Beer Review: Victory Classic

Name: Victory Classic’: Easy Drinkin’ Lager
Brewing Company: Victory Brewing Company
Location: Downingtown, PA
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 4.8%

“Victory’s newest Lager, Classic is a flavorful cooler-filler for summer, tailgating, or any time you want a tasty beer.”

From Victory Brewing’s page for Classic:

Perfectly balanced and exceptionally drinkable, this lager is expertly crafted with specialty hops, malt and yeast to be the standard of refreshment.

Classic is the definition of drinkable with pilsner malt and Hallertau hops bringing perfect balance to this 4.8% refresher for game day, happy hour, mowing the lawn and everything in between.

In what will likely not come as a surprise to anybody who has read this blog over the last couple of years, the first non-NJ beer to be reviewed here in two months is relatively* local and from one of my favorite breweries, Victory Brewing. A few months ago, the venerable MyBeerBuzz blog posted that Victory Brewing was releasing a new‡ lager. I was very excited since Victory crafts lagers so well (Prima Pils, Festbier, Home Grown, Hip Czech Pilsner, Schwarz Pils, etc).

*I’m about 15 minutes from Pennsylvania border and Victory is close enough driving distance that I’ve visited a couple of times.

‡ For the most part, Classic seems to be a slightly reworked recipe (a slightly lower IBU) of their longtime mainstay Helles Lager which was a very good beer (which itself was rebranded from V Lager.

So, how does Classic stack up against other Helles Lagers and some of those aforementioned lagers from Victory?

The beer pours a perfect see-through yellow, much like many of the beers I’ve been reviewing lately. I don’t get too much of an aroma other than a fairly standard beer aroma. First sip is inviting, a beer that is refreshing. There’s that “beer that tastes like beer” thing going on all over the place with Classic on first impression. Victory; however, has crafted a more layered beer than that.

For Helles Lagers and Pilsners, I like the bready element to be present, which is the case with Classic, while the hop presence is quite mild and not bitter, which again, is what I like in a Helles Lager. I’ll take some mild hop bite in a Pilsner, but a Helles Lager, especially one labeled as an “Easy Drinkin’ Lager” should lean towards mild floral and fruit evocations in the hops, and not the bitterness. That mild hint of floral and fruity was something I noticed more when I had the beer the second time a day later (since I had two beers prior to Classic the first time I had the beer). In other words, the hops do what they are supposed to do in a beer like this and play very nicely with the bready elements from the malt.

A beer like this is deceptively simple in taste and presentation, but to achieve an elegance like this requires the kind of expertise that Ron Barchett and Bill Covaleski, the two masterminds behind Victory Brewing, have honed and shown over the years. I’m not sure how long the process took to refine the recipe for Classic or how long they worked on the previous Helles Lager recipe to get to this beer, but they’ve found success.

Classic is an especially welcome beer because it is a tasty new lager addition to a line-up that has strongly leaned towards IPAs and Monkeys the last couple of years. (Not that I don’t like their monkeys and IPAs!) Victory has been releasing some really interesting new beers over the last couple of years (Twisted Monkey, Cloud Walker, Easy Ringer), but this is their first new Lager in a few years and one I will definitely have in regular rotation.

Bottom line: Victory Classic is a welcome addition to Victory’s year-round lineup and of the quality I’ve come to expect from Victory Brewing’s lagers. I’d also slot Victory Classic in the top half of the Helles Lagers I’ve had over the last few years.

There’s an old advertising slogan, “Does exactly what it says on the tin” and considering the bottom of the can states “Easy Drinkin’ Lager that slogan is most apropos for Classic – the beer is flavorful, easy drinking at 4.8% ABV, and a beer you can enjoy without over-analyzation (says the guy with a 3-year old beer blog).

I want to also point out the can art, too. Eye-popping, great red-white-blue color scheme, which comes across a reflection of the beer inside.

The last anecdotal point is similar to a point I made in the the last non-NJ beer I reviewed (Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Narwhal): Victory Classic, is the 40th unique beer from Victory I’ve logged in untappd.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Ashton Brewing’s Jersey Dreamin’

Name: Jersey Dreamin’
Brewing Company: Ashton Brewing Company
Location: Middlesex, NJ
Style: Pilsner – Czech
ABV: 5.7%

“Ashton’s second canned beer is a superb interpretation of the classic lager.”

From Ashton Breiwng’s forpage for beers:

Jersey Dreamin’ is our Czech style Pilsner. It pours with a rich creamy white head and a burst of floral/spicy Saaz hops. Honey, cracker and spice all pop in the flavor and it finishes clean and balanced and says let’s have another!

Ashton Brewing is one of the newest New Jersey breweries (as of the date of this post, June 9, 2020), but they had the unfortunate timing to have had their grand opening scheduled when the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down public gatherings. They took over the former Demented Brewing facility in Middlesex, NJ, redid the interior and launched their brews. Despite the challenge they faced in the current times Ashton pushed forward, sold crowlers and growlers of their beers to what I’ve seen to be positive response. Shortly after they opened, Ashton began canning their beer, including this delightful Pilsner which is the second beer they canned.

Pilsners are one of my favorite styles and I’m always excited when a smaller brewery decides to craft any kind of lager, especially when a new brewery does their second canning run as a Pilsner. As soon as it was available I placed on online order and picked up a six pack at the brewery. As a result, I was check in number three to this beer in untappd, so I was also very happy to be one of the first to try the beer. Good thing the beer was delicious!

Visually, if you were to put this beer side-by-side with the last Pilsner I reviewed (also a Czech Pilsner), you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the same beer. That’s a good thing because this clear and clean, golden yellow beer is largely what I would expect a pilsner to look like. The aroma gives off some hops and maybe some crackery/breadiness from the malt. More good signs for Jersey Dreamin’.

That first sip immediately becomes a gulp. Simply put, Jersey Dreamin’ is a delicious Pilsner.

Some Pilsners lean towards a breadiness/cracker element from the malt, some have a floral/fruity finish and some strike a balance between the two. Jersey Dreamin strikes that balance really nicely. It isn’t as “crackery” as some pilsners I’ve had – which is by no means a slight – but it has a full flavor whose elements come together really cleanly.

I spent a long Saturday afternoon in the sun doing yardwork the weekend after getting the six pack. My reward was this beer and it hit the spot perfectly, the beer was extremely flavorful, abundantly refreshing – an elevated “lawnmower” beer, if you will.

Many breweries who start up, at least in New Jersey, launch their canning program with multiple IPAs or some dark beers like porters & stouts. While Ashton’s first canned beer was their IPA, the fact that their second beer to be canned was a Pilsner – a style that has zero wiggle room for mistakes that can be hidden by adding more hops or adjuncts – is impressive. It shows confidence in the quality of the product they are sharing with consumers. Steve Ashton has a long history of brewing and working in the brewing industry in some capacity and that knowledge and confidence in his ability shows in this elegant and delicious Pilsner. This beer is good enough that it could be their flagship beer and a Pilsner that Lager-enthusiasts should definitely seek out. I for one can’t wait to have fresh draught of this Pilsner once the Pandemic concludes.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Ashton is accepting online orders for local delivery and pick up

Beer Review: Yards Brewing’s Loyal Lager

Name: Loyal Lager
Brewing Company: Yards Brewing Co.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Style: Lager – American
ABV: 5%

A new Lager from a brewery known primarily for Ales is a welcome addition to their portfolio.

From Yards Brewing’s Page for Loyal Lager:

PHILLY’S HOMETOWN LAGER

25 years after opening our first garage brewery in Manayunk, we’ve built our dream brewery in the heart of the city – all thanks to our fans who have been loyal since the beginning. As a sign of our gratitude, we’ve used our new world-class brewing system to create Loyal Lager: a crisp, easy-drinking American Craft Lager brewed with two-row malt and aromatic Loral hops. It’s what a clean, high-quality lager is meant to be.

When a brewery as renowned as Yards is and has been brewing beer for as long as Yards has been brewing beer introduces a new year-round beer to its core line-up, it is noteworthy. Especially when that beer is a Lager, considering that Yards is primarily a brewer of Ales. Yards has been “brewing Philly’s beer since 1994” and you’ll see much of their advertising/marketing indicating they are “Philadelphia’s Brewery,” which considering they are the largest operating brewery in Philadelphia is a fair statement. All that makes “Philly’s Hometown Lager” a logical slogan for this beer.

Since the beer launched in September 2019, I’ve been intending to give it a try, and finally did so when I saw some positive chatter about the beer in the forums of Beer Advocate from some fellow Lager “enthusiasts” and my refrigerator was empty of any kind of Lager. It is always a good idea to keep at least one of each style in the fridge if you ask me and since you’re here, you’re asking me. 😊

Image courtesy of Yards Brewing’s Facebook

So what is my experience with the beer? The beer pours a clear golden yellow as one would expect a straight-forward lager to pour. Nothing super noticeable on the aroma, maybe a little bit of breadiness…the old adage of a “beer that smells like beer” comes to mind.

First taste is very good, it hits the notes I expect a well-crafted lager to hit. That breadiness from the aroma is more pronounced in a very pleasant way. Hops aren’t very bitter, but they are present. The flavor profile doesn’t change too much from sip to sip, but that consistency in a straight-forward “American Lager” is on-point for the style. It tastes like beer on your fist sip and your last sip. To counter what I say about the bigger ABV beers, I wouldn’t want to let this one warm to room temperature. Drink it cold and enjoy it any time. For me, I’ve found a new “Friday Pizza beer” to add to regular rotation.

Loyal Lager is a very tasty lager that should do well for Yards especially as a significant segment of craft beer drinkers are turning to lagers and lower-ABV beers. As a traditional style, it fits in quite nicely in their core alongside Philadelphia Pale Ale and Brawler. This beer has enough flavor to satisfy people looking for a new lager and will welcome people who are curious about independent craft beer. It will especially be welcoming to people with the type of trepidation who associate “craft beer” only with “IPA” or beers that are “too hoppy.”  I go to at least one Philadelphia Phillies game every year, so I expect this will be one of the offerings once opening day starts. Seems a perfect place to enjoy this tasty beer.

For a quick, fun aside, Tom Kehoe, founder and president of Yards, “took Loyal Lager on a tour of the Yards facility” when it first launched, as documented on twitter.

Recommended, link to 3.75-bottle-cap Untappd check in.

 

Beer Review: Ghost Hawk Lager

Name: Lager
Brewing Company: Ghost Hawk Brewing
Location: Clifton, NJ
Style: Kellerbier/Zwickelbier
ABV: 5%

 An impressive self-appointed Flagship Lager that is compatible with every kind of food or situation.

Great label, great logo for the brewery, and a fine beer.

From Ghost Hawk Brewing’s “What’s on Tap” Page:

Brewed according to the German Beer Purity Law of 1516 using imported malts and American noble hops, this golden export lager is balanced and satisfying. It’s the perfect beer to wash down a Ripper or enjoy with your favorite pizza.

Ghost Hawk Brewing Company is Passaic County NJ’s first independent/craft brewery and they’ve made a name for themselves in quick order after opening in April 2019. Not surprising when you launch a brewery whose brewmaster has nearly 30 years of experience. Less than a year later, cans of their beer have been popping up in beer shops in the state, which leads to their flagship lager, simply titled Lager. It was, perhaps, fortuitous that I was able to enjoy this beer in time to slot this review in February, specifically Flagship February, which is a movement in the craft beer world over the past couple of years:

Our thinking is that flagship beers have much to teach new drinkers and remind older drinkers, and if they fall off the radar so far that they disappear completely, we will all be that much poorer for it 

This one is classified as a “Kellerbier” which is not the most common beer style in the world (especially America) or even a word with which many people are familiar, but it is a style that has been around for many years. So while Ghost Hawk Brewing Company is a new brewery, the fact that they’ve positioned such an old-world style as their “Flagship Lager” is worth note. The word, shockingly, is German for “cellar” because of how they are stored, but most importantly because Kellerbiers are neither pasteurized nor are they filtered. Imagine that, an unfiltered, somewhat hazy beer? But I digress. Most kellerbiers are essentially unfiltered Helles Lagers or pale lagers. With that starting point….

From the 16oz can, this Lager pours a golden hue with a bit of cloudiness. There’s not the overwhelming haziness of say, a New England IPA, but the beer is by no means clear. The beer looks the part of an unfiltered lager.

I don’t get much off of the aroma outside of the cliched it is a beer that smells like a beer. Trite, I know, but also true. 😊 That said, I find the aroma and the look of the beer very inviting and pleasing.

The taste… oh boy was this a nice Lager. I found it a little reminiscent of Carton Brewing’s This Town (a Helles Lager), there’s a nice crackery/breadiness to the beer from the malts, but unlike This Town I’m tasting a little bit of fruitiness from the hops. Drinkability is another term that is thrown around quite bit, but this beer has it in spades. Very tasty and thirst quenching; each sip makes you want to have more. For a beer that is 5%, that’s a great quality to have.

For #FlagshipFebruary, this beer doesn’t exactly hew to the “beers that got us here” ethos, but it is a beer that can proudly stand up as a beer the exemplifies a brewery’s quality. Besides, shouldn’t a brewery nominate one of their beers as a Flagship? For a brewery to come out this strongly with such a good Lager as a core beer is impressive. Ghost Hawk boldly proclaims this as a “Flagship” on their label and Ghost Hawk Lager is a great beer to slap with such a status. Not sure how much it sells, but any brewery would be well-positioned with such a great beer in their portfolio and as their Flagship.

Ghost Hawk is only about a year old so their beers aren’t super widely available outside of NJ. They began canning late 2019, which is how I grabbed this beer. It was a nice surprise to see it in a relatively new liquor store so I immediately snagged a four pack, which did not last very long in my refrigerator.

Recommended, link to 4 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Beer Review: BEE-R from Five Boroughs Brewing Co & All-Wise Meadery

Name: BEE-R
Brewing Company: Five Boroughs Brewing Co. / All-Wise Meadery
Location: Brooklyn, NY / Brooklyn, NY
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 5%

A complex and flavorful beer that showcases local innovation from two fine Brooklyn purveyors of adult beverages. 

From the untappd page for the beer:

This Honey Lager is our third collab with the cool cats over at All-Wise Meadery in Brooklyn. Brewed with delectable orange blossom honey, BEE-R is sessionable, smooth, and slightly sweet, powered by New York State malts and hops.

As close as I live to NYC, I haven’t had very many beers from the growing number of breweries in New York City’s five boroughs. I’ve been participating in a semi-monthly bottle share with some colleagues/friends from work and friends who once worked with all of us. On a recent bottle share, we did a Secret Santa and this was one of a handful of beers I received. To say this beer, a collaboration between a NYC brewery (Five Boroughs Brewing) and a NYC meadery (All-Wise Meadery) was a pleasant surprise is an understatement.

That’s how I received the beer. On to the beer itself…

The beer pours a beautiful golden-yellow from the 16oz can into the glass. It isn’t very clear but it isn’t also very hazy so I’m not sure how filtered the beer is. Regardless, it looks great. Aroma has a little bit of the honey, but nothing out of the ordinary….it smells like beer.

The first sip brings a smile to my lips…in a time of year when darker, heavier beers, are the norm, it is very refreshing to have such a full-flavored less-heavy* lager in my glass. I’ve only had a few different meads, not that this is mead…but I’ve had plenty of lagers and stylistically, this fits the bill very nicely. I get the crispiness of the lager, plus some bready characteristics typically associated with Lagers, Helles Lagers specifically. Underneath it all and completing the pleasant finish of the beer is sweetness from the honey.

*Blatantly avoiding the word “light” since that word brings so many negative connotations to Lager.

BEE-R has one of the most important qualities any beer needs to have – drinkability. An overused term, but a term that most definitely applies to this beer. There’s such an easy-going flavor profile to the beer, it is elegant and refreshing at the same time. Every time I put the glass down, I didn’t want to wait too long to pick it up and consume more because BEE-R is, to put it simply – a very tasty beer.

As a beer on its own merits – BEE-R is a standout. As a collaboration between a NY brewery and a NY Meadery that showcases NY ingredients, it is a home run.

I like the relatively simplistic label and the clever name, too. One of those obvious names that seems like somebody should have used it already for a beer that features honey as a prominent adjunct.

Highly recommended, link to 4 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Beer Review: Von Trapp’s Dunkel

Name: Dunkel
Brewing Company: von Trapp Brewing
Location: Stowe, VT
Style: Lager – Munich Dunkel
ABV: 5.7%

A classic style of German Lager interpreted deliciously by the Vermont brewery with Old World traditions.

From Von Trapp’s beers page:

Creamy, toffee aromas balance the bitterness of Munich malts in our roasted brown lager. Although dark in color, Dunkel is medium in body and finishes dry and clean, resulting in a rich lager that can be enjoyed throughout the year.

With my trend towards Lagers over the past few months, I’ve been wanting to highlight one of the lagers from Von Trapp Brewing (yes, that Von Trapp Family) who brew traditional Austrian/German Lagers. I’d had a few of their beers over the past couple of years, but this Dark Lager is one that eluded and intrigued me. I haven’t had too many beers of this style – Munich Dark Lager – usually preferring a Dopplebock or a Dunkelweizen for my dark German-style beers. I wanted to feature this beer specifically because I wanted to try something different, I like Lagers, and I like featuring styles that deserve more attention when I can. Of course, I didn’t know if I would enjoy the beer, but having enjoyed Von Trapp’s Helles and Pilsner in the past, I knew I was getting 2 beers I’d enjoy in their Variety Pack, and since the Dunkel was in it and I wanted to try the beer, I grabbed said Variety Pack.

So, let’s dive into the beer simply called Dunkel

The Munich Dark/Dunkel Lager is far from a popular style here in the states, although I’ve been seeing a few from local breweries as of late. As the name would imply, it is popular in Munich, Germany and a style with deep history. The Von Trapp is a family with history and their lodge in Vermont began brewing in 2010 with this Dunkel as one of their year-round beers.

Crack of the can, pour of the beer. Not black, but a nice dark brown. In the glass, Dunkel looks really appealing for this dark beer lover. Aroma … I did not get too much off the aroma, maybe a little sweetness? First taste … it tastes like a lager, but then more of the malt characteristics come through.

The malt utilized by Von Trapp in this beer imparts a tasty sweetness that evokes notes of caramel/toffee and chocolate. Not a chocolate bomb like River Horse’s Chocolate Porter, but rather subtle hints of the chocolate. Chocolate isn’t used in the brewing of the beer so all those sweet flavors come from the malts themselves which even further highlights the quality of the beer and brewers at Von Trapp. The beer finishes with a very important element – enough great flavor that made me want more. It finishes with a slight roast and a very pleasant sweetness. Unlike most lagers, but like darker beers, letting the beer get just a little closer to room temperature benefits the overall flavor.

An equivalent beer on the Ale side of the brewing spectrum would probably be a Brown Ale, as both it and Munich Dunkel are very similar in color and flavor profile. A pretty popular/easily available Brown Ale that compares favorably is Bell’s Best Brown so if you like Bell’s Best Brown, you’d likely enjoy Von Trapp’s Dunkel.

I appreciate that Von Trapp simply went with “Dunkel” as the name rather than a quirky “clever” name for the beer. The can art/label is equally straightforward, with the horned goat for the Von Trapp logo and the beer title in an attractive font does making for eye-catching can. You know what you’re getting. A straight-forward name for a beer that is also straightforward delicious. I haven’t had enough Munich Dunkels (only a taster of Spaten’s at a beer festival) so I don’t have a good comparison. As a flavorful Lager, I really liked it and hope I can find some six packs of this one near me because it works perfectly in cooler fall months, but is balanced enough to be an every-day/year round lager.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

 

Beer Review: Jersey Cyclone’s Beach Blonde Lager

Name: Beach Blonde Lager
Brewing Company: Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company
Location: Somerset, NJ
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 4.3%

“Jersey Cyclone boldly storms out of the gate with a damned fine Helles Lager.”

From the Untappd page for Beach Blonde Lager:

An awesome beach day deserves an awesome beer! We used three types of classic German malts and Loral hops to craft this malt forward yet dry beer. With a bready flavor, subtle lager yeast character and cracker dry finish, this beer is a much needed addition to every beach day cooler!

As I pointed out in my NJ Beer/Brewery Check in on Tuesday and last month’s Six Pack, Jersey Cyclone is a new brewery out of Somerset, NJ. I’ve made three visits since they opened and have enjoyed just about everything I’ve had from them. When I learned they had a lager brewing during my second visit to Jersey Cyclone, I was very excited.

I knew the Helles Lager, Beach Blonde Lager, was a beer I really wanted to try since I’ve gravitated towards the lower ABV beers, especially Pilsners and Helles Lagers of late, as I pointed out in my 2nd anniversary post. My father -in-law loves his lagers, too, so I figured getting a growler for Father’s Day would be a great opportunity to try and share the beer.

The beer pours a somewhat darker goldenrod than I’d expect from a Helles Lager. In the end, that color was the only thing a little off about the beer. The aroma hits the notes of a lager and the first sip….the first sip is nice. So that first impression is a crisp flavorful beer. There’s a little bit of maltiness, with a very nice bready/crackery finish.

This beer has a roasty or baked finish that reminds me of some of my favorite lagers, like Carton’s This Town, Cape May’s Lager, Weihenstephaner Original. Drinkability is an obvious, probably overused word to describe a good beer, but Beach Blonde Lager has this in spades. The taste is so spot on and that finish lingers enough that you don’t want it to go away so you immediately have to take another sip.

To say that I was impressed with this beer is an understatement. For a brewery’s first release of a lager, it is damned good. Hell, any brewery would be well-served to have a lager of this quality available on a regular basis. Like I said in my untappd check-in, this beer is everything you want in a lager and a fantastic representation of the style. As it turned out, my father-in-law had more of the growler than I did, he loved the beer.

Not necessarily a comment on the beer, but the brewery itself. I’ve had my growler(s) filled at many breweries, especially over the last few years. Most places do give the growler a wipe down, but I’ve received my fair share of growlers that were a little sticky from beer that overflowed. I can’t recall seeing other breweries do what Jan (owner of Jersey Cyclone) did – he gave the growler a little squirt with a water bottle to ensure the growler nice and clean and not sticky.

While this beer currently has “Beach” in the name, I hope Jersey Cyclone keeps this available year round, or at least keep one of their taps dedicated to a lager of some kind, be it a Pilsner, Amber Lager, Bock or even a Pale Lager. Most breweries stick to the Ale half of the beer family initially, faster brew times for ales and the ales lend themselves to additives that can hide “mistakes” in the brew process. A bold choice to put out a lager less than a month into the brewery’s life and one that pays off.

With people gravitating towards lagers, it is smart for a new brewery to have a lager on tap, especially a lager this good.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Hella Delicious (Level 5)

Hell yea helles! This traditional German pale lager is typically full-bodied, mildly sweet, and light-colored, making it a perfect go to for any occasion. That’s 25 different beers with the style of Lager – Helles or Bock – Maibock / Heller (Helles) / Lentebock.

Beer Review: Karl Strauss Brewing Company Columbia Street Amber

Name: Columbia Street Amber
Brewing Company: Karl Straus Brewing Company
Location: San Diego, CA
Style: Lager – American Amber / Red
ABV: 4.5%

“Every brewery should have a “workhorse” lager this good on continual rotation in their portfolio.”

From Karl Strauss’s landing page for Columbia Street Amber:

It was February 2nd 1989 when we opened our first brewery on Columbia Street in downtown San Diego. This easy drinking beer has been pouring since that very first day. Imported Munich malts give Columbia Street Amber its deep bronze color, smooth body, and crisp toasted flavor. Karl Strauss has grown, but the original brewery location remains. Raise a pint of Columbia Street Amber and join us in a cheers to San Diego’s vibrant craft beer scene.

I’ve said in the past that one of the benefits of traveling for work is the opportunity to visit breweries I wouldn’t otherwise visit. Case in point, this beer review. While there are many breweries in San Diego, only one brewery was the first and that happens to be Karl Strauss Brewing Company. They are something of a legacy brewery, as the two men who started the brewery, Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner, asked their cousin Karl Strauss to help them start a brewery. Karl Strauss was an iconic brewer in America, working at Pabst where he helped reformulate Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which helped the beer reach iconic status. That Wikipedia link is well worth a click, as is the history section on Karl Strauss Brewing’s web site. Karl eventually served at Pabst until 1983 and was president of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas for a few years. In short, he’d probably be on a Mount Rushmore of American Brewing. That legacy carries on in the brewery that bears his name, which is why I wanted to visit the brewery.

I ordered up a flight to get an idea of what I wanted with my meal. The flight included Red Trolley Ale (an Irish Red Ale), Follow the Sun (Pilsner), Aurora Hoppyalis (IPA), and this beer, Columbia Street Amber Lager.

Sometimes (hell, like last week’s beer), a well-made lager is what really hits the spot and Columbia Street Amber certainly hits the spot. The glass is full with amber beauty, a beer that glows with invitation. There isn’t too much of an aroma, maybe a little bit of maltiness? For the most part; however, it smells like you’d expect a beer to smell.

First sip is sweetness, but not a cloying sweetness. Sweetness from the malt, that good lager flavor on the finish laced with the carbonation. The sweetness is consistent throughout the beer, but as it sits in my mouth with each successive sip, I begin to taste the lovely toasted malts that make up the body of the flavor. There’s a really nice caramel, almost toffee flavor to the beer. The elements of the toasted malt and the sweetness come together very nicely as a whole in the beer. The beer is incredibly flavorful altogether, especially given that it is a sub-5 ABV. The longer lagering process allows for flavors to develop and mature during the brewing process, which seems to be exactly what happened with this beer.

Every brewery should have a lager like this in their portfolio: a workhorse lager that can sit in the glass for every occasion and complement a meal or be enjoyed by itself. I enjoyed my pint of Columbia Street Amber while eating delicious fish tacos from Karl Strauss.

I could compare this another way. For years my go to lager and most dependable beer was Yuengling’s Lager. Some may look down upon that beer because in the Northeast, it is an inescapable mass produced beer. That said, it is a mostly well-made lager and considering the mass level on which the beer is produced, has some good flavor. It also happens to be an Amber Lager, much like Columbia Street Lager. The beer from Karl Strauss reminded me of Yuengling’s Lager, with the exception that I found Karl Strauss’s amber lager to be a more flavorful and complex beer.

While at the brewery/brewpub and enjoying my meal, I was speaking with the bartender. Apparently, Columbia Street Amber is the longest standing beer continuously being poured in San Diego, having been served since Karl Strauss opened their doors and tap handles back in 1989 when the beer was originally called Karl Strauss Lager. I could hear the pride in his voice as he told this to me.* I can understand why – it is a very well-balanced, flavorful lager that has a low enough ABV (4.5%) that it almost begs to be enjoyed in multiple pints.

*Yeah, I know it says that up in the description, but I didn’t have that in front of me when I was speaking with the bartender.

Bottom line, any brewery without a lager in their portfolio would be improved by having a lager of this quality in their regular rotation.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Badge Earned:

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Lager Jack (Level 15)

After a long day, what better way to kick back than with a crisp and refreshing lager? You’re already feeling more relaxed, aren’t you?.

Beer Review: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers Post Shift Pilsner

Name: Post Shift Pilsner
Brewing Company: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers
Location: Framingham, MA
Style: Pilsner – Other
ABV: 4.7%

“A finely crafted Pilsner is a beer of beauty, Post Shift Pilsner from Jack’s Abby is such a beer.”

From Jack’s Abby’s landing page for Post Shift Pilsner:

There will be no working during drinking hours! Brewed with Bavarian malt and hops, this everyday Pilsner is bright, crisp and refreshing. We think it’s the perfect way to end the work day. Clock out, post-up and enjoy!

It is always exciting when a well-respected regional brewery begins distributing in your area. Last year for me, it was Bell’s Brewery. This year for me that brewery is Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers. As their name would imply, Jack’s Abby specializes in lagers (i.e. German inspired beers), with the majority of their portfolio falling in that category. Pilsner is one of the most popular (and sometimes reviled) styles of beer in the world, but in the hands of expert craftspeople, a Pilsner is an elegant beer. When I learned Jack’s Abby was going to start distributing into New Jersey, I knew this was the first beer I wanted to try from the fine purveyors of German-style beers out of Framingham, MA.

So, Post Shift Pilsner. The name tells me this is the first thing you want to grab after a day’s work. Can’t argue with the ethos of a beer name like that. Out of the 16oz can, the beer pours a beautiful, mostly clear yellow. In other words, it looks exactly how you’d expect a Pilsner to look like. But, how does it taste compared to other Pilsners? That’s a big difference indeed.

A Pilsner is a precise beer, it uses few ingredients except those of the German Purity Law Reinheitsgebot: Water, Barley, and Hops. With a Pilsner, you can’t hide any mistakes with a fruit adjunct or sweeten up the beer with an addition of Lactose. An elegant beer whose prime, essential ingredients shine. Jack’s Abby captures that spirit and those ingredients wonderfully.

The first sip turns into a gulp, the beer is so tasty. Just about everything I want in a Pilsner is present in this beer – delicious and refreshing, slightly bitter, a little sweet. Let’s unpack that a little, shall we?

There’s a wonderful balance at the start, I get a pleasant, slight bittering from hops with a sweetness, maybe a little fruity sweetness. The bitterness and sweetness are almost a single flavor thread throughout the beer, they work so well together. What makes this one great is similar to what makes the beer I reviewed last week great, the authentic German malts (as in from Germany) used in the beer. They impart that lovely sweetness that so perfectly balances the Noble hops. According to Jack Abby’s Web site:

The Jack’s Abby brewing team travels to Germany every year to procure German hops and malt from small family run operations in Bavaria. The brewers use old-world brewing techniques of decoction and spunding to recreate historical lagers.

The finish has a slightly toasted bready/crackery taste that I associate with Pilsners (and some Helles Lagers, too). I like it, I want more of it. Hell, I picked up a 6 pack on a Thursday and found it hard to not enjoy one of these delicious beers every day of that weekend. When it comes to a wonderfully flavorful beer perfect for any day, a beer that will please both discerning craft beer drinkers with that flavor, while not making non-craft drinkers wary, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better beer than Jack Abby’s Post Shift Pilsner.

Amazingly, this is the first beer I’ve reviewed from a Massachusetts brewery.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Badge Earned:

Crisp as Day (Level 12)

bdg_pilsner_lg

Light and crisp, a Pilsner is all you need to make your day great. Though, perhaps another one would make it even better.

Beer Review: The Alementary’s Hackensack Lager

Name: Hackensack Lager
Brewing Company: The Alementary Brewing Company
Location: Hackensack, NJ
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 5.4%

As it so happens, that glass is from the final Garden State Brewfest (2016), where I first tried beer brewed by The Alementary.

From The Alementary’s landing page for the beer:

Rooted in pride and thirst, a local lager is never far. Whether you’re in Germany, Belize, or Jersey, there’s sure to be a favorite brew for wherever you’ve found yourself. Our Hackensack Lager, with its crisp golden malty goodness, reflects the diversity of our community and our love for the people who have made this place our home. Thank you, Hackensack!

Lagers are the most popular style of beer in America, specifically the Lagers in the blue, silver, and red beers cans. But there can be nuance and great taste in a lager. As there was a shift away from lagers brewed by smaller, independent breweries in the early years of the American Craft/Independent beer movement, in the recent past, the Lager has been making a comeback (Firestone’s Lager, Founders’ Solid Gold) because when done well, it can be a great style. With Hackensack Lager, the brewers at The Alementary have a flagship Lager for their brewery that is very tasty.

As the German word Helles translates into “bright” this beer is spot on for the style from a visual standpoint. A golden hued beer fills my glass, nearly matching the color of the label on the beer can. The aroma didn’t stand out to me, but that’s fine. I’m not looking for anything out of the ordinary with this beer.

This beer is quite flavorful and the type of beer that comes to mind when people think about beer. There’s a pleasant sweetness to the beer, from first impression to finish. I also enjoyed the roasted bready/biscuit elements from the malt. A sweetness from the malt is also present that balances out the potent Saaz hops that help to define the styles hopping characteristic.

With the approachable flavor profile that doesn’t lean too heavily in a hop or malt direction, the beer is quite refreshing. The relatively low ABV (though a bit higher than many Helles Lagers) makes for a very crushable beer indeed. Hackensack Lager is the epitome of an every day beer; the utility player in your beer fridge that can sit in a glass with any meal. I’ve said this before about similar beers, but it is also true of Hackensack Lager – flavorful enough for folks who are well-versed in the craft beer world and inviting enough for folks who don’t stray away from the macro-produced lagers. The perfect beer to bring to a party if you aren’t sure what other guests will like in their beer.

I’ll comment on the label, too.* All of the Alementary beers have the same atomic logo on the front which is a cool branding icon. Most of their beer labels are white on the top half with a distinct color on the bottom half, in this case the bright gold that would be associated with lager. I dig it, it stands out on its own and is identifiable very easily as a beer from The Alementary.

*Maybe I should do this more often.

The Alementary has a great post on their Web site with more details about this delicious beer:

Clean and crisp, Hackensack Lager is a beer that is simultaneously familiar and innovative in the modern craft beer scene. It’s a “gateway beer” for new craft fans, and it’s also like going back home for experience craft drinkers. It’s truly a beer for everyone, for everything. Making a great lager in a small brewery is no easy feat! We pride ourselves in the consistency and technical skill with which this beer is brewed. Making this beer is all in the details.

Recommended link to Untappd 4 Bottle Cap rating.