Sunday, January 17, 2010

Harar Beer

Let's go back in time to January 2008. The economy was still somewhat good but about to burst, George W. Bush was still president, Michael Phelps was dreaming of eight Gold Medals in Beijing, and in Reno, a new Ethiopian restaurant, called Zagol, opened up. Me, my wife, and my parents-in-law decided to try it out. The food was interesting, the honey wine was fantastic, and the beer was Hakim Stout, what I called a "surprisingly good beer". Some of the commentors agreed, some didn't, but hey, we all have different tastes, and that's why I never bad-mouth a beer.

Now, we come back to the present. Barack Obama is president, Michael Jackson is dead, Alabama won the BCS National Championship game, and the family returned to Zagol for my father-in-law's birthday. Last time, I came with a 1.3 megapixel cameraphone, but this time, I came prepared with a 10 megapixel digital camera. I even knew that I wanted the light beer this time. Problem is, I had no idea what it was called, and neither did our waitress last time. I soon found out it was Harar Beer, a lager from the same brewery as Hakim Stout (thus the brewery info is the same). This beer is brewed in the pilsner style and runs at 4.25% ABV, less than the stout. Like the stout, the name of the beer is printed on the label in English as well as in Ethiopian, with the transliteration of the text being "Harar Bīrā," or (surprise!) Harar Beer.

Unfortunately, also like the stout, there's not a lot of information about the beer itself, so I've decided to include a little more brewery information. Of Ethiopia's four breweries, the Harar Brewery Share Co. is the only one who exports. It gets its brewery equipment from the Czech Republic, so it's no wonder that what is probably their flagship beer is in fact a pilsner. Their hops come from Germany, and the malt comes from the Assela Malt Factory in Assela (it used to be imported before the factory opened up). From what I've read, the brewery seems to be in good working condition, and it draws its water from the Genela Spring located on-property, as well as the Finkile deep well and the Alemaya Pump Station. (The Beverages Sector: The Private Sector)

Here come the stats:

Harar Beer
BREWERY: Harar Brewery Share Co., Harar, Ethiopia
US IMPORTER: NTS Enterprises, Oakland, CA
STYLE: Pilsner
ABV: 4.25%
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: Ethiopian food

I got this extremely limited information from the bottle. I really need to e-mail the brewery with my questions. Who knows, maybe they'll answer.

This beer poured a golden color with a very nondescript white head that faded away almost instantaneously. The beer had a very malty aroma to it, but I thought it was pleasant. The taste was a little sweeter than I was used to for pilsners and was a nice surprise. I tasted malts, slight hops, carbonation, and a citrus taste reminiscent of a hefeweizen. The aftertaste was a combination of hops and slight metal, but faded pretty quickly. Matching the beer with Ethiopian food like Gored Gored and Ya Doro Wat made the aftertaste non-existant.

I liked this beer better than the Hakim Stout and better than most other pilsners I've had. Some complain that it's too sweet, but I think it's nice to not have a lager that tastes like I'm sucking a penny. Like Hakim Stout, you can find it at your favorite African restaurant or importer.

T'chen chen!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Famosa (Gallo)

This is a beer that recently was distributed to the Reno area, or at least to my favorite beer store, Booze Bros. I was in the mood for a Latin American lager, I saw the bottle, I saw the country of origin as another I can check off my list (Guatemala, by the way), I purchased.

Famosa (Spanish for "famous") is the export name for a beer Guatemalans call Gallo (Spanish for "Rooster"), explaining the black stylized rooster on the bottle. Why there's a stylized rooster on the bottle, I wasn't sure, so I had it explained to me by a brewery spokesperson. I originally thought that the rooster was in fact a Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala's national bird, whose image adorns the flag, coat of arms, and currency (which is also named the Quetzal), but I was wrong. In 1896, one of the family members of the brewery owners (not mentioned, but I assume it's the Castillo family; read on) decided to put a rooster on the bottle of their "Lager-Bier", I imagine as a sort of trademark. Ten years later, people started asking for a beer "with the Rooster on the bottle," eventually being shortened to "The Rooster," and thus, the name El Gallo was born. (E-mail to Central Beers)

The brewery itself was established in 1881 by Mariano and Rafael Castillo Córdova as Castillo Hermanos, with German brewmasters Herr Stiller and William Spitz arriving in 1895. The beer now known as Gallo in Guatemala and Famosa elsewhere was first brewed in 1896, and it has won numerous awards since. According to the Famosa spokesperson, the brewery is now owned by the 4th and 5th generations of family members, and it is one of only two independent breweries in Latin America. (Gallo beer information; I did my best with the translation, but if anyone can assist, I would be grateful)

Here come the stats:

Famosa (Gallo)
BREWERY: Cervecería Centro Americana, S.A., Guatemala City, Guatemala
US IMPORTER: Central Beer Import and Export, Inc., Miami, FL, USA
STYLE: Lager
CALORIES/SERVING: 145 per 12 oz. bottle (135-155 on average)
BITTERNESS: 20 IBUs (18-22 on average)
ABV: 5%
ORIGINAL GRAVITY: 11.5° Plato (1046.47)
MALTS: Malts from Denmark, Sweden, and Germany
HOPS: Hops from Yakima Valley, Washington
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: Guatemalan food, but also "sea food, Italian pasta or steak" among other things
AWARDS: 25 Monde Selection awards since 1967, including 21 gold medals (which itself includes 10 straight golds), 1 Great Gold medal in 1992, and the Crystal Prestige Award; 1914 gold medal at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition

All information, except for the OG, malts, hops, and serving temp, came from Central Beer's Famosa website; the rest came from an e-mail to the importer, Central Beer Import and Export.

The beer itself poured a clear light golden color that bubbled up into a nice clean white head. The scent of the beer reminded me of many a pilsner and Latin American lager I have drank, which makes sense considering this is your basic Latin American lager. The beer itself tasted of carbonation and a slight hoppiness with just a hint of malt. The good news is that the aftertaste was not overly bitter or metallic, a problem that befalls many beers from this part of the world (my theory is that it has to do with the water). It was a light hoppy aftertaste that lingered for a little while.

Overall, not a bad beer, but I imagine that the entire experience would be greatly improved served alongside some tamales or chile rellenos or other Guatemalan food (and yes, apparently most Guatemalan food is also Mexican food). Certainly far from the worst Central American lager I've had. Your favorite Guatemalan restaurant or Latin American grocer probably has this beer, so pick one up.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Shiner 100 Commemorator

When I went to Texas for Christmas vacation, I of course wanted to check out the local beer flare. And in many parts of the state, when it's not one of the Big 3, the two big Texas beers are Lone Star (what one friend in San Antonio called "Texas' Budweiser") and Shiner. I only had one bottle of Lone Star, but I had a fair amount of Shiner, both the flagship Bock (4.4% ABV) and the winter seasonal Holiday Cheer (5.4% ABV). Both beers were very delicious and were highlights of my trip, along with a trip to the Blue Star Brewery and La Tuna for drinks.

It was when I got home that I discovered that Spoetzl, the brewery that makes Shiner, celebrated their 100th anniversary this last year, and they released a special beer to commemorate the event, called, er, 100 Commemorator, a Doppelbock-style lager that Spoetzl notes was used as "liquid bread" by monks fasting during Lent. The anniversary of the "little brewery" in Shiner was one of the many that occurred involving beer, including Guinness' 250th anniversary and Rogue's Sesquicentennial Ale to celebrate Oregon's 150th birthday. Since it was only available for the entirety of 2009, I figured that I should pick one up while I can find them in 2010.

After doing a little research, I discovered that this is the last of the anniversary beers that Spoetzl brewed. They started in 2006 with 97 Bohemian Black Lager, and followed up with 98 Bavarian-Style Amber in 2007 and 99 Munich-Style Helles Lager in 2008. Too bad I didn't try them when they came out, although I lucked out on the 97, which is back for good.

Spoetzl Brewery, so named after first brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl, was founded in 1909 as the Shiner Brewing Association by German and Czech immigrants in Shiner, Texas, first releasing Shiner Premium that same year. In 1913, they released Shiner Bock, and in 1914 the Association recruited Spoetzl to head up the brewing operation; he ended up buying the brewery the next year. They managed to survive Prohibition by brewing near-beer (and, rumor has it, Shiner Premium for local farmers), and Spoetzl survived until 1950, when he passed away; at that time, his daughter took over and renamed it the K. Spoetzl Brewery. I'm not entirely sure when Shiner expanded out of Texas for the first time, but I do know they expanded to North Texas officially in 1992, so it probably was pretty recent. (Spoetzl Brewery → History)

Here come the stats:

Shiner 100 Commemorator
BREWERY: Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner, TX, USA
STYLE: Doppelbock
ABV: 6.7%

The style, bitterness, and ABV come from Shiner's 100 Commemorator website (What's On Tap → 100 Commemorator). The rest will hopefully come as a response to an e-mail I'm going to send to the brewery.

The beer poured a mid-amber color and produced a light tannish foamy head. The aroma was fruity in nature and pleasant to my nose. The beer itself also tasted fruity but also very malty as well, proving the liquid bread reputation this style is known for. The taste also is slightly hoppy and also felt "heavy" and complex, if that makes sense. The aftertaste reminds me of a sweet dark bread, and it was pleasant and non-intrusive.

I snagged one from my usual haunt Booze Bros. in Reno, but if you want to grab one, you better do it soon!