Beer Syndicate Blog

Shamelessly Promoting Beer

Month: September 2017

Beer Syndicate Reviews Decade-Old African Beer Forgotten in a Hot Garage

Up front, allow me to apologize for some inexactitudes in the title of this article:

1. We actually tasted THREE African beers of the same brand called “Tusker”, which is a popular lager produced in Nairobi, Kenya. One of the beers was 12 years old, another was 7 years old, and the third one was recently purchased.

Tusker Labels

2. The older beers were first stored at room temperature, and then accidentally left unrefrigerated in a hot garage for the last four years. Of course the term “hot garage” is relative. In this case, the garage would reach temperatures upwards of 117 °F (47 °C) during many months of the year.

117 Degrees F

We figure there might be some questions about this tasting experiment, so here’s a rough attempt to answer some of those:

Q1. Did anyone get sick or die from drinking this old beer?

A1. Nope.  No reports of stomach aches, headaches, dizziness, blindness, greyscale, herpes simplex 10, gender impermanence, partial or complete death, space-time fissures, ransomware, or explosive-D.

Q2. Were these beers intended for aging like some sour beers or some high ABV beers?

A2:  No, the beers in this tasting were ABSOLUTELY NOT designed for aging.  The beers in question were your run-of-the-mill standard lager beers weighing in at 4.2% ABV.  In fact, the brewery indicates “Tusker” is best within one year of bottling, and these dates are listed on the bottle.

Printed on Bottling Date

Q3: Wait, so you’re telling me that a brewery from Africa has been clearly listing easy-to-understand calendar bottling dates and “best by” dates on their beer for at least the last twelve years?  Why don’t more breweries in the U.S. and the rest of the world do this?

A3: Fantastic question.  We assume that the African brewery that produces Tusker is utilizing some ridiculously expensive advanced technology unavailable to most other breweries in the world.  We can’t think of any other possible explanation for why a brewery would not want to let consumers know when their beer was bottled.  Let’s move on from this question quickly please.

Q4: If you knew these beers weren’t intended for aging, especially out in a hot garage, what possessed you do conduct this experiment?

A4: Three words: science.  (Well, “three words” if you include the first two words of the previous statement; and now an additional twenty-nine words from this sentence used to explain the first statement.  So, technically thirty words?  Well, now a total of fifty-one words.  Or do the words “twenty-nine” and “fifty-one” actually count as one single word or as two words?  Sorry, let me get back to you on this question.)

Q5: Why African beer?

A5: Great question.  Why African beer?  No particular reason other than we intended to do a beer review on Tusker twelve years ago when we first bought it, but didn’t get around to it.  Then, five years after that, we bought a new bottle, and… you got it… didn’t get around to it.  We finally got around to it.

Q6: Do you think the beers aging in the hot garage did anything weird to the beer?

A6: Not really.  I could be wrong, but my impression is that heat generally accelerates the aging process, so perhaps the beer took on an increased aged character?  But after twelve years, what’s the difference.

Q7: I’ve heard that after a few years, beer can develop “floaties”, or little clumps of coagulated protein.  That twelve-year-old beer must have looked like a snow globe, right?

 A7: Like you said, “floaties” in old beer can be pretty common.  They may look weird, but floaties aren’t dangerous or taste like much of anything.  Oddly enough, there were no floaties in any of these beers.  My guess is that floaties tend to develop in beer with more protein in suspension such as in beers that contain some portion of wheat like in the image of a seven-year-old Canadian wheat beer below.

Floaties in Seven-Year-Old Wheat Beer

We did, however, notice that all of these beers were bottle conditioned, and that layer of yeast at the bottom of the bottle was a darker shade of brown in the older beers.  Below is a rare image of yeast and sediment caked on to the bottom-inside of the 12-year-old bottle of Tusker, also known as a “Yeast Totality”:

Yeast Sediment Layer Inside a Beer Bottle

Q8: So I’m assuming the older beers were disgusting.  The 12-year-old beer must have been awful, a drain-pourer for sure, right?  How did it not make you guys sick?

 A8:  No, they weren’t disgusting.  I get that some people have this natural fear of old food because we know that many kinds of food spoil after a certain time and can make humans sick.  Of course, there are some well-known “shelf stable” exceptions like honey and bottled spirits like vodka that basically have an infinite shelf life.  And although most beer certainly isn’t intended for aging, I would suggest that a properly bottled beer never “goes bad” and spoils in the way chicken or milk might.  Instead, most bottled beer tends to be “best” by a certain date, but likely never gets to the point where it is undrinkable or would make somebody sick.  This is because the alcohol and, in many cases, the hops in beer act to preserve the beer, preventing harmful organisms from growing in the beer.

Q9: So I’ve heard that old beer tastes a certain way because of oxidation.  They say beer will start to taste like cardboard.  Is that would happened here?

A9:  “Cardboard” is a commonly quoted descriptor for old or oxidized beer.  But that’s a generalization because not all styles of beer will age in such a way that they necessarily smell or taste like cardboard.  But, yeah, a faint cardboard or papery character was slightly noticeable in these aged beers, though the more unmistakably obvious descriptor in this case was cooked squash.

Q10: I like the elephant on the label of this beer.  I assume the name “Tusker” is in reference to the elephant on the label and that image was chosen because the elephant is a popular image associated with Africa?

A10: Sort of.  The beer is named in memory of the company’s founder, George Hurst, who was killed during an elephant hunting accident in 1923.  “Tusker” is a nickname for a male elephant.

Q11: A little morbid, but okay. Any other elephant facts while you’re at it?

A11: Sure.  Here are five: (1) In 1956, a contestant on the game show “The Price is Right” won a live elephant. (2) Elephants are one of the few species that can recognize themselves in the mirror.  (3) Elephants are not scared of mice as some myths suggest, but they are scared of ants and bees. (4) African elephants can distinguish different human languages, genders and ages associated with danger.  (5) Female elephants go through the longest gestation period of all mammals, with pregnancy lasting 22 months.

Q12: Okay, enough with the elephant factoids.  Twelfth and final question:

What were the beers like?

A12: Here are some descriptions, starting with the freshest one and ending with the 12-year-old beer:

Tusker Finest Quality Lager (Fresh Bottle)

Overall, Tusker is a bit on the honey-sweet side, particularly for a lightly flavored Pilsner.

Tusker BeerA hard pour into the center of a snifter glass barely managed to muster up a mere three millimeters of quickly fading off-white head over a clear pale apple juice-colored body.  Aromatics include a hint of dry Kix cereal, faint tupelo honey, golden corn syrup, subtle malt, a note of flour, a touch of calcium and uncooked biscuit.  Honey-forward flavor with a note of cream corn in a generally watery, but thirst-quenching, light-bodied Pilsner. Medium-high carbonation, medium-low sweetness and bitterness although absent of actual hop flavor, with an aftertaste of tupelo honey.


Tusker (Seven-Year-Old Bottle), a.k.a. “The Abused”

A touch darker in color compared to the fresh Tusker, with clearly oxidized squash-like character present throughout.

Old Tusker BottlePours a slightly hazy pale amber body forming about 1/8 inch of off-white frog-eyed head that fades in less than ten seconds.  The aroma is reminiscent of cold but cooked butternut squash with a touch of maple syrup and a pad of butter, light brown sugar, no hops and no alcohol.  Cooked squash is the main player in the flavor along with medium-sweet honey suckle nectar, watery Port wine, medium-low carbonation, no hop character, sweet graham cracker paste, Honey Smacks cereal, watery prunes, and wax paper with an aftertaste of white raisin and Port.

Tusker (Twelve-Year-Old Bottle), a.k.a. “The Crypt Keeper”

Compared to the seven-year-old Tusker, the twelve-year-old version was more complex and mellow, slightly darker in color with more cedar, honey and tobacco character and less squash.

Old Tusker Beer BottleThe lightly dusty bottle of twelve-year-old Tusker pours a slightly hazy deep gold body with an off-white film of head that fizzles out in under ten seconds.  The aroma is suggestive of baklava, light raw squash with salt, cedar-aged cream soda, cold Lipton iced tea, honey, a hint of chlorine, peeled sweet potato, and cedar cigar box inside a humidor.  Flavor impressions include honey, mild squash, light brown sugar, vanilla cream soda aged in cedar wood, medium-sweet cane sugar, inhaling an unlit honey-dipped cigarillo, Lipton “Brisk” iced tea with a light lemon tanginess, no hop character, and a touch of brown paper bag leaving behind an aftertaste of loose tobacco, subtle prune and white raisin.

So there you have it.  That’s what some old beer that was stored in a hot garage was like.  No one died.  No one hated it.  In fact, dare I say, the old beer was actually enjoyable, with the 12-year-old version scoring an 85/100… as far as aged-Tusker goes.

Hi, I’m Dan: Co-Founder and Beer Editor for, Beer and Drinking Writer, BJCP Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Traveler, and Shameless Beer Promoter.

Sierra Nevada 2017 Beer Camp Across the World Review

Once upon a time, “Sierra Nevada Beer Camp” meant the rare and exciting chance that you, lucky member of the general public, could literally win a golden ticket à la Willy Wonka to attend “Beer Camp” at the Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico, CA.

Beer Camp Entry Form

Winning not only meant hanging out and sipping rare brews with the crew at Sierra Nevada (SN), but even better it meant creating your very own special beer at the SN brewery to be served at a local hometown bar of your choosing with the potential to have that very same beer of yours get national distribution as part of a Sierra Nevada Beer Camp mix pack.

Those were the days…

Since 2014 though, the Beer Camp variety pack has come to mean a mix of collaboration beers brewed with other professional breweries, which of course brings a kind of excitement of its own.

First teaming up with only U.S. breweries in 2014 and 2016, this year the hop-obsessed Sierra Nevada went global with its one-time-only mixed 12-pack by joining forces with six of the biggest international names in the industry including Mikkeller, Duvel Moortgat, Ayinger, Fullers, Garage Project and Kiuchi, but still kept one foot firmly planted stateside with collabs from six well-regarded U.S. breweries such as Avery, Surly, Saint Arnold, The Bruery, Boneyard Beer, and the much raved about rising star that is Tree House.

But even with this roster of heavy hitters in play, let’s face it: as with music, brewing collaborations can be something of a crapshoot with struggles for creative control being but one of several possible hurdles.  Best case scenario, the resulting double-team brew can be a product greater than the sum of the breweries involved.  In other cases, the concept beer just doesn’t capture the magic hoped for.

In all cases though, expecting perfection from every collaboration beer is not exactly realistic, especially from a first-and-last attempt at a new recipe by breweries of differing strengths and focuses.

That said, we found this year’s lineup was, well, good with enough variety to keep things interesting.  Some hits, some misses, but on average we give the mix pack an 80/100.  For what it’s worth, both the BeerAdvocate (BA) and RateBeer (RB) general users scored the 2017 Beer Camp variety pack an average of about 85/100 with the most hop-forward beers scoring the highest, and the fruit and spiced beers scoring the lowest, as is the fashion at the moment.

So without further ado, the following is how the 2017 Beer Camp Across the World shakes out in ascending order of greatness as determined by a panel of mostly BJCP beer judges scored according to the current BJCP Beer Style Guidelines:

Sierra Nevada 2017 Beer Camp Across the World Review
Beer Camp Across the World

[Packaged in April 2017, Sampled May, 2017]

12. Ginger Lager: (Sierra Nevada & Surly Brewing Co.)

The Gist: This mega ginger-spiced lager tickles the nose and heats the palate, showcasing notes of ginger, more ginger and also ginger. Feel the burn.

Ginger Lager: (Sierra Nevada & Surly Brewing Co.)Description: Pours a finger of foamy off-white head over a clear honey gold-colored body.  Heaps of ginger burst forward in the aroma followed by eucalyptus and juicy crushed oleander leaves, apple juice, light honey, toasted caramel malt, and wool sweater. The flavor leads with tingly raw acidic ginger spice and peppery oleander leaves, followed by radish, citrus leaf, and lemon.  The hot ginger spice burn increases with subsequent sips, leaving behind an aftertaste with notes of oleander and turnip.

Label text: “The abrasive attitude of Minnesota’s Surly Brewing Co. brings an aggressive yet refined approach to creating recipes. We came together to create this easy-drinking but complex ginger-infused lager. It’s brewed with hot ginger and a pinch of cayenne to spice up the heat and then dry hopped with an inclusion of oak for a touch of woody vanilla to round out the flavor.”

11. Atlantic Style Vintage Ale: (Sierra Nevada & Fuller’s)

The Gist: As the label text suggests, this strong ale might be perfect for aging.

Atlantic Style Vintage Ale: (Sierra Nevada & Fuller’s)Description: Pours a fat finger of frothy tan head that slowly dissipates over 40 seconds to reveal a hazy deep copper body. Aroma: light pomegranate, Welch’s grape juice, Citrus leaves, light citrus blossom, strawberry shortcake, mild toast, light caramel syrup, candied tangerine, stewed pluots, and warming alcohol. The first sip confronts the taste buds with bitter undertones of tart unripe fruit, blueberry syrup, pithy candied tangerine, and a medium-high plum sweetness offset by a singular bitter, astringent hop character with a solvent-y alcohol finish lingering into a bitter aftertaste.

Label text: “Fuller’s Brewery in London has been producing some of the UK’s finest ales since the mid-19th century. Together we created a new recipe for an Atlantic-Style Vintage Ale—a robust beer, perfect for aging, and brewed with plums for a touch of rich fruit flavor that both mimics and enhances the natural yeast-driven aromas.”

10. White IPA with Yuzu: (Sierra Nevada & Kiuchi)

The Gist: Big exciting lemon aromatics followed up with unrelenting bitter lemon pith flavors in the taste.

White IPA with Yuzu: (Sierra Nevada & Kiuchi)Description: Forms a half finger of whipped egg white colored creamy head that fades over 30 seconds to reveal a lightly hazy deep gold body.  Aromatics include lemon candy shell, lemon grass, citrus leaf, mild grapefruit, angel food cake, a hint of Crispix cereal, and vanilla Tootsie roll. Flavor impression include spicy lemon zest, hops, dry grain, lemon oil, mild booze, white roses, yellow grapefruit, with a pithy citrus bitterness and a touch of lemon grass lingering into the aftertaste.

Label text: “Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery, makers of the Hitachino Nest beers, have an elegant take on classic beer styles with a uniquely Japanese influence. They suggested adding yuzu—an Asian citrus fruit—to a hazy white IPA and we jumped at the chance. What emerged is a hoppy yet refined version of the style with a bright citrus flavor and a spicy finish.”

9. Dry-Hopped Berliner-Style Weisse: (Sierra Nevada & Saint Arnold)

The Gist: Combining two of the most popular beer trends (hoppy + sour) equals automatic winner, right?  Perhaps, though in Sierra Nevada’s Dry-Hopped Berliner-Style Weisse the hop character was subtle if at all noticeable in an otherwise lemon-centric, slightly salty sour ale.

Dry-Hopped Berliner-Style Weisse: (Sierra Nevada & Saint Arnold)Description: A hard pour forms nearly an inch of pillow-y soft peaks of slowing fading off-white head, revealing a hazy lemon pie filling-colored body.  Aromatics of Lemonhead candy, Lemon-Lime Gatorade, salt, ReaLemon plastic bottle, yeast, pound cake with lemon icing, and nearly undetectable hops.  Lemon certainly is the star of the show in the flavor of this light-bodied Berliner with notes of sour lemon juice, lemon grass, followed by Sun Chips, a touch of cumin, and a hint of dry gin, leaving behind and aftertaste of yeast, lemon and cumin.

Label text: “Texas’ Saint Arnold Brewery takes a broad view of beer styles, mastering everything from traditional German-inspired recipes to big experimental creations. Together, we teamed up to brew this dry-hopped Berliner-Style Weisse. Featuring a fruit-forward hop character backed up by a snap of mild tartness, it boasts a flavor that’s complex, compelling and very drinkable.”

8. Raspberry Sundae Ale: (Sierra Nevada & The Bruery)

The Gist: Raspberry syrup, vanilla and alcohol muffle out most of the cocoa in this blonde ale.

Raspberry Sundae Ale: (Sierra Nevada & The Bruery)Description: Forms a finger of light tan head lasting about 40 seconds over a hazy amber brown body. Aromatics include vanilla Tootsie Roll, raspberry IHOP syrup, raspberry lip gloss, doll hair, raspberry-swirl vanilla ice cream, no hops, faint alcohol, and dry raspberry shortbread cookie.  Lactose contributes to the medium-full, slightly waxy mouthfeel in this powdered sugar sweet ale that exhibits flavors of light raspberry syrup, strawberry Starburst, raspberry Fun Dip powder, vanilla powder, light malt, finishing with hot booze, leaving behind an alcoholic and somewhat husky tannic aftertaste.

Label text: “The Bruery in Orange County is famous for its experimental , Belgian-style and barrel-aged beers, and this release fits nicely in their wheelhouse. Inspired by the flavors of an ice cream sundae, this rich blonde ale features cocoa, vanilla and raspberry, with lactose added for extra creaminess. Now you can have your dessert and drink it, too.”

7. West Coast Style DIPA: (Sierra Nevada & Boneyard)

The Gist: Sierra Nevada’s “West Coast Style DIPA” was rated the highest of the 2017 Beer Camp mix by RateBeer with a near perfect score of 98%, and second highest on BeerAdvocate at 89/100.  In case it wasn’t clear already, big hoppy beers are the unquestioned popular champions of the American craft beer scene, no doubt about it.  While enjoyable, the beer could benefit from more of a malty backbone and a bit more body to elevate it clearly out of IPA territory and squarely into Double IPA land.

West Coast Style DIPA: (Sierra Nevada & Boneyard)Description: Pours a thick thumb of foamy off-white head which slowly fades over 45 seconds to reveal a nearly clear deep gold body.  The aroma offers up notes of pink grapefruit gelato, mild vanilla, dried mango, pepper tree bark, pine resin, colored marshmallows, dry malt extract, a hint of corn tortilla, pineapple leaves, freezer frost, a touch of salt flakes and pineapple yogurt.  Flavor impressions include grapefruit Sunkist Fruit Gem candy, pine needles & resin, a touch of vanilla, mild canned peaches, and a medium sugar cane sweetness cut with a sharp green pepper corn spiciness.  West Coast Style DIPA finishes boozy, leaving behind hop-derived perfume-y notes and balsa wood in the aftertaste.

Label text: “We just love brewing hoppy beers” is the way Oregon’s IPA masters at Boneyard Beer kicked off our collaboration talks. Well, as it turns out, we do, too, so we went all out on this intensely hop-heavy West Coast-style Double IPA. It’s bright golden, crisp and brimming with intense citrus and herbal hop flavor, just how we like ’em.”

6. East Meets West IPA: (Sierra Nevada & Tree House)

The Gist: Not surprisingly, this hop-heavy IPA was the highest rated of this year’s beer camp series per BeerAdvocate with a solid 90/100 and a staggering 97% per RateBeer.  No doubt a solid IPA, with the West coast characteristics outshining the East.

East Meets West IPA: (Sierra Nevada & Tree House)Description: Pours about a finger of fluffy off-white head which lasts nearly a minute on top of a hazy golden apricot syrup colored body.  The aroma is citrus-forward with sweet notes of orange creamsicle, orange blossom, citrus leaf, tangerine and a hint of lemon and grapefruit peel followed by elements of grassy sweet alfalfa sprouts, pepper tree leaf, light pine resin and cedar, somewhat reminiscent of Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA.  The first flavor impression is pithy citrus peel, tangerine, lemon and grapefruit peel that while on the sharp side, the edge is slightly rounded by a reduced hop bitterness and mild vanilla orange creamsicle note.  Medium –low malt sweetness balanced by white notes of pepper and salt.

Label text: “In just a few short years, Tree House has made a big impact on the beer scene with their approach to the IPA – low bitterness, intense juicy hop flavor and unfiltered haze. As fellow lovers of the IPA, we combined our styles – the classic American IPA malt body and the New England approach to hopping- resulting in lightly bitter, unfiltered beer with huge hop flavor.”

5. Dunkle Weisse: (Sierra Nevada & Ayinger)

The Gist: If there was any tug-of-war for creative control in this collaboration, Ayinger clearly won with this exceptionally traditional, well balanced stylistically accurate Dunkle Weisse.

Dunkle Weisse: (Sierra Nevada & Ayinger)Description: Pours two fingers of exceptionally fluffy, oatmeal-colored head that lasts well over a minute over a cloudy milk chocolate colored body (plenty of yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle).  Mild note of fresh banana (plantain chips) in the aroma followed by Nilla Wafers cookie, rum raisin ice cream, malt-forward toasted dark wheat raisin bread, no hops and only very faint alcohol.  Nilla Wafers cookies make an encore in the flavor along with a touch of chocolate, faint graham cracker, mildly tannic walnut/almond/pecan shell nuttiness, rye chip, medium/ medium high body, some alcohol warmth mid-palate, medium-high carbonation, very light roast, medium sweet, medium-low bitterness, but no hop flavor. Hint of anise in the finish.  The aftertaste leaves a pleasant vanilla shake impression with yeast and mild toast.

Label text: “Bavaria’s Ayinger are legends in the brewing industry, known for their love and perfection of classic German beer styles. Playing off their background, we came together to create this dark twist on the Bavarian-style wheat beer. This beer features layers of wheat malt flavor and was handled through traditional open fermenters to highlight Ayinger’s famous Hefeweizen yeast character.”

4. Dry-Hopped Barleywine-Style Ale: (Sierra Nevada & Avery)

The Gist:  One of the highlights of the pack, imagine Sierra Nevada’s tasty hop-drenched Bigfoot Barleywine fermented with canned peach syrup.  Clearly, another one of Sierra Nevada’s go-to beer styles, and for good reason.

Dry-Hopped Barleywine-Style Ale: (Sierra Nevada & Avery)Description: Pours a big 2 ½ fingers of dense foamy head that lasts a full minute, leaving behind a bit of lacing over a nearly clear deep amber body.  This dry-hopped barleywine leads with floral aromatics of marigold and dandelions, followed by spicy rye, sweet honey graham cracker, dry hop cones bursting with yellow resin-y lupulin glands, bran, light peach tea, cedar, baby pine cones, canned peaches, fresh cut bartlett pear, a hint of apricot, peach vanilla ice cream, and Cap’n Crunch cereal crunch berries.  Malty sweet, full bodied and viscous as is typical of American Barleywines (medium carbonation).  The flavor is a medium bitter, almost resinous hoppy character, with elements of black tea, vanilla ice cream, dried apricot, canned peach syrup, light toffee, perfume-y dried chamomile leaves and white pepper, leaving the entire mouth coated in hops and a touch of rye long into the aftertaste.

Label text: “Colorado’s Avery Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada both make American-style barleywine ales verging on the hop extreme. For this collaboration-dubbed “Big Hog” as an homage to the two beers that inspired it-we recreated both barleywine recipes and then blended the beers into a new hop-heavy creation. It features rich, bittersweet malt character with notes of caramel and toffee balanced against a massive wall of hop flavor and is bottle conditioned for longevity.”

3. Hoppy Belgian-Style Golden (Sierra Nevada & Duvel Moortgat)

The Gist: Not as hoppy as the name suggests, but lemon is certainly noticeable and complimentary in the aroma and flavor of this generally well-crafted example of a Belgian Strong Golden Ale.

Hoppy Belgian-Style Golden (Sierra Nevada & Duvel Moortgat)Description: Pours a thick finger of off-white fluffy, almost stiff egg white textured head that fades within 30 seconds over a clear deep yellow body (no yeast haze).  Inviting aromatics of lemon angel food cake, candied lemon peel, lemon vanilla cake mix, lemon custard, lemon leaves, mild alcohol, light plantain or unripe starchy banana, Extra Pale dry malt extract, flour, mild alcohol and a hint of minty hops.  Lemon character follows through in the flavor with notes of lemon custard, dried lemon zest, a touch of lemon-flavored vodka, some astringency and a citrusy hop character becoming more pronounced as it warms.  A bit boozy for an ale of only 8% ABV. Aftertaste is dried banana chips, pith, radish, alcohol and grain husk.  Medium-high carbonation and medium body.

Label text: “Belgium’s Duvel are the masters of the golden ale-a beer style they helped create-so it was a natural fit for our breweries to combine the style with Sierra Nevada’s hop-forward fanaticism. The resulting beer is bright golden and brimming with hop flavor with a pop of bright lemon, and perfectly accented by the fruity and complex character of Duvel’s signature yeast.”

2. Campout Porter: (Sierra Nevada & Garage Project)

The Gist: Despite its name, no campfire smokiness present in this porter, though sipping many bottles of this brew next to a glowing fire would be well enjoyed.  Sierra Nevada capitalizes on its knowledge of brewing a solid porter while Garage Project lends a touch of New Zealand with its addition of manuka wood and honey.

Campout Porter: (Sierra Nevada & Garage Project)Description: Campout Porter pours a billowing two fingers of dense dark tan foam that holds its own for well over a minute, slowly revealing a dark brown body (22-24 SRM) with good clarity when held to the light.  The aroma is an intriguing convergence of dusty dry mesquite wood, toasted pumpernickel bagel, radish, flax seed, hint of vanilla, subtle chocolate Frosty, light pine needle, pinecone resin, chocolate covered blueberries and cherries, wet bark, rich dark soil, with perhaps a hint of chocolate orange sticks.  More so baker’s chocolate than coffee-like roasted malt in the flavor of this medium-low malty sweet porter.  Imagine cold coffee slightly sweetened with vanilla ice cream followed by elements of barrel, light raisin, a touch of brown sugar, and prune skin finishing with mild alcohol warmth and dark chocolate, all of which muffles out any obvious honey character.  Campout Porter closes with an aftertaste of baker’s chocolate, mesquite pods, volcanic rock and ash.

Label text: “In honor of Beer Camp, our friends at New Zealand’s Garage Project brewery wanted to carry the camping theme straight to the flavor of our beer. Featuring a unique malt smoked over manuka wood, rare manuka honey and vanilla beans, this robust porter has sweet notes reminiscent of marshmallows toasted over a campfire.”

1. Thai-Style Iced Tea Ale: (Sierra Nevada & Mikkeller)

The Gist: Spiced beers are one of the most unforgiving and difficult of beer styles to get right often faltering as a result of over-spicing, followed by mismatching the combination of spices in conjunction with the underlying beer style.  Despite this, Sierra Nevada and Mikkeller swung for the fences with its Thai-Style Iced Tea ale, and against tough odds, delivered a memorable homerun in terms of balance, complexity, and creativity, masterfully capturing the essence of Thai-spiced iced tea in a beer.

Thai-Style Iced Tea Ale: (Sierra Nevada & Mikkeller)Description: Pours a fat finger of fluffy, manila folder-colored head, lasting about 40 seconds and leaving behind a bit of lacing over a clear medium amber-colored body.  The aroma is first and foremost dried apricot, with notes of vanilla bean, faint clove, green tea ice cream, condensed milk, pleasant alcohol, apples stewed with Red Hot cinnamon candies, a dash of nutmeg, cardamom, brown sugar, caramel, ginger, allspice, and candied orange peel.  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect about the flavor of this beer is the balance and show of restraint, with no single spice dominating, but all elements complimenting one another magnificently so.  Medium fruity sweet flavor of yellow mango with a light sprinkle of nutmeg and paprika, dried star fruit, dried apricot skins, honey suckle nectar, mellow lactose, garam masala, peach vanilla ice cream, with an underlying character of Darjeeling green tea, leaving behind an aftertaste of peach schnapps, tannic chamomile and dandelion.

Label text: “Denmark’s Mikkeller brewery is famous for pushing the boundaries of beer, so when we decided to partner we knew the result would be a wild ride. This beer was inspired by flavors of a classic Thai Iced Tea. It;s sweet and rich, with warming spice notes and delicate fruit flavors that maintain a drinkability from the use of black tea in the finish.”

Beer-Inspired Thoughts

A spiced beer edging out an imperial hop-bomb?!?


We admit it: a big boozy barreled-aged whatever or a hop-drenched you-name-it is typically going to be the predetermined crowd-pleaser in many a beer circle.  You don’t even need to taste the beers in question— just figure out which beer sounds the hoppiest/booziest, and crown it winner.

Indeed, not even some super certified beer judges are immune to the influence of popular taste.

True story: there was once a brewing competition where the judges were asked to determine which beer best represented the particular beer style it claimed to be.  If you’ve never judged in a beer competition like this, the basic idea is not to score your personal favorite style of beer the highest, but instead to score a beer according to how well it represents the description spelled out in a pre-defined beer style guideline like the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines or the Brewer’s Association Beer Style Guidelines.

Sounds simple enough, right?

The decision for first place came down to two beers: a superior true-to-style fruit beer and a good but not as true-to-style Russian Imperial Stout.  Which of the two beers took first place?  Hint: Not the fruit beer.  Why?  Because according to the judges at the table, it would look weird to have a fruit beer beat out a Russian Imperial Stout, even though the fruit beer better represented the fruit beer category more so than the Russian Imperial Stout represented the Russian Imperial Stout category.

Is this fair?  Not exactly, but imagine how weird it’d look if say a spiced beer were to ever beat out a super hoppy beer.


Hi, I’m Dan: Co-Founder and Beer Editor for, Beer and Drinking Writer, BJCP Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Traveler, and Shameless Beer Promoter.

Brewing with Recycled Wastewater: Beer History Made in Arizona

I’d never heard the phrase “toilet to tap” before judging in the “Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge” brewing competition.

Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge

Let me back up.  (Ah, toilet humor.)

As a certified beer judge, my name and email address are distributed to folks who organize brewing competitions.  As of this writing, there are about 6,599 active BJCP-certified beer judges in the world, with 5,218 residing in the U.S. To put those numbers into prospective, our population size is about on par with that of the critically endangered Black Rhino.

So the call went out to beer judges at the end of July for the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge set to take place on Saturday, September 9th in Tucson, AZ.  I’ll be honest with you, I answered “yes” before I understood anything about what the competition was about.

Well, I take that back. I knew it was a brewing competition among professional breweries across the Grand Canyon State, and it seemed to have something to do with “Pure Water”.

And water, as any brewer worth his salt will tell you, is a key component in beer not just because it makes up the majority of the beverage ingredient-wise, but because the particular water composition (minerals, chemicals, pH, etc.) helps to determine the character of the beer, with even minor adjustments becoming noticeable in the final product.

Naturally, some breweries are keen to tout the purity and source of their water such as Coors beer brewed with “100% Rocky Mountain water”, or the Einstök brewery of Iceland that claims to use the “purest water on Earth”, water that flows from rain and prehistoric glaciers down the Hlíðarfjall Mountain and through ancient lava fields.  Gotta admit, that sounds pretty majestic.  [Science seems to think that the purest water on Earth is found in the southernmost Chilean village of Puerto Williams, but who’s counting.]

For clarification, the “Pure Water” used in this brewing competition wasn’t exactly the kind of pure water Coors or Einstök is talking about.

No, the kind of water we’re talking about here happens to be wastewater, treated wastewater— hence the somewhat pejorative phrase “toilet to tap”.

I neglected to realize this minor detail until about a week before the competition, and if I’m being completely honest, I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, increasingly so as the big day drew closer.

But, I told myself, people have consumed beer brewed with less than enchanting sounding water before and lived to tell the tale.

Duck Pond Beer

Back in 2011, the documentary How Beer Saved the World featured a segment in which Dr. Charlie Bamforth, professor of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, theorized that beer was responsible for saving millions of lives in Medieval Europe.

The reasoning goes that much of the water in the Middle Ages was rife with deadly pathogens and drinking it was potentially life-threatening to humans.  However, Dr. Bamforth speculated that the fundamental brewing process (which included boiling the brew) prevented dangerous microorganisms and bacteria from making people sick.

To test this hypothesis, Bamforth and his colleagues first collected water from a duck pond.  This water was then lab-tested and confirmed to be teeming with fecal coliform bacteria such as E. coli, which likely originated from duck doo-doo.  That same water was then used to brew beer and after being lab-tested, the beer was designated safe to drink.

Finally, the duck poop beer was served to a group of seemingly unsuspecting publicans in a bar.  The test subjects initially appeared to enjoy the mystery beer, noting descriptors like “perfume-y, nutmeg and salty”.  Of course, this positive first impression only stood to compound the drinkers’ sense of shock upon learning of the beer’s fowl origins.

“Pure Water”

Unlike the duck pond water in the experiment above, the so-named “Pure Water” produced by the Pima County Southwest Water Campus team goes through a much more rigorous purification and strict testing process than simply boiling water.  The process includes ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, UV/advanced oxidation, granular activated carbon, and chlorine disinfection which remove bacteria, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, heavy metals, viruses, pathogens, etc.

Pure Water: Water Purification Process

In other words, the divisive term “toilet to tap” doesn’t really come close to accurately describing the level of purification and testing “Pure Water” undergoes, although I would have never heard of the term if it wasn’t listed on the FAQ section of the brewing competition website. But better to face these potential objections head on in a campaign to garner public buy-in.

“Our biggest challenge will not be technological; our biggest challenge will be public perception and dealing with the obvious ‘yuck’ factor,” notes Jeff Prevatt, Pima County Wastewater Reclamation Department Research and Innovation Manager.

And what better way to get the general public on board than with beer.  Heck, it seems that the public will stomach just about anything in the name of beer.  Consider commercially produced brewskis that included such eclectic ingredients as bull testicles, beard yeast, vaginal bacteria, cat feces,  and yes even as late as the beginning of 2017, Stone Brewing Co. produced “Full Circle Pale Ale”, a beer brewed with reclaimed water.

Brewing with recycled water can get you a nice media buzz, but in Arizona’s case, the state is slowly sobering to the reality that mandatory water cutbacks may be coming if water levels continue to decline to critically low levels in drought-stricken Lake Mead, a significant source of water for Arizona, California and Nevada.  Add to that Arizona’s relatively low-priory water rights in this case, and let’s just say it’s nice to have an option on deck with “Pure Water”.  [Fun fact: Parts of Australia, Singapore, New Mexico, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Orange County, San Diego, and many other California cities have already implemented water recycling projects in recent years.  Namibia has been doing it for nearly 50 years.]

To be sure, the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge was historical in that it was the first time a statewide competition was held that utilized treated sewage water in the beer, especially at a time when water usage concerns are on the rise.  And unlike Stone’s reclaimed water beer that was brewed specifically for the PureWaterSD private one-time event and available only to politicians and VIPs, many of the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge beers were made available to the general public and have already begun showing up on the beer check-in app Untappd.

But while the brewing competition drew eyeballs, one of the most astonishing parts of this story is that the whole water purification process takes place inside a mobile lab that was converted from a shipping container that opens up like Optimus Prime.

And it was this novel concept of arranging a statewide brewing competition using recycled water produced in a mobile shipping container that won the Southwest Pima Country Water Campus the $250,000 Water Innovation grand prize, which helped make an idea reality.

I know what you’re thinking: all of this is cool and everything, but what was the beer like.

The Judge’s Table

As a competition brewer and certified beer judge, I’ve been on both sides of the judging table.  I know that anxious feeling of waiting to hear the competition results of a beer I’ve put heaps of effort and thoughtfulness into.  And secretly, I think every brewer wants to know what conversations were had about their beer at the judge’s table, especially if they made it to the Best-of-Show (BOS) final round.

Pull up a chair.

Daniel J. Leonard Judging Beer in AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge

Before the BOS, judges paired off and were assigned a few beers to judge, with each set of judges selecting only the best of the round to move forward to BOS.  As fate would have it, I judged round one with my BJCP Certified beer judge sister who had just arrived in Tucson after narrowly evacuating her home in the Caribbean ahead of the approaching catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Irma.  The beer gods work in mysterious ways, I suppose.

Of the 26 Arizona breweries competing in the competition, seven anonymous entries made it into the Best-of-Show end-game.

Sorting Beers in Beer Competition

So just how were the finalists in the AZ Pure Water Brew Challenge?  The truth is, they were excellent and included a welcome variety of beer styles such as Czech Pilsner, DIPA, IPA, American Pale Ale, Kölsch, Scottish Export and a sour brown ale.  In these kinds of competitions, the winners aren’t determined by whichever beer style the judge has a personal preference for at home, but rather which beer most accurately represents the beer style it claims to be according to the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines.

It was quickly apparent that the winning beer, a Czech-style Pilsner, was stylistically on target— dangerously so— a feat that is typically more difficult to accomplish with such technical lighter beers.  Not to mention, the Pilsner wasn’t over-hopped, which is perhaps the single most common mistake American brewers make with lighter beers, if not most other beer styles.  When Dragoon Brewing Co. was announced to be the brewery behind the winning Pilsner, I immediately thought back to the Cicerone and BJCP Beer Judge certificates that hung in the office of Dragoon’s head brewer Eric Greene.

The Double IPA brewed by one of Phoenix’s most beloved breweries, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., was a close second.  From a strategic point of view, entering a big hoppy DIPA into a brewing competition is a smart move because the style is largely a crowd-pleaser.

And Wilderness would have likely won the competition if Dragoon hadn’t taken the bold, perhaps unnecessary, risk of going all in on such an unforgiving style as Czech Pilsner and gotten closer to the stylistic bull’s-eye.

But sometimes, fortune favors the bold.  Fortune, and treated wastewater.

Be Part of Beer History

For a limited time, you can take part in brewing history and sample some of the incredible beers around Arizona brewed from some of the following participating breweries:

Related Articles:

Top 20 Tips for How to Win a Brewing Competition

How to Pass the Online BJCP Entrance Exam

Hi, I’m Dan: Co-Founder and Beer Editor for, Beer and Drinking Writer, BJCP Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Traveler, and Shameless Beer Promoter.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén