A Few Thoughts On My Trip To The Local Package Store And An Odd Noble Pils Tasting Note…

Quiet month around here at BeerScribe.com. I’ve spent most of my time editing the galleys of my book, which will be published in August (2010), and doing assorted legal work. I’ve also been preparing (in a very general sense) for an upcoming 10-day trip to England (London, Oxford, and Dover for the 17th White Cliffs Festival of Winter Ales — mainly strong beer, i.e. nothing under 5%. Gotta love the British). So after sending off the final edits today, I ran some errands and decided to stop by my local package store, Downtown Wine and Spirits in Davis Square.

Visiting Downtown is a little like heading to Saks or Armani to check out the suits. Everything looks great but, generally speaking, you wouldn’t dare think of buying anything. There are two reasons for this line of thinking. First of all, the pricing is generally considered to be 5-10 percent above other local stores. Second, Downtown is where good beer is sent to die a slow, warm death. With very little cold box space, I’d venture to say that 70 percent of the brands available in the store just sit on the floor or hot store shelves under tough fluorescent lighting. Now don’t get me wrong, Downtown has a fantastic selection in theory. And I even occasionally buy age-worthy Belgians from the store’s shelves. And when it comes to fulfilling beer geek wet dreams, Downtown is your spot for eye candy. But like Monet or Amsterdam Red Light District window dressing, the proof is in the close-up. Most bottles are covered in a coarse layer of dust with no idea given as to how long they’ve been hanging around. Stock rotation is not in the vocabulary here. And it’s not as if there isn’t plenty of space available to put in additional cold boxes. To the contrary, space is plentiful, with rack upon rack, shelve upon shelve screaming out for some chill.

So I mainly direct my attention to the cold boxes on my semi-annual visit. After remarking upon how a South Carolina brewery is now selling beer in Massachusetts (a definite sign of either how far craft has come or the beer apocalypse) and noting all the great but dead beers on display, today’s visit culminated in the purchase of some safety choices. First, the American Stout, Babayaga, from our friends Dann and Martha at Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project. That’ll be saved for another day, as will my second four pack of Brooklyn’s perennial aging favorite, the Black Chocolate Stout.

That leaves us with the final offering, a six pack of Boston Beer’s Samuel Adams Noble Pils. I’ve noted a lot of press about this new release and even believe I’ve sampled it on at least one occasion previously, but have no memory of it. As you may know, I tend to be a touch partial to pilsener beer. And since I do not have ready access, despite my suppliers, to Sly Fox’s excellent Pikeland Pils and Victory’s Prima Pils seems to have disappeared from most local tap handles, I was excited about the prospect of having a zesty, zippy German style pils to buy when. say, I’m in Tampa or other less beer-centric places. So in recognition of finishing my edits and reviews on the book, I offer a rare BeerScribe tasting note for the Noble Pils.

Pouring a radiant golden color, with a nicely laced white cloud of foam, the Noble Pils (made with all 5 (?) noble hops), starts off on the right foot. The aroma, however, takes a decidedly malty turn that has me a bit worried. Having spent a week kicking around Berlin and northern Germany last fall, the soulless, malty northern version of the classic German pils style is an impostor of the worst form. Noble PilsThe aroma here is thankfully a touch zestier than those bastards, with some minerally notes and frankly, an odd parallel to pine cones, both in their evergreen and earthy senses. Medium bodied, the flavor strikes a strong malty first step, followed by a wholly unusual flux of minerally, earthy, fruity, and flinty flavors, not coherent or clean in any sense (like the aforementioned Pennsylvania beauties), but befitting the mixture of the noble hops. The flavor runs from light butter to sweet Euro malt onto a mild but present noble hop bitter base of flavor. Catch a taste at just the wrong time and you’d be forgiven for thinking you detected Cool Ranch Doritos. Yes, that odd, manufactured but fruity zesty quality that is at once attracting and repulsive. Generally speaking, the Noble Pils is a nice if safe beer in the bottle. I can’t imagine circumstances, unfortunately, where I would dare chance its soft gentility to the coarsening rigors of the public house taps where this beer might be found. Sad to say, but I think my hunt for sourcing a good, inexpensive, and widely available German-style pils will continue…

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Jeff Becker of the Beer Institute Passes Away…

It is with sadness that I report the Beer Institute’s news that its longtime CEO, Jeff Becker, has passed away after a battle with cancer. From the BI’s announcement:

Everybody who knew Jeff immediately liked him because he was a terrific guy and a true beer guy. Jeff was a tireless advocate and a true champion for all that is good about our great industry. Jeff embodied a spirit of optimism and collaboration – a spirit he brought to work every day right until the end. Those of us in the industry who worked with Jeff are better for it and his presence, commitment and friendship will be greatly missed. Jeff was, first and foremost, a friend, a husband and a father.

Jeff is survived by his wife Brenda and his children Megan and Max. Please keep them in your prayers and raise a glass to a great man.

I’ve interviewed Jeff a few times over the years and once in long form from his hospital bed, a show of his dedication.

In that interview, Jeff talked about the success and future of craft brewers.

In the last twenty-five years, you’ve seen a sustained growth in the craft brewing segment. You have a lot of individuals there who got into it because they thought it was fun and interesting but have turned it in to quite a business. It’s definitely here to stay. People are thinking about succession planning and getting their kids involved and that’s a wonderful thing. It is phenomenal to see the wealth of talent we have available to us, some of which got into this for fun. And now to see them as thriving businesses I think is terrific. The import segment is going to continue to grow and we hope the domestic segment will continue to grow. I think what we are starting to see now is slowly everybody is starting to come back and that is a very encouraging sign for everyone. I think imports and craft beers definitely have a place to stay and I think you see some of the larger brewers doing those same sorts of things. I’m very encouraged about the future and I think that anybody in the industry right now should be.

Our thoughts go out to Jeff’s family and friends on their loss.

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