Category Archives: Beer Review

Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland

Virginia is not the only place we’ve been lately to taste great beer.  We were also able to enjoy some microbrewed beer on a recent trip to my husband’s hometown of Cleveland.

Right next door to the famous Westside Market is the Market Garden Brewery.

It has a nice outdoor seating area that was perfect to enjoy the pleasant summer afternoon, but it has a huge indoor area with plenty of TVs, too.

At the time of their visit they had 10 varieties of beer made in-house under the guidance of brewmaster Andy Tveekrem, but also have a variety of microbrews from locales around the world.  We decided to share a sampler of 6 of their brews.

Pearl Street Wheat – A tangy and sweet Hefeweizen with a hint of clove.  I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the style, but this was not outstanding.  Just fine.

Tarte Blanche Blonde Ale – Their thirst-quenching, fruity summer brew.  It was great for sitting outside in the sun.

Progress Pilsner – Crisp with a nice balance between malt and hops.  It was well made, but nothing to write home about.

Wallace Tavern Scotch Ale – Super malty it reminded us of whiskey.  We both ordered a full pint of this one.

OHC ESB – An Extra Special Bitter with a nice amount of malt.  If we stayed longer, I would have ordered this again.

Gordian Strong Ale – Another malt heavy brew.  I think we will enjoy it more in cooler weather, which Cleveland definitely has for a few months.

They seemed to have a pretty good collection of spirits behind the bar, but a craft distillery for the grounds is also in the works.  We were disappointed to learn it is just “coming soon.”

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Beer Brewing Basics in Virginia

A recent weekend saw us road-tripping to the Charlottesville, Virginia area with our friends Dave and Laura.  We not only stopped at Barboursville Vineyards, but we also visited the Starr Hill Brewery.

Weekends-only tours and tastings are free.  You can’t beat that, right?  The tour goes over the basics of brewing beer and then ends at their bar for a tasting.

First step to getting tasty beer is crushing grain into grist that allows the maximum extraction of the fermentable sugars from the grain when hot water is added to create the mash.  The grain is rolled between metal rollers that are set a specific distance apart so that the crushing is done without turning the grain into flour.

The grain is shoveled into a large kettle (also known as the mash tun) and hot water is added.  When the mash is done, as much of the starch has been converted to sugars and fermentable substances, the liquid in the mash tun is drained through the husks and spent grain in the bottom of the mash tun.  This liquid is called the wort.

The spent grain is often used to feed livestock, including cattle.  One local rancher gifted the brewery with a slaughtered steer that had been fed the grain that created beer.

The wort is  piped into the brew kettle where it is boiled with hops and any other ingredients…like pumpkin that goes on to create one of Laura’s favorites.

After all the essential oils and flavors have been extracted the wort is chilled and piped into fermenting tanks.  Yeast is added to the cool wort (and they work hard to keep the environment sterile so only yeast is added) and fermentation takes place.  Fermentation is when the yeast eats the sugar in the wort and produces ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Once almost all the fermentable sugar has been consumed by the yeast, the brew is filtered and piped into finishing tanks.  They are designed to withstand the pressure created by the carbon dioxide produced by yeast that makes beer effervescent.

Finally, the brew is bottled, canned, or kegged to be enjoyed by us.

Our tasting included a round of five sample beers:

Festie – Amber Lager with a high malt taste.

Lucy – Spiced Golden Ale is their summer brew.  With the addition of lime and coriander it has a unique flavor.

Double Platinum – Double IPA pulls no punches with two types of hops.  If you don’t like hops, you won’t like this beer.

Boxcar – Pumpkin Porter is their fall seasonal brew, and Laura’s fav.

Smoke Out – German Smoke Beer is just what it sounds like…think roasted malt and smoky bacon and you can imagine what it tastes like.  Dave and Laura took some home and used it to cook some sausages for a deliciously smoky flavored dinner with no fire needed.

Starr Hill beers are becoming increasingly available, but aren’t far from the East Coast.  Next time you visit the mid-Atlantic area, I recommend you give them a try.


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Bar Stool Fridays – Shiner Ruby Redbird

I’ve been charmed by Spoetzl Brewery’s new summer seasonal, a beer they’ve named Shiner Ruby Redbird.

It is brewed with Texas Rio Star grapefruit from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and ginger.  I love those flavors and I love the name.  I’ve never tasted a beer like this.  Ice cold, it is very refreshing for a hot day.

Beer is a great beverage offering for your outdoor entertaining, especially the crisp, summery brews you can find now.  One of my favorite summer activities is hanging out with friends in the sunshine while you can smell something delicious on the grill and drinking ice-chilled beer.  I think beer from an ice-filled cooler or galvanized bucket is so much better than beer from the refrigerator.

Now, back to the Shiner…I like this beer, it is different, but it doesn’t have as much of a ginger bite as I would like.  It is pretty mild, but I guess that makes it more palatable for most folks.  So, don’t expect a big kick of ginger.  It does have a lovely grapefruit aroma, though, even in the bottle, which, as we know, is how most people drink beer at a cookout.

My friend, Cady had her first taste of Ruby Redbird on a tour of the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.  Boy, am I jealous.  Unfortunately, it has been a little tricky for her to find back here in DC, so I’ve promised her that I’d buy an extra 6-pack just for her next time I see it.

Bottles up!  Have a great holiday weekend!


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Beer Review: Magic Hat’s Summer Scene Variety Pack

Last weekend, we helped our friends Dave and Wendy host some out-of-town guests in celebrating the impending birth of their first child.  They share my entertaining philosophy that you never want to run out of refreshments.  With that approach,  however, you sometimes end up with leftover food and drink. The attendees didn’t drink as much beer as we expected, and because the soon-to-be parents aren’t drinking they asked my husband and I to take it off their hands.  I mean, really, what we do for friends, right?

Well, with a big sigh, I loaded up our cooler with the remains of a Magic Hat Brewery Summer Scene Variety Pack.  Actually, we were thrilled because we both enjoy beer from Magic Hat.  It wasn’t an imposition…it was a special treat.  I suggested to my husband that we could review the beers for the blog and he willingly agreed.

First up…#9, as described by the brewery it is indeed a not quite pale ale.  You know that song “Revolution 9” on the Beatles’ The White Album (Remastered)?  That song played in my head as I swallowed my first sip.  My tongue was a bit confused and didn’t quite know where to land.  I felt a similar confusion the first time I heard that Beatles’ song.   Magic Hat’s #9 was not at all what I expected.  Its apricot flavor was a pleasant surprise.  The texture is thinner and more drinkable than you expect with this flavor, but it is best when very cold.  This beer was an interesting mix of mix of hops and sweetness.  It lacks the bitterness of an IPA, and is not as sweet and heavy as a lambic.

Next was their latest IPA, Blind Faith.  It was a lovely golden-orange color with a creamy head that dissipated slowly.  The beer had a strong hoppy flavor that would hold up well against strongly flavored foods.  I imagine it would quickly overwhelm more delicate dishes, though.  It was very drinkable, but not terribly thirst-quenching.  I really like IPA, but I don’t think I would drink very many of these in a row.

Our third selection was Wacko, the summer seasonal.  Both my husband and I  were surprised by the pinkish hue of the beer as we poured it into the glass.  A quick glance at the label and we realized why…beet juice!  Dwight Shrute would be proud.  It was light and refreshing with a subtle citrus flavor…a real lawnmower beer as they say.  However, my husband said he didn’t think many men would want to be seen drinking a pink beer at their local bar.

The final offering in the summer variety pack was a ginger-flavored ale called Odd Notion.  The brewery is offering a seasonal rotation of different beers under that name, so this only applies to summer 2010.  We both enjoyed it.  I think it is another strong choice for summer…thirst-quenching and refreshing.  The ginger is not too sharp or overpowering, more of an enhancement to the yeast and hops.

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Beer Review: Sam Adams Coastal Wheat

Have you tried this yet?

samuel adams coastal wheat png
The Coastal Wheat is part of the Sam Adams Brewmaster’s Collection.  Brewed in the Hefeweizen style, it is a nice addition to our drinking options as the weather warms.  I found the flavor pretty balanced between sweet and tart with a strong lemony flavor, and I detected just a hint of pineapple in the sweet character.  It is a pale wheat with a lovely yellow color, and is not as cloudy as some hefeweizens.

I enjoyed it in a pint glass and it pairs well with food.  I recommend you give it a try for your next cookout.

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Beer Review: Alamo Beer Company’s Remember the Alamo Golden Ale

Our visit to Texas didn’t just lead to good meals; we also enjoyed good Texas beer.  A newish brewery out of San Antonio, Texas is putting out a golden ale.  We were intrigued at the cooler case so we brought home a 6-pack.

I thought it had a nice balance of barley and hop flavor that stayed smooth on the tongue.  It is definitely not as hoppy as a classic pale ale.  The light golden color would look nice in a pint glass, but it was light and refreshing in the bottle, too.

I recommend you check it out when in the Lone Star State.

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Beer Review: Shiner’s Kosmos Reserve


Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas holds a special place in my heart.  Shiner Bock was the first beer I purchased legally (and probably first illegally, too).  I loved that it tasted different than most things on the market and it meant a lot to me that it was from my home state.

I found it difficult the first time I moved East, as Shiner beer was not widely available outside of Texas.  Not being able to enjoy Shiner just added to my homesickness.  The Gambrinus Company nows owns the brewery and the beer is sold in almost every state in the US.  My husband and I are able to drink Shiner Bock just about any time we want.

It is harder to find the other styles of Shiner beer, however.  While we were in Texas this weekend, I was able to enjoy a wider selection of Shiner beers, beyond the most popular Bock.  My dad picked up a Shiner Family Pack – a six pack with one bottle each of their active beers: Shiner Bock, Shiner Light, Shiner Blonde, Shiner Hefeweizen, Shiner Bohemian Black Lager, and Shiner Kosmos Reserve.

I believe Shiner Kosmos debuted in 1999, but disappeared for about a decade.  It is named after the very special brewmaster who led the brewery through Prohibition and helped the brand develop a loyal following across Texas.  It is an American Pale Lager and is available only in the mixed 6-packs and 12-packs.

It has a hoppy and flowery flavor with a thin, almost seltzer-like feel.  Its drinkability helps it pair well with food, but I enjoyed it on its own to quench my thirst after the long plane ride.  I recommend drinking it straight out of the bottle, as I did.  Prosit!

If you want to learn more about Shiner beers and the Spoetzl brewery, read the book Shine On by Mike Renfro.

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Beer Review: Starr Hill’s Northern Lights

Have you tried this yet?

Northern Lights
If you are a fan of IPA, I think you will like this one. Starts with just the right amount of hoppy bitterness and finishes smooth and a little sweet with a subtle citrus throughout.
I recommend serving this beer in a tulip-shaped glass – snifter or over-sized wine glass to get the full effect of the hops and the head.
Starr Hill Brewery is located outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. They supposedly provide unlimited free tastings after brewery tours. Hubby and I will have to check that out…

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