Author Archives: Brad Warbiany

Brad’s Beer Review: Weihenstephaner Vitus

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I’m not going for cutting-edge, today. That said, even though this is a beer that is about as traditional as they come–as is the brewery that created it–it’s a beer that I’ll bet most drinkers have overlooked on the shelf. Many liquor stores don’t even put this beer in the craft section; they relegate it to the “imports.”

I’m speaking, of course, of Weihenstephaner, the oldest brewery in the world.
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I had the good fortune to visit the brewery in Freising when overseas on business in Oct 2013**. While my schedule was compact and I could only visit for a very late dinner and beers, and couldn’t take a tour, it was very nice. Should you find yourself in Munich, Freising is very near the Munich airport and it’s easy to get to the brewery from the hotels. Making it to Weihenstephaner is a necessary pilgrimage for the devoted beer fan, and I highly recommend it if you can make it happen.
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The beer of the day is the Weihenstephaner Vitus, which they describe as a weizenbock. Based on the style guidelines* and my review below, it’s a little bit questionable whether the beer fits the style. But I’m not going to hold a brewery which predates the Magna Carta to a set of style guidelines that are at most a few decades old.

I had this beer at the brewery, and enjoyed it. Yet like any normal beer fan, I came back to the US and went right back to IPAs. I haven’t bought this beer since, until I saw it and picked it up on a whim. And wow, I’m glad I did!

  • Stats: 7.7% ABV, 17 IBU. Color not listed.
  • Aroma: Bready, with a yeasty aroma and a hint of clove, and maybe a very slight banana. For the ABV, you don’t pick up any whiff of the alcohol content of the beer. Very nice.
  • Appearance: Pours hazy and light in color. Definitely more of a strong hefeweizen in appearance than a bock due to the light color. White head with good retention.
  • Flavor: Here I get more of the banana than I pick up in the nose, and less of the clove. It’s a silky-smooth soft beer. Again, tastes more like a strong hefeweizen than a weizenbock, but I’m not complaining. It’s delicious. There’s something about beers from this region (I think partly the very soft water) that really makes them different than almost any other hefeweizen I’ve ever had.
  • Mouthfeel: I’ll have to use the same descriptor a second time. This is a silky-smooth beer. It’s medium-bodied, and there’s enough carbonation in there that you can feel the bubbles dancing on your taste buds. And yet again, there’s no hint of the strength.
  • Overall Impression: It’s a beautiful beer. Every element just comes together perfectly. There’s not a thing missing from this beer, nor anything unnecessary. You don’t survive as a brewery for nearly a millennium without knowing what you’re doing. Of course, 974 years is plenty of time to perfect a recipe! In a world where we as craft beer drinkers are always looking for the new, a beer like this reminds us that there really wasn’t anything wrong with the old.

All in all, overlooking Weihenstephaner when you go to the beer store is a mistake. Yes, I’m a beer geek. Yes, I like seeking out the sexy new releases and actively look for the breweries who are doing something new and different. I’m certainly not going to stop doing that. But every once in a while, going back to the traditional is worth it.

One note that I will make here, before I leave you. Beer is a perishable item. Beer shipped from Germany is no exception. This advice is true of any store, but particularly true of imports. Choose a beer store with high stock turnover. Hefeweizen (like IPA) is best drank young. If you buy a bottle that’s been sitting on the shelf for 4 months, chances are it won’t live up to the review I just wrote!
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Brad’s Beer Review: Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose

Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose

So, unfortunately I’ve lapsed a few weeks on the beer reviews. Travel, the holidays, and whatnot… I’ve been drinking good beer, but haven’t had the time to review good beer.

For this week, I’ve decided to trend back over to the “interesting” side of the aisle, with a Gose. Gose is a very obscure beer style, relatively unheard of 4 years ago and now only known to some of the most dedicated beer geeks. I first encountered a Gose at the 2011 Southern California Homebrew Festival, on “pro brewer” night when The Bruery was pouring their Salt of the Earth. My first reaction once I tasted it? “I need to brew this.”
Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose
Gose is named after the river Gose, which flows near Goslar, Germany, where the style was invented and first popularized. The style possibly dates back 1000 years, becoming popularized in “nearby” Leipzig, which became known as the home of Gose. It’s not brewed within the Reinheitsgebot due to the addition of coriander, it is a tart wheat ale, with notes of salt (originally supposed to be due to the salty water near the mines of Goslar) and coriander. A possible way to think of the beer would be a cross between a Berliner Weisse and a Witbier, with a hint of salt thrown in.

To me, it’s just delicious. A good Gose is a delicate beer, where the interplay between tartness, salinity, and the malt and spice is all perfectly balanced. It shouldn’t be puckeringly-sour. It shouldn’t really taste salty, but you should be able to detect the slick salinity on the tongue. And the coriander, of course, shouldn’t take center stage lest you mistake it for a Wit. Gose is low in alcohol, generally assumed to come roughly into the 4.5% ABV range.

Given that this is not a popular style, I’m not going to offer the typical BJCP-style tasting notes. Instead, I’d much rather just give broader impressions. Gose is a wide-open playground.

Anderson Valley previously released a Gose that to me did not strike the right balance. They allowed the tartness to dominate, and in such a low-alcohol beer as a Gose, nothing else seemed to come through. It was far more Berliner Weisse than Gose.

Today’s beer is the same Gose, but with some blood orange thrown in for a citrus kick. I still don’t pick up coriander at all, and the hint of salinity that I am detecting is just faint at best, but I think the fruit rounds this one out much more nicely.

Whereas the first Anderson Valley Gose was a one-note sour-bomb, this Gose much better fits the mold of a delicate interplay between uncommon combinations of ingredients. This beer has depth. This citrus note of the fruit contributes to the sourness of the beer, but it does so with harmony rather than with volume. This is a beer that I could definitely sit down and spend some time with. On a hot summer day (or a warm SoCal winter day), hanging out in the sun watching the world go by, this is exactly the sort of beer that I’d love to be drinking. And at only 4.2% ABV, this can definitely be a “day drinking” beer.

Is this the best or most representative Gose I’ve had? No, certainly not. For that, try the Ritterguts Gose. But if you just want a delicious beer to while away a few hours in the sun, this just might be what you’re looking for.

Prost!

Brad’s Beer Review: The Boxing Cat Brewery, Shanghai, China

The Boxing Cat Beer Sampler

First, my apologies for last week. I was on a family vacation, and although I did sneak away to visit Figueroa Mountain’s tasting room in Los Olivos, CA, it turns out that our WiFi was spotty and I was just having too much damn fun to try to fight through that and post the review. I do have pictures and tasting notes, so perhaps I’ll get to that in a future review.

Once I returned home, I unpacked my vacation luggage, packed my work luggage, and was back out the door to the airport in a matter of hours. Many, many more hours later, I arrived in China, and so I plan to make up for last week’s lack of a review by going big. High-quality American-style craft beer in China? I heard about this, but didn’t believe it, and had to check it out. I visited the Boxing Cat Brewery in Shanghai.
The Boxing Cat Brewery
You see, China is what we typically refer to as a “beer desert.” Over here, typically you find mass-market lagers, and occasionally traditional German style beers. It can be possible to find other offerings, but quality is typically hit-or-miss as the novelty of craft beer tends to overwhelm quality when you have less-discerning palates of customers unaccustomed to craft beer. So I’ll admit that my hopes were not all that high, despite the glowing reviews I’d read online. I’ve been burned too many times by that. But, nevertheless, I’m here for a weekend without wife or kids, so I might as well give it a shot, right?

Well, as it turns out, I have been VERY pleasantly surprised by the result. Part of this starts with the key personnel and concept. If you want American beer and food, you start with an American brewer and chef. The brewer hails from the Pacific Northwest–certainly no beer desert–and the chef has comprised a menu that by concept spans “the I-10 corridor” bringing in food from the Southeast, New Orleans, Texas, the Southwest and California.

From walking in the door, you can tell that this place is aimed at visitors and expats, as the hosts and wait staff have solid English skills. While I honestly enjoy the challenge of walking into a restaurant over here and trying to communicate well enough to get a beer and a meal–it can be quite entertaining on both sides–it’s a lot more relaxing when I don’t have to do so.

When I arrived they were having a private party on their first and third floors, so sadly I didn’t get an option to see in detail or take any pictures of the bar area. I dined on the second floor, a scene which could have been taken out of any brewpub in America. Exposed brickwork, dark stained wood everywhere, visible “open” designed ceiling with exposed ductwork and beams. The lighting was a bit low, a bit lower than I’m used to in a brewpub, but not completely out of sorts. Some of the nicer brewpubs I’ve been to in the US are a little less well-lit, and this fits about in line with those. I quite honestly could have easily forgotten I was in China. It felt like a slice of home.

I ordered the beer sampler first, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Cuisine-wise, they have a menu that again could have come out of any brew pub in America. I ordered an appetizer of deep-fried mac and cheese balls. They brought me four beautiful golden-brown bread-crumb battered delights, containing gooey cheese and macaroni, served atop a deliciously seasoned ranch sauce with a side of BBQ sauce. Yes, “deep fried mac and cheese” lived up to be exactly as decadent as it sounds! I followed that up with a pulled pork sandwich full of tender well-dressed pork, a nice side salad with bleu cheese, and cole slaw. The cole slaw was a bit light on flavor, lacking either the mayonnaise base or the vinegar hit of traditional slaw styles, but overall the sandwich and salad were spot-on. Again, they don’t just “emulate” American cuisine here–they’re serving real American food.

But hey, that’s just a start. I haven’t even addressed the beer yet!
The Boxing Cat Beer Sampler

The Boxing Cat has six beers on tap, mixed between their standbys and seasonal/rotating creations. Shown here, left to right, are:

  1. Right Hook Helles: 4.5%
  2. Contender Extra Pale Ale: 4.9%
  3. Standing 8 Pilsner: 4.9%
  4. Suckerpunch Pale Ale: 5.5%
  5. Rye IPA: 6.1%
  6. Winterweight Stout: 6.5%

While this seems like a bit of a lighter menu, their “next up” on the board were two very strong DIPAs coming in at about 9% and 10%, respectively, so the moderate ABV choices in front of me were merely an accident of the calendar.

In general, my analysis is that the beers on this list all tasted basically exactly how they were supposed to. Again, that’s what you’d expect, right? Well, I’ve found that brewpub quality is all over the map, and many local brewpubs in “beer desert” towns in the US don’t have the attention to detail and quality control that the market enforces in highly discerning locales. I was very pleased to find that these beers were all of excellent quality. From a technical level, I found no glaring flaws or off flavors. The beers not only were fine exemplars of their style, but they were delicious.

Two of the six, however, were very unique.

First was the Rye IPA. Now, I love rye. I’ve homebrewed Rye IPA, Rye Pale Ale, Rye Blonde Ale, even Roggenbier. This beer had a much more aggressive rye note than I’m used to in the Rye IPA/Pale Ale genre in the US. Upon asking the waiter (and having the host text the head brewer), I found that the grist for this beer is 30% Rye. That certainly explained it! Now, this is not a criticism of the beer. After all, when I finished my sampler, I followed it up with a pint of the Rye IPA. But it was certainly unexpected.

Even more unexpected was the Winterweight Stout. One whiff of it, followed up with a taste to confirm, resulted in a bit of internal dialog. “Mint? Mint?! Really? Is that f*****g mint?” Now, my incredulity was a bit over the top, as it was *obviously* mint. That’s right, this is a mint chocolate stout. I’ve heard of such things from a few forward-thinking American craft breweries, but I’d never encountered one of these in the wild. It’s surprising, then, that I have to fly to China for my first mint stout. How did it taste? Absolutely freaking delicious. One of my fond memories as a child was eating Andes after-dinner mints, and this was the 6.5% ABV stout version of that. I liked it so much that I might adapt this recipe with my milk stout recipe and brew a mint chocolate milk stout when I get back home!

If I had to make one critique of the Boxing Cat, it’s that the service was not quite as attentive as I’m used to. While I highly appreciated the host going the extra mile to text the head brewer and ask the question about the Rye IPA, I will say that the wait staff was not very proactive about noticing an empty plate and sampler tray sitting in front of me. I had to flag them down to order the sandwich and another beer. However, it was a very busy Friday night, so I’ll happily let that one slide.

All in all, I was absolutely impressed by the Boxing Cat Brewery. This was a meal and a group of beers that would be home in any city in America. They even push the envelope on their beer with the heavy hand of Rye and the mint chocolate stout, and managed to hit a high level of execution on both. I’ll head out today to go try my hand again at fighting through the language barrier to find some authentic local cuisine, but I have to thank Boxing Cat for giving me a slice of America while here on the road, and for providing the local residents an accurate example of American brewpub flavor, rather than the mere inauthentic approximation I expected.

Highly recommended. In the “beer desert” that is China, this place is a positive oasis.

Government Spending Has Been Flat The Past 5 Years. No, Really!

Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)

Back in 2011, I looked at some CBO projections, and said that the country was in dire straits financially. Spending seemed to be on an absolute tear, and revenue–even if it lived up to wildly optimistic projections–wasn’t going to come close to keeping up.

Essentially, the CBO projections pointed to spending occurring at absolutely unprecedented levels, and relied on completely unrealistic projections of economic growth to [not quite even] pay for it. At the time, I said:

Even with those assumptions, where does spending fall historically? Even at these rosy projections, it never falls under 22% of GDP (on par with the highest spending the country has seen since WWII), and those rosy projections came in January 2010. A year later, in January 2011, the CBO outlook got worse. It now shows spending never falling under 23% of GDP during the decade 2011-2020. Historically, spending has not exceeded 23% of GDP for a single year between 1946 and 2008.

Where has revenue been over the last few decades? Well, for the years 1991-2000, during which time we suffered one mild recession followed by the tech bubble, total government revenue averaged 18.75% of GDP. For the years 2001-2010, where we dealt with the tech bubble collapse followed by the subprime bubble and then crash, total government revenue averaged 17.07% of GDP. A sizeable drop, to be sure (the worst spots being 2009 & 2010, where the financial crash slammed revenue below 15% of GDP). But fundamentally not that far out of line with historical precedent.

Now, I hadn’t gone back to look at the numbers since then. So I was very surprised to read a Cato post suggesting that spending was stagnant and was sitting at a mere 20.3% of GDP, not the 23%+ area that the CBO was projecting. As Daniel Mitchell from Cato puts it (emphasis added):

Here are some specific numbers culled from the OMB data and CBO data. In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent about $3.52 trillion. In fiscal year 2014 (which ended on September 30), the federal government spent about $3.50 trillion.

In other words, there’s been no growth in nominal government spending over the past five years. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves, but there’s been a spending freeze in Washington.

I was frankly shocked. So I ended up going straight to the OMB data (note: it’s an .xls file) to confirm.
Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)
Looks pretty legit. Spending was pushing well above 23% GDP for a few years due to the economic meltdown, the stimulus, and the continuing effects of global war.

What’s interesting, and I pulled this out of the graphic for clarity (go download the original source data if you want to confirm) is that this is NOMINAL spending. Considering there has been inflation since 2009, it’s actually fair to say that spending has decreased in real dollars over the last 5 years.

Spending is well below the CBO projections from 2010 that I used in my previous post. And frankly, revenue is WELL below their projections as well. But the spending restraint is sufficient to keep both spending as a percentage of GDP and deficits as a percentage of GDP in reasonable territory.

Now, there are always devils in the details. Mitchell points out a few in his post at Cato, and has even more to say on the subject here. But either way you slice it, the fiscal meltdown that many (including me 3 1/2 years ago) were predicting hasn’t come to pass.

Some on the left will credit Obama (even though they’ve never seen spending they didn’t like). Some on the right will credit the Tea Party (even though they spent the 8 years prior to Obama spending like a Kardashian wedding).

As for me, I’m just going to say that I’m glad my predictions–based on CBO projections–didn’t come to pass.

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