By Will Siss
Everybody loves choices.
You want a new app for your iPhone? Here’s 500,000 of them. You want another pop singer who sounds like What’s-Her-Name from American Idol? Here’s 25 of them.
You want references that will be dated in five years? You just got two of them.
For the beer-curious, going into a package store to try something new often means committing to a six-pack or bomber (wine-sized bottle). Stores rarely do tastings, so you’re hop out of luck if you don’t like the experimental style you read about in a newspaper column somewhere.
Package stores that allow you to mix your own six-pack are here to help. Frankly, I haven’t run into any package stores in the area that allow six-mixing (Crazy Bruce’s in Bristol is another), but recently I found Warehouse Wine & Liquor in Torrington.
One of the owners told me that they choose the loose bottles based on price-point; in other words, if they’re too expensive, they don’t stock them. This makes sense and doesn’t bother me. Plus, it’s certainly worth a $10 commitment.
Warehouse’s selection in the make-your-own sixer section wasn’t enormous: maybe about 20 different beers lined up together on a table. But I did get that tingly feeling you get when you’re picking out toppings for your ice cream. You don’t want them all, but it’s fun to see what’s available.
I came up with five out of six that I didn’t have before, yet still wanted (I’d already tried Black Sheep Brewery’s Holy Grail Ale, but I wanted it again). I decided to name my sixer the “What the Heck Is That?” pack. I’d heard of almost all of the breweries, but the styles they were peddling seemed strange to me.
For example, Saranac had two styles with which I was unfamiliar: vanilla stout and chocolate lager.
Now, I knew that a vanilla stout could exist in nature: vanilla flavoring or pure vanilla put into the brewing process didn’t seem outside reality. Unfortunately, while the label says they use a “hint of vanilla,” it’s less of a hint and more of a bellowing. It doesn’t taste like real vanilla, either. Rather, it tastes a bit synthetic, like the way fake sugars taste.
The chocolate lager was much better, but I couldn’t get over how clear it was. It had always been my impression that chocolate beers had to be much darker. But this one is made with cacao nibs, which did not affect the color. Like a lager, it’s also rather crisp and light. This one’s a winner.
For cultural diversity, I picked up Sarajevo Beer, or as you might know it, “Product of Sarajevska Pivara D.D.” This 4.9 percent alcohol by volume (that’s low) lager was, quite frankly, stinky. I didn’t expect much, so I guess what I got was pretty good. It’s clean-tasting, and really served as a nice palate cleanser after the chocolate attack. Light, well-carbonated and as dry as Dick Cavett’s wit, it’s basically a nice lager. Not anything you need to go to Sarajevo for, but nice.
Now, ignorant me picked up an Alexander Keith’s beer, which was explained to me later is just one of those “false craft breweries” that’s really linked to a giant manufacturer. In this case, the Canadian brewery is branched up the chain to Anheuser-Busch Inbev of St. Louis, by way of Belgium.
What caught my attention was the style: “Nova Scotia Style Lager.” What the heck is that? It turns out to be much like any other kind of lager. Except that it’s made in Nova Scotia. Go figure, eh?
I ended my virtual journey through the six pack with another big brewery craft-style beer: Heineken’s Tarwebok. This is a wheat bock, which I’d never had. I could definitely the slightly earthy wheat notes, and overall I thought it was really balanced, with a tidy hop kiss. If you like a taste of summer in the chill of this season, this might be your beer.
Best of luck building your own sixer. It’s just another of the many joys of beer.
Until next time, sip well.