Category Archives: commercial beers

Common Ales: Ninkasi Lager

Ninkasi's lager beer in glass, next to a can of Ninkasi, on a desk.

Little bit of sweetness in the nose which I wasn’t sure about until I took a drink.

That scent is coming from the grains used in the beer. Perfect. That maltiness develops more as I sip on the beer, too. This might be a lager, but it’s got a little body to it!

The finish is very clean and sharply bubbly. This is a good one and recommended to anyone interested in the style.

Common Ales: Miller High Life

What? Sometimes the common ale is…common. And if I’m not drinking the regular stuff, the beers that everybody drinks sometimes, then I run the risk of losing touch with what makes the whole experience worthwhile.

Miller High Life in a glass on a table

The nose is a little stinky, reminding me of sulfur and the 1970s stuck into a shoe. There was a reason why people insisted that beer was an acquired taste and this nose is absolutely part of that.

Thing is, as soon as I break the seal-have my first sip, taking the head of the beer away that nose fades considerably. Almost as if I was imagining things to start with.

The beer itself is on the sweeter side: corn is absolutely present, if you realize it’s there. Not as sweet as creamed corn, but I attribute this to the presence of a graininess that restrains that sweetness just a little bit, about 2/3rds of the way in.

The finish is where this beer really does kill it, though. The carbonation snaps on the tip of my tongue, and eventually removes all traces of itself.

In this respect, it’s perfect; it can be a thirst quenching thing, or a good beverage to wash down other food, while being almost completely absent itself.

But it can also evaporate, as if you hadn’t had anything at all. What better motive to have another one, if you don’t even feel like you’ve had the first thing? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed.

On the other hand, how can I recommend it? It embodies both the style it represents and nothing at all, as it leaves no memory of itself.

I wouldn’t refuse one. But I wouldn’t buy one. That sounds about perfect for what this is.

Common Ales: Deschutes Obsidian Stout

Been a time since I’ve had Deschutes’ Obsidian Stout, so let’s see how it’s holding up.

Deschutes Obsidan Stout bottle, next to a glass of that stout on kitchen counter

It took me quite a few draws off the top, but finally I figured out what this beer smelled like: coffee nougat. It has that kind of pillowy quality, strong but on the sweeter side.

The body of the beer takes a moment for me to get used to. It’s what it is supposed to be, but after years of having stouts that are double or triple ABV, or barrel aged in casks brought down from the Devil’s bargain caves of whiskey, it is unusual to get a beer that has normal viscosity on my tongue.

The finish though is quite sharp. Lots of coffee, not a lot of sweetness or balance there. It’s just shy of roasty in a way that I’d find unpleasant. And by just shy I mean; the bus is on the edge of the cliff and a couple ounces is going to put it over.

Common Ales: Steeplejack West Coast Pilsner

The title of the beer from Steeplejack is the first challenge: West Coast Pilsner.

Steeplejack's West Coast Pilsner can next to a glass of same, on kitchen counter

To any beer aficionado that means one thing: we (over) hopped it..

But this is a Pilsner! The whole point of those is to emphasize malt and finish cleanly. Hopping them tends to wreck all the other qualities, because there’s not enough malt or yeast character to balance that out. The can tells me they’re using Chinook hops-hops that are best known for being in West Coast IPAs.

Is this something anyone wants??

As it turns out, yes! The hop use was clearly focused on proving an olfactory sensation. It’s quite prominent and makes a strong first impression. It also reels back from the rest of the beer, with a very clean middle and crisp finish.

That crispness does compete with a hop bitterness too. It makes for an interesting finish, both crisp and bitter, to tie the beer together.

It’s a lot better than expected and works as a solo beer to drink, or a compliment with any grub. Pleasant surprise!


Voodoo Ranger IIPA can next to a glass of same, on a desk.

OK, so since I haven’t had a Voodoo Ranger in a long, long time. Maybe ever? I figured I should follow up and check it out.

There’s a faint persistent note of citrus here, and… This beer is more complicated than I thought.

As an imperial IPA, the middle is sweet-and to me, a bit overly so. However it isn’t as sweet as some IIPA’s I’ve had.

But the finish both isn’t bitter enough-and leans pine-while also evoking the scouring-bitter sensation.

That means that for me at least, there are a LOT of competing flavors going on.

After enough sips, any scent I can draw from the Voodoo Ranger goes away, but a little bit of malt-not sugar but grain-makes an appearance in the middle.

It’s almost as if they designed this beer to throw all the things at me in hopes that I would be confused enough to accept what I was experiencing out of hand.

It isn’t good. But it isn’t terrible either. Definitely a success for the marketers!

Common Ales: Hetty Alice

Helly Alice Pils in glass on kitchen countertop next to can of same

Hetty Alice Pilsner:

Nose gives me some malt which is nice. But this beer is maybe a little too thin in the midrange. I’m hoping for a little more malt flavor; instead there’s hardly anything and that means when the hops step into the mix, the bitterness is overwriting things.

This beer doesn’t finish cleanly enough to really be extremely crushable, and it doesn’t have enough backbone to balance out the finish or emphasize the nose.

I don’t think this beer is bad but I would like to see how they iterate on it in about a year.


Hetty Alice IPA in glass on kitchen counter next to can of same

The nose is excellent; foresty, green, pungent, it’s exactly what I’m hoping for. The flavors follow up: this is a pretty solid late 90’s style IPA; probably more bitter than the standard, but it does stop short of mouth scouring.

So it’s got more balance than those beers but it’s definitely positioned to remind you of those IPAs.

Looks like a split decision on these beers but things are promising enough that I’d be looking for to check out the brewery when they open up.

The other thing I like; the labeling. It’s clean, it transmits information well, and the data on the can very clearly tells you what you’re getting.

An auspicious start, I’d say.

Common Ales: Sierra Nevada’s Atomic Torpedo

First, it’s a little darker than I was expecting. I hope that this means there is some substantial malt character here because the nose, while not strong, is giving me a little pine. Which means I’m expecting some bitterness.

It’s remarkably well balanced though. The finishing bitterness isn’t too mouth scouring and even though the can says that this is a “juicy west coast IPA” I’m not detecting a lot in the way of juice.

Which is something I approve of.

The scents fade rather quickly, which is a bummer. The complexity of floral and pine just goes to a dull pine. The finish becomes stronger-well in line for an DIPA but the beverage has, overall, become a touch more boring.

I don’t hate this but I feel like I’ve had stronger offerings.

Common Ales: Baerlic’s Oat Soda

Baerlic's Oat Soda in a glass next to a can of same

The nose or Baerlic’s Oat Soda takes me back to 1979: I am 5 and asking my Dad if I can have a sip of his beer. He’s handing over the bottle cap, showing me how to parse the pictogram puzzle on it.

I never really got good at those puzzles. Wordplay is for minds of a different bent.

The Oat Soda is what I remember from that era, if filtered through 45 years. The finish is clean, and really lets the hop bitterness take stage. The middle of the beer is invisible to me though; no malt that I can detect. It really is like what I remember.

But, context matters. I’m older now, and it’s a 90 degree day in August. A beer this easy to drink that can go with tacos means a lot more to me than it did when I was five.

Go figure.

Common Ales: White Bluffs’s Devil’s Nectar

White Bluffs brewing Devil's Nectar can and beer in a glass on counter

Nose is very sweet. Pineapple is the thing that comes to mind. Definitely a surprise for a pale ale, to me. The beer is really bright, so visually I wasn’t expecting something so fruity.

This flavor carries into the finish, which is just straight up orange. Again, sweeter than expected, with a final taste that does move towards pith.

This wants to put the flavor profile of a hazy into a pale ale. While I’m not upset at that, the finishing bittterness really doesn’t work for me. The Devil’s Nectar isn’t too sweet but the final flavors I pick up turn me away.