I was talking to a friend of mine recently, and asked him how he made his decisions on which beer to drink. “Whichever one is closest,” he said. Wit aside, there’s enlightenment to be found in those words. Most people will just drink whichever beer is available to them, so let’s take a look at some brews that are easy to find, but just far enough out of the main stream to be interesting.
Just about everyone who has ever been to an Indian restaurant has had Kingfisher beer as a choice. This and Cobra seem to be the Bud and Miller of the subcontinent, as far as I can tell. A different friend of mine is sent to India on occasion for his job at the BBC, and once had the opportunity to stay at a wonderful, and very, very old, hotel where dinner was served on a patio overlooking a lake. When guests arrived for their evening meal, an old man was sent out onto the lake in a rowboat to retrieve a case of Kingfisher from the bottom, where it was kept in cold storage. Refrigerated space, it seems, was at a premium, but this is a beer that demands to be served cold.
The appearance is akin to a glass of Budweiser viewed on a hazy day, and the beer itself is highly carbonated with a light, filmy head. The aroma, like the flavor, is unremarkable. Do you remember when movies weren’t bursting at their seams with product placement? Sometimes when the rowdy teenagers were having their pre-masked-killer campfire they’d be drinking cans of beer, which, upon closer inspection, were revealed to be white cans with the word “BEER” written on them in block capitals. I always found that amusing, but really that’s the best way to describe the taste of Kingfisher: it tastes like Generic Beer, is best served ice cold, and, unsurprisingly, pairs well with spicy food. I had mine with the vindaloo of Western New York, buffalo chicken. It is thus a good summer beer that can be served with total confidence to non-adventurous drinkers at your next crawfish boil when the weather in Connecticut begins to resemble Mumbai. Plus, the large, 22oz. bottle with the colorful eponymous bird on the label adds a little visual flair that you just won’t get with you standard American macro-suds.
You may have begun to see a different tap handle as you go out and about in Fairfield County lately. A wooden and ceramic sledgehammer has found attachment at many a brass tap in the area, signaling the presence of Red Hook Long Hammer IPA. This beer is popping up everywhere it seems, and makes a welcome addition to the standard “Shock Top, Bud Light, Guinness” trifecta which comprise your draught beer choices most everywhere. Long Hammer pours a medium amber with a good head, and just enough hops in the aroma to let you know they’re there. This is a mild, accessible IPA: perfect for introducing said bland beer fans to the concept of hops. (Which probably explains its newfound popularity.) The mouth feel is quite smooth for an IPA, with just enough hoppiness to draw one’s attention and refresh the drinker without saturating the palate. It’s an easy-drinking beer you can find in many locations, except for the hood of a Sprint Cup car.
Both of the above beers may be found in plenty of area package stores year-round, and this time of year Shipyard Longfellow Winter Ale joins them. This seasonal pours a deep, deep red: think cabernet cut with Guinness. Like Miracle Mike the chicken, there is no head to speak of, but unlike Mike, the aroma is malty, chocolaty and inviting. The malts are a strong presence in the flavor, along with noticeable coffee notes, but with none of the spices sometimes shoved into winter seasonals by brewmasters who apparently take their cues from fruitcake. What Shipyard gives us is a robust porter with bite – a beer well suited to the kind of weather we’re all sick of by now. Beers like this are created to prop up that sagging attitude – they’re sunshine in a bottle for times when the days are short.
You won’t see these beers in Super Bowl commercials any time soon, but they are none the less not difficult to locate for the average Fairfield County pedestrian, and there’s something to like about each. I hope these reviews will come in handy for you next time you’re in the aisles or at the brass rail. Next week we’ll get right back to funky, esoteric offerings, I promise.