Ellis Island Casino & Brewery: A craft brewing oasis in the Las Vegas desert

Competently made craft brews can be found just a short walk from the Las Vegas Strip, Cheap, good food, too.


Ellis Island Casino and Brewery in Las Vegas

By Alan J. Wax

Amid the bright lights and crowds on the Las Vegas gaming strip, the odds don’t favor craft beer enthusiasts.

The hotels and restaurants that line this glittery Sin City venue offer little more than mainstream domestic and imported beers as I learned on a recent visit.

However, just a short distance from the Strip’s hubbub one can, indeed, find craft beer. I found it at the Ellis Island Casino and Brewery on Koval Lane, just off Flamingo Road, within walking distance of such hotels as the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo, Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas.

The Ellis Island Casino and Brewery is an unassuming one-story building with a brown and white façade opposite the parking lot used by employees of Bally’s and Paris. It’s tucked between a 7-Eleven convenience store and America’s largest Super 8 motel. On the inside, it has all the glamor of an Interstate truck stop, albeit one filled with all accouterments of a gambling hall. Open 24/7, it’s a place oft frequented by locals.

At mid-afternoon, one bartender scurried from side of the bar to the other to fill her customers’ needs. Video poker terminals built into the bar top leave little room for more than a glass of beer.

But the food is cheap and good. A sirloin dinner including a beer is just $9.99. And beer pricing can’t be beat. A 12 oz.-pour is $1.25, while 20 oz. costs but $2.

Fermenting tanks in the parking lot at Ellis Island Casino and Brewery

Fermenting tanks in the parking lot at Ellis Island Casino and Brewery

The brewery is found inside an addition to the main building and towering fermenters stand in the parking lot along Koval Lane. Inside, kettles and fermenters fill almost every inch. The brewery turns out about 6,000 barrels annually, the result of a recent increase in capacity, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

The brewery opened in 1998 and Joe Picket, a Chicago native educated at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Siebel Institute, who also worked at Chicago’s famed Berghoff, has been at Ellis Island since the beginning. Picket also has established breweries around the world, according to his bio.

The Ellis Island beers are competently made. But for true aficionados they may come across as unexciting. Picket has often been quoted as saying he produces beers that appeal to regular people. ”We brew for the masses,” he told the Las Vegas newspaper, the Journal Review, last year.

Ellis Island produces seven brews and a non-alcoholic root beer. Hefewiezen is the most popular.

I sampled the six brews available during my recent visit. The Hefe was unquestionably my favorite. A quenching brew with a typical hefe nose and bubble gum, cloves and banana notes on the palate. I rated it 3.5* out of 5.

Ellis Island Stout was dark and murky with a muted nose, but the palate burst with roasted malts. It’s light and eminently drinkable. I rated it 3*.

The deep gold Ellis Island IPA was served icy cold, so its floral nose initially was hard to notice. Round and drinkable with bready malt and muted hop notes on the palate, it turns bitter on the finish as it warms. 3*

The summer seasonal, the deep copper Ellis Island Bock, offered up a medium body. It comes across as crisp, but offers little in the way of caramel notes one might expect in this style. 3*

Ellis Island Light Lager: the name says it all. More body and flavor than a mainstream American lager with a hint of hops. 2.75*

Ellis Island Amber, a light coppery brew, also is shy in the nose and offers just suggestions of bready malt on the palate. It’s crisp, but dull. 2.5*

Time didn’t permit me to visit Vegas’ other craft venues, but they’re on my agenda, if I return.

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Long Island breweries, bars to celebrate Craft Beer Week May 6-17

LI Craft logo

By Alan J. Wax

Long Island: get ready for Craft Beer Week.

Long Island’s craft beer industry and its supporters in the hospitality and retail trade are readying a week-plus long celebration of the region’s breweries and beers. It runs from May 6 to May 17, which of course, is more than a week.

Breweries, bars and restaurants will be running special events to mark the celebration. So far, 21 breweries have signed on along with 20 restaurants and bars, three retailers and two wholesalers.

David Schultzer, owner of Bellport Cold Beer & Soda and the lead organizer of Long Island Craft Beer Week, says the celebration is designed to create awareness of Long Island breweries and beers and to attract mainstream beer drinkers to craft beer. “While the focus is Long Island beer and breweries, we need to get more people into craft beer.”

Nevertheless, he said, other states, such as Oregon and California, sell a far greater proportion of locally produced beers than New York.

“We don’t do a good job of letting people know we exist,” he says. Moreover, he said, with the growing number of small breweries opening in the region, brewers will be fighting for the same piece of the pie—and survival, unless they attract legions of new imbibers. “If you don’t expand that customer base, how can you survive?”

The first big event of Long Island Craft Beer week is the May 6 kickoff, Long Island Craft Beer Cares, a charity beer and food tasting at the Melville Marriott Hotel to benefit the Long Island Cares food bank; the Lustgarten Foundation, which raises funds to fight pancreatic cancer, and the New York Bully Crew, a pet-rescue organization.

A collaboration brew — Long Island Craft Cares — developed and brewed by Great South Bay Brewery, of Bay Shore; Port Jeff Brewing, 1940’s Brewing Co., of Farmingdale; Barrage Brewing Co. of East Farmingdale, Blue Point Brewing Co. of Patchogue, and BrickHouse Brewery, also of Patchogue, will debut at the charity event.

Breweries represented at the Long Island Craft Beer Care event include: Blue Point; Great South Bay; Barrage; 1940’s ; Port Jeff; BrickHouse Brewery; Brooklyn Brewery; Sixpoint Brewery, Brooklyn; Spider Bite Beer Co., Holbrook; Blind Bat Brewery, Centerport; Destination Unknown Beer Co., Bay Shore; The Brewers Collective, Farmingdale; Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, Bronx Brewery and Southern Tier Brewing Co., Lakewood, New York.

Beers, Burgers Desserts of Rocky Point, The Tap Room of Patchogue, Noodles & Co., of Garden City, Verde Wine Bar of Deer Park, The Trattoria, St. James will be among area eateries serving up delicious food to accompany the local craft beer at the Craft Beer Cares event. Tickets are $55 and can be purchased online at Eventbrite.

Free Long Island Craft Beer pint glasses will be available and can be ordered online and picked up on May 7 at these locations: The Tap Room, Patchogue; Savoy Tavern, Merrick; Beers Burgers Desserts, Rocky Point; Brewology, Speonk; Lil’ Left Coast, Bellmore; Bobbique, Patchogue and Eat Gastropub, Island Park.

The celebration’s other big event is Bay Fest, a beer festival featuring dozens of breweries at Great South Bay Brewery, i25 Drexel Ave., Bay Shore on May 16. Twenty-seven  breweries — at last count — and several home brew clubs will be pouring samples of their wares. There’s a general session from 1:30 to 5:30 pm with tickets $40 online and $15 for designated drivers. A VIP session, which starts at 12:45 p.m. $55 per person and $15 for designated drivers. Tickets are available at Ticketfly.

In addition to the host brewery, participating brewers include Port Jeff Brewing, BrickHouse Brewery, Blue Point Brewing, Barrage Brewing, 1940’s Brewing, Montauk Brewing Co., Oyster Bay Brewing, Barrier Brewing of Island Park, Southampton Publick House, Riverhead’s Crooked Ladder Brewing, Goose Island Beer Co. of Chicago, Two Roads Brewing of Stratford, Connecticut, Brooklyn Brewery, Ommergang, Greenport Harbor Brewing, Long Ireland Beer Co. of Riverhead, Adirondack Pub and Brewery of Lake George, Third Rail Beer Co. of Manhattan, Southern Tier, Samuel Adams, Destination Unknown, and Lithology Brewing, Farmingdale.

The big events sandwich a multitude of smaller, but no-less exciting events. You’ll find them listed at the Long Island Craft Beer week website.

Hope to see you at one them.


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New flavor focus, new labels mark transformation of Otter Creek Brewing

By Alan J. Wax

Vermont’s Otter Creek Brewing wants the world to know a transformation is underway — in the market and in its beers.

Founded in 1991, Otter Creek in those relatively early days of craft brewing was known for its Copper Creek Ale and Stove Pipe Porter. Both are now gone. Jettisoned by management. The now-rapidly growing Middlebury, Vermont, brewery in instead focused on what brewmaster Mike Gerhart says are modern craft beer drinkers.

Otter Creek, he noted, started out brewing classic styles of beer, because back then they were new and exciting for beer drinkers weaned on American lagers. “That was huge, but it ran its course. Over the last 10 years, the slingshot has been pulled back as far as it can go,” he told his audience.

Today, however, he added, “Flavors are changing by the moment.” And with 1.1 new breweries opening every day in the U.S., competition is getting tougher.

Otter Creek head brewer Mike Gerhart at Jackson's Restaurant

Otter Creek head brewer Mike Gerhart at Jackson’s Restaurant

Gerhart and the rest of the Otter Creek team were on Long Island in late-March, bringing their message and their new beers to bar owners and beer retailers. I sat in on one of these gatherings, a dinner arranged by the brewery’s distributor, Clare Rose Inc., at Jackson’s Restaurant in Commack, New York.

“This is the beginning of a new day for the brewery,” he said. “Amber ales aren’t what people are looking for these days. We have to brew what people want”

Translation: more hops.

Gerhart, 39, has been brewing professionally since he was 18—he started home brewing under his parents’ watchful eyes at 15—and his resume includes stints at Magic Hat, Coors and, significantly, four years at Dogfish Head, where he was the research and development brewer, helping owner Sam Calagione develop new beers. He joined Otter Creek in 2009.

Otter Creek, now brewing ‘round the clock, he said, is adding new capacity—120 barrels – to its current volume of 80,000 barrels.

The brewery’s newest releases are clear evidence of the new direction.

Among them is the first year-round IPA in Otter Creek’s history,Backseat Berner, described as a “juicy exploration of American hops” at 7 percent ABV with 68 IBUs. A hazy gold with a nose of citrus and musky, tropical fruit and resiny notes dominate its full-bodied, palate. It’s an eminently drinkable brew. The beer’s hazy notes are Gerhard’s use of a centrifuge to remove solids instead of a filter.

In addition, Otter Creek has begun producing what Gerhart described as a “hop-soaked” session ale, Over Easy, with 4.6% abv and 40 IBUs. It’s a cloudy gold brew with a floral, tropical citrus aroma. It’s crisp and a bit wine like with good mouth feel for a low-alcohol brew and a dry citrus finish.

Then, there’s Citra Mantra, an American pale lager, a spring seasonal brewed to emphasize its crispness and to allow the hop character that might be overshadowed in an ester loaded ale. It’s 5.75 percent abv and clocks in at 55 IBUs. It has more dry hops that an IPA. Gerhart said he developed the recipe while meditating at a Buddhist monastery in Vermont. Also, hazy gold, it nose is floral. On the palate it’s crisp, a bit sweet with bready malt notes, but finishes dry,

Otter Creek has had three owners over its 20-plus years in business. Entrepreneur Lawrence Miller, who founded the brewery, sold it in 2002 to Wolaver’s Organic Ales, which until then was a contract brewer. In 2010, Wellesley, Massachusetts-based private equity firm Fulham & Co. acquired Otter Creek and Wolaver’s through its Long Trail Brewing Co. subsidiary.

Six pack of Otter Creek's Citra Mantra features a meditating Gerhart.

Six pack of Otter Creek’s Citra Mantra features a meditating Gerhart.

The new flavor direction isn’t the only thing changing at Otter Creek. The packaging is new too. New labels feature cartoonish drawings featuring Gerhart, the brewery’s VW microbus and Gerhart’s 150 lb. Bernese mountain dog, Oslo.

Will the new beers resonate with drinkers? Given the demand for such hop-forward brews as Russian River Brewing’s Pliny, Alchemist’s Heady Topper, Bell’s Hopslam ale, Dogfish Head 120, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and others, the odds are favorable. I, on the other hand, will miss the traditional styles.


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Aging beer can be a gamble; some are winners, others are losers

By Alan J. Wax

Aging beers. We hear so much about it these days.

Brewers often encourage their customers to age their products and nary a day goes by when you don’t see some query on a beer drinker’s forum about the age worthiness of a just-purchased brew.

I’ve been aging beers for years. On purpose – and accidentally. Unable to keep up with many newly acquired beers, I let some sit away forgotten until rediscovered. Others, I’ve boxed and carried to the cellar intended for aging in the cool temperatures and darkness.

Recently, I came upon a number of brews that I had put aside and largely had forgotten. Wondering how they might taste, I pulled them out for a tasting with several open-minded, beer-loving friends.

The results, needless to say, were interesting. The beers, ranging in age from a half-dozen years to almost 25 years, had aged differently. Some gracefully; others less so.

This motley collection included English and Belgian beers of strength as well as a few American craft brews.

My notes from that tasting:

CourageCourage Russian Imperial Stout (2011) by Charles Wells Brewery, England. 10% abv. Its espresso color was intact, the head mocha and a nose that suggested alcohol. On the palate there were notes of licorice and molasses and an extraordinarily dry finish. 3/5.

Paradox Isle of Aran. Brew Dog, Scotland. Imperial stout. 10% abv. No date, but likely purchased in 2010. Black brown in hue with a roasty nose. Low carbonation. Malty. 2/5.

Paradox Smokehead (2010). Brewdog, Scotland. Smoked imperial stout.10% abv. Deep brown in hue with pronounced, tar, ashtray aroma. Malty sweetness on the palate. Dry finish. 2½/5.

Harny's 1990Thomas Hardy’s Ale (1990). Eldridge Pope, England. Old ale. 11.7% abv. Meant to be aged, but perhaps, too long at almost 25 years. More of a thin malt syrup lacking carbonation. Mild hints of fruit. Big oaky notes. Super dry. 3/5.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale (2008). Hanlon’s Brewing, England. Old ale. 11.9% abv.
Deep copper hue with oak and caramel on the nose. On the palate notes of orange peel, caramel and nuts. 4/5.

Harvest Ale (1991). JW Lees & Co., England. English barleywine. 11.5% abv. Brown hue. The nose suggests a musty, damp basement while on the palate there are hints of bitter chocolate, oak and dried figs. 3/5.

Harvest Ale 2003Harvest Ale (2003). JW Lees & Co., England; English barleywine. 11.5% abv. Murky brown and lacking in carbonation. Sweet sherry notes, caramel and oak. 3/5.

Vintage Ale (2006). Fuller, Smith & Turner, England. Old ale. 8.5% abv. One that did not age well. Copper hue, off white head, Notes of wet cardboard and licorice with an unpleasant bitter finish. 1½/5.

Triple (2001). Browerij St. Bernadus. Belgium. Tripel. 8% abv. Golden with a white head. Disappoints with notes of cardboard and candy sugar. 2/5.

Black Choco StoutBlack Chocolate Stout (2002). Brooklyn Brewery. Russian imperial stout. 10% abv. Opaque espresso hue. Chocolate on the nose and hints of wine on the palate. Oily. 2½/5.

Black Chocolate Stout (2009). Brooklyn Brewery. Russian imperial stout. 10% abv. Opaque espresso hue. Roasted malt on the nose, bit also hints of cardboard. A tad fizzy. Nutty palate. A recent purchase, suggesting poor retail storage. 2/5.

Monster Ale (2000). Brooklyn Brewery, American Barleywine. 10.1% abv. Deep copper hue with the barest signs of carbonation. Sherry and paint thinner notes. Definitely over the hill. ½/5.

CelebrationCelebration Ale (1996). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. American IPA. 6.8% abv. Deep copper hue. Totally lacking a head. On the nose, notes of soy sauce. Hints of cardboard. Unpleasant, strong bitter finish. 1/5.

Bigfoot (2001). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. American barleywine. 9.6% abv. Deep copper color. No head. Wet cardboard nose. Hints of sweetness toward the end that suddenly becomes extraordinarily bitter. Definitely past its prime. ½/5.

Carnegie Porter (1997). Carlsberg Sverige. Sweden. Baltic porter. 5.5% abv. Dark brown with a nose that suggests a nutty Oloroso sherry. Thin and lacking in carbonation. 1/5.

Our Special Ale (2000). Anchor Brewing Co. Spiced winter warmer. Unknown abv. No spice flavors, aromas evident. Medicinal and bitter. ½/1.

Choco BockSamuel Adams Chocolate Bock (2008). Boston Beer Co. Bock. 6.8% abv. Deep brown. Soy sauce nose. Low carbonation. Chocolate and caramel notes. Considering the low alcohol, it’s held up well. Stored in original wood box. 2½/5.

If you want to age your beer, remember these few simple things. Experiment by tasting your aging beer after six months—if it’s good, keep going, if not drink it immediately. Age them in a cool (55F) dark place, like a basement. Expect flavors to change; some fade, others become more pronounced. High alcohol beers and those with dark malts age best. Hoppy brews lose their hop character.

How have your aging brews tasted?


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A wysgi to toast Wales’ patron saint

Penderyn USA 300dpiBy Alan J. Wax

Quick, name a Celtic saint celebrated in March.

Bet you picked St. Patrick.

Ever hear of St. David, the patron saint of Wales? For centuries, March 1 has been a national festival day in Wales, commemorating St. David as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. Outside of Wales, the day is only celebrated by Welsh societies with dinners, parties, and recitals.

According to tradition, St. David was the son of King Sant of South Wales and St. Non. He was ordained a priest and later studied under St. Paulinus. Later, he was involved in missionary work and founded a number of monasteries. The monastery he founded at Menevia  in Southwestern Wales was noted for extreme asceticism. David and his monks drank neither wine nor beer – only water – while putting in a full day of heavy manual labor and intense study.

Given St. David’s asceticism, we might consider toasting him a sacrilegious act. But what the heck, we’re always looking for a reason to imbibe and what could be a better libation for this day than Penderyn single malt wysgi, the only malt whisky distilled in Wales.

It’s a relatively new product. Whisky making largely disappeared from Wales, which like other Celtic lands had a rich whisky history, in the last part of 19th Century. Then along came the Welsh Whisky Co.,  which located its Penderyn distiller in the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2000. It was the first distillery in the country in more than a hundred years. Penderyn released its first distilled product on St. David’s Day in 2004.

The distiller, which produces just one barrel a day, boasts that it draws water exclusively from a well that taps the carboniferous limestone deep below the distillery. It also attributed its house style derives to the use of two types of casks. For the initial maturation, the distillery uses hand-selected Evan Williams and Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Later, the wysgi is transferred to Portuguese barriques that previously nurtured Madeira wine. Each cask is closely watched and regularly nosed until it has reached the standard of the distiller’s consulting master distiller, Jim Swan, a global authority on wood management.

The whisky carries no age statement, but in a 2008 post on the Whiskey Advocate’s blog, Penderyn’s Ed Minning stated that the average age (at that time) of Penderyn was 4.75 to 5.5 years, with eventual “peak” maturation to take place in 6.5 to 7 years.

Penderyn’s still, the company claims, is unlike any other: a single copper-pot still invented by Dr. David Faraday, descendent of the ground-breaking Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday. The still removes almost all of the undesirable chemical compounds which a conventional two or three pot system cannot. This is how Penderyn starts to differentiate itself from traditional Scottish and Irish whiskies. It’s bottled at 46 percent ABV or 92 proof.

Penderyn whisky starts out with an 8 percent ABV barley wash supplied by brewers S. A. Brain & Co. in Cardiff, which has been around since 1882 and is considered Wales’s premier private brewery.

The whisky’s garnered a few awards including winner of the Best World Whisky Gold Medal at the 2012 & 2013 International Whisky Competition and gold at the 2014 International Spirits Challenge for Best Cask finish whisky.

So, how’s it taste? It’s a light golden spirit with, not surprisingly, a big alcoholic bite from the 46% ABV. The nose suggests creamy toffee. On the palate I picked up notes of pears, mangoes and vanilla along with a suggestion of sweetness. The finish, albeit, is on the short side. I’d rate it 3/5.

Nevertheless, it’s a unique spirit and once malt fanciers ought to try. St. David’s Day, as we said, could be the perfect time.


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The top 15 beers that I drank in 2014

By Alan J. Wax

It was a very good year.

Over the past dozen months I’ve sampled and rated hundreds of beers. To be sure there were a few duds—beers I couldn’t swallow, but most of them were very good. Quite a few, in fact, were terrific, but more than a handful of brews really stood out.

Since taste is a very personal thing, I don’t expect everyone to agree with my choices. Readers may not enjoy the specialties that I do—Belgians, Belgian-inspired beers and sours were prominent on my list of top-rated beers. For the record I am not a fan of big, in-your-face hoppy beers, so if you’re hoping to see some on this list, you’re out of luck. Some of these beers here are regarded as world classics and I was pleased to renew acquaintances; others were new to the market and I was pleased to have discovered them.

Here, alphabetically are the top 15 beers that I drank in 2014; all rated five stars out of five (to see the runners up, and others, visit my Untapped.com profile:

Chimay Spéciale Cent Cinquante by Abbaye Notre Dame de Scoumont of Belgium, Released in limited quantities in 2012 to mark the Trappist brewery’s 150th anniversary this Abbey tripel is hazy gold with a dense foamy white head and a spicy nose. It’s full bodied and lively with notes of black pepper, licorice and malty sweetness.

hell gateHell Gate Golden by Blind Bat Brewery, Centerport, NY. A Belgian-style unfiltered tripel. Murky deep gold in color and rich in body with notes of cardamom spice and bubble gum.

Hottenroth by The Breuery, San Diego, Calif. In the style of a Berliner Weisser, this refreshing brew is hazy gold with a short head and sour apple nose. It’s lactic. Lemony, light and delicious.

Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel by Belgium’s Brasserie d’Achouffe. A Belgian IPA that’s golden hued with a rocky white hear and nose that is at one fruity, floral and resiny, Beautifully balance flavors with sweet malt, Belgian yeast character and grain notes,

Jonge Kriek (Ghost Bottle) by Brooklyn Brewery. Cherries dominate this oak-aged, Brett-tinged brew which used Brooklyn Local 2 as its base.

Life and Limb Batch 2 by Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, Calif. A deep brown American strong ale with a nose that redolent of malt and spice.  Rich and velvety mouth feel with notes of spices, chocolate and dried fruits. 

kwakPauwel Kwak by Belgium’s Brouwerij Bosteels. Belgian Strong ale, brown in hue and complex with notes of honey, caramel, brown candy sugar and a hint of anise.

Rodenbach Caractère Rouge by Belgian’s Brouwerij Rodenbach. A Flanders red ale brewed with macerated fresh cherries, raspberries and cranberries. A brassy red hue with a nose of oak and berries. On the mouth, there’s a delicious complex blend of sour fruit flavors

Saison Dupont by Belgium’s Brasserie Dupont. A golden hued brew with a huge head and spicy nose. It’s extra dry, citrusy and bready with a lip-smacking finish.

Logo-SaisonSaison by Brasserie St-Feuillien of Belgium. A classis example of the style with a golden color and notes of yeast, pepper and malt.

Surette Provision Saison by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver, Colo. This deep hazy golden brew has a prominent brettanomyces nose, extraordinary lip-smacking tartness with hints of oak toast and a dry finish.

St. Bretta (Spring) by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver, Colo. A hazy orange colored brew with a huge citrus nose precede the lip-smacking tart, orange, apple, spice and, of course, metallic brettanomyces notes. It’s a great palate cleanser.

St. Bretta (Winter) 2014 Batch 5 by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Denver, Colo.  I had this winter delight on a summer night. Almost ebony it didn’t have much of a head, but lots of fizz and a winey nose. Deliciously sour, citrusy and dry.

collab-woot-bttle22Drew Curtis/Wil Wheaton/Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout by Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, Calif. Dark brown in color with nose that that redolent of: alcohol, nuts, and roast notes. On the palate: it’s rich, syrupy with notes of dried fruit. The finish reminds you of this imperial stout’s 13 percent ABV.

Westmalle Trappist Tripel by Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle, of Belgium. This golden hued brew has a white rocky head. The nose offers notes of grain, yeast and anise. Its mouth feel is velvety with a soft malt palate that echoes the nose.

That’s my list. What’s on yours?  Tell everyone in the comments section.


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Guinness’ The 1759 reviewed: A distinctive, flavorful, pricey brew


By Alan J. Wax

A bottle of Guinness The 1759

A bottle of Guinness The 1759

Guinness has a winner, albeit a pricey one, that’s generated some controversy among beer geeks.

The big international brewer’s late October release, called The 1759, comes in a frosted, black, corked, 750 ml Champagne-style bottle nestled in a velvet-lined box and is priced at $35. Guinness says it produced only 90,000 bottles, largely for the U.S., of what it described as “a luxury beer.”

News  of the beer’s release, however, unleashed a stream of largely negative comments in various social media. “Guinness, yuck,” one read. Guinness, some suggested, was a giant evil monster. A marketing gimmick, said others. Few said they would pay the $35. But others, I read, had paid $50 for a bottle of this limited edition brew and, then shared it among friends. A good notion.

No one will ever accuse Guinness of being a craft brewer. Yes, it’s big on marketing as is its parent, drinks giant Diageo. Still, Guinness has been brewing that black elixir known as Guinness Stout for 250 years. It’s a wonderful brew when poured properly on draft at an Irish bar.

I’m sure many naysayers hadn’t tasted The 1759, which Guinness describes as an amber ale brewed with peat-smoked whiskey malt and fermented to 9 percent ABV.

I have, thanks to a sample shipped to me by Guinness’s PR folks. And I can say it’s distinctive, flavorful brew that most drinkers would be happy to sip, albeit at a lower price.

I shared my sample with a group of knowledgeable, advanced homebrewers/BJCP judges, among them the owner of a just-launched commercial brewery.

The group’s reaction was largely positive, although one taster thought it too smoky.

It was an interesting brew, they agreed. In fact, If you didn’t know it was from Guinness, you might think it was a terrific American craft brewed beer. I rated it 4/5 stars.

The 1759 poured a deep brownish copper and offered up a peaty nose that suggested a burning pile of fall leaves. But there are also notes of caramel, butterscotch, roasted malt, and suggestions of bacon. The hops were subdued. Full bodied, almost chewy with a creamy finish, it’s a complex brew that doesn’t hide its 9% ABV alcohol level.

In fact, it’s one of the better beers I’ve had recently. Would I pay $35 for it? Perhaps, once. But if someone chose to gift me with another bottle, I wouldn’t say no.

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Guinness goes upscale with a $35 limited edition brew called 1759  

Guinness 1759By Alan J. Wax

Guinness is going upscale.

The Irish brewer, best known for its iconic stout, is introducing a limited edition, ultra-premium amber ale called Guinness The 1759.

The brew’s grain bill includes traditional barley malt as well as peated malt usually used for making Scotch and Irish whiskies.

“The fine peated whisky malt used in the Guinness The 1759 brewing process brings a complex taste to the amber ale that gently complements the hop flavors, resulting in a liquid that is distinguished and innately Guinness.” said Michael Donnelly, master brewer at Guinness’ St. James’s Gate brewery in Dublin.

Donnelly described the new brew as having a rich butterscotch aroma with subtle hop notes and mellow caramel flavors combining with a subtle hop character along with fruity sweetness from a strong ester profile. Guinness recommends drinking the 9 percent ABV beer from a 6 oz. Champagne flute.

The new beer is to be the first in series of limited “Signature Series” brews to be produced at Guinness’ Brewhouse No. 4 at St. James’s Gate.  Only 90,000, corked and capped 750ml bottles were produced. The beer, packaged in a black velvet-lined gift box, will retail for about $35.

The beer’s name is derived from the year founder Arthur Guinness signed the 9,000-year lease at St. James’s Gate in Dublin,

Distribution at selected bars and retailers is expected to commence by the end of October. It will also be sold online at reservebar.com

Guinness officials credit the growing U.S. craft beer market as a force behind the new brew. Most of the production will be shipped to the U.S.

“The United States is driving a beer renaissance that hasn’t been seen globally for decades,” Doug Campbell, Guinness brand director, said in a statement. “Today, the expectations of beer connoisseurs and enthusiasts are significantly higher.” 

Earlier this year, the company debuted Guinness Blonde American Lager ($8.99 a six-pack), the first offering in the new Guinness Discovery Series.

We’re anxious to sample this brew, but wondering if it’s worth the price. Would you buy this brew?


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Virginia’s Devil’s Backbone wins again at GABF, MillerCoor’s AC Golden Brewing unit also a winner

gabf_medalsBy Alan J. Wax

Top honors at this year’s Great American Beer Festival went to AC Golden Brewing, Devils Backbone Brewing Co.-Outpost, Marble Brewery and Draught Works, each of which medaled in multiple categories.

Meanwhile, brewpubs receiving top honors were Beachwood BBQ & Brewing Beach, Brasserie Saint James and Bastone Brewery.

The winners, announced at the festival in Denver on Oct. 4, emerged from a pool of 5,507 individual commercial beer entries and 89 Pro-Am entries. A total of 268 medals were awarded.

The awards, among the most coveted in the brewing industry, often are compared to winning the Super Bowl or medaling in the Olympics. Winning a medal often translates into higher sales for the winners, if not prestige.

This year, the awards recognized a new category of brewer with the “Very Small Brewing Company and Very Small Brewing Company Brewer Award going to Draught Works, of Missoula, Montana, and its brew team.  The brewery won gold with its Scepter Head in the American Strong Ale Category.

Marble Brewery, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and its brewing team received the awards for Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year.  It won gold in the Other Strong Beer Category with its Double White and gold in the Imperial Red Category with its Imperial Red.

The Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year awards went to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. – Outpost, of Lexington, Virginia, www.dbbrewingcompany.com/theoutpost.aspx and its brewery team. The 15,000-square-foot Outpost is the newest addition to the Devils Backbone brewing group, which also received awards at the GABF in 2013 and 2012. Outpost took gold in the Germany-Style Schwartz Beer Category with its Schwartz Beer and silver in the Bock and American-style dark lager categories, respectively with its Turbo Cougar and Old Virginia Dark.

The award for Large Brewing Company and Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year went to AC Golden, of Golden, Colorado, and the AC Golden Brewing Team, which took gold and silver in the American-style Amber Lager Category with its Colorado Native Amber and its Colorado Native Golden, respectively. AC Golden is the development brewing operation of MillerCoors.

Bastone Brewery, of Royal Oak, Michigan, and its brewer, Rockne Van Meter, won honors for Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year. The brewpub took a silver medal in the Wood and Barrel Aged Beer Category with its Private Stock  #472 and silver in the Belgian-style Strong Specialty Ale Category with its Thor’s Hammer.

Brasserie Saint James, of Reno, Nevada, and brewers Josh Watterson and Matt Watterson won for Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year and brewer. The brewpub took a gold for its Daily Wages brew in the French-Belgian style Saison category. Its specialty is Belgian-style beer.

The Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year award honors went to Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, Long Beach, California and brewers Julian Shrago and Ian McCall. The brewpub’s Mocha Machine took gold in the Coffee Beer Category and its Un Atout won gold in the French-Belgian style Saison Category.

Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, Long Beach, California and brewers Julian Shrago and Ian McCall. The brewpub’s Mocha Machine took gold in the Coffee Beer Category and its Un Atout won gold in the French-Belgian style Saison Category.

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Scottish 80 Shilling, brewed by Bear Republic Brewing Co. of Healdsburg, California, won the gold in the ProAm competition, which pairs amateur brewers with professional brewers, who scale up the award-winning homebrew recipes. The winning team included Bear Republic brewmaster Richard Norgrove, and AHA member Michael Kelly. Silver went to Spencer Pale Ale, from Kokopelli Beer Co., of Westminster, Colorado, which paired its brew team AHA Member Daniel Christensen. Bronze was awarded to I Wanna Rauch!, Springfield Brewing Co., of Springfield, Missouri, brewed by brewmasters Ashton Lewis and Bruce Johnson, and AHA member Keith Wallis

Industry professionals—222 from 10 countries— judged the competition. They worked together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, tasted beers in each of 145 specified style categories.

A list of the winners is available on festival’s web site.

Fifty-two first-time entering breweries won awards in the competition and four breweries tied for most medals won, with three medals each: 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Bend Oregon; Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, Baker, Oregon; Devils Backbone Brewing Co.–Outpost, Lexington, Va.; and Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, Colorado.

Since 2002, the most-entered category has been American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA), which saw 279 entries in 2014. This year’s gold medalist was Breakside IPA from the Breakside Brewery in Milwaukee, Oregon.

This year’s competition featured three new categories: Belgian-Style Fruit Beer, with 41 entries; Historical Beer, with 12 entries; and Kuyt Beer, which had no entries

Industry professionals—222 from 10 countries— judged the competition. They worked together in small groups and, without knowing the brand name, tasted beers in each of 145 specified style categories.



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An impulsive visit to Chateau La Nerthe proves to be a worthwhile decision

By Alan J. Wax

The gates to Chateau La Nerthe

The gates to Chateau La Nerthe

Our day of touring Avignon and its Palais des Papes had drawn to an end. What else to do with just a few hours of daylight remaining?

Visit a winery, of course. Which one? I turned to my GPS, hit points of interest, attractions and then wineries. A list displayed with the wineries closest to our position, along the Rhone River, near the Pont d’Avignon. With traffic in every direction, a spot decision was required. With a quick glance while stopped for light, I  instantly recognized Château La Nerthe, just 20 minutes away. Off we went.

La Nerthe is one of the historic estates of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appelation with 225 acres of vineyards in the stony southeastern portion of the region. Château La Nerthe, whose origins trace back to the 12th Century, has been owned by the Richard family since 1985. Their vineyards are all organic. The annual production is about 290,000 bottles of red and 40,000 bottles of white.

La Nerthe's stony vinyard

La Nerthe’s stony vinyard

The estate’s well-lit, modern tasting room was reached by driving up a narrow, gravel lane through the stony vineyards. The classic chateauneuf terroir of the famous galettes, or large, round stones, dominates the vineyard, where vines on average are 40 years old. La Nerthe grows 13 different grape varieties.

Château La Nerthe, whose origins trace back to the 12th Century, has been owned by the Richard family since 1985. Their vineyards are all organic. The annual production is about 290,000 bottles of red and 40,000 bottles of white.

The tasting room was abuzz as we arrived late in the afternoon. A group of American tourists from Southern California on a winery tour was busy sampling Le Nerthe’s wares.

Soon, I would, too. And later be joined by a group from Pennsylvania. What is it with all these Americans?

Le Nerthe's  tasting room wine dispenser

Le Nerthe’s tasting room wine dispenser

The wines, poured from a dispenser built into a wall behind a tasting bar, was a step up from some of the rustic tasting rooms we’d visited during our travels.

I was especially eager to try La Nerthe’s CdP Blanc. White Cdps—and numerous whites from other Rhone appelations are hard to find in the U.S. and I’ve enjoyed them immensely when offered the opportunity.

La Nerthe’s white is made predominately from Roussanne along with Grenache, Clairette and Bouboulenc. The 2013 vintage was being poured. Pale gold, it offered an intense it was fresh and round with a nose of peach, citrus and flowers and lively acidity and mineral notes on the palate followed to a lengthy finish.

Three CdP Rouge followed, the 2011, 2010 and the 1996. The 2011, a blend of blend of  syrah, grenache noir andmourvedre, was soft with notes of red fruit and spice. The 2010, a blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, was for me a perfect CdP with its plush body and complex notes of ripe cherries and plums, spice and earthiness. The 1996 offered a raisiny, stewed red fruit notes and earth, but left an impression that it had peaked.

Finally, a surprise. Fine de Châteauneuf-du- Pape, a brandy, labeled an eau-de-vie, a rarity in the appellation.  Made from a white wine base distilled three times and aged in large oak barrels, it reminded me of a lightly hued cognac, quite aromatic, fruity, smooth and flavorful with a bit of an alcohol bite in the finish.

Not wanting to weigh down my suitcases, I bought only a bottle of the ‘13 blanc and the ’10 rouge., though it was temping to buy the brandy. Only the prospect of a credit card bill that I could not pay put the brakes on that.

The spur of the moment decision to visit Le Nerthe provided a welcome respite from playing tourist and terrific dividends from  tasting such terrific wines.



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