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Budweiser – The King of Beers

30 January, 2011 10 comments

“…the true American lager…”

I suppose that sooner or later it had to happen. I’ve been living in California for most of six years now, and despite drinking possibly hundreds of brews, had never tried two classic American favourites – Budweiser and malt liquor.  Well that’s not strictly correct. Let me say that I have not tried them over here. I do recall having a Bud in one pub back in England that (if memory serves me well) sold nothing but lager, and a friend once gave me a Colt 45. I did not have great memories of either.

Still, that was in the past, in a different life altogether, and as people frequently remind me “you’re in America now”. It was also before I had read an article shared with me by one of our current houseguests, in which the author waxes both polemic and lyrical in support of this, the “King of Beers”. Sometime when you have ten or so minutes, have a read of it.

This same houseguest decided that I needed to sample the delights of Budwesier, and I will give you that story in a short while. Meantime, I will give you a precis of the writer’s arguments before proceeding with my taste test. His major arguments run thus:

  1. Budweiser has been around a long time – longer than most British breweries, beginning in 1876 (before the Budvar brewery), and has been using the same recipe ever since.
  2. It’s brewed with all-natural ingredients, barley, hops, yeast and rice ( with beech chips for conditioning). It is then filtered and pasteurised (common to many other beers).
  3. “Adolphus Busch in 1876 was a German master brewer of exactly the sort that beer nuts go gooey over, he was trying to make a high quality beer (as proved by Budweiser’s use of expensive Saaz hops), and he decided that the best way to brew a lager was to use rice.” I quote, because I can think of no better way of putting it.
  4. It neither tastes like piss, nor it it a cissy beer. Apparently it has a lower pH than urine, hence is “definitely more acidic than piss”.
  5. He argues that the modern microbreweries are a product of the Industrial Revolution, and their beers are not “artisanal” in the sense that they are under industrial quality control, just as Bud is, presumably.
  6. Budvar does not have a right to call itself the original, Busch neither stole the brand  nor sought to copy (given that they were brewing before Budvar, who began in 1895). The original  Budweiser Bürgerbräu was, according to Wikipedia, founded 1785, and imported to the US in 1871.

Let the Judging Begin!

First up, Peter (the instigator of this whole enterprise) bought a rather large can of the true American lager which were dutifully poured into glasses. It was crystal clear, a pale straw colour, exactly as I’d expected. As is my wont, I then stuck my schnoz in to get a good hooterful (the “nose” of a beer, as a wine, is an important part of the enjoyment to me, as regular readers will know). My first reaction was that there was a little yeastiness in the nose, but it was momentary. This was replaced by a slight musky aroma, but again, just for a moment. I took another snootful. There was something there, a little sweet malt, and sipping it didn’t do much for me.

Peter, bless his heart, agreed with my analysis despite his bluster that it would be a good drink. We tossed the undrunk portion in the sink and poured a snobbier brew for ourselves.

Is it refreshing? Well, yes – but then pretty much anything served at close to freezing point is going to provide that. Is it disappointing as a stand-alone beer? Well, frankly it is. But then I’m not about to be a snob about this – Budweiser is not a beer to drink and enjoy as a beer, it’s a beer to quaff on a hot day, or after a hard day’s work, or in front of the television. It’s not for nothing that Anheiser-Busch sells a lot of this to a mass audience, one that their marketeers knows well. The pitch is clear – simple beer, a standard and reliable recipe that never changes. Maybe the beer snobs should just suck it up and allow the drinking masses to enjoy it.

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Categories: Beers Tags: , ,

Monticello Restaurant Beer Dream Team (Part Two – The First Bottles)

26 January, 2011 1 comment

The Seven Dwarves

So finally, after what seems like months of planning, discussion and some intensive research(!), we have our first beer selection coming to the restaurant tomorrow! I have ordered the first small batch of bottled beers, seven in all. As with so many things, it’s best to start small and simple, and so I cut down my original 30-strong dream beers to just these seven.

Kaitlin and Kelsey show off the beer at Monticello

Now you may notice that this list is heavy on the North Coast Brewery, and there is a very good reason for that. It seems to me that North Coast can almost do no wrong – I discovered this when I stumbled across their restaurant in Fort Bragg and worked my way through their sample flight. Simply put, they were all excellent, and some were, frankly divine, and I have to say that having them as the backbone of the bottled beer selection pleases me very much indeed.

We decided to start with a small selection that covers most of the beer types, all in 12-ounce bottles, all well known names, and all good examples of their type. Inevitably, there are things I’ve had to drop during the selection process; there is no hefeweissen, no American lager and no imports. Neither are there any of the really “big” beers yet – as time goes on we will be adding to this list to expand choice both for food pairing and sheer beer enjoyment.

So without further messing about, here are the seven on the shortlist:

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Monticello Restaurant Beer Dream Team (Part One – Kegs)

15 January, 2011 3 comments

Every beer geek has a dream. Among other things (hot air balloon ride, Grand Canyon, nude hang-gliding) I have long dreamed of getting together a list of my favourite beers, and freely admit that I never quite got around to it. This blog is a start, given that I’m listing the beers I’ve delighted in (and sometimes not), but it never really had much meaning in the Real World™.

When I was recently offered a job as the barman in a new restaurant venture in Davis, I realised that I had the opportunity not just to create such a list, but to realise it in the flesh, or at least in neatly serried ranks of bottles. I have spent the past few days not just imagining it, but meeting with distributors and enthusiasts (often in the same person).

The bar at Monticello Seasonal Cuisine

The bar will be opening soon, I hope – the Monticello Seasonal Cuisine has just opened in Davis, and their website will be up and running soon. In any restaurant opening there are priorities, and the kitchen is obviously the first. In this case, wine was second – the bar is almost complete at this time of writing, just a few minor details to finish (like the completion of the bar top, the keg system and coolers). I’m by turns excited and frustrated, eager to start work and getting to the grist.

So, without further ado, here’s the story and the list:

My Dream Keg Beers

Given that it’s winter here (albeit a mild, California winter), my first thought is to turn to the darker brews. I’d love to carry a porter, a stout and a brown, followed by some paler brews, but the system we will have needs to fit the space available, and that limits me to three keg beers.

The Dark Side

Currently I am caught between a porter (nice and warming) and a brown (a good starting point for darker beers, a little less challenging for some American palates). The brown ale came to a choice of three – the excellent Riggwelter (a personal English favourite), Lost Coast Downtown Brown and North Coast’s Acme Brown. Here was my first dilemma – the restaurant is specialising in seasonal, local food, and the plan is to be as local as possible in all things. Riggwelter was therefore out. Acme brown, it turns out, is not available on tap from my favoured distributor, which leaves the lovely Downtown. This is not a bad thing, given that Downtown Brown is one of the better-known browns, and is superb at its price point.

Now for the porter. Deschutes’ superb  Black Butte is available, is a sweet and warming ale, and then there are offerings from both  Anchor and Sierra Nevada. The sad thing is that for the time being, I am not carrying any porter, despite its being an excellent winter beer. It’s a problem for me, I admit, but until I’ve seen what the regulars will be drinking, I’m playing it safe. If requests for porter (or stout!) are many, I may switch, but for now,  there’s the “bottom end” sorted out.

A Bitter Brew

The top end has to be a nice hoppy brew. Not because I like the hop, but there are far too many people around here who do. After all, this is the West Coast, land of Lagunitas, and Russian River. Here was a real dilemma – one of my distributors (Southern Wine) recommended an ale unknown to me, one Nightstalker IPA.  The other highly placed horse was the wonderful Russian River’s excellent Pliny the Elder. I have tried this one (though I regret I have not written up my notes) and found it good, if a little high in the hop for my palate. My favourite in this field would have been the fruity Sunflower IPA from McMenamins, but given that it’s not exactly a local beer (and would be almost impossible to get!) I’m settled for Pliny.

The Middle Way

Now the centre is tricky. In the summer, the middle may well be a pilsner, but in the moist and misty Davis winter, I felt that we should have a local brew, light but not pale. I’d considered having the brown in the middle and the porter as a dark base, but finally I settled on Sudwerk’s Märzen, largely because it’s well-known locally, is a good example of the type, and for me, Sudwerk’s best. But this is, of course, all subject to change.

Not only subject to change, but all rather academic at the moment, given that the bar is not yet open, although I am seriously hoping that I will at least have some bottled beer to serve by the weekend of the grand opening on 22nd January. Meantime, updates on the bar (oh, and the restaurant) are at their Facebook page.

Monticello Seasonal Cuisine are to be found at 630 G Street, Davis, CA 95616.

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