Thursday, April 24, 2014
By TOM ATWELL
Who comes up with these names for beers? Good beers have simple names. Shipyard Export Ale, Geary's Pale Ale, Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout and Gritty's Pub Style all make sense. They start with the brand name of the brewer and follow with the style of beer. Simple and informative.
Arrogant Bastard is good, but not quite as good as it claims.
But the brewing industry is competitive. Serious Maine beer drinkers are going to try every Maine beer they can find, and if the beer is good enough, they will come back for more.
But to expand beyond your home market, you need a gimmick.
The idea for this column came when Ray Routhier, a friend and fellow writer for the features pages of The Press Herald/Sunday Telegram, sent me a link about Arrogant Bastard Ale, a strong American ale from Stone Brewing Co. of southern California. I'd had Arrogant Bastard even before I started writing this column -- and I've known more arrogant bastards than I have drunk -- and this is a pretty good beer. But it is not as good as it thinks it is.
The back of the label says, "It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth."
With a challenge like that, any beer snob is going to buy this and say they like it.
But at a disorganized tasting of unusually named beers to celebrate grandson James' third birthday -- James didn't taste any -- Arrogant Bastard finished in the middle of the pack.
It was strong, at 7.2 percent alcohol, and quite hoppy, yet did not have any outstanding characteristics. But at $6.99 for a 22-ounce bottle, I would drink it again if the offer presented itself.
There were two top beers in the tasting, chosen by son-in-law Christian.
The first was Spine Tingler, a golden Belgian-style triple from MacTarnahan's Brewing Co. in the other Portland. This is not your typical Belgian. It is sweet up front, is fairly clear, and has almost no hops. It has a yeasty flavor -- not a flavor of Belgian yeast, but more of freshly baked rolls -- and comes in at 8.5 percent alcohol. It costs $9.29 for a 22-ounce bottle, and everyone liked it.
The other favorite was Farmer's Tan, an imperial pale lager from Southern Tier Brewing in Lakewood, N.Y. This was slightly sweet, very malty, only lightly hopped and fairly cloudy for a lager, coming from a little bit of white wheat in the mix. It costs $6.99 for a 22-ounce bottle.
I like the blues, but that did not influence my appreciation of Robert Johnson's Hellhound on My Ale from Dogfish Head in Delaware. This was the most complex brew of the ones we tasted, with a little bit of lemon making it bitter but not overpoweringly hoppy. It was cloudy, had a good head, came in at 10 percent alcohol, and costs $12.39 for a 750-milliliter bottle. When we tasted it, everyone thought it was going to be the winner of the day. It was good, but just a bit short of the other two.
We are fans of Clown Shoes, a brewery in Ipswich, Mass., but Eagle Claw Fist, an imperial red ale at 8 percent alcohol, is not one of its best. It was fairly bitter and hoppy -- not bad, but nothing to distinguish itself. It cost $5.99 for a 22-ounce bottle.
The best name -- and worst beer -- of the bunch was ½ Idjit, an imperial porter from Dugges brewery in Sweden. This should have been a good beer -- it was dark, heavy, flavorful and unfinished. It was almost totally flat, with an almost gritty texture and rough around the edges. It contains 7 percent alcohol and comes in a 16.9-ounce bottle.
We tasted The Vixen from Samuel Adams last, because we did not want to ruin our palates. It is a chocolate chili bock with cinnamon at 8.5 percent alcohol, and all four tasters thought it would be awful. But we liked it. Not one of the disparate flavors stood out -- except maybe the cocoa. But there is a good chance our palates were shot by this time.
There are other unusual names that we did not try this time around: Fin du Monde ("End of the World") and Maudite ("Damned") from Unibroue come to mind, as does Rogue Dead Guy Ale. All three are very good, and I may report on them later.
I would not tell you never to buy a beer just because you like the name -- but never buy more than one at a time.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: