The Pumpkin Beer Taste Test, Part 2

Categories: Booze

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Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
In Part 2 of our pumpkin beer taste test, we take a look at the stouts and dark beers. Check out what we had to say in Part 1 about the lighter pumpkin beers.

Fewer beers qualified for our stout/dark tasting than our ale competition, which is no surprise. Even so, the sheer number of strong, heavy, and dark beers we found available for our taste test is a testament to how many craft brewers are jumping on the pumpkin beer wagon and taking the opportunity to make a serious beer this time of year.

Included in our taste test were four beers from Houston-area breweries. (To my knowledge, a local brewery didn't come out with a lighter ale, at least not anywhere we searched.)

Alaskan Pumpkin Porter
Buffalo Bayou Whiskey'd Pumpkin Spice Latte
Crown Valley Imperial Pumpkin Smash
Karbach Krunkin Punkin
Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale
No Label Nightmare on 1st Street
Rahr and Sons Visionary Brew Pumpkin Ale
Saint Arnold Pumpkinator 2014
Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin Ale
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
Southern Tier Warlock
Uinta Crooked Line Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin
Wasatch Black-O-Lantern

The first thing I wanted to say is that none of these beers were bad: They all had their own appeals, and unlike the ale selections, where a number of the beers tended to be too indistinguishable, these each had distinct characteristics: some tasted more of pumpkin, whereas in others the spices were dominant. Some of them were dark or even medium-brown ales (the Kentucky entry could have fit into the ales discussion), and some were double-digit ABV, dark stouts. Some had sweeter finishes, some had boozier ones. But they all had some merit.

Onward with some discussion of specific beers, and the best overall.

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The Pumpkin Beer Taste Test, Part 1

Categories: Booze

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Nath Pizzolatto
As many of the pumpkin beers as we could gather into one photo. Not pictured: Wasatch Black-O-Lantern, Rogue Pumpkin Patch, and Buffalo Bayou Whiskey'd Pumpkin Spice Latte.
In 2012, I had the bright idea to gather as many pumpkin beers as I could find and hold a taste test. I split half a dozen or so pumpkin beers with my girlfriend and my buddy Joey.

Last year, we acquired ten beers. Another friend accompanied us, and I took detailed tasting notes. I decided the Saint Arnold Pumpkinator was the best overall, but the Wasatch Pumpkin Ale was the best for easy and regular drinking (as great as the Pumpkinator is, it's still a heavy, specialty beer, not one you'll want to have three or four of out on a patio on a crisp fall day).

This year, we decided to go all-out, get as many as we could find, and have a party. We had so many that I had to split this article in two; one to discuss ales and the other for stouts and other heavier, stronger beers. With 27 beers in total*, we did our best to grab one of every type of pumpkin beer we could find, with a variety of ales, stouts, and other beers from all across America (and one from Belgium). Multiple breweries released more than one variety of pumpkin beer; this was most often done with one as an ale and the other as a stout, such as with Wasatch and Southern Tier.

(* - We tried 28 in total for the taste test, but we were not able to acquire the Buffalo Bayou Whiskey'd Pumpkin Spice Latte at the same time as the others.)

Comparing them all across the same scale seemed silly, as a 5 percent easy-drinking ale is a much different animal than a 10 percent stout or oak-aged heavy ale. So I've split this comparison into "light" and "heavy" beers. Some of the "light" beers are still relatively heavy in alcohol, but are here based on body and style (or even just because the brewery released an even darker, stronger pumpkin beer, as in the case of Southern Tier Pumking).

Without further ado, here are some highlights from the former.

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A Preview of the Whole Foods Post Oak Store with Dinner, Beer, and a Chat

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Photo by Joey McKeel
An overhead shot of the food and beer served at the dinner. Dave Ohmer, Whole Foods brewmaster, is third from left.
Next month, a new Whole Foods Market location is opening in the Galleria area that promises, for the time being, to be the biggest Whole Foods in Houston. Inside Whole Foods Post Oak will be the company's first brewery-- according to Whole Foods, the first in-store brewery of any kind in the grocery industry.

As a preview of the features available at the new location, we were able to have a media dinner with the brewmaster at the Whole Foods Market Brewing Company, Dave Ohmer. The meal was from the new location's Souvlaki Greek venue and paired with beers chosen by Ohmer. We also got to speak to Ohmer about his plans for the brewery.

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Reserve 101 Gets the First Bottle of Glenmorangie Pride 1978 in America, and for $750 a Shot, It's Yours

Categories: Bar Beat, Booze

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Photo by Chuck Cook
The Glenmorangie Pride 1978 in its specially designed packaging and crystal bottle (and next to it, a bottle of Glenmorangie 25).

You may remember back in February that I wrote about Reserve 101's acquisition of a bottle of Glenmorangie 1963, a 25-year whiskey forgotten in the corner of a warehouse for many years until it was discovered and bottled. That bottle, though it retailed for $550 a shot, sold out in 66 days, inspiring Reserve 101 owners Mike Raymond and Steve Long to seek out another rare bottle from Glenmorangie's collection.

On Monday, it arrived: The Pride 1978 is Glenmorangie's oldest current expression, aged for 34 years. Reserve 101's acquisition is the first bottle of Pride 1978 to make it to America. First aged for 19 years in used bourbon casks made from American white oak, the single malt is then transferred to Bordeaux Classe' Grand Cru casks for 15 more years of aging (which also marks the longest "extra maturation" period of any Glenmorangie spirit). Raymond and Glenmorangie Global Master Brand Ambassador David Blackmore were generous enough to let us sample both the Pride 1978 and, for basis of comparison, the Glenmorangie 25.

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It's Wingtoberfest Time Once Again, Time to Vote for Your Favorite Chicken Wing

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It's time to once again line up to be among the first 200 people who'll get to taste and rate the wings from six Houston restaurants in this year's Houston Press Wingtoberfest -- for free.

On Wednesday, October 22, the following restaurants will battle for the honor of being named this year's Octoberfest winner: Dosi, Bonfire Wings, Sticky's Chicken, H-Town StrEATs, Dry Creek Cafe and Little Bitty Burger Barn.

And just to make things even nicer, we've gone ahead and paired the wings with a specific Saint Arnold beer.


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Garrison Brothers' Spring 2014 Single Barrel Bourbon May Be Their Best Yet

Categories: Booze

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Nath Pizzolatto
I couldn't hold out on trying it long enough to get a picture of the full bottle. Also, the star is supposed to be silver to match the wax, but mine fell off.

I'm a big fan of the Garrison Brothers distillery and their bourbon, as you may have read in one of my recent articles. I am particularly fond of this bourbon not merely because it was the first true bourbon distilled in Texas and represents our state well, but because it's really unique among bourbons I've tried. Despite the wide variety of small-batch brand names available to bourbon drinkers these days, the bourbon world is relatively lacking for diversity, as many of these labels belong to a handful of conglomerate bourbon producers or otherwise source

As a result, many bourbons are made from only a handful of recipes, and thus tend to contain similar characteristics. Bernie Lubbers suggests there are basically only three unique mash bills http://www.whiskeyprof.com/theres-only-3-general-bourbon-recipes-yall/ ; this GQ chart better breaks down the connections between bourbon labels. http://www.gq.com/life/food/201311/bourbon-whiskey-family-tree (This is why you can buy Weller 12-year for $25 and not really be much worse off than if you located a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle [check year]). They all tend to start with caramel and that hint of mouth-smacking sweet corn liquor; the recipes with rye tend to give way to spicy, peppery notes, while the ones with wheat finish smoothly, allowing more vanilla flavors to come through.


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The 5 Best Happy Hours in Upper Kirby

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Photo by Troy Fields
Queen Vic's taps pour out some of Houston's finest pints.
If you love happy hour as much as we do, you'll love this new series. We're taking a look at the best happy hours in town, 'hood by 'hood. To narrow it down, we're focusing on the spots with the best deals on not only drinks, but eats, too. From upscale eateries serving bar bites and half-priced wine to dives with cheap beer and burgers, we've got it all. See the complete list at the end of this post.

This week, we're moving into Upper Kirby, where you'll find everything from top-notch sushi and sake to authentic British pub fare.

Note: For the purposes of this post, Upper Kirby is defined as west of Shepherd, east of Buffalo Speedway, north of Bissonnet and south of Westheimer.

Honorable Mention: Sorrel Urban Bistro (which we're losing soon), CRU Wine Bar, and Eddie V's "V-lounge" happy hour.


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The 5 Best Happy Hours in Midtown

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Photo by Troy Fields
Make your way to Sparrow Bar + Cookshop's sleek bar for classic treats with a twist.
If you love happy hour as much as we do, you'll love this new series. We're taking a look at the best happy hours in town, 'hood by 'hood. To narrow it down, we're focusing on the spots with the best deals on not only drinks, but eats, too. From upscale eateries serving bar bites and half-priced wine to dives with cheap beer and burgers, we've got it all. See the complete list at the end of this post

This week, we're moving on to the bar-and-resto-packed hood of Midtown, where there are almost too many awesome spots to name. While happy hours at laidback bars like Little Woodrow's, The Dogwood, Saint Dane's, and Celtic Gardens don't disappoint, we've put an emphasis on the places with the best bang for your buck.

Honorable mention: Free finger foods at Piola's bar and $6 to $8 teasers and elixirs at Mr. Peeples.

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GlenDronach's Cask Strength Line of Scotches Is a Hidden Gem

Categories: Booze

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Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
The GlenDronach 17-year Cask Strength pours a rich, tawny color and retains it even with the addition of water.
Recently, I was at Spec's browsing Macallan's offerings; the Macallan 12 is one of my standards for Scotch, and I always keep some around. While looking through older vintages, I noticed that the price of the 18-year had climbed quite high. (Over the period of perhaps a couple of months, it went from approximately $140 to $180.) An employee, perhaps sensing my consternation over this, suggested I try a bottle I hadn't looked at previously. It was from GlenDronach, another Highland distillery. Rather than one of their standard Scotches, it was part of their single cask line-- with bottlings from a cask hand selected by Spec's. Like Macallan's standard line, these too were aged in sherry casks of various types.

The worker showed me a 17-year from 1994 and a 21-year from 1990. I opted for the 17-year and went home to compare it to my favored Macallans, vowing to come back for the 21-year if I liked what I had.

Some of my tasting notes follow.

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The 5 Best Happy Hours in Downtown Houston

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Photo by Troy Fields
Refreshing cocktails at Batanga don't disappoint.
If you love happy hour as much as we do, you'll love this new series. We're taking a look at the best happy hours in town, 'hood by 'hood. To narrow it down, we're focusing on the spots with the best deals on not only drinks, but eats, too. From upscale eateries serving bar bites and half-priced wine to dives with cheap beer and burgers, we've got it all. See the complete list at the end of this post

This week, we're moving on to the finest bars and restaurants in Houston's downtown.

Honorable Mention: Bar bites at Morton's and $4 weekday HH at Vinoteca Quattro.


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