The Worst Beer Ever…and some ok ones.

BREWERS ALLEY

Brewer’s Alley was established in 1996 and is marketed as the first brewpub in Maryland’s Frederick County. On a chilly March afternoon, I decided to grab some friends and take a stroll through some of their beers. They don’t give the majority of their beers funky names as has been the trend for a while now in the beer scene, instead just telling you what kind of beer it is. At first I liked this, until it lulled me in to a false sense of security…

Brewer's Alley, purveyors of one great beer.
Brewer’s Alley, purveyors of one great beer.

IPA – 5.8% – Not a lot of head on the pour, pretty standard IPA hop profile, nothing too notable. In color it’s darker than a golden, and almost a little red. It’s ok, I’d do it again

IPA
IPA

Oatmeal Stout – 6.7% – This unfiltered stout came with no head, and had really big roasted malt flavors. Almost coffee and chocolate flavored, but not overly strong, it was deep deep brown to black, and I loved it. I would come back to this regularly.

This Oatmeal Stout was great.
This Oatmeal Stout was great.

Nut Brown Ale – 5.5% – Medium bodied and lighter in color than expected (but definitely still brown), crisp and session drinkable, its most notable attribute is that its not overly caramel flavored. It’s ok.

The fried pickles in the background were more interesting than this beer.
The fried pickles in the background were more interesting than this beer.

1634 Ale – 5.1% – THIS BEER IS AWFUL. Lulled into a false sense of security I wandered to the beer that had a fun name instead of sticking with their standard offerings. This weird, overly sweet, flat beer was so bad I had to pull my phone out and look up on the web wtf it was about. It’s based on a recipe from 1634, and uses ingredients that would have been available then…neat, but if I wanted weird experimental ancient molasses brews I’d call up one of those Ren-Fest types that makes sub-par basement mead and gone that way. It smells awful, it’s got a fennel/licorice flavor that overpowers every sip, it sucks, and I’m sad.

YOU CAN KISS MY @$$ IF YOU THINK THIS IS GOOD, GET THIS AWAY FROM ME.
YOU CAN KISS MY @$$ IF YOU THINK THIS IS GOOD, GET THIS AWAY FROM ME.

Monocacy Brewing Co. – HL rex – 3.8% – This was a guest brew spot on the Brewer’s Alley beer board, and that 1634 Ale was so bad I just let it sit and moved on. I’m not a cry baby so I didn’t ask for them to take it back, I made a poor choice, I’ll own it. I just used the experience as impetus for abandoning their side of the board, and moved into guest territory. Unfortunately, this light beer was akin to a Coors Light, and when you’re paying brewery prices…that’s not gonna fly. This place is dead to me, ITS ALL BEEN A RUSE! A RUUUUUUSE! THE JIG IS UP! I’M OUTTA HERE!

Why don't we just buy a Mr. Beer and call ourselves a brewery...GTFO with this weak sauce.
Why don’t we just buy a Mr. Beer and call ourselves a brewery…GTFO with this weak sauce.

Having pulled out of the tailspin that was those last two choices, our jolly band of reveler’s went to JoJo’s, also in Frederick MD and had a final round of their fine in-house IPA to wash the sorrows of leaving a damn near full pint of 1634 Ale away. I don’t think I’ll be buying their beers in the store anytime soon, but the food was good, some of the beers were alright (the oatmeal stout ruled), and the staff was nice, so I’d revisit the bar if someone wanted a drinking buddy.

In Defense of Ronald

This morning’s biscuit is one that should be familiar to millions. From beneath the golden arches, where consistency is the business model, breakfast biscuit lovers the world over stuck in a tight spot know they can rely on the McDonalds bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. With the new “breakfast all day” menu at Mickey Dees, depending on your region, you can even get one at night (some regions are McMuffins only for the all day deal). The particular location for this biscuit is one of those recently remodeled within the last 5-10 year McDonald’s that kind of feel like a Starbucks. Let me be clear, when I say remodeled, I mean they tore the whole damn thing down, and put up a brand new burger spot….that looks like a Starbucks. Gone are the gaudy red/yellow seat cushions of yesteryear, and ephemera with cartoon characters everywhere. These newer structures are sleek, with digital signage, weird little fireplaces, and a clean “modern” feel. It’s weird, and I don’t really eat at McDonalds ever these days, but I still feel a little nostalgic for the way things were whenever I step into a “new” McDonalds.

McCafe. One day we'll all laugh at these, like those new Wendy's that look like night clubs.
McCafe. One day we’ll all laugh at these, like those new Wendy’s that look like night clubs.
Unlike this, which will live on, sparkly and golden in our memories forever.
Unlike this, which will live on, sparkly and golden in our memories forever.

Before we move on to the main topic at hand I should disclose that I, like many young Americans, once held a position of employment in Ray Kroc’s empire. I worked at a McDonalds in a Walmart as the guy who put the sandwiches together. It was a special circle of hell reserved for those with weird schedules. I could complain more, but really, they accommodated my high school sports practice schedule, I was only there for three months, and I gained a weird appreciation for how controlled and consistent the Ronald McDonald way of food production was. That being said…on to the bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit!

Look at that beauty!
Look at that beauty!

Coming in at 2″ tall by 3″ wide, it’s not the behemoth that some other places offer.

She doesn't look like much, but she's got it where it counts.
Wait…that’s not the same thing as the picture at all…
IMG_8181
It may not look like much, but its got it where it counts.

Well done, with some crispy bits but not burnt, and oddly even a little chewy, the McBiscuit has great structure, and holds together without feeling like a brick. This texture makes you feel like you’re eating something substantive, but a look at the dimensions and a reflection on the ingredients will make you think otherwise, like maybe there should be more…more biscuit, more bacon, more something (I suspect this has led patrons to double down on their selections more than once). The biscuit itself is not so much buttery as greasy, almost like a French fry. This isn’t to say that it’s bad, on the contrary, it is surprisingly good. The McDonalds biscuit represents the assembly line perfection of a traditionally “home-style” food. Add in a little bacon, a decent sized egg, and a slice of American cheese and you’ve got a classic.

From a financial standpoint, there are far more sensible purchases from the McValue menu that will net you more food for your buck. They know what they’ve got, and the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese is the Cadillac of the lineup, priced as such at $3 and change.

Eschew this list of savings and go big with the Bacon, Egg, & Cheese, you big spender you.
Eschew this list of savings and go big with the Bacon, Egg, & Cheese, you big spender you.

In their own way, the McDonald’s folks have managed to create a staple item that serves as biscuit 101 for kids, a nationally certified hangover helper for reckless youth, a quick breakfast for people on their way to work, and a symbol to rally around for the elderly (seriously, older people love hanging out at McDonalds in the AM). The McDonalds bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit is the ol’ faithful of the biscuit world. It might not be that exciting, but it is reliable, comfortable, and manages near perfection in its meeting of expectations. How many times you had a bad McBiscuit? My guess is at most once, but a more likely answer is never. Get off yer high horse you haters, and embrace the McBiscuit, it’s a viable option.

Until next time, when I unveil the worst beer I have ever had.

Your host,

Charlie Mewshaw

 

Better Budget Bourbon

GREEN VS BLACK EVAN WILLIAMS

Two years ago I walked into a bar and declared, “I’m going to learn to understand whiskey better!” I should pause and mention that my experiences with whiskey at this point in my life were Jameson, whatever manner of Scotch got served at weddings, and random shots of rail selections at questionable bars. Since then I’ve become no expert, but I do have a better grasp on what I like within the incredibly popular Bourbon branch of the whiskey family tree. Top shelf, I’m into Blanton’s, and I like the 10 year Bulleit a lot. I also enjoy Bulleit’s standard offering (which what started me on quest for understanding), and Buffalo Trace is pretty good as far as upper mid-level selections. Wild turkey isn’t bad, but Jim Beam is a better replacement in what I consider standard class, and then there are some guilty pleasure bottom tier guys like Rebel Yell (it comes with a free paracord bracelet…prizes and trinkets!).

One brand that I have yet to mention is Evan Williams. I really like Evan Williams for a lower-middle of the road choice. It’s good over ice, it has big flavors that cut through if used in cocktails, and it carries a low price tag. Thing is, there’s a few different kinds of Evan Williams, and before this writing I had only sampled the black label variety. Now, mind you, I had witnessed the green bottle variety used at bars and stocked alongside a white label “bottled in bond” variety (which for the sake of this discussion will be overlooked), but always picked up the black label when making my own selections. Well not today, not today. Today I grabbed a green label bottle AND a black label bottle, so that I may compare and contrast in the name of nonessential whiskey blogging. So let’s get to it.

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Right away you’ll note the ABV is different with black label coming in at 43%, and green at 40%. It’s also interesting to note that the wording on the labels is the same, with the lone exception being that the neck of the black variety says “Extra Aged”, while the green omits this designation. This type of vague description makes we wonder just how much “extra” actually is. Upon pouring some out side by side, it’s evident that the green variety is lighter in color, which would make sense since its aged less than the black. It also has less of the oaky smell that the black variety has, which again, makes sense (the black label variety also burns the nose a bit, while the green does not). Sipping black label you get corn and oak flavors, a little vanilla and caramel, with an itty-bitty rye aftertaste and not subtle, but not overwhelming bite, basically it’s a strong, no-frills bourbon. The green label on the other hand is like its little brother. Milder up front, almost sweet, with undercurrents of what it may have been if left in the barrel a while longer (its got a little oak flavor, not overpowering in any way), and minimal if any bite. Now, not being privy to the differences in mash bill between the two (if any), I’d be so bold as to say that the recipe is probably about the same, with the main difference being age. I’m aware that I could probably look up the mash bills, but aren’t some things better left to mystery?

Black
Black
Green
Green

So where then are we left? What to make of the green label? Well, you probably know someone somewhere who makes questionable whiskey decisions – like drinking all manner of weird “flavored” whiskey varieties (honey, cinnamon, mint? blah blah blah). Tell them to stop it, and jump on board the bourbon with training wheels, Evan Williams green label. It’s not bad, and it’s a great mild introductory point to the world of bourbons at a low price point (it’s a buck less than black label at my store, which is already a stellar deal). On top of all that, your questionable friend will no longer appear to have the drinking disposition of a college freshman. Me, I’ll be sticking with the black label.

I’ll be back on Wed. to spin a yarn about a biscuit familiar to millions.

Your host,

Charlie Mewshaw

St. Patrick’s Day 2016 – Guinness Nitro…IPA?

IMG_8136

What fresh hell is this?! Guinness, simultaneous purveyors of great stout, and renowned keepers of world records, have chosen to dabble in not one but two new angles of departure from the expected on this beer offering. The nitro thing has been cruising along, gaining momentum in recent years, and I can see why. Nitro beers are exactly as the ad-men say, smooth, somehow creamy in texture (not in a gross way), and they come with a great sense of novelty because you know, it’s different. Addressing the other curveball (for Guinness), it goes without saying that IPA-mania, while still going strong, has likely already reached its zenith. We’re now seeing small breweries becoming more adventurous, and offering up more than just hop-forward choices that taste the way weed smells, so the introduction of another IPA to the market now is odd. The lingering thought I still can’t wrap my head around is the “why” on this product. I mean, maybe if they were looking to diversify their beer portfolio beyond what’s already there, Guinness could have created a sub-label or something, but no, this is GUINNESS Nitro IPA. Premium brand, unexpected variety. I would like to have been in the room for that pitch. I imagine a dozen Irish folks dressed like characters from Boardwalk Empire yelling at each other, because in my mind, that’s the way the things would be done at the ol’ Guinness factory. Old timey fancy clothes, thick accents, and yelling, lots of yelling. Kind of like human-adult sized leprechauns.

Inspection of the sixer reveals instructions for the user, really goofy instructions to pour at a 45 degree angle. If you need to be told not to dump your beer into a glass at a 90 degree angle, you should probably go somewhere else, because truly, there is nothing here for you. Go, now….

How to pour a beer, because we're all idiots apparently.
How to pour a beer, because we’re all idiots apparently.

Ok, now that we’ve rid ourselves of that guy, lets open a can. Upon opening one up, you’ll hear the little widget starting kicking out its precious nitrogen to give the beer its “creamy” texture. While pouring your beer within the limits of the aforementioned guidelines you’ll notice it does a really cool settling thing (just like it was draught!) I know this isn’t anything new, and widget cans have been around a long time, but I still think they’re neat. Need a quick explanation of how they work? Here’s a diagram I stole:

Secret tip: the air ball is filled with leprechaun farts. Leprechauns fart nitrogen.
Secret tip: the air ball is filled with leprechaun farts. Leprechauns fart nitrogen.

The important part is not the packaging, marketing, or any of that, but really whether or not this beer is worth drinking. So I cautiously raised my glass, took in a mild hoppy aroma and took a swig. Through the thick Guinness-esque head came EXACTLY what was marketed, a smooth nitro IPA. This may be one of the few times a product has been spot on perfect to its marketing description, and you know what, it’s a good beer! It’s not scorchingly hopped, but the IPA flavor is definitely there, almost citrus and floral like with a dry finish. It’s not particularly heavy, so it doesn’t leave you feeling like you can’t have a few. The nitro element is definitely at the forefront of the experience, with the expected creamy smoothness. The only real drawback is that for a few bucks more than the price ($9 a six pack), I can get plenty of mixed twelve pack options and explore a bit more.

IMG_8138

Look ma! Just like on TV!
Look ma! Just like on TV!

If I had to guess, I would say this is likely a limited time release. I doubt that the Guinness Nitro IPA will be around a few years from now, and I doubt I’ll revisit it more than once or twice due to the cost (there’s really just better values out there), but I have to admit that at the end of this beer, I’m going for another.

Join me Friday when I discuss my favorite cheap bourbon!

Your host,

Charlie Mewshaw

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is a place of legend. Only open from 6:00am (7:00am on Sundays) until 2:30pm, this is definitely not a late-night drunken diner, this is a proper breakfast spot. Famous long before its appearance in 2013’s Johnny Knoxville romp Bad Grandpa (though the publicity didn’t hurt), SBK’s morning magic has been happening in a diminutive structure akin to a shack along E. Franklin St for decades (with its founding location actually being in Louisburg NC). Although they advertise as drive through only, I have witnessed people walk up to the little door on the side and order. This doors bears a sign that says “limit 3 people at a time”, and I suspect that this method of transaction is for SBK VIPs in the know only. We entry-level biscuiteers queue up in our cars along the length of E Franklin, sometimes with the line blocking a lane of traffic for a quarter mile, all the way to Estes Dr. It’s one of those things that when first observed, signals to the uninitiated that if people are willing to do that, it must be worth it…and it is.

badgramps

From their website...

For the sake of this discussion, the heart attack in a bag that I chose was the “Bad Grampa” (note the alternate spelling from the film title – prior to the movie it was called something else entirely, but you know, gotta capitalize!). This monster of questionable morning decisions consists of three pieces of bacon, an egg, an amazing hand breaded fried chicken breast, and a thick cut slice of cheddar cheese, all sandwiched within the goodness of a large Sunrise biscuit. This could easily feed two reasonable adults, or one glutton, and all of this is yours is for a mere $7.40 after tax. There are more menu options that some might describe as sensible, but why even pursue that line of thought. Presented in a plain white paper bag, on this occasion I was also gifted hash browns which are usually reserved for the combo – bonus, everything’s coming up Milhouse!

Plain White Bag.
Plain White Bag.

Getting down to brass tax, let us closer examine the experience this thing brings to your face:

After being wrapped up and squished in the bag, the beast comes in at a little under 3” tall, and between 3.5 to 4” wide. This range highlights the fact that since the biscuits are made from scratch there are some discrepancies from piece to piece in diameter, no assembly line here. It’s also worth noting that this meal in sandwich form has got some serious heft to it.

IMG_8128

Don't look it in the eye.
Don’t look it in the eye.

I’m quite sure I could pitch this thing like a brick through a window. The biscuit itself is impressive in that it is has a fluffy, buttery texture that belies its structural integrity. It’s not a crumbly mess, yet not an overly doughy ball. This holy-grail recipe is said on the SBK website to have originated with proprietors grandmother, who birthed seventeen children and lived to almost 100. The underside of the biscuit has a subtle crunch to it, but is not burnt, and has a texture bolstered by the crunch of the fried chicken. The aroma as it nears your face is a combination of smoky, buttery bakery goodness, and that famous Sunday smell of someone frying chicken. The flavors that match the aroma all cut through on first bite, and in my opinion are complimented by a little hot sauce. The cheese is almost unnecessary with the amount of flavors going on here, but not unwelcome. About halfway through you’ll start to wonder what you have done, and if you can finish. The answer to this of course is that you have supported a locally owned business, taken part in a long standing local tradition, given yourself an unparalleled biscuit experience, and yes…you will finish, because you won’t be able to help yourself. Upon consumption you’ll proudly tell everyone that will listen of what you have done.

I know that this is a biscuit focused entry, and I could end here, but I really really really want to point that SBK also offers a kale and vegetable sandwich. Yes. You read that right, a kale and vegetable sandwich. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND GOES TO SBK AND ORDERS THE KALE SANDWICH?! My brother-in-law, that’s who. It was a sad day when after we waited in line for probably 20 minutes while I espoused all the aforementioned traits of this culinary adventure that upon reaching the ordering intercom, he blurts “I want the kale sandwich! On wheat!” When the orders came, and he saw the mistake he had made, I offered a trade. He began acknowledging his awful choice, and I believe considered my offer, but much to his credit he owned his mistake and begrudgingly ate his choice, lying in the bed of leafy greens he had made. To that end, I must publicly thank him for taking in this affront to the biscuit overlords, because without him I wouldn’t be able to let the world know that SBK makes a kale offering for even the most discerning of tastes. So when you want some SBK and someone says “there’s nothing there for me” you can answer with resounding authority that SBK has something for everyone.

Come back on Wed. and read about a special St. Patrick’s Day treat you can get yourself.

Your host,

Charlie Mewshaw