27 March 2012

KOTBR #140 | Back to the Basics

We decided to dedicate this roundtable to the classic American craft beers. As part of my mourning process, I have decided to dedicate my review to the classic Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

Anchor Steam is cool shit. It is an easy drinking beer that burps with a mild hop flavor, which really should be a characteristic that all beers are reviewed upon. When it comes to classics, Anchor Steam is the king kong of classics. It literally is in a category of its own. It is the Peyton Manning of beers... redefining the category, elevating its games, a beacon for others to strive towards. Peyton's Colts locker and Anchor Steam bottles...It is sad when they are empty.

Bell's Amber is a less hop/more malt beer. It is a sweet, creamy, tasty beer that makes your tastebuds ring like the bells of St. John's Church after one of Peyton Manning's victories during the 2006 Super Bowl winning season and post-season when the Indianapolis Colts were undefeated at home.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a smooth and tasty lager with a hop profile that will please most craft beer drinkers. I enjoy finishing off one of these Boston favorites in Indianapolis just like I enjoyed watching Peyton Manning finishing off Boston's favorite football team in the AFC Championship in Indianapolis. I still keep my ticket stub from that game in my wallet.

For me, Goose Island Honker's Ale is a middle of the road beer. It is not bad, there is nothing that is off-putting, but there is nothing that is over the top exciting about it. It is still a winner though. It makes me think of Peyton's performance in Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears. Not bad, nothing off-putting, nothing over the top. But still a winner.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a clean, crisp beer with just enough malt to support the respectable hop profile. While Sierra Nevada is the name given to a geographic area of California and Nevada, it is Spanish for "snow covered mountain range..." Which can be found around the Mile High city of Denver where Peyton will now call home. It's a bit of a stretch making that connection, but we didn't review Oskar Blues. And I'm certainly not toasting Peyton's memory with a fuckin' Coors Light or Blue Moon. But I will toast my QB with a Sierra Nevada.

Peyton Manning: 5.0 mugs.

As you may have noted - and perhaps only if you read the site through traditional internet browsers - last month we attempted a craft beer classics theme. Now as we approach the end of another month, we're finally following up with a roundtable in that vein.

Maybe you've had Anchor Steam. Maybe you've even had Steam and forgotten how good it is. I'd say it's the very definition of bready. It's a light and chewy beer, an easy drinker, with a sweet hint reminiscent of Hawaiian sweet rolls. If I'm out on a bender (it happens quite a bit), and I've found my palate destroyed by bigger beers, I can always count on Anchor Steam to reset everything. Light enough to keep things mellow, tasty enough to compete with much bigger beers. Steam is my go-to everyday drinker. That's my definition of perfect. 5.0 mugs.

I was recently asked by a friend what better beers I might recommend for an upcoming wedding. In a situation where you'd like a little something for everyone, Bell's Amber would be a fine selection. Sweetness was the first thing I noticed, but this beer has a little bit of everything for everyone. Sweetness up front, a slight soapiness in the middle, and a little hoppy finish. 3.0 mugs.

Sam Adams Boston Lager is an easy beer for craft beer drinkers to pick on. It's available everywhere, it's not particularly distinctive, and it's sort of beer that serves as a gateway for folks looking to make that first step into better tasting beer. But it's also a brand that many folks never move away from. There's something weird about a brand-dedicated better beer drinker; it's like having the just enough of the cataracts removed from your eyes to see the next car, instead of the whole road in front of you. I think it's important to remember that most of us have happily drunk Sam Adams before, even if we've moved on. Revisiting the beer, the first thing I picked up was what I thought was a hint of raspberry. Digging deeper, I don't think it was that distinct. But there is a lively fruit flavor there, like an ale yeast sort of thing, hoppy, lively, and the beer reminds me of Anchor Steam - against each other, Sam is fruity, Anchor is bready, but body and finish seem close. But if anything, Sam Adams might have too much of that fruity flavor. If you're wondering how that makes a 1.5 mug difference, shut up. 3.5 mugs.

Next up was Goose Island Honkers Ale, a beer with that sort of (what I'd call) dirty or earthy hoppy flavor, followed up with a sweet and lightly fruity finish. This beer has the least character of the lineup so far, but maybe it's sort of "what's your character of choice?" Because I have no history with this beer, I don't have any reason to consider it much further. Not my thing. 2.9 mugs.

Last up, we revisited Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The beer features a flowery hop flavor, with a slight hint of soap and a (not overpoweringly so) sweetness. Balance is key here, as the beer has a strong enough hop presence for hop-heads, but doesn't overpower. The Oxford Companion to Beer notes "an early devotee was Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, whose fans in turn started to enjoy the brew". Damn you, hippies! 4.0 mugs.

Anchor Steam is the wise man of craft beer. It is over 100 years old and yet it doesn't throw a fit every time someone says that the first American craft breweries opened in the 70s. In fact, it seems that everyone forgets how much this beer is a part of American brewing history. Anchor Steam is a beer that I never fully appreciated when I was first getting in to craft beer. Perhaps I wrote it off as a light beer, unworthy of my adventure for more hops and alcohol. Maybe I just never really ordered it for lack of knowing what it was. Whatever the case may be, I can certifiably say that today I very much enjoy this beer. It rides an enjoyable line between wheat and pilsner, combining the yeasty aroma of a wheat with the delicate yet perceivable crisp, hop bite of a pilsner. A bit of lemon peel keeps the wheat flavor in the picture. Not only is this a great summer beer, it's also a great year-round beer. Very refreshing. 3.5 mugs.

On the day I turned 21, a visit to Chumley's in Lafayette landed me at my first craft beer. Bell's Amber stuck out as something that would be a good middle-ground upon which to launch my craft beer future. In that first Bell's Amber, I was not disappointed. Both hops and malt were present and I knew that I had set foot in a glorious new world of craft beer. Unfortunately, the Bell's Amber I tried in this round did not taste like the same beer. Or maybe it was the same beer but my memory captured a much different flavor experience. Instead of being greeted with a delightful balance of bitter hops and sweet malt, the beer I took a drink of could be better described as Bell's Not-Quite-Best Brown. Maybe the crane of the old packaging took the hops with him, I don't know. It really has been a number of years since I've tried this beer. The new Bell's Brown has a sweet aroma that is backed up by the flavor of brown sugar, toasted bread, walnuts and almonds. Kind of like a Newcastle but better. I feel I ruined a childhood memory. 3.0 mugs.

Sam Adams Boston Lager is a beer that I am constantly surprised by. My apologies for Jim Koch for always thinking his beer is going to be sub-par. It's not that I don't drink much Sam Adams, it's that whenever I drink it I tend to be in a bar that offers around 4 varieties of beer; Budweiser, Miller Lite, Coors Light and Sam Adams. Clearly being placed in that cast of characters would decrease one's desirability. Naturally I always order the Sam Adams, and am pleasantly surprised by the friendly burst of German hops and balancing malt sweetness. It's as if each time I seem to forget that this really is a good beer. Grapefruit and honey in the nose immediately reminds me that I'm about to be greeted by a strong presence of hops and malt. Ruby red grapefruit, toasted malt and caramel round out the flavors and I'm left satisfied with my beer choice. Cheers to your undeniable place in craft beer history, Jim. 3.75 mugs.

Honkers Ale, much like Bell's Amber, is another beer that I remember being hoppier. I blame everyone who makes a 100+ IBU beer for ruining my perception of hoppy. Everyone is to blame but myself. Nonetheless, Honkers Ale does still have a noticeable hop presence. One of my favorite things about Goose Island as a company is that they chose the ESB style for their flagship beer. If you've engaged me in deep beer discussion, you likely know that ESB is my favorite style. The delicate balance of hops and malt with a body that is friendly to the palate is something that is difficult to master. Honkers Ale has a sweet aroma, reminiscent of oranges and honey, but the flavor doesn't quite match the Blue Moon label that the aroma describes. An orange-like sweetness is paired with lemon bitters, toffee and caramel. This is a well-balance ESB that would make a fine gateway beer for anyone newly introduced to craft beer. 4.0 mugs.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is practically unfair in this review. Since the dawn of craft beer time, Ken Grossman has been throwing hops in our faces like it has always been 2009. This is the beer that defined American Pale Ale. The beer that made us all realize that in America, we do everything bigger and better. Fuck yeah. This beer drew a line in the sand and told everyone that if you're going to brew a Pale Ale in America, you have to bring the hop thunder. First brewed in 1980, this beer changed craft beer forever, and it continues to be the benchmark for American Pale Ales. The grapefruit and lemon zest aroma is huge, matched only by the grapefruit and orange bitter flavors. Toasted grain and caramel balance out what would otherwise be a hop smack to the face. This isn't the big IPA and DIPA monster that today's craft beer drinkers are used to, but it should be compared to the English Pale Ales that previously defined the style. From this point forward, America made the craft beer rules. Fuck yeah. 4.0 mugs.

Do you like classic rock?  Sure you do -- who doesn't start belting out "CARRY ON MY WAYWARD SON!" whenever it comes on the radio?  That's the same way I feel about the craft beer classics.  There's a hearty comfort in these beers that I've had a hundred times and something about them makes me want to do manual labor.  They never seem to get old.

If you're like me, however, listening to classic rock radio for two or three days has you asking yourself more and more often, "Didn't I just hear that?" and you need go throw on some Mars Volta to mix it up.  The craft beer classics are like that in a way.  If all you drank was Honker's Ale for 3 days straight, you'd get pretty goddamn bored with it.  You need to throw a nice Hopslam or Bourbon County Stout in there to keep your palate interested.  The classics will always be the bedrock you return to, but you need to venture out and discover new things all the time.

You want more beer notes?  Of course not, but fuck it, here are 10 words or less about each:

Anchor Steam: Why don't I buy this more? 3.3 mugs.
Bell's Amber: Never pick it first but always like it. 3.6 mugs.
Boston Lager: Can't go wrong and it's available EVERYWHERE.  3.1 mugs.
Goose Island Honkers Ale: A classic of the midwest. 3.5 mugs.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: The get-it-everywhere choice for your hops fix. 4.2 mugs.

Anchor Steam Jason: 3.75 Mugs | Chris: 3.3 Mugs | Rodney: 3.5 Mugs | Mike: 5.0 Mugs | Gina: 4.00 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.91 Mugs

Bell's Amber
Jason: 3.33 Mugs | Chris: 3.6 Mugs | Rodney: 3.0 Mugs | Mike: 3.0 Mugs | Gina: 3.3 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.24 Mugs

Samuel Adams Boston Lager
Jason: 3.85 Mugs | Chris: 3.1 Mugs | Rodney: 3.75 Mugs | Mike: 3.5 Mugs | Gina: 3.6 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.56 Mugs

Goose Island Honkers Ale
Jason: 2.8 Mugs | Chris: 3.5 Mugs | Rodney: 4.0 Mugs | Mike: 2.9 Mugs | Gina: 2.95 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.23 Mugs

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Jason: 4.0 Mugs | Chris: 4.2 Mugs | Rodney: 4.0 Mugs | Mike: 4.0 Mugs | Gina: 4.00 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 4.04 Mugs


  1. I'm biased (my company represents Anchor in Indiana) but I agree completely that Anchor Steam is cool shit. It's a tasty beer that can be consumed in relative quantity without ever becoming tiring.

  2. I really like Chris' viewpoint here, specifically "If all you drank was Honker's Ale for 3 days straight, you'd get pretty goddamn bored with it. You need to throw a nice Hopslam or Bourbon County Stout in there to keep your palate interested. The classics will always be the bedrock you return to, but you need to venture out and discover new things all the time."

  3. Hi guys, excellent post. I am from Scotland and have been drinking British ales for years, but it was a welcome surprise to find how good American craft beer can be. I have tried all the above beers and found them each valid in their own way; I certainly like Sierra Nevada the best. I know you guys promote local beers, but has Brewdog found its way into your bars or stores?

    1. Hi Alan,

      Thanks for the kind note! Glad you are finding some great beers from here. We have been known to enjoy a Brew Dog beer now and again (I dig their IPA, Punk). Haven't managed to find any Bitch Please though!

      Thanks again!

    2. Excellent stuff. I have never heard of Bitch Please but I shall be visiting BrewDog in Glasgow this week so I shall see if they have any. I am coming to Indiana this summer to visit my girlfriend, so I might be able to bring a few across which I would be more than happy to donate to HBG's cause.

    3. Bitch Please is a collaboration with Three Floyds (Munster, IN) and BrewDog, though we have not seen it over here. Shoot us an email (hoosierbeergeek @ gmail . com) if you are truly interested, I'm sure we could do a fun swap!