Beer Musings from Moscow: Smithwick’s makes a pleasant introduction
Tapped out Curl up this cold winter season with a wonderfully warm beer
Tapped out Half and Half makes for a half-hearted start to November
Tapped out Strong Baltika No. 9 for strong apple-picking people
Tapped out Tapped Out: Abbey Ale, a smashing Belgian dubbel semester starter
Curl up this cold winter season with a wonderfully warm beer
An introduction to the heightened flavor of unfiltered lagers
Beer Musings from Moscow: Smithwick’s makes a pleasant introduction
Half and Half makes for a half-hearted start to November
Lenin's beer may be hard to pronounce, but it's easy to get down
Tapped out: An immense amount of fate, and beer, bring us down to earth
Alas, dear reader, this week’s beer was never supposed to happen. Indeed, as Nick’s car sat in the Dudley Coe Lot destined not for Uncle Tom’s but for Don Foshay’s Discount Tire & Alignment, we feared that all was lost. True to our spontaneous form and following our shout-out in “Bottom of the Barrel,” we had agreed to compare and contrast Will Schweller’s homebrew with one of Nick’s all-time favorite Canadian lagers: Labatt Blue. But as we trudged back to Columbia Street, Nick reading seemingly endless VIN numbers into the phone, we were lost.
Stepping-up: the beer of the hour (and the beer of our week)—21st Amendment Brewery’s Down To Earth. Surprisingly relevant name aside, this was the only beer in Nick’s fridge. Having reserved this six-pack as the hidden “good beer” amongst the Rolling Rocks and Old Milwaukees of last Friday’s rockin’ jazz party, it had well and truly come to the rescue now. And it came to the rescue in more ways than one: what a beer it was and just what Nick’s quack doctor had ordered after an afternoon of “please hold” elevator music.
This session IPA is true to its description as a smashable beer. An IPA will never go down like a watery American lager, granted, but this brew can go the distance. It’s refreshing, it’s delicious and it’s not too complex to enjoy multiple cans. Even before you open this beer up, the art—a strangely-happy-spacesuit-clad monkey chilling in a hammock by the ocean—is worth a brief marvel. And once it’s cracked, it only gets better.
Upon being poured, the can releases a creamy and plentiful head, sitting atop a mellowed-orange beer. There is very little smell, with brief hoppy notes here and there—nothing to offend even the most malt-inclined of drinkers (Nick included). And the taste itself is not in the least layered but is nonetheless delicious all the way through. This is about as light as an IPA can come, but it’s still full of the citrus and floral notes expected of pale ale. There really is not much else to say: it’s crisp, it’s refreshing, it’s not too bitter and it’s full of simple, straightforward flavor. Down to Earth’s mouthfeel also has an easy lightness that belies gravity; it is at the perfect level of carbonation, a rarity from a beer that’s not on draft.
Coming in at $8.99 for a six-pack, this beer is ridiculously well priced for its quality—one of the best value buys that either of us has seen. And at only 4.4 percent ABV, you could drink that whole six without hitting the floor. This beer is a must-have in your fridge. And what’s that? Yes, this beer is available at Bootleggers. Look, we love Tom’s, but if you happen to find yourself in Leggers’ hood, get yourself a case or two of these beauties. We must go now, as we continue to discuss Mongolian yurts and question the perceived perfection of Denmark, but we shall see you soon, dear reader.
Tonight’s Toast: “Here’s to the great artistic genius, Pablo Picasso. His last words were “Drink to me.” Who am I to question genius?” Go out and get drunk with a good friend this week—we love you, Pablo.
Tonight's Soundtrack: The sound of sizzling dumplings, courtesy of Sun’s Oriental Market, alongside “Deep in the Iris,” the third studio album by Canadian art rock band Braids (in a nod to LaBatt and what could have been).
Conclusions on Down to Earth:
Tapped out: Midas Touch offers a tipsier insight into ancient Greek history
“I’d dump any girl who cared about Valentine’s day,” quoth Nick, as we festively sat drinking beer and grumbling about our English papers on a fine Tuesday evening aka Valentine’s day aka the evening before our beer article is due. But do not fear, dear Reader, that our Tuesday was lackluster, for our beer was pretty out of the ordinary—and educational to boot.
Just like last week, we headed over to Uncle Tom’s for some inspiration, where Dan, the owner, told us a fascinating story about an “ancient ale” called Midas Touch. Pro tip: ask Dan about beer—he knows his whole stock and gives stellar recommendations.
As we checked out, he told us, “This one has a history behind it—when they did an excavation of King Midas’s tomb [Midas being the greedy guy in Greek mythology who got his wish fulfilled, which was that everything he touched would turn to gold—he didn’t meet a happy end], they found the broken remains of what looked like a wine urn. They micro-analyzed the pottery pieces and found the ingredients of the urn’s contents.”
Voila, that was the recipe for our beer of the night. @BowdoinClassicsDepartment, please take note of our dedication to the ancients. As we sat down, both of us were immediately aware (and truth be told, scared) of the sediment floating around in the beer. The beer is advertised as containing “Muscat grapes, honey, and saffron,” so perhaps there were grape fragments still in there—nevertheless, it was intimidatingly chunky. Only Midas knows. When poured into a glass, the beer’s color was bright orange, like plastic Halloween pumpkins, with zero head on top. The sediment surprisingly cleared out when poured and neither of us were bothered by it while drinking. The smell was a combination of normal toasty wheat and sweetness that was pleasant but not particularly noteworthy.
Then we got around to tasting the beer. True to his mathematical roots, Nick drew a graph of the taste scale, which Jae-Yeon tried her best to represent in words: the first split-second tastes of nothing before a deep hoppy bitterness kicks in briefly. There is fleeting acidity as the taste transitions into honey sweetness; the sweetness increases exponentially with every second that passes, making for a very interesting and very extended finish. This is not your usual saccharine sweetness that comes from high fructose corn syrup or its equivalent but something tangier and more unusual. The mouthfeel was rather flat, without much carbonation, and the strong taste definitely prevented this beer from being one to “smash.” And yet, at 9% ABV, it was remarkably light. With its unique flavoring and light body, Midas Touch would make a great starter beer for anyone looking to step outside of the Lager/IPA comfort zone. It was like the love child between a traditional honey mead and a lager; the more we drank, the more we felt the honey seep through all else. And for a beer with such a rich and ancient history, it was surprisingly modern.
Even if you do not end up liking this historic beer (although we did), at $3.55 it’s cheaper than going to a museum, and it will get you tipsy. Concluding remark? Worth it—after all, we Bowdoin students are wont to pursue academic knowledge purely for the love of learning, inside and outside the classroom.
Tapped out: Tapped Out: Abbey Ale, a smashing Belgian dubbel semester starter
Alas, dear reader, Jae-Yeon is back from her adventures in the Siberian wilderness (read: Moscow), and she has decided to take the senior trash out in style. In steps Nick, always happy to oblige. After all, what is better than one semi-clueless beer lover? Answer: two semi-clueless beer lovers. We’ll let this column be a beacon of light to those who have ever doubted Nick—his extra-curricular life is not lost, for he is now a distinguished journalist in the nation’s oldest continuously published college weekly. Does he get buzzed in the process? Answer: irrelevant.
But let’s get to the beer. This week we moseyed down to Uncle Tom’s in search of something, anything, better than the dregs of Nick’s end-of-semester PBR-exclusive rager. After all, how could Wisconsin’s finest ever compliment a meal of frozen dumplings and poorly cooked noodles? The foodies would be at our throats. Knowing that a College House basement favorite could not be our muse, we, at last, after great deliberation, settled on a classic, a household name for anybody who frequents a mock Belgian dubbel: Brewery Ommegang’s Abbey Ale.
The beer is hefty—definitely not for beer pong consumption—but it does not sit heavy in the stomach. It is also not offensive in the least despite its full body: the Abbey offers a beautiful balance between richness and drinkability. There was some disagreement over the beer’s smashability, with Nick thoroughly in the “could binge” category, but two or three glasses’ worth of this beer will not leave you with a rock in your gut (pardon the vulgarity).
The beer, upon pouring, released a very full, creamy, tan-colored head of about one inch: PBR, eat your heart out. The color at first seemed light brown, but when held up to the light, a deep ruby was revealed. This is no Smithwick’s, but this beer is, at least in color, an amber ale. The smell of the beer was heavily citrusy—we are confident that it single handedly cleansed our sinuses (#overexaggeration )—and there was a late roasted aroma.
The beer tasted damn good. It started fruity and finished sweet, sitting in the back of the throat for an extended period of time. We could immediately taste both the citrus notes and the licorice root and were both left dreaming of this beer’s potential in front of a fancy cheeseboard. We were inspired to pull some moldy cheddar out of the fridge only to concede that our house was not wont to provide such amenities (not even a mid-range cheeseboard could be salvaged, sadly). But we soldiered on, conquering the 750 mL bottle comfortably. Coming in at $8.60 from Uncle Tom’s, this beer is also, for a drink of this quality, a true bargain. For any aspiring connoisseurs on a budget, this is your beer.
In conclusion, this is a damn fine beer. Even if it’s not to your liking, you won’t be calling for the bucket. It’s not a session beer, but it’s not a double-chocolate and coffee triple stout. This beer will not make you long for Rolling Rock fresh out of the keg—it would not be out of place at one of those beer-tasting tents that pops up twice a year when alums come to town. We enjoyed it from the first sip to the last, and we would recommend it to anyone looking to expand their horizons without having to throw the sink.
Tapped out: Curl up this cold winter season with a wonderfully warm beer
Are you freezing, dear Reader? Do you have the sniffles, have small ice blocks instead of toes, forget the last time the temperature was above freezing (actually, I remember—it was early October) and almost die on a regular basis from slipping on black ice on a busy street? Do you also not feel inclined to an ice-cold pint of beer, as perfect as it usually is?
Here is the tale of how I stayed in and made mulled beer, because I felt too cold to drink normal beer. In the touristy parts of Moscow, you can find numerous little stalls that offer traditional Christmas drinks or mulled wine; sweet, hot, festive—it’s really pretty nice. But do not despair—wine is not the only hot beverage option; I learned that Peter I (Russia Tsar from way back when) and his generation used to drink their beer hot. This fun fact got me started on a fascinating online search for hot beer drinks, during which I discovered the existence of mulled beer. It’s a traditional drink not only from 1700s Russia, but also all over the older European world. For example, take the famous English drink called Wassail. Making it involves pouring hot beer with spices over a bowl with some sugar on the bottom, letting it sit and “infuse,” then topping the whole thing with thin slices of bread. While beer-soggy bread didn’t appeal to me, I was curious enough about the idea of mulled beer to make a version at home.
Here’s the basic recipe:
- 1 mugful of beer
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- Lemon and spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) to taste
Put everything together in a small saucepan and heat it up, but make sure not to boil the mixture for too long, unless you want non-alcoholic mulled beer. Channel your inner Martha Stewart—pour the heated beverage into a crystal chalice, garnish with cinnamon sticks, candied orange peels, floating rose candles, etc., as desired. Post a picture of your dreamy mulled beer on social media venue of choice, labeled #foodporn and #whoneedsmulledwine.
I used a cheap Russian beer with an alcohol percentage of 13 percent (in case I accidentally over-boiled), which tasted remarkably similar to one of those 40s that you can buy at 7/11. I added lots of lemon, honey and cinnamon, then stirred. The mixture turned out to be gorgeous—the white foam from the heated-up beer was sprinkled with specks of cinnamon, resembling whipped cream, and the beer turned a slightly darker golden. Very appealing, especially when poured into a clear glass. The smell was also lovely, with the beer creating an unusually toasty, grainy undertone to the traditional holiday scents.
The beer I started out with was not wonderful, and the spices did not quite cover up its unappetizing taste. If I do this again, which I surprisingly might, I would do it with a very malty beer, like Baltika #9. I was prepared for this to be completely disgusting; however, the aftertaste was unexpectedly nice, with the lemon and beer balancing out the sweetness of honey and making it very drinkable. My biggest complaint was that the mouthfeel was very flat, with all the carbonation gone out of the beer—leaving the drink more like tepid soda. But even so, and with the less-than-stellar beer I used, I preferred this mulled beer to the mulled wines that I’ve had, which so far have been sickly, stickily sweet. I do think that every beer can’t be made into mulled beer; for example, an already distinct-tasting IPA or a light, clean-tasting lager both seem like a disastrous combo with spices and honey. But with a beer that is already not very carbonated and tastes malty, fruity or creamy—perhaps mulled beer could make a comeback in 2017 from its long hiatus since the 1800s.
So, in conclusion, I would recommend this to others. It might not be your cup of mulled beverage, but I think it’s worth a try. At any rate, it’s a good way to procrastinate on your schoolwork and acts as a nice-smelling, warm thing to clutch in your hands after a cold day (or while dealing with estranged family members). Whether accompanied by beer or not, I hope you fly through finals and have a wonderful winter break; I’ll see you on the other side, on the same continent (hopefully).
Tonight’s Soundtrack: “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme” by Simon & Garfunkel—not the right spices, but it doesn’t matter because their voices are so cozy.
Tonight’s Toast: A Poem on the Underground Wall of a beer bar summed it up pretty well—“In Heaven there is no beer; that’s why we drink ours here.” I’m not sure about the non-existence of heavenly beer, since I’ve never been there, but I do believe in drinking in the moment. Here is to beer in 2017.
Conclusions on mulled beer:
* To be fair, I feel that the flavor could be improved if I experimented with a
different beer and more spices.
Tapped out: Lenin's beer may be hard to pronounce, but it's easy to get down
Please note: personal opinions on things other than beer, such as American politics, below.
Guess what Vladimir Lenin’s favorite drink was? Contrary to stereotype, it was not vodka. When I visited Lenin’s well-kept estate where he died (I was in the room where it happened), I learned that Lenin did not care much about food but loved a good beer. His favorite: the Russian-brewed brand “Жигулeвское,” or “Zhigulyovskoe.” It was practically the only mass-produced beer during Soviet times and is still very popular in Russia. Zhigulyovskoe is available pretty much everywhere here, although unfortunately not in America. Lenin’s beer was too interesting not to try.
I bought one liter on tap from the local beer shop in a very utilitarian, undecorated plastic bottle (it was also very cheap—hooray). Pouring it into a glass, I was struck by how thick the head was and also by its light golden color. I was a little worried that the thick foam would get in the way of drinking later, but it was actually not a problem. The smell was probably the best part about the beer; it had a strong, lovely aroma that resembled caramel. This sounds strange, but was true. If this beer were a cereal, it would certainly be those Shredded Wheat squares. It’s light and sweet, with a strong taste of toasted wheat. None of the flavors are over the top and, overall, it goes down easily. The amount of carbonation was perfect, although maybe because it was on draft.
However, I could understand how the sweetness could get annoying if you don’t like sweeter beers. Although it wasn’t spectacularly special, I personally found this beer pleasant, smooth and surprisingly delicious, especially for being one of the cheaper beers—perhaps equivalent to Budweiser or Heineken. in the United States. Go Lenin—although it’s not my favorite beer of all time, I approve of your choice in alcohol.
I actually didn’t plan to write about Lenin’s beer this week. When I was searching for topics to write about, my first Google search was: “beer to drown your sorrows in.” I thought it was appropriate. But then I realized that this was not productive in any way, either for the article or for myself (although I did find out that there is a “Black Galleon Drown Your Sorrows” ale brewed in England and a “Spiteful Brewing Dumb Donald” IPA).
There’s no denying that last Wednesday was shocking and difficult for many. Here in Moscow, it’s both easier and harder to process my distress over the election results because I am not reminded of it every moment. It was an ordinary morning on Wednesday; of course, most people knew about the results, but it was very possible to not be as aware of the consequences. Maybe that’s the hardest part of it all. I need to remember that not only am I, as a Korean woman, my friends, and the U.S. directly impacted, but that the whole world is impacted by a Trump presidency—and that this really is our new reality. I need to be aware—and for me that means, at this moment, I need to be terrified, confused, sad and upset. And awareness is essential, always, in order for any kind of forward action to happen.
So, reader of mine, I propose a toast (and I presume that you will forgive my clichés): here is to not drowning our sorrows. Here’s to swimming in our sorrows. Here’s to remembering. Here’s to mourning, to fearing, to protesting. Here’s to not running to Canada. Here’s to liquid courage found at the bottom of your beer glass. Here’s to still dreaming drunkenly of hope.
Lastly, as always, here’s to drinking responsibly.
Tonight's soundtrack: Started out with "Red" by Taylor Swift (in honor of Lenin), but switched over after 47 seconds to Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks"
Tonight's toast: see above
Conclusions on Zhigulyovskoe:
Tapped out: Half and Half makes for a half-hearted start to November
Tapped out: An introduction to the heightened flavor of unfiltered lagers
I’ve been noticing “unfiltered” and “raw/live” beer a lot on the menus in Moscow. It turns out that this no-filtering thing is a whole trend in beer brewing and not just on Instagram, so here are my thoughts and some information on cloudy, murky, living, breathing beer. Intrigued? Disgusted? Read on.
Disclaimer: This article is less practical and theoretically useful to Bowdoin beer drinkers. I’m sorry to say that I couldn’t find a concrete brand or bar to recommend that’s available in Brunswick, although I bet you could probably find unfiltered beer in Portland. If you were depending on me as your lifeline for beer, you could even try this thing called wine (or water) until my next article! Even your beer columnist spent the other evening at a bar called “I Love Wine,” (which I admit was stellar).
My first unfiltered beer here was a lager at “Beer Time” (I swear I’m not making up these bar names). Beer Time is a small, cheap, dingy and wonderful place filled with Russian bros plus one Asian girl. I didn’t really know I was ordering an unfiltered beer, because the name was written in small text and it was the cheapest option. When my beer appeared, it did not look appetizing. There was barely any foam on top, but the whole glass was filled with a dirty yellow liquid that had stray wisps of stuff floating around haphazardly. I had no idea what exactly was in my murky beer and only found out after I drank it (not recommended), but the taste definitely made up for its looks. Never judge a beer by its cover.
Fans say that the taste and aroma of unfiltered beer are more complex. There are also some opinions on head retention that vary from critic to critic. From my limited experience, the smell seemed average—I won’t lie and say I sniffed my beer extensively—but the taste was, indeed, complex. Although I usually prefer the fuller flavor of ales, my particular lager was very taste-filled. I can’t categorize the taste of all unfiltered beers because they vary wildly, but in general the extra yeast content lends another layer of flavor. That flavor, in turn, enhances the taste of other ingredients such as hops. Basically, try it if you want to heighten your beer flavors. It will not transform a beer completely into a whole new creature—my lager was still definitely a recognizable lager—but it makes it into a 2.0 version, if done nicely.
As much as I liked the flavor, it’s reasonable to be thrown off by the unusual mouthfeel. The unfiltered lager had more of a substantial texture when I drank it; while I couldn’t physically feel the little wispy things (just yeast, don’t worry) in my mouth, the beer did feel thicker. I didn’t mind, but I’m not a reliable source on this front—I grew up drinking kombucha, which has wisps of slimy-feeling fungus floating around. I did like the amount of carbonation in the beer, though, despite its lack of foam—it was the right amount of bubbly. All in all, I’m now a newly minted fan of unfiltered beer. Although it is not a life-changer of a beer, it’s still a pretty great blessing on a Wednesday night.
The website www.homebrewtalk.com sums up the factual differences of the unfiltered beer pretty simply: “Not exactly a beer style but a technique that can be applied to any style, Unfiltered Beer refers to any beer that is intentionally served with yeast remaining in the cask, keg or bottle. Most mass-produced beers are filtered to give them a bright clarity. An unfiltered beer may use the yeast to...contribute to the flavor or mouthfeel of the beer” among other factors. Because unfiltered beers are more “alive” (more yeasty), they’re not mass-produced and usually only served on tap, as far as I know. Fun fact: fish bladders are a common beer-filter; who knows, maybe the next trend will be cold-brewed, fish-bladder-filtered coffee (just kidding, coffee doesn’t need yeast filtration).
Tonight's Soundtrack: A sports match of some sorts; loudly drunk guys
Tonight's Toast: "There were quite a few toasts at Beer Time but I forget them, so here's a random one that has no connection whatsoever to this article. 'Noroc,' pronounced 'na-rok'—cheers in Romanian. (@Costin, I didn't forget this, here is proof.)"
Conclusions on my unfiltered lager, whose name I also forget but isn't available in the USA so ultimately is not relevant to this Orient column:
Tapped out: Strong Baltika No. 9 for strong apple-picking people
You more or less made it through the first month of college (and Epicuria)! Also it’s autumn—so hooray! Leaves! Instagrammable landscapes! Midterms! My prediction for the rest of the semester: it’ll be Fall Break soon, with some midterms, then midterms until finals, midterms during finals and then some finals. To celebrate, why not try a festive Baltika No. 9?
Reasons why Baltika No. 9 pairs well with apple picking season:
The Baltika No. 9 can is beautifully autumnal—red, with gold rimming. The beer itself matches the can; poured into a mug, it’s a nice color—inoffensively golden with not too much foam.
With its extremely malty flavor and smell, Baltika No. 9 goes well with sweet or tart foods like apples. I wouldn’t recommend drinking it with anything savory, but it would go superbly with apple cider or donuts.
It’s also slightly smoky and nutty, but be warned—the aftertaste is metallically malty, so pairing it with food is a good idea.
It’s efficient; this strong lager has an alcohol percentage of at least 8%. The can advertises itself as “genuine strong beer.” Okay Baltika, thanks for your genuineness.
I really could not taste the high alcohol percentage and it was very drinkable, albeit bubbly. This is not a beer to shotgun, but one to drink leisurely while you pick apples or eat pumpkin-spiced foods.
It’s a new beer that I’m willing to bet you’ve never tried before. Go ahead and push your beer boundaries.
That said, I thought Baltica No. 9 was a little too carbonated and sweet. The initial smell and first sip were nice, but a stronger taste of hops would have balanced it out better. My least favorite aspect of this beer was its strong metallic aftertaste—perhaps it’d be better out of a can, but I wasn’t a fan. However, it’s good for a cheap beer (especially after the first one), and I would drink Baltika No. 9 over a regular Budweiser—at least it has a distinctive character to it.
You could probably find Baltika No. 9 at Bootleggers or another liquor store because Baltika is the biggest Russian beer exporter—but it’s unfortunately not available at Hannaford. It costs anywhere from $1.00-2.30 per bottle in the U.S.
There are also a lot of different types of Baltika beer if you’re looking for something lighter than No. 9. To give you some idea of how big this beer industry is, the Baltika brewery in St. Petersburg is as big as the Vatican, Baltika started out in Russia as one of the most popular beers in the U.S.S.R. but is now a part of the brewery company Carlsberg Group, a German-style business with headquarters in Denmark. Now Baltica beer is sold around the world.
Next time, I’d like to try out the intriguing idea of “beer cocktails” (as advertised by my constant Spoon University emails), but if you have any other ideas, please email me at email@example.com. The “2” is of utmost importance, because my younger sister is firstname.lastname@example.org, and she doesn’t like beer (also, she’s not 21). Come on Bowdoin, why am I number 2 when I was here before her?
Tonight's Soundtrack: Fiona Apple, because I wanted some angst to balance out the sweetness of the beer. And also: Apple, get it?
Tonight's Toast: "Za osen"- "To autumn," in Russian. Side note: "Na zdorovye" is actually not the Russian toast, which is a common misconception. Literaly translated, it means, "On your health," and while it is a popular toast in Eastern Europe, it's not a thing in Russia. However, Russians are rightly famous for their lengthy, varied and althogether spectacular toasts.
Beer Musings from Moscow: Smithwick’s makes a pleasant introduction
Hello hello, dear reader, welcome to the Orient’s beer column. Let me introduce myself—although, to be realistic, I think you’re probably reading this because you’re one of my supportive friends and thus you already know me. Who knows? Ideal-case scenario you’re looking for some crafty beer inspiration (#beerspiration?). I’m a beer lover currently studying abroad in Moscow, Russia. I’ll admit straight up that I have never studied brewing or beer seriously; I will probably mess up my alcohol terminology at times—please forgive me. I do it with the best intentions and a serious appreciation for a good beer.
Since I’m in another country, it’s tricky to give helpful beer recommendations for Bowdoin students. I think I’m going to try to find American equivalents to what I’m drinking here, look for Russian beers available in Maine or go off of memory concerning what I like to drink. By the way, it is 100% false that Russians only love vodka. In fact, there’s quite a nice craft beer scene, which is good news for me.
Okay, beer talk now: if you happen to be in Moscow, I recommend checking out the bars in the renovated chocolate factory region, Red October. In Brunswick, I’d probably just have purchased a pack of Smithwick’s for the first week back—it’s cheap and bars in Brunswick don’t carry it. Smithwick’s is not well-known but it’s definitely my all-time favorite red ale. The best metaphor I can think of is that it’s basically the LBD* of beers, allowing it to pair well with almost any food or mood. I’ll rhapsodize briefly: Smithwick’s is the ultimate balancing act. It’s malty, but not overwhelmingly sweet; flavorful and earthy, but not bitter; smooth and very easy to drink, but not bland. It’s a great beer to start with, no matter what you choose to drink afterwards, so maybe Smithwick’s is a particularly fitting drink now, as this time of year marks the beginning of seemingly everything (and speaking from experience, orientations never end). Because it is a subtler drink, Smithwick’s enhances the flavors of other stronger or heavier tasting beers that follow, like stouts or IPAs. At the same time, it’s still flavorful enough that you won’t be bored—and this aftertaste somewhat covers up the taste of less mouthwatering beers if needed.
Quick facts: Smithwick’s originated in Kilkenny, Ireland, is classified as an Irish red ale and has an alcohol percentage of 4.5%. Most people think only of Guinness when they think of Irish beer, but the truth is there is so much more variety. Uncoincidentally, Guinness now also owns Smithwick’s. It’s a smart company.
A 12-pack of Smithwick’s costs approximately $15, exactly the same price as Sam Adams or Blue Moon—so money is no excuse for not giving it a try.
Smithwick’s company also brews Smithwick’s Pale Ale, but I prefer the fuller taste of the red. It’s naturally better on tap—less carbonated, so you can appreciate the malty taste better—but the bottled version is still pretty decent. A friend told me there’s a place in Bath that does have Smithwick’s on tap. I plan to check it out when I’m back, but if you take the initiative to explore Bath’s bar scene before I do—please go grab a Smithwick’s for me.
Next, if you’re going to drink a beer properly, I think you need to do some toasting. If you only want to know about the beer, you can stop reading here, but I’m personally fascinated by toasting culture. For example, did you know that in Germany, it’s essential to maintain eye contact when toasting? If you don’t meet the other person’s eyes when you clink your glasses, you’ll have seven years of bad sex. Seven. I don’t know if this rule applies in America, but perhaps it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You can also practice vocabulary while drinking. From my experience, knowing “cheers” in multiple languages is often more useful for socializing and traveling than knowing other phrases (“I love you,” for example—when are you really going to need to say that in multiple languages?). Since we’re drinking beer from Kilkenny, “sláinte!” seems appropriate—“cheers” in Irish Gaelic, pronounced “slahn-che.”
Go forth and impress your friends with your choice of perfect beer, intense eye contact and cool new words. Thank you for reading; do email me if you have suggestions—until next time. *LBD = Little Black Dress, or a wardrobe staple that goes with anything and is always useful.