done with it. Heck, as light and carbonated as regular Budweiser is, I’d really be kind of jazzed to see how they’d do a Pilsner.  A Budweiser beer using their traditional brewing style with an actual malt and hops flavor, that’s something I could get behind.

Alas, they decided to do an ale instead.  So with no further ado, I’ll talk about the beer they did make instead of the one they should have made:

It’s a gorgeous amber color with a lot of carbonation.  The head doesn’t hang around.  It smells like caramel malt.  It tastes like caramel malt.  There are no other discernible flavors.  Apparently no hops were harmed in the making of this beer.  OK, intellectually I know the hops have to be there, but to me the malt overwhelms them.  The malt flavor dissipates quickly at the end, and I’m assuming that’s the effect of the hops.  It’s a one-note beer.  It’s certainly not unpleasant.  If you like really malty beers, you might like this more than I do.

If offered this beer and a regular Bud, I’d check to see if they had caffeine-free diet Coke before making up my mind.  If the Coke wasn’t an option, I’d might pick the regular Bud. It knows what it’s trying to be.

Snarkiness aside, I really was hoping for better.

Budweiser American Ale:  C+

Review: Rock Bottom Cincinnati Buffalo Gold Ale

You know when you’re talking to someone about some problem that you really can’t do anything about and you reach a kind of lull?  And to fill the dead space the other person leans back a little with an air of smug resignation?  You know what’s coming, right?  You wait for it like you would for the sound of Fran Drescher reading The Wasteland.

“Well you know,” he or she intones, “It is what it is.”

I hate that.

I bring this up not because I especially want to have the phantom sound of Fran Drescher reading The Wasteland running through my head all day, but to illustrate in the stupidest way possible the problem of reviewing a Golden Ale.

Golden Ales are not, by their nature, big beers.  They’re not supposed to be.  If you’re looking for a beer to challenge your palette and make you question the fundamental structure of the universe, this ain’t it.  That’s not to say that it can’t be a very good beer, you just have to be prepared to accept it on it’s own terms.

Mitch Dougherty, the brewmaster at Rock Bottom Cincinnati, has brewed a very good Golden Ale.  In his comments at the tapping last night, he said his goal was to be very similar to the Buffalo Gold brewed at Boulder Beer Company in Colorado. Despite the name, the color is really more of a golden copper rather than straight yellow.  It has an almost creamy head, and the carbonation is quite visible in the glass.  I’m not one of those people who can smell something and say “Ah, this has the definite nose of pomegranate that was picked on a … wait … yes … Thursday” (that would be Kevin over at My Wine Education), but I definitely picked up some berry, of all things, in the aroma.  Could even be strawberry.  Not a lot.  Just a hint.  The taste?  Smooth.  Not too hoppy, not too malty, but there’s some body. Of the regular Rock Bottom offerings, it’s close in color to the Tall Stacks Ale, but it’s far less malty, yet it’s more complex than, say, the Cincinnati American Light.

There’s nothing to offend, and that, in the end, is the main selling point.  This is a good beer for someone who might be a bit nervous about trying something other than one of the usual Bud, Miller, or Coors.  If it’s someone who doesn’t like beer, he or she isn’t going to like this either, because it’s definitely beer, but it’s a good gateway to the world of (wait for it) better beer. At first blush winter seems to be an odd time to do a lighter beer like this, but Carla noted that there is something in the finish that’s a little warming.  Almost a tingle.

Give it a try.  Let me know what you think, I’m just one guy, you know?

Rock Bottom Cincinnati Buffalo Gold Ale:  A

Prohibition Resistance Tour 2009 is on!

Steve Hampton of the Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (OTR Brewery District CURC for the short-of-breath) dropped us a line to let us know that the 2009 Prohibition Resistance Tour is being planned March 7 & 8 during Bockfest.  Carla and I tried to go last year, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  It was rescheduled (the event, not the weather), but, alas, the rescheduled date conflicted with another commitment.

This year we are so there.

You can get specific details about the here, but I’d encourage you to take a look around the www.otrbrewerydistrict.org site.  Better yet, get involved!  Cincinnati has always been a home for believers in better beer, and this organization is all about preserving that heritage and moving it forward.

Short Hops: Random Notes from All Over

  • Rock Bottom Cincinnati’s Brewmaster Mitch Dougherty will be tapping a brew he’s calling Buffalo Gold Ale at 6:00 PM tonight.  Carla and I will be there to cover the festivities (and review the beer).  Stop in if you have a chance.  Look for us and say ‘hi.’  We’ll be auditioning various Hoperatives secret handshakes.
  • BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Tri-County Mall should have their annual Grand Cru back on draft.  We were there last weekend were told that they blew though two kegs almost immediately.  They were to have it back on tap this past Monday.  According to their website there is a special commemorative glass for this year’s edition.
  • Stone Imperial Russian Stout goes exceptionally well with stroopwafles.  What’s a stroopwafle?  It’s a dollop of caramel-y syrup sandwiched between two very thin waffle cookies. (Wikipedia has an article, of course).  It’s one of the approximately 6,876,345 things I’d never heard of that Carla introduced me to and now can’t live without.  She was introduced to them when she lived in the Netherlands for a while.  Call it a Dutch treat?  Nah, too easy.
  • Want to be a Hoperative?  Drop us an e-mail at rollcall@hoperatives.com with your name and location and we’ll add you to the list.  Later on, your number could win you riches fame swag.

New Beer Tasting Added at Party Town

Just received this message from Party Town in Florence:

The party people at Party Town would like to invite YOU to a special new thing we came up with a few minutes ago. Introducing: FRIDAY NIGHT FLIGHT with Eugene Platinum. That means this Friday, and the following ones too, we would like very much if you and any 21 or over friends you may have would come in and try some beer with us from 6pm-7pm. This week we will be spotlighting the Great Divide Brewery, winners of twelve G.A.B.F. medals, four World Beer Cup awards, and current seventh highest rated brewery worldwide by Beer Advocate. So please come in and see us or Eugene will get bored. Thanks and good day.

Party Town – Florence
Location: 6823 Burlington Pike, Florence, KY 41042 (Between Office Depot and Big Lots)
Phone: (859) 371-4466

Review: Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

It would be silly to deny that there’s a rivalry between Cincinnati and Cleveland.  It crops up a few times a year, mainly when the Reds play the Indians and Bengals play the Browns, but it’s always there.  Given that I’m not originally from around here I’m not into the rivalry all that much.  Heck, I live in Kentucky.  I’m confident, though,  that both Cincinnati and Cleveland beer drinkers can set aside their differences long enough to lift a toast and agree that Great Lakes Brewing Company is one of Ohio’s great resources.  Then, I suppose, they can go back to throwing empty bottles at each other.

Edmund Fizgerald Porter is one of the five beers always available from the 21-year-old brewing operation.  It’s dark, almost opaque, with a creamy head that builds during the pour and hangs around.  There are distinct, but not overpowering (or over-roasted), coffee notes underneath and a perhaps a hint of chocolate.  More of a suggestion of chocolate.  A subliminal suggestion.  OK, I wanted chocolate as I was drinking it; It sent those signals.  The finish is nice in that you get a little lift of hops and you think “OK, here it comes,” but then … nope …. done.  It’s a grace note.  The effect is entirely pleasant.

This is a beer to cozy up with.

We haven’t instituted our rating system yet, but Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is a very, very good beer gets an A.

Edmund Fizgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing Company:  ABV: 5.8%, IBU: 37.

UPDATE:  Turns out, as Carla reminded me just after posting this this morning, that we have instituted our rating system. We’re both academics to varying degrees (her more than me), so there’s nothing like the good ol’ letter +/- system.

Short Hops for 1/5/09

No more free beer at SeaWorld or Busch Gardens: http://tinyurl.com/9cj46u

The latest in Shiner Brewery’s anniversary beer series will be a Doppelbock called Shiner 100: Commemorator: http://tinyurl.com/7j5jvv

Want to be a Hoperative? Just drop an email message to rollcall@hoperatives.com with your name and location to join our ranks and get your roll call number. Later on, your number could win you prizes. Single digit numbers are going fast gone already!

A little tour around the new place

So far I’ve been doing most of the posting because Carla has been very busy doing some of the heavy lifting behind the scenes. You’ll notice over there on the left that there’s a navigation menu broken out into a number of categories. I hope you’ve take a look around, because that’s where you’ll find the fruits of her labor: In a short period of time she’s made a great start on creating a resource that we hope you’ll find useful. Want to know what beers your favorite beer store has on tap in their growler program? We’ll have them here, updated with the most recent information we can get our hands on.

(By the way, do you own an establishment that fits into one of the categories? Let us know who you are and what you’re doing. We want this to be as comprehensive a resource as we can make it. We’re making the rounds as quickly as we can, but you don’t have to wait on us.)

The events list to the right will always show the next five events we know about, but you can get a more comprehensive view from the full Calendar link on the left.  One event that I’m already looking forward to with great anticipation is the 2nd Annual Midwest Winter Beer Festival slated for February 6-7 at the Radisson Cincinnati Riverfront in Covington, KY.  In many ways, last year’s event planted the seeds for this blog.  It’s well-organized, an incredible value and benefits an outstanding non-profit organization:  the Big Joe Duskin Education Foundation.  This event is an absolute can’t-miss.  Start making your plans.

In the upcoming week you can expect to see some reviews, including one in a category we’re calling “Yeah, We Tried It.”  That’s where we’ll review beers you’ve been curious about, but don’t want to be seen buying.  This week’s entry:  Budweiser American Ale.

Yeah.  We tried it.

We’ll also take a look at Mt. Carmel’s Copper Ale and probably a couple of others to to kick us off.  And we’ll be at Rock Bottom Thursday evening for the tapping of the Buffalo Gold Ale.

Look for us.  We’ll be the ones with the beer.