Posted by: Michael | 17 January 2013

Brew Review #14: He’Brew Messiah Nut Brown Ale

Beer: He’Brew Messiah Nut Brown Ale

Brewer: Shmaltz Brewing Company, San Francisco, CA and New York, NY

Style: Nut Brown Ale*

ABV: 5.5%

Now that was an unpleasant hiatus. First my sniffer got all jacked up when I had a long cold, and then I’m fairly sure I gave myself the tiniest bit of food poisoning. I should have known that bacon isn’t supposed to be gray around the edges.

I’ve always enjoyed Shmaltz Brewing Company’s religiously-inspired beer names so I grabbed up one of their Messiah Nut Browns. It’s still pretty cold up here in the northland of Indiana – we’re supposed to have lows in the single digits soon – so a nut brown seemed appropriate.

I should say I like the bottle for this one, largely because of the massive amount of information it offers. If you’re a recipe nerd, this’ll be right up your alley:

Messiah I

You can’t see it in the photo I took, but this beer is certified kosher, too. I don’t know of many beers that do that (in fact this is the only one I know for sure does so).

I’d like to give even more background on this beer but Shmaltz’s website isn’t particularly well-designed – most of the information about their product is served up as shelf talkers or images of packaging. The point-of-sale flyer really only includes the awards the beer and brewery have won, with the exception of a mention that this beer is “a complex yet smooth blend of bold dark malts revealing hints of chocolate, coffee, and toffee paired with a lovely hop character.” More on all that below.

Here’s what we’re working with on first pour:

Messiah II

It pours a fairly generous head, about 3/4 of an inch. It receded quickly. The beer itself is a deep, rich brown – it’s got something of a reddish tint if you hold it up to the light. Pleasing to the eye, just as a nut brown ought to be.

The nose was more difficult to get my head around. I probably should have let this beer sit out a bit before I drank it and I’ll keep that in mind for future nut browns – the nose was extremely light and didn’t have much depth to it. I gave it the benefit of the doubt and chalked that up to temperature at the beginning of the tasting but wasn’t all that impressed as time went on. It’s got a typical nut brown nose of nutiness, a little roasted character, but not much else. A very light nose.

The taste of this beer has two components, and I’ll start with the one that didn’t impress me. It’s nutty but not overly so, and the roasted character that you’d associate with a nut brown is almost non-existent. That isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for me but it doesn’t bode well, either. As with the nose I hoped that time – and thus, higher temperatures – would bring me something fun. I was disappointed in that hope. To my palate this particular nut brown was very flat or one-dimensional. It did have that nutty character that you would (oddly enough) associate with a nut brown, but not a whole lot else. I kept waiting…and waiting…and waiting…for some other notes to sneak up on me. They never did. If they are indeed present, they’re far too subtle for my palate to detect.

Now about that second component. This beer is very strangely, yet pleasantly, dry. It’s got something of an astringent quality that makes it quite refreshing in terms of mouthfeel and drinkability. It’s got very little aftertaste (which isn’t a bad thing given that the taste itself wasn’t all that pleasing). Aside from mouthfeel, the fact that this beer is so dry means it would hold appeal for those who do appreciate its light nuttiness beyond the winter months that many (or I, anyway) would associate with nut browns.

Would I recommend this beer to a friend? No, probably not. There are better nut browns out there. Don’t turn it down if someone hands it to you at a party – kudos to them for going out on a limb for you and for many – but I wouldn’t spend much time seeking it out in stores.

If you want a more numbers-oriented breakdown of this beer, you can find me under maskaggs at I’ve switched away from Pintley because I got tired of not being able to find the beers I was drinking in their database and never hearing back on whether new beers were being added or not.

Don’t forget – alcohol is meant to be enjoyed, but it can hurt you and those around you. Drink responsibly – buzzed driving is drunk driving, too. Enjoy your fine brews in moderation, and don’t be afraid to know when it’s time to stop or call for a driver. There’s no shame in handing your keys to someone else. As they say over at Beer Advocate – Respect Beer!

*Links to BJCP Category 23, “Specialty Beer.”

Posted by: Michael | 2 January 2013


I came into a fairly generous haul over Christmas and have even more ample fuel for reviews here. Unfortunately I’ve come down with what everyone else has at this time of the year. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say my palate is out of commission for the moment. I’ve got so many beers I’d love to get started on reviewing, but I can hardly smell and much less taste anything. I’ll be back on the review track as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep an eye on the Twitter feed, where I try to pass along significant or interesting brew news. Cheer!

Posted by: Michael | 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

I’m well aware that The Brew Review isn’t the most popular beer site on the Internet, and I’m just fine with that. However I do want to wish those of you who do visit the site a very merry Christmas. Here’s to hoping your holidays are joyful, restful, and feature plentiful and excellent beer. Cheers to you, TBR readers, and happy holidays!

Posted by: Michael | 24 December 2012

Brew Review #13: Anchor Christmas Ale 2012

Beer: Christmas Ale 2012

Brewer: Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, CA

Style: Winter Warmer / Winter Ale*

ABV: 5.5%

St. Nick left me a bottle of Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale 2012. I thought it only made sense to offer a review of this particular beer today as everyone gears up for holiday celebrations. I’m sure this is available in most high-quality places; hopefully, this review will give you some food for thought as you make your Christmas beer selections.


As Anchor will tell you, the recipe for their Christmas Ale differs from year to to year and remains a brewery secret – good luck figuring out what’s going on in the nuts and bolts of the beer (which could be fun on its own). Let’s start with how this beer looks in the glass. I’ve chosen a version of what Wikipedia calls a “Guinness glass.”


It’s difficult to tell from this image but the beer is a deep, deep red color – so deep that you can really only tell at the bottom of the glass where a tiny bit of light gets through. The rest appears dark brown. As you can see it built up a fairly nice head. The aroma was oddly (and not necessarily unpleasantly) fresh. I expected more of a deep roasted or nutty nose, which was there but not necessarily dominating. I’d say the most remarkable characteristic was actually some sort of red fruit going on in there. There’s also some gentle spice in the background.

When I took my first sip, the question I had in mind was “Will this taste like Christmas?” I’d have to say the answer is actually no. I don’t know what I expected, but I’m not exactly sure my first association with this beer is fir trees, mistletoe, and the like. What would have made it so? Maybe some smokiness, some juniper-y flavors, or even a woodsy note or two. It isn’t necessarily bad that those flavors aren’t here, though. I was stunned at how little roastedness comes out here. There’s certainly a nuttiness on the aftertaste, which lingers pleasantly but not for too long. Those spices I mentioned on the nose also come through just a bit here, with cinnamon, or nutmeg, or clove peeking out from behind everything else.


After a few minutes. Some lacing, but nothing extreme.

The combination of mouthfeel and flavor led me to a quick conclusion: this beer drinks like a cola. If you stuck it in a two-liter bottle and stuck a 21-and-over-only label on it, it would work just as well as it does in Anchor’s excellent bottle. It’s a little thin, and I think that’s my biggest complaint here. I also think that’s probably due more to a disconnect between my own expectations and what Anchor intended for this beer. I expected something creamy, heavy, spice-forward and roasted to the max. This beer isn’t those things.

I should say that I started drinking this beer at a far lower temperature than I would normally prefer. It somehow ended up in our kitchen refrigerator rather than the small one in the palatial Brew Review laboratory. As it warmed up, it became much, much sweeter. I also noted a slight honey scent begin to appear as the beer got warmer, which is extremely pleasant. I suspect that I’d be much happier with this beer if I drank it at a higher temperature (which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it).

Overall impressions? Not bad, and I only hold back on a more positive review due to my own proclivities. I wanted something hearty – something that I knew would warm me up after dragging a tree into the house after trudging through three feet of snow for a few hours. Anchor’s Christmas Ale 2012 isn’t that beer, but it’s quite good for what it wants to do. I would certainly recommend it for someone looking to get into darker ales; it would be an especially good introduction for the beer drinker who wants to move beyond mass-produced yeast water but doesn’t like hop-heavy brews. Plus, the fact that it’s a seasonally unique beer means you’ll have something to look forward to at the end of each year, different every time, which makes for a fun tradition around the holidays. I’ll certainly be asking St. Nick for it again (and perhaps modify my expectations for next year).

I’d include the standard reference to my Pintley account for a more detailed breakdown across presentation categories, but they don’t have this beer listed. I’ve requested it but have yet to hear whether or not it’s gotten its own entry there.

Don’t forget – alcohol is meant to be enjoyed, but it can hurt you and those around you. Drink responsibly – buzzed driving is drunk driving, too. Enjoy your fine brews in moderation, and don’t be afraid to know when it’s time to stop or call for a driver. There’s no shame in handing your keys to someone else. As they say over at Beer Advocate – Respect Beer!

*Links to BJCP Category19A, “Old Ale.”

Posted by: Michael | 22 December 2012

In which Tom Long of MCB deflects your attention

Edit: This post has been updated to refine some of my…shall we say…stronger turns of phrase. This debate needs cool heads to prevail, so I’ve tried to tone myself down a bit here – TBR

I’ve been covering the battle between authentic craft brewers and the multinationals for a few weeks now (see here, here, and here). Today, Tom Long, CEO of MillerCoors, fired his own volley via CNN (I originally picked this up from BeerPulse). So first, the straight story, then I’ll get to why this ought to have you seeing red like it does me.

Long essentially says that the “craft” brands owned by MCB (those quotation marks are mine, not his, as we would disagree on whether MCB’s holdings count as craft) are just as good as any covered by the Brewers Association definition of a craft beer. The core of his article comes at the end, when he writes

“As a large brewer, we do not view the emergence of craft beer as a threat, because we know that innovation is essential to the American beer industry. In fact, we appreciate the vital role craft beers play within our industry. And we believe it’s good for beer that there are more breweries and more brands available to American beer drinkers than at any other time in U.S. history.

We’re determined to continue to play a leading role in that innovation. And whatever style beer you might prefer, all we ask is that you judge us by the quality of the beer in the glass.”

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, Tom. But here’s what gets my goose: if you want drinkers to judge your beer by what’s in the glass, then put your own name on the bottle. Don’t hide behind another brand.

Posted by: Michael | 21 December 2012

Brewers Association plays the nice guy

Yesterday I read on BeerPulse that the Brewers Association was moving away from naming and shaming (rightfully so, I might add) those faux-craft brewers that I’ve written about here and here to a more positive message of listing those breweries that do fall under the craft category. I’d actually never seen the offenders list, so I was relieved to see BeerPulse linked to it here.

Of course this is a classy move on the part of the BA, and kudos to them for doing so. But I’m not as nice. I hate seeing big-name brewers slapping a “craft-like” name and some indy-looking artwork on their packaging in order to trick the consumer into thinking they’re buying something that a small brewer has put a lot of time, money, and effort into buying. This is an especially egregious practice in markets that have small breweries that deserve the business of local beer drinkers. Thus, I’m going to reproduce here the BA list of non-craft brewers, who fall outside the BA criteria of (a) “Brewery annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less”; (b) “Less than 25% of the brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer”; and (c) “A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers [sic] brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor”:

10th & Blake

Anheuser-Busch Inc. (A-B)

August Schell Brewing Co.

Blue Moon Brewing Co. at the Sandlot


City Brewing Co.

City Brewing / Blues City Brewery

Coastal Brewing Co.

Craft Brew Alliance

D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc.

Dixie Brewing Co. Inc.

Fordham Brewing Co.

Goose Island

Iron City Brewing Co.

Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co.


Leinenkugel’s 10th Street Brewery

Lion Brewery Inc.

Mendocino Brewing Co.



Milwaukee Premium Brewing Co.

Minhas Craft Brewery

Narragansett Brewing Co.

North American Breweries – Magic Hat

North American Breweries – Pyramid Brewery

Old Dominion Brewing Co.

Olde Saratoga / Kingfisher Brewing Co.

Pigs Eye Brewing Co., LLC

Rheingold Brewing Company

Shock Top

Straub Brewery

Western Pennsylvania Brewing Co.

Winery Exchange Inc. / World Brews


None of which is to say you shouldn’t buy from these companies. I won’t be doing so, but perhaps their beer is to your liking. I just despise their marketing tactics, which are a slap in the face to authentic brewers who care about more than having a diverse lineup that includes such gems as Bud Select 55, which makes the ludicrous claim that “a light beer isn’t worth drinking if lightness is all it has to offer.” Shouldn’t that be its greatest selling point, given that the URL I just linked to ends with “worlds-lightest-beer”? What a joke.


Posted by: Michael | 13 December 2012

Storm’s threatening

…or, at least, I hope so.

I tweeted yesterday about a St. Louis Dispatch article by the Brewer’s Association’s Charlie Papazian, Bob Pease, and Dan Kopman on the increasing prominence of faux craft beers, put out by the likes of A-B InBev and MBC/SABMiller. I wrote about my own experience with this bait-and-switch crock a few weeks ago. Today I see via Beer Street Journal that the Brewer’s Association has put out a press release, calling attention to the multinationals’ shameful marketing practice; I have to fistpump the core message:

“The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.”

If folks want to drink the products of A-B InBev and SABMiller, then by all means please do so. That’s a personal choice to make. But passing off their product as the fruit of some small brewer’s blood, sweat, and tears effort is bullshit, and it needs to end.

Posted by: Michael | 12 December 2012

Brew Review #12: New Belgium 1554

Beer: 1554

Brewer: New Belgium,Fort Collins, CO

Style: Black Ale*

ABV: 5.6%

Last week I stopped by one of South Bend’s Belmont Beverage locations in search of New Belgium Snow Day (I was successful and then some). While there I noticed they had six packs of the New Belgium’s 1554; seeing as I had found Snow Day and the Winter Folly sampler, the wallet wasn’t generous enough for another six. But I did find a single of 1554, which I promptly decided to buy. New Belgium writes that “in 1997, a Fort Collins flood destroyed the original recipe,” resulting in a trip to Belgium where their researchers “retrieve[d] this unique style lost to the ages…a highly quaffable dark beer with a moderate body and mouthfeel.” Let’s see just how quaffable this ale is. I’ll give it some careful tasting and then indulge in a few quaffs to see if this is something I’d enjoy drinking mindlessly with friends. I’m back in the palatial Brew Review laboratory so I can offer photos this time. First, the bottle and the glass I’ll be drinking out of. I’m using a Westmalle Trappist goblet, as it seems to be closest to what New Belgium recommends. I’ve also got to say that I just love New Belgium’s bottles – I don’t know why, but the shape of them is great.

Westmalle goblet


Appearance: 1/2 inch head on pour. Reddish coffee color. Slight head later; very little lacing.


Nose: Fruity –  I recently had Frambozen for the first time, so some sort of sweet berry like raspberries seems to be sneaking around there. Undercurrent of roastedness, not prominent – very subtle. For how sweet it is, it’s very clean.

Flavor: The “roastedness” on the nose really comes out. The berries / fruit taste almost entirely disappears until the aftertaste, when a grape flavor very quickly rears its head and then disappears again when the beer is cold. As it warms up, though, those grapes really come out in a pleasant way – the roasted flavors back it up, making it rich.  With more time, as the beer gets warmer, those fruity flavors fade away, leaving you with a slightest roasted blandness. Letting it sit for a while and warm up brings that nutiness back to the fore.

Mouthfeel: This is very smooth. It’s a little watery for my taste, but I can see it being a non-issue for many (and indeed it isn’t a huge problem for me.)

Overall, this isn’t a bad beer. I wouldn’t consider it New Belgium’s finest offering, but its fruity character would make it accessible to those who may not particularly enjoy black ales all the time. I’d be interested to see what the flavor profile tastes like if drinking it out of the bottle instead of a glass – I can’t decide if I think the fruit or the roasted notes would take prominence.  In the final assessment I’d say this is a fine beer to drink if it’s on special, but I probably wouldn’t shell out $6-$7 for it.

For a better breakdown of the individual components of this beer – for those of you looking for a numerical score, that is – check out my review on Pintley. They don’t allow links back to their site, but I can be found under the username maskaggs.

Don’t forget – alcohol is meant to be enjoyed, but it can hurt you and those around you. Drink responsibly – buzzed driving is drunk driving, too. Enjoy your fine brews in moderation, and don’t be afraid to know when it’s time to stop or call for a driver. There’s no shame in handing your keys to someone else. As they say over at Beer Advocate – Respect Beer!

*Links to Category 16E, Belgian Specialty Ale, of the BJCP.

Posted by: Michael | 11 December 2012

Watering Hole Spotlight: Sergio’s World Beers

Mrs. Brew Reviewer and I got married in August of 2011. Prior to the wedding I was fortunate enough to enjoy the American pre-matrimonial ritual par excellence – the bachelor party. For the evening’s outing I elected to have dinner at the New Albanian Public House (which I’ll have to discuss in the future) with drinks to follow at Sergio’s World Beers in Louisville.

There are two things you need to know about Sergio’s. For one, it’s one of the most important places for beer lovers – if not the most importance place for them – in Louisville. If you want any credibility as a serious imbiber of the brew, you must go to Sergio’s. End of story. Second, Sergio’s is not where you take that girl you just met out on a date. Don’t take your bros here to impress them with how many Grey Gooses and OJ you can afford, either. And forget taking your parents out for a classy drink. Why the warning? Think early 1980s new home construction basement. Drop ceilings, fluorescent lights, rickety ceiling fans. Old diner tables and booths. Little separation between customer and employee spaces. [Of course, don’t forget – I’m recollecting all of this through them…ahem…fog…of a bachelor party. Since we moved away right after, I haven’t been able to return.].

That’s the sort of place Sergio’s is. Which is not to knock it for its appearance – the place just doesn’t really care about what it looks like. Sergio knows what kind of place he wants to run, and it functions extremely well as a beer joint of the highest caliber, with no bells or whistles to take away from the main focus. You’ll find refrigerators lining the walls of the bar, all of which are open for your own access. Sergio’s doesn’t mess around with fussy wait staff – you get up and get your own beer, thank you very much. They’ll come take a food order and leave your check, but they won’t bug you every three minutes. Those beer fridges in the kitchen are open for you to peruse, too, so don’t mind the cook as he squeezes by with someone’s dinner. There’s a well-stocked tap, to be sure, and you can find more than plenty to drink there: Sergio’s tap selection beats just about anyone.

There is no dance floor. You will not be picking up women or men at this bar. You will not be playing beer pong in the backroom or downing liquor-and-beer drinks named after horrific events in international history. There is no speaker system permanently set to bro rock. You go to Sergio’s because you love beer. And if you go to Sergio’s because you love beer, you will most certainly love Sergio’s. If heaven is a brewery, Sergio’s is the waiting room.

Sergio’s World Beers


1605 Story Avenue

Louisville, Kentucky 40206


Posted by: Michael | 11 December 2012

New directions?

            With the academic semester winding down, I thought I’d try and do a little more to get The Brew Review off the ground. I’m done with my own formal responsibilities; while I wrap up undergraduate administrative duties and turn to more leisurely school pursuits, I’ve got a little bit of spare time to devote to the blog. Of course I want (and need) the next few weeks to be restful, but I’d also like to see more content on this site. With that in mind I’ve set myself a goal: post 1 page’s worth* on the blog as often as possible. Every day is the ideal, but I’ve made promises to myself like that before and it doesn’t exactly go over all that well.

            As much as I’d like to post a review every day, I’ve got neither the time nor the money for that – the beers that I feature here are paid for out of my pocket (and happily so). So perhaps this could also be a space for more creative thinking. Obviously the beer itself – how it looks, smells, tastes, and feels – is the main point here, but I also enjoy musing on the deeper side of the wonderful beverage. Who made it? Why do we drink it? What does each beer say about a specific place and time? After all, there’s a reason that beer is so damn good, beyond the fact that it works as an excellent conversational lubricant and makes us feel like philosophers after a few. Or at least there’s a reason beyond that for me. I’ve had beer that literally made me want to stop in the middle of my conversation and just sit there: it was so wonderful. I’ve also had beer that made me wonder what in the world the brewer was smoking when he put it all together, it was so terrible. There’s got to be something to that, and I’d like to explore it publicly here.

            There are tons of beer news and opinion sites out there. There are tons that are far more established than mine, with vastly larger readerships, generous advertisers, and connections to the industry. I realize that this is not one of those sites, and that’s OK. I’m happy for my little corner of the Internet on which I can raise a glass.

* – measured as 1 page in Microsoft Word, on Times New Roman size 12 font, double-spaced. Call it a few hundred words.

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