Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ranking the Bird Beers

There is a chain of stores in northern Virginia called Total Wine and More, and, if you haven't been there, the "More" part stands for "tons and tons of beers from everywhere." It's a goddamn paradise.

I was cheerfully strolling down the aisles of their Alexandria store the other week when my eyes, as they are wont to do, started finding beer labels adorned with our feathered friends. This may not come as a surprise, but there are a heck of a lot of beers that use birds in their names or labels. As a staunch supporter of avian-themed things, I applaud these beer companies in their thematic choices. But that doesn't help me much at the register. With so many bird-themed beers out there, what's a thirsty birder to choose? I am here to help.

Regular readers of this blog (are there those?) will know that I am a stickler for avian accuracy in my products. It's not enough for some company to just slap some winged thing onto the label (I'm looking at you, Akron RubberDucks), ornithological accuracy is important. At the same time, I don't want to drink something that tastes like crap. It could be called Coastal (Gray-Cheeked or Hepburn's) Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Life Bird Ale, but if it tastes bad then it ain't worth it.

So to grade these things I am using a hybrid solution. To judge the quality of the suds I am using the BeerAdvocate Overall Score (BOS) from the famous Beer Advocate website. BOS scores on the site run from 0 (garbage) to 100 (world class). I am not taking the type of beer into consideration. To that number I will add another 0-100 score of my own subjective determination, judging the overall use and presentation of the bird at hand. Then I'll divide the number by 2 to get a final 0-100 score. Ya good?

Quick caveat: I'm going to miss probably a lot of beers. There are, conservatively, a trillion different beers in the world, and some of them are not forthright about their use of birds. If I didn't see it on the shelf, or can find it easily online or YOU DON'T LET ME KNOW OF THEM, then I can't rate them. Doing the best I can. Let's go.

UPDATE 3/1/2015: I've added Birdhouse Pale Ale from Brewer's Art at the bottom.

Golden Wing Blonde Ale - Finch's Beer Co.

BOS score: 76
Birdist score: 50
Total score: 63

So, I can't really knock it because it's at least a real image of a bird. Like, it's not some anthropomorphic cartoon mess, it's an actually-proportioned bird.  But, it's a sparrow, not a finch.  A Harris' sparrow, I think.  It's not, say, a golden-winged warbler - which would make sense for the beer name - or a finch, which would make sense for the company name.  I can only do so much.

Beer review quote: "It has been a long time since I have had this beer. But from what I can remember this beer was ok. " Can't argue with that.

Cardinal Pale Ale - Nebraska Brewing Company

BOS score: 83
Birdist score: 25
Total score: 54

Cardinals have orange beaks, not yellow.  Cardinals have orange beaks, not yellow.  Cardinals have orange beaks, not yellow.  Cardinals have orange beaks, not yellow.  Cardinals have orange beaks, not yellow.  Cardinals have orange beaks, not yellow.  Cardinals have orange beaks, not yellow.

Beer review quote: "Drinkability was good, my can was gone quickly, and If I'd a had another, I woulda drank it."

India Pale Ale - Goose Island Beer Co.

BOS score: 85
Birdist score: 60
Total score: 72.5

So, it's a barnyard goose.  But far be it for me to disparage a member of the feathered flock simply because it made the sensible decision to cozy up to us handsome humans, you know?  In the evolutionary sense, domesticated animals made a far smarter decision than most creatures.  These guys are sitting all fat and happy in some dooryard while their "wild" cousins are roving the countryside in starving bands searching for that one dumb type of nut they can eat.  So what if they're total sellouts? As the old saying goes: "If you can't beat 'em, and if they're going to drive you to extinction by rapidly destroying everything it is that keeps you alive, join 'em."

Beer review quote: "Semi-hazy dark peach amber in colour with a foamy, patchy white laced head." Oh.

Nectar IPA - Humboldt Brewing Company

BOS score: 86
Birdist score: 50
Total score: 68

I really wanted this to be better.  On first glance it looks like an Anna's hummingbird, which is perfect for California.  But on closer inspection things fall apart.  It's not an Anna's without the pink on the head, and it's got, like, purple primaries and secondaries and the tail feathers are a disaster.  We really could have had something here.

Beer review quote: "Poured from a brown 12 oz. bottle."  Thanks for that.

White Hawk Original IPA - Mendocino Brewing Company

BOS score: 77
Birdist score: 70
Total score: 73.5

A challenge, this.  While this beer's label depicts a white hawk, it's not a white hawk (ALERT species names should be capitalized ALERT).  In fact, I don't know what species this is, unless it's just a picture of a random hawk drawn without any color.  Still, it's a realistic depiction of SOMETHING, and it's badass, and it's the dominant focus of the label and the I'm good with it.

Beer review quote: "Taste of grapefruit, tangerine, lemon zest, orange peel, floral, grass, pine, caramel, biscuit, light toffee, and floral/grassy earthiness. Good amount of pine/grassy bitterness on the finish; with lingering notes of grapefruit, tangerine, lemon/orange zest, pine, caramel, biscuit, light toffee, and floral/grassy earthiness on the finish for a good bit." White Hawk IPA: When You Want A Refreshing Beer With Just A Hint of Biscuit

New Belgium Trippel Belgian Style Ale - New Belgium Brewing

BOS score: 86
Birdist score: 80
Total score: 83

I mean, these aren't chickens these are straight up Red Junglefowl.  All that stuff I said above about domestication being okay was true and all, but even cooler are the lingering wild ancestors of domesticated animals.  Like, whatever you're a cow and you get to chill in a field all day and eat your own barf in peace, but you're no auroch.  No auroch at all.  These birds are great, even if they're just chickens.

Beer review quote: "You could have one while you're grilling or cooking a Brazilian Bobo de Camarao."

Le Merle - North Coast Brewing Company

BOS score: 88
Birdist score: 25
Total score: 56.5

What the hell even is that, though?  The internet tells me that "le merle" translates to "the blackbird" in French, but that's not a blackbird.  It's gray, and it's having a goddamn seizure.

Beer review quote: "It smells like antique funk, with some peppermint." Like James Brown chewin on some Trident White.

"Old Crafty Hen" - Greene King / Morland Brewery

BOS score: 84
Birdist score: 75
Total score: 79.5

Ahahah "Old Crafty Hen."  I just love those words together.  None of those words - alone, in pairs, or all together - sound like anything I'd like to drink at all.  "Man, it's hot out here. I'm parched.  I could really use a tall cool glass of Withered But Street-Smart Female Chicken." or "Hey bros, big game tonight! Why don't you ditch the wives and head over to my house for some poker and a couple sudsy bottles of Elderly Poultry with an Etsy Store?" Plus, quotation marks haha.

Beer review quote: "Indeed, if Rhett Butler wanted to find somewhere there was left in life charm and grace, he should have settled in Suffolk, right next to the Morland brewery - Old Crafty Hen is nothing if not charming and graceful." Jeez take it easy, Shakespeare.

Bluebird Bitter - Coniston Brewing Company

BOS score: 87
Birdist score: 30
Total score: 58.5

I am not sure if this is actually referring to the bird.  I don't see any birds on the label, no matter how hard I squint.  Can you?  I think "bluebird" here might be West Coast bro-boarder speak for "a day with no clouds," as in "Hey Lonnie can you get notes from Mr. Dunderson's class for me today? It's fuckin' bluebird today and I heard they opened Honeycomb Canyon so Noah and Taylor and I are gonna smoke some blunts and just shred it out today, you know? Thanks, brah!"  But still, I mean, it says bluebird right on the label, so...

Beer review quote: "This beer is a great example of simple but well executed English brewing. An excellent true to style bitter, with a nice hop punch to it."

Kingfisher Premium Lager - United Breweries

BOS score: 66
Birdist score: 95
Total score: 80.5

This is the first with a higher Birdist score than BOS score.  It's the first beer that is straight up "poor" in the BOS rankings.  Most importantly, it's a lovingly-rendered, and from what I can tell quite accurate, common kingfisher (alcedo atthis).  Kingfishers are severely underrated, and this one is colorful and in action.  Plus, according to Wikipedia, Kingfisher has fallen from the 74th most trusted brand in India in 2012 to the 198th most trusted brand in 2014, above Pizza Hut but below Playboy.  Hey, can't win 'em all.

Beer review quote: " I'm not a picky drinker, nor do I look for the worst in beers or criticize them to any great degree. But I have to say, this is one of the worst beers I have ever tasted."  Still, better than Pizza Hut.

Famosa - Cerveceria Centro Americana

BOS score: 57
Birdist score: 10
Total score: 33.5

Yikes.  Nobody wins here. The rooster looks like it's in soulless agony, or like he's waiting for his dental exam.  J/k I know birds don't have teeth.

Beer review quote:  "Uh, more like 'infamoso.'"

Moa Pale Ale - Moa Brewing Company

BOS score: 86
Birdist score: 75
Total score: 80.5

I bought a bottle of this when I was at Total.  It was pretty good I dunno all beer kinda taste the same to me.  But it's named after the moa, that mythic family of flightless birds that was living all fine and good until humans got to New Zealand and killed them all.  Moa are cool, and though it would be nice to have them shown on the label I like instead that it's just a raised glass outline of a moa, like they're ghosts.  Which they are. [insert meme of the guy with crazy hair from the UFO show]

Beer review quote: "Grass in a glass. Yuk!"

Red-Tail Ale - Mendocino Brewing Company

BOS score: 79
Birdist score: 80
Total score: 79.5

So, it's good.  It's good.  But, like, a red-tailed hawk is more than just a red tail.  What's up with the wood thrush head?  Why aren't there more streaks on the breast?  I dunno, it's great and all, but it's just a little off.  Much respect to you, Mendocino.

Beer review quote: "The beer has no discernible hop aroma, and the finish is very short. I think it's just an easy-to-drink, everyday type of beer."

La Becasse Kriek - Stella Artois

BOS score: 83
Birdist score: 90
Total score: 86.5

Hey, a woodcock! Didn't think you'd see one of those on here, did you?  It's fairly well drawn, it's an unusual, and it's the focus of the label.  I'm sold.

Beer review quote: "Aromas produced are of course cherry and ketchup like smell." Phew, my mouth is watering!

Barn Owl Premium Bitter - Cotleigh Brewery

BOS score: 85
Birdist score: 95
Total score: 90

Our winner.  Cotleigh, out of the UK, brews a bunch of beers named for birds.  There's the Tawny Owl Bitter; Peregrine Porter; Golden Seahawk (an osprey, I guess); Buzzard Dark Ale; and Harrier Lite.  There's also Barn Owl Bitter, a super cool bird, lovingly and accurately rendered, atmospheric and seductive but not anthropomorphized.  A beer for birders.

Beer review quote: "Smack dab in the middle of everything that is going on is a very tasty addition of toffee! Wow, what a fine dimension it brings to the taste of this Bitter. I'd say if it wasn't there, the balance of Barn Owl wouldn't be where it is and that would be a shame. I'm loving this English Bitter!"

Birdhouse Pale Ale - The Brewer's Art

BOS score: 86
Birdist score: 90
Total score: 88

Saw this beer at Whole Foods last week. Was drawn in by the general bird motif, but was struck by the tagline on the lower part of the can: "In honor of icterus galbula." Icterus Galbula, that's the Baltimore Oriole! We've had some great bird imagry on these beers, but nothing as dedicated as a Latin-name shout out. Turns out The Brewer's Art is a brew pub in, of course, Baltimore, Maryland, that Esquire once called the Best Bar in America. Not bad.
Beer review quote: "Probably the best session beer at Brewers Art." Sorry, there wasn't anything really good.

OK folks thanks for reading.  If you've got other beers, stick 'em in the comments.


John B. said...

My experience with bird-themed alcohol is that the label tends to be more exciting than the contents. But it sounds like there may be some exceptions to that.

Greg M. said...

Here's one I recently imbibed and enjoyed. Although I'm not sure what species the namesake is supposed to be... wagtail?

Michael Olsen said...

"Merle" is better translated as "thrush", of which the Blackbird is a species in Europe. The Townsend's Solitaire is grey, is at least closely related to thrushes and occurs in California, where the North Coast Brewing Company is located. So, that could have been the catalyst. It's kind of a lame drawing, though I imagine Townsend's Solitaires have the odd seizure in the wild.

Matt said...

Bell's Brewery's Best Brown Ale has had a theme of decently accurate owls on its label. A few years ago it was a somewhat annoyed-looking Boreal Owl ("why am I posed on a fence post in the middle of a field?"). They've now switched to <a href=">a Great Horned Owl</a>.

Amy said...

Britt is a French beer with an Atlantic Puffin on the label.

BTW, it's kriek, not kreik, and it's cherry beer, and it's delicious.

NickL said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Amy - I tried to use the Britt with the Puffin, but there's no image of it on Beer Advocate, and so I wasn't sure which one to use. Thank you for the Kriek correction, I'm an idiot.

Matt - A boreal owl!!!! I might need to reconsider things. Points subtracted for it sitting on a fencepost, though, that's not Boreal behavior, right?

Michael - Thanks for the correction. The internet was confusing me about what "merle" translated to. Still, why is this CA brewery using French words? Let's just simmer down, North Coast.

Greg - Good looking beer, but I think it's a bit of a half-assed bird attempt. Is that white-wing actually a thing? You can't just slap a bird on something and get away with it. Not on my watch.

John - I agree with you. The best solution is just to keep drinking.

Brooke M. said...

I have a can of Black Noddy beer from the now-defunct Buckbean Brewing Company out of Reno.

Since I've had it for a few years, it probably tastes like a Black Noddy by now.

xboy said...

My son-in-law says there's an English beer that's been around for a long time called Old Speckled Hen... doesn't have any images on the bottle, but I think it should get an honorable mention because it is really good.

xboy said...

Black Hawk Stout by Mendocino Brewing Company is fine beer. The bottle shows the head of 'black hawk' perhaps a Harlan's Redtail. BA score is 80.

NickL said...

xboy - you're right! "Old Crafty Hen" (quotation marks required) is part of a suite of three beers from Greene King brewery, which also includes "Old Speckled Hen" and "Old Golden Hen." I just wanted to go with one for the post and chose "Old Crafty Hen" because the name makes me laugh.

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Blog Design | 2007 Company Name