How The Nitro Project is Like Season Two of The Serial Podcast

 

The Serial Podcast is one of the many and various podcasts I listen to during my long commute from Lancaster into Harrisburg every day for work. Season One of Serial was innovative, enlightening, and enthralling. For a story about a 15 year old murder of a young girl it was highly entertaining and at times fun.

The story of death of Hae Min Lee, Adnan Syed’s conviction, and the gaps that appear between reasonable and doubt when it comes to justice sucked me in week after week.

Season Two of Serial tackled the politically charged story of Bowe Bergdahl, a man who deserted his unit in Afghanistan. This season, in my opinion, is not as enthralling or as interesting. The story of Bowe Bergdahl is weighted down with a deep political gravity warping peoples ideas of the story with preconceived notions of what Bergdahl did or didn’t do by walking off his military base; myself included.

Season One featured a case no one knew and people came with a blank slate. Season Two had none of that, it was dripping with preconceived notions of what Bergdahl did, why he did it, about the price paid for his return, and what should happen to him now that he was back in America.

Season Two is reporting, in depth, a story that has to be told; that people need to hear. This yeoman’s work of journalism of telling a massively complex story is just the type of work Serial’s Sarah Koenig and the This American Life staff need to tell.

But Season Two…it’s hard to enjoy.  At times it is like eating your vegetables. The story is one that has to be told and should be heard, but it can feel heavy and lack the surprises, twists, turns and interest of Season One. It is weighed down in a way that the first iteration was not.

Samuel Adams’ The Nitro Project feels kind of the same.  For years Samuel Adams was doing the yeoman’s work of bringing craft beer into the forefront and building a nationwide distribution. Samuel Adam Boston Lager was a remarkable beer when it first hit the market and it continues to be a great beer when you are looking for craft in a bar with nothing but Bud and Coors on tap.

Jim Koch has been an evangelist for craft beer and has been nothing but good for the industry. Koch is known for innovating and pressing the envelop when it comes to brewing beer (See: Utopias or Infinium). This latest move, Project Nitro takes a well established technology (nitrogen infused beer in a can) and adds a little bit of a twist (white ale and IPA in a nitro can, not just the usual stout).

Infusing beers other than stouts with nitrogen has been an interesting way to put a twist on well established styles at craft beer bars for years. Using nitro and their very tiny bubbles to make a hoppy IPA creamy with a silky mouthfeel yet bitter floral bite for beers like Sculpin or Green Flash IIPA was interesting.

The Nitro Project takes this same occasionally seen concept from your local craft beer bar and puts it in the hands of a broad range of consumers. This is taking a story that should be told and giving it a wider audience.

Sam Adams has put out three beers in nitro cans: White Ale, IPA and Coffee Stout.  I bought a four pack of each and while none of them are world beaters or going to change the way the experienced craft beer drinker thinks about their favorite beverage, it will get a wide audience exposure to a different way to enjoy craft beer.

The Nitro White Ale was the best of the three, The grains of paradise, a frequently used ingredient at Samuel Adams, comes through in the finish and provided a nice spiciness at the end of this 5.5% ABV, medium bodied beer. It’s a refreshing beer that is easy drinking and pleasant.

The Nitro Coffee Stout has the most difficult time right out the gate. Exceptional coffee stouts served on nitro are beyond ubiquitous. The Sumatran coffee flavors in this example provide a good roasted flavor but the body is as thin as its two brothers. The lack body here gives the beer a lack of substance as beer goes down. If this brew could really up the body and have a thicker, fuller texture it would go a long way as the flavor profile was approachable and balanced.

Not too long ago I tried Guinness Nitro IPA.  That experience made me a little worried about trying Samuel Adams’s version. The Guinness idea of an IPA ended up being poured down the drain. It was bad…awful on multiple levels. The Samuel Adams version was better but it too fell flat. There were hops but they are at best muted.  The pine, citrus, and floral notes just never quite showed up in significant amounts to really make this beer good, let alone great.  I can’t say I disliked the Boston  Beer Company’s attempt but I didn’t like it either. It just was kind of… there. Taking up space in my fridge until I drank it all.

The Serial Podcast Season Two is telling a story that should be told. Samuel Adams is brewing a beer that some people should try so as to get the exposure to a different way of enjoying craft beer.

In the end both are worthy, and in some cases necessary and important. I am just not overly excited about consuming either at this point.

Post Script: I had multiple reservations about doing this post. i.e. I was in danger of becoming overly political. I was not looking to make a judgement call on Bergdahl’s actions. Also I do not take the death of a young high school girl or the pursuing miscarriage of justice lightly even though years later it created an amazingly compelling story.

Hell… I don’t even know if the above comparison makes sense. But when you have a one hour commute, each way, every day you tend to have some really strange ideas sitting in the car by yourself.

If you think this post didn’t work… that is cool. Just tell me so and we can all move on and I can try to do better the next time. Until then… Cheers!

Let Us Ignore the Fact that I Just Trashed Coffee Beers and Enjoy a Sunday Morning Stout

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Discerning craft beer drinkers can be a dismissive and an impolite bunch. The term “craft beer snob” can be a badge of honor when I turn down a Bug Light Lime; even a free one. Yet, it’s not a label I am comfortable with when I am drinking a craft beer that I find less than stellar. Brewers put lots of man hours and risk, financial and otherwise, into their craft. It’s hard for me to not always want to be supportive of the little brewery that could.

Even when I find a beer not exactly perfect, I frequently just chalk it up to not being to my taste.  De gustibus non est disputandum!  Unless a beer is so bad its clearly a failure or I have to pour it out I will give the craft brewer the benefit of the doubt.

I say this because over the past couple weeks as members of my beer drinking social media circle began trying Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout, a bourbon barrel aged coffee stout, I started to see a very serious and repeated trend: “Good but no KBS.” “KBS is still the best.” “KBS kills this.” “Meh, it’s not KBS.”

Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) is a world class beer, worthy of all the superlatives that are regularly gushed upon it. It’s a beautiful beer wonderfully crafted and if you are a fan of bourbon and/or bourbon barrel aged beers it is high on the list of must haves each year. Year in and year out, KBS sets a high standard for what bourbon barrel aged (BBA) beer can be.

After having a bottle the other night I can too say “Sunday Morning Stout is not as great as KBS.”  You see Founder’s brew is just transcendent.  It and its brother Canadian Breakfast Stout are highly regarded by beer snobs with good reason.

But the twist here is I liked it precisely for the ways in which it was not like KBS. In my opinion, KBS is best after a few years of cellaring. Its astringency goes way down; the bourbon’s burn takes time to mellow out. Given sufficient time, the coffee notes quiet with vanilla and oak taking over. It’s just a better beer even after at least twelve months rest.

In contrast, Sunday Morning Stout is ready now.  This is a stark contrast. It’s a fully matured ready to drink BBA beer today. Sunday Morning pours thick like a quart of motor oil and sits in the glass heavily. Held up to the light shows off this opaque beer has a slightly reddish brown hue at the meniscus with a thick greasiness that clings to the glass. In the parlance of wine tasting, this beer “has legs.” Even from a slightly vigorous pour I only got a short tan head. The nose is not boozy but simply offers a whiff of the bourbon and oak with a backdrop of fresh roasted coffee grinds. As the beer clings to the glass, so it does for you after a pull. This one is greasy as hell with an enjoyable mouth feel; not as thick as KBS but more than sufficient to remain true to style.

Coffee flavors play second fiddle to chocolate and roasted malts taking center stage. All the flavors you find are subtlety played here. Where the KBS plays tremolo the Sunday Morning is practicing portato. The bourbon barrel used with Sunday Morning brings out vanilla and caramel flavors; these are prominent in the finish while not evident at first. This is a beer that requires patience as as it opens with fresh air and dissipation of the refrigerated cold. As the beer comes up to temperature a warming astringency appears that is acceptable for this 11.3% ABV big beer.

So yes, this beer is no Kentucky Breakfast Stout. In some ways its better as its more welcoming and fully ready for its time in the spot light right now. It gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

Weyerbacher does big beers well. If you can’t get your hands on Sunday Morning Stout I also recommend picking up a variety case of Weyerbacher’s Big Beer. You will not be disappointed.

[Insert Name] Coffee Porter/Stout

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The craft beer business is fraught with trends that take root en masse. This has brought us an abundance of hoppy west coast style IPAs, bourbon barrel aged everything, and more recently the gose and sour beers surge.

This is not to say that I don’t like these beers, just that the craft beer culture seems to drift together and glom onto trendy styles with an aggressive stickiness.

The one thing that the above-mentioned styles provide when done right by all the various brewers is that they provide for iteration and variation. The distinctions that provide for the desire to try a various brewer’s take on a style and compare and contrast.   You know the whole reason we hunt for new brews and discuss the ones we like and don’t like.

This is a good thing.

But there is one trend that has completely burned me out… coffee flavored beers. There was a time years ago that coffee stouts were a subtle rarity. The proper bitterness of cold coffee flavors along with the roasted malts and creaminess of a stout just merged and provided the drink with a new level of complexity.

But eventually this trend turned south for me. It is now almost necessary for each brewery to brew a coffee stout or porter. Give the people what they want…I guess. This resulted in each brewer turning to specifically sourced and locally roasted coffee beans for their coffee beer. Iteration and variation became just a sourcing of beans.

When I first had a bomber of Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel it was a revelation; like many of Mikkeller’s beers. Pizza Boy Brewing’s Sunny Side Up (Little Amps!) Stout is so good I have considered it an all world quality stout since it first arrived. I still order that one when given the chance. I like coffee beers, but they are getting commoditized; by and large one is indistinguishable from the rest.

So that leads me to The Brewer’s Art and their Zeke’s Coffee Porter. This beer was perfectly fine. Rich coffee flavor, a proper bitterness, while slightly flat and thin in the body it was a good beer. Nothing about it was offending or strange in anyway; just like the dozens and dozens of other coffee beers I have had over the years. What was unique about this beer? The beans. Really? That is what they are selling?

Maybe this is a problem with me… As obsessive as I am about beer, is exactly how little I care about my coffee. Coffee is binary. It is either strong or weak.

Strong Coffee = Good Coffee

Weak Coffee = Shit Coffee

The artisanal coffee bean roasters offering specially sourced and carefully roasted coffee beans that are then ground with the care and precision reserved for pharmaceuticals and finally brewed at precisely 188º just seem overwrought. I mean the coffee at McDonalds is only a buck. Yeah its burnt to hell but… oh, God please don’t judge me!

So after 500 words where am I? Well… This post is just like coffee beers, overdone and not nearly as interesting as they used to be.