Monday, February 23, 2009

Talking Head: Drink beer cheaply, not cheap beer

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 8:51 PM

click to enlarge Recession busters: Good beers at a good price
  • Recession busters: Good beers at a good price

We're all watching our pennies these days, but if you're like me, you've come too far in your beer taste to go back to The Beast. But that doesn't mean you can't save a little coin on your beer purchases and still enjoy a well-crafted brew.

The price of all beer has gone up, so there is only so much you can save without joining the Carrie Nation. The sooner you accept that fact, the sooner you can be enjoying a beer. And remember that a dollar or two savings on a 12-pack of Busch Light evaporates faster than you think - you'll find yourself going through 4 or 5 in a night vs. 2 or 3 of a more flavorful beer.

Here are a few things I picked up at Tower and Green's recently that were relative bargains. I tried to balance price and overall enjoyment. All prices are for a 6-pack of 12-oz. bottles except as indicated.

Mendocino Red Tail Ale ($4.99) is one of the best beer bargains around. This is a hoppy amber ale, with a modest caramel malt backbone and a sharp citric-rind bite from the hops. I found the finish to be somewhat astringent, with an aspiriny bitterness that lingered too long, but overall a decent hop-forward ale. Mendocino's White Hawk IPA and Black Hawk Stout are also decent beers at a reasonable price.

I was drinking Abita Turbodog ($6.99) long before I knew what style it was. I just knew it had a cool name and it tasted good. (It's a brown ale, by the way). It still tastes good, and even after greatly expanding my beer experiences, Turbodog never disappoints. Chocolate and caramel malt flavors are nicely balanced by the earthy spice of Willamette hops. The solid mouthfeel and spot-on carbonation are suggestive of a more expensive boutique beer.

J. W. Dundee's Honey Brown Lager ($4.99) has been around for ages and was one of my stepping stone beers, along with Pete's Wicked Ale. High Falls Brewing Company, which produces the Dundee line, recently overhauled the brand, dropping the J. W., modernizing their graphics, and reportedly improving the beer. The high-stepping goat on the label of Dundee Pale Bock Lager is certainly appealing, and the maibock inside the bottle is pretty tasty too. Sweet, pale malts dominate, with a firm backing of floral, earthy hops. A bit heavy and dull on the palate, but a good introduction to the style.

Anheuser-Busch has seen the steady growth in the craft beer industry and has co-opted the term with its "Crafting a Better Beer" slogan for the Michelob Craft Beer line. Michelob Porter ($6.39) holds up pretty well against more venerable versions. Chocolate and coffee notes highlight a sweet malt profile, and hints of dark fruit are evident and appropriate to the style. Grassy, herbal hops can't quite counter the malts in the end, but this is no training wheels porter.

Even among the fancy single bottles of Belgians and Imperial stouts there are bargains to be had. Lagunitas bombers (22 oz.) can often be bought for $2.99 or $3.99, and since one is often enough to sip through the whole evening, this seems like a worthy investment in happiness. The Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout ($3.99) is a silky shot of caramel macchiato wrapped in a strong, sweet, British-style stout. Lagunitas, known for its West Coast-style hopbombs shows some restraint with the hop additions here, with grassy, fruity essence supporting the sweet and roasty malts. At 8% ABV, a 22-oz. bottle has nearly the alcohol of 2 Bud Lights and tastes oh-so-much better.

Some other big beers with small prices include the Shmaltz Jewbelation Twelve anniversary ale at 12% percent ($4.99, 22 oz.), and the Clipper City Heavy Seas Uber Pils, an easy-drinking

pilsner-style bock at $8.99 a 6-pack for a tasty 8% sipper. Finally, if you're going to pay $10 for a 6-pack, you can't do much better than Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout ($9.99), a winter seasonal that is still available around town. At 10% ABV, you'll probably be satisfied with just one a night, and you can make that 6-pack last all week. You can afford $10 a week for beer can't you?

(photo by Jeff Holland)

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