Sunday, August 15, 2010

Trader Joe's beers: cheap and cheaper, but not bad.

In these times, I've become an avid bargain hunter. A sixer of domestic "craft" beer from a store in my neighborhood costs from ten to thirteen dollars, tax included, which works out to roughly two bucks a bottle. So, when I visited Trader Joe's a couple of weeks ago, I checked out their beer offerings. I found that they carry several house brand beers and ales, some at $6.99 a six-pack and others at $7.99 before tax. I decided to try one of the less expensive beers, the "Vienna Style Lager". The Saranac special holiday lager I tried two years ago was also described as "Vienna style", and I liked it a lot.

TJ's offering proved a bargain. It has a rich reddish amber color and a mild, malty aroma with just a hint of hop herbaceousness. The flavor is well balanced between malt and hops, the latter adding a bit of citrus-y zest. This is a go-with-anything beer; nothing about it is attention-grabbing, but it is satisfying. The label says the beer is bottled by Trader Joe's Brewing Co. of San Jose, California, but, according to Beeradvocate, this is a "beer marketing company", so where the beer is brewed is a mystery.

On my next visit to TJ's, I noticed some cans of "Simpler Times" beer offered at a reet-cheap $3.99 a six-pack. It was available in both lager and pilsner versions. "How bad can it be?", I thought, and bought a sixer of lager. This beer proved to be as close as I can imagine to a polar opposite of TJ's Vienna Style Lager. The color is pale yellow-gold. It has a flowery nose, with a slight, earthy malt undertone. The flavor is intensely sweet and fruity, my predominant impression being of ripe plum, with a suggestion of caramel. Would I make this a staple beer? No. It would go well with spicy food, or could be enjoyed by itself (its maker, Minhas Craft Brewery of Monroe, Wisconsin, formerly the Joseph Huber Brewing Company, also makes root beer). I'm not sure if this beer is exclusive to TJ's. In any event, at less than five bucks a sixer, with tax, I'll probably have it again if I'm planning Indian, Mexican, or Szechuan take-out.

I will be trying more beer and ale from TJ's, and report on it from time to time.