Craft Beer: A small, independent and traditional beer brewery.
This is the most technical definition that I can find for craft beer, as even this definition still allows for a ton of variety. Overall though, it’s beer that isn’t made by huge companies like Millers, Coors or Anheuser-Busch.
So here’s the deal: I love to try different craft beers! I mean, there’s nothing better than discovering new tastes and flavors. When I was younger though, I wasn’t a big fan of beer, which you really can’t blame me for. I mean, I grew up in the hood. Everybody was drinking Ol’ E (Olde English to those not in the know), Budweiser and Natural Light. And don’t even get me started on the dawn of 211 (Nobody actually called it Steel Reserve, did they?!).
Lets just put it like this: Back then, I’d made up my mind that the only good beer was Miller High Life. Yep, it was that bad.
But as is typical of me, I eventually started to explore the world of beer. I hate being uneducated about something, especially drinking! And as I’ve gotten older and my budget has increased, I’ve found that if I’m willing to head to specialty stores. For everything you think you like, there’s something better…and whoever is making it probably doesn’t have a huge budget. I like to think that I have the Farmer’s Market mentality…just about beer!
Anyways, this past weekend, I decided to spend a ton of money on single craft beers at Total Wine and More, so that I could invite my bestie Mo over for a beer tasting. Yep, that’s how I roll. I totally didn’t make it through every beer in the photo above, but I did make a nice dent between Saturday and Monday. And while Mo didn’t stick around to try everything with me, she did make it through some. I’ve highlighted her contribution with the “Mo Says:” portion of this write up.
So why did I do this? Aside from my love of beer and blowing money, that is? Well, I have a few good reasons.
- Anyone that’s ever wandered into a store like Total Wine & More, to browse through the beer section, might become overwhelmed by all of the choices and just go for something familiar. Believe me, I get it. The craft section has tons of beers with a bunch of weird looking labels. Alcohol is too damn expensive for you to end up with a lot of beer you don’t like.
- Just like with wine, you have to train your palette to really TASTE beer. I think that’s why, besides their extensive marketing budget, the Budweisers of the world are so popular. You don’t think too hard about the taste because there really isn’t one. You just blindly drink it cold and there’s nothing to think about. And for anyone that thinks I’m hating, try drinking one warm. I bet it tastes like piss! A good beer won’t be disgusting because it’s warm.
- I think somebody like me, who’s no beer expert but is adventurous and open minded about drinking, can possibly get some of you regular consumers to try something different. I doubt I’m as intimidating (or annoying) as a beer snob that rolls their eyes at you, while insulting you for having enjoyed a popular domestic brand, followed by them droning on endlessly about hops and yeast. I mean, should you try something new? Definitely…but a person aint gotta be judgmental about it!
So yeah, here are the brews I tried with accompanying pictures. Enjoy! And for the love of God, please go try one. Beer is so much more awesome than corner stores have led us to believe! And in case you’re wondering….yes, I did spend the entire weekend drunk. I’m a blogger and I’m serious about my shit!
Fruli Strawberry Beer – Imported from Belgium (4.1% alc.)
Belgian White brewed with coriander, orange peel and strawberry juice.
This beer was delicious! The taste of Strawberry is very strong. It’s truly embodies the idea of a taste someone might expect when hearing the word “fruit beer.”
Mo Says: It tastes like a wine cooler.
I would have to agree with her. The beer taste is there, but it’s very slight. Overall, the strawberry flavor stands out the most. If I could compare this to a popular drink, I’d say a Bud Light Straw-Ber-Rita…But the way it SHOULD TASTE. There’s no overwhelmingly sugary aftertaste here, nor is it overly sweet going down. This beer simply tastes like Strawberries with a kick. It really is good!
If you ever met someone, usually a woman, that turned her face up and SWORE she hated beer, this one is for her! Like I always tell my friends…you THINK you don’t like beer, but there’s one out there for everybody. Fruli Strawberry beer just might be it!
Orange Blossom Pilsner 2 (11% alc.)
Beer brewed with real orange blossom honey. Has all natural ingredients and no refined sugar.
The orange taste is very refined and pronounced. You can also taste a hint of the honey…but the beer isn’t sweet, so much as flavorful. Malty, not bitter. It’s creamy.
Mo Says: Heineken with some funk on it. With an orange funky twist! This is good.
This beer doesn’t taste like Heineken. What Mo means is that, if you hate the “beer taste” you won’t like this, but if you do, you’ll LOVE this. The name of this beer might lead you to believe it’s more like the Fruli Strawberry beer, but don’t let the name fool you…this is definitely a brew. On the flip side though, it’s so dang light. Often when you have a beer that’s this high in alcohol, it drinks heavily. This one doesn’t. It goes down smooth and the next thing you know, you have a buzz. Two of these in and you’re liable to be drunk.
Cool Tidbit: 10 minutes after drinking, I still had an orange malt taste in my mouth. It was pleasant, not like a disgusting after taste. Very good beer!
Organic Honey Basil – Bison Brewing (6% alc.)
Brewed with organic honey and organic basil
Mo Says: I don’t know about this one dawg. Reminds me of Heineken but tastes worse. It’s more bitter.
While I don’t agree with her that this tastes worse than a Heineken, Mo is right that the taste is similar to one. This is a good beer if you don’t mind a more bitter taste. However, unlike Heineken, this beer has flavors. Each time you sip, stop and TASTE the beer. You’ll definitely detect the basil! I think this beer is better enjoyed the second time around.
Unless you’re an open-minded drinker, which I am, you’ll love the Fruli Strawberry and hate this one. Or vice versa. I recommend this to people who like Heineken, but wish it was better. As for Mo, she didn’t like this beer. After doing her tasting portion, she promptly handed her sample to me. It’s now sitting in the refrigerator until I can drink it later.
Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat (5.3% alc.)
Wheat ale brewed with real cherries and natural flavor added
I like this beer. It’s not the best or the worst. This is the beer you order when you’re out for wings and can’t stomach a Bud Light. It’s very easy to drink, it’s smooth and the cherry taste isn’t overpowering. You can drink this beer while eating and taste buds shouldn’t suffer.
Mo Says: Robitussiiii!!!!! Beer with Robitussin! Tastes like medicine.
Can’t say I understand her Robitussin comparison, but I will say that the taste is like a non-descript beer with some light cherry added on top. This brew lacks a certain refined quality to it…but that’s not really an insult. It’s just kind of the way it is.
Despite her Robitussin comparison, Mo actually finished her sample, unlike with the Organic Honey Basil beer. I think that’s the point with this beer. You do think it could be better, but it’s still good. And if you go to a place that has it on tap, you’ll take it over Budweiser or Miller any day. While this isn’t my favorite, it’s a good beer and I’m okay with drinking it whenever.
Samuel Adams Wee Heavy (10% alc.)
A traditional Scotch Ale from the Imperial Series
The name on this beer is appropriate. It’s pretty darn heavy and intense.
Mo Says: It’s like a really strong Guinness!
I’d have to agree. The flavor definitely reminds you of Guinness…a much thicker, stronger and “will give you a buzz before you reach the end of the bottle” Guinness. I actually enjoyed this beer a great deal. The taste is dark, smoky and tastes of chocolate. Usually, when I find a “chocolate” beer it’s also bitter. I can’t say the same for this beer. It was uniquely heavy and I enjoyed it.
If you like Guinness, I think you’ll enjoy this. And if you like beers that have complex flavors, this one is definitely for you. Why isn’t this stuff in all the stores? I used to think I didn’t like Sam Adams until I hit the craft section!
Samuel Adams Blackberry Witbier (5.5% alc.)
A wheat ale brewed with blackberries and spices with natural flavors added.
Confession: I can’t entirely remember what this dang beer tasted like! I should’ve written it down immediately, but eh. I got caught up doing something else..or maybe I was just drunk already…Whatever!
What I can remember is that it smelled very berry and tasted kind of sour. It was hardly the worst beer I’ve ever had, but I don’t have particularly fond memories of it either. I also recall being glad to finish it. Overall, I’d say skip this one, unless you’re just dying to try a blackberry beer.
Florida Avenue Blueberry – Tampa Cold Storage Craft Brewery (4.7% alc)
An ale with blueberry flavor added
This beer tastes like what I imagine blueberry pancakes, in a beer version with no syrup, would taste. There’s no doubting what this beer is once you take a sip. The blueberry flavor isn’t particularly sweet, but if you’ve ever had blueberries, neither are they, so I suppose the beer remains true to the berry.
There’s a blueberry beer on tap at the Dubliner in Soho called Sea Dog Blueberry Wheat Ale. I’d love to drink these two side by side and compare. Currently, I think I prefer Sea Dog, though I’ll admit Florida Avenue has the stronger blueberry taste.
If you don’t like blueberry, this beer is not for you. If you want a sweet blueberry flavor, this beer isn’t for you. But if you want an authentic blueberry taste that doesn’t take away the taste of beer, this IS for you. Personally speaking, this one isn’t for me.
Railbender Ale – Erie Brewing Company (6.8% alc)
A dark amber with a caramel sweetness lingering in a soft hop flavor.
This beer was interesting. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. It was a bit heavy, but easy to drink. While I could detect the light sweetness of the caramel, it was the only flavor I detected. And honestly, it wasn’t until I Googled the beer that I fully realized that’s what it was. This beer does leave a light aftertaste.
Overall, I didn’t mind drinking it, but it’s not something I’d buy again. The taste is almost nondescript. With so many other, flavorful beers on the market, this just seems a bit blah.
UniBroue Don De Dieu (9% alc.)
A Canadian ale brewed with spices
Though heavy, this beer is smooth, strong and very flavorful. It reminds me of nuts and honey if that makes sense. I don’t have a lot to say about it, other than it was rich and strong. I’d definitely drink it again. I think anyone that likes beer with a hint of spice might like this…but if you prefer your beer strong and bitter, this won’t be for you.
Virgin Islands Tropical Mango (4.5% alc.)
A Pale Ale with Mango and other natural flavors added
This beer was okay I guess. They aren’t lying when they say Mango. The taste hits you almost immediately! And it remains throughout the beer. Don’t let the “tropical mango” name fool you though. For someone that purchased this expecting it to be sweet like the Fruli Strawberry beer, they’d be pretty disappointed. I think you have to be a beer drinker to find this sweet.
Unfortunately, the “other natural flavors” clash with the mango here. I don’t think I’m an experienced enough beer drinker to explain it…but something about this beer wasn’t working for me. If I hadn’t spent hard earned money on this, I wouldn’t have even finished it I’m not saying this is a terrible beer…it’s just not well balanced. Personally, I won’t be trying this again. However, if you’re curious to see how mango would taste in a beer, I suppose you can’t go entirely wrong here. But I mean…why in the hell would you want mango in a beer anyway?!
UFO’s Raspberry Hefeweizen (4.8% alc.)
An unfiltered wheat beer from Harpoons Unfiltered Offering
If this is what raspberry beer tastes like, I’m not interested in trying it again. I had high hopes for this beer (and it scores pretty high on beer advocate) but I was pretty disappointed. I didn’t taste much raspberry, the beer was kind of bland and surprisingly bitter. Often, you find that fruit beers smell better than they taste and that was the case here.
In this beer defense, it was one of the last I tried, so perhaps my tastes buds were shot. Unfortunately, I have no interest in trying it again, so I suppose we’ll never know. This was definitely not the worst beer I tasted, but with so many other fruit beers on the market, this one seems a waste. Given that it rates so high on others list though, I think you probably want to try this for yourself before giving up on it.
Bell’s Expedition Stout (10.5% alc.)
A huge malt body, matched to a blend of chocolate, dark fruits and other aromas
Holy smokes, I loved this beer! And how cool is that this beer is brewed in Kalamazoo, Michigan?! I just so happen to be a Yankee, born and raised in Michigan, that did my freshman year of college in Kalamazoo. Shame on me for still drinking Miller back then! I had good beer right under my nose! I’d also like to send a special shoutout to my homeboy Anthony Moreno for drunkenly telling me to “get some Bell’s” at my high school reunion. How right you were my friend! Anyways, about the beer:
Again, I loved this beer. It was strong and had a serious punch and it just worked! The chocolate taste…the heavy aromas and the light sweetness at first drink…can’t beat it! I actually enjoyed this so much, I didn’t write about it. I just started drinking it while watching my tv show. This write up is just what I remember. As such, here’s what I recommend:
If you’re a beer drinker, definitely go get this! If you’re not a beer drinker, go get this and keep an open mind…or better yet…start drinking beer…then come back in six months and get this once you’ve learned to tolerate a crap beer. You won’t be disappointed!
Also of note: According to the Bell’s Brewery website, this beer isn’t even in season. I’d love to catch it when it is. I bet it would taste even better!
Delirium Tremens (8.5% alc.)
A strong Belgian ale
I’ve been a fan of this beer for quite a few years and I knew my list wouldn’t be complete without it. While Delirium Tremens can now be found at World of Beer and other restaurants that are conscious of craft beer enthusiasts, it still has a ways to go. I won’t be happy until it’s in your local corner stores!
As for it’s taste: It’s crisp and has a sweet, yet tart, taste that goes down smooth, but with a slight bitterness and smells of citrus and apples. I’m happy to see that even after getting warm, this beer retains its flavor. While I wouldn’t thrust it upon unsuspecting non-beer drinkers, I think any person that actually likes beer will enjoy this. Just make sure you give the foam time to go down or you won’t really taste much.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? That’s okay. This concludes a portion of my beer tasting! Eventually, I’ll get around to posting a review of the beers that I didn’t drink, from the photo that opens this post. Hopefully you enjoyed reading this, or at least, learned something new. I’d appreciate hearing from you about it, especially if you go try one of these beers.
HAPPY BEER DRINKING!!!