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Beer culture is coming of age. At any store, restaurant, bar, or friend's house you can now find at least a few good brews. In fact, there seem to be so many new beers, breweries and bars it's difficult to separate the good, the bad, and the mediocre.

If you're going spend $10 on one beer, what should you buy? If you're going to drive 2 hours to check out a brewery, what's worth your time? If you're going to plan a Friday night, what has a good selection and friendly atmosphere? We're here to help you answer these questions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wake Up Call Imperial Coffee Porter and the Four Loko Fight

Wake Up Call Imperial Coffee Porter is a Baltic Porter by the Grand Teton Brewing Company of Victor, Idaho. Wake Up Call is part of Grand Teton's Cellar Reserve series which focuses on creating beers using different malt, hop and yeast profiles than their year-round beers. Cellar reserves also also bottle and keg conditioned. The cellar reserve brewer keeps a blog about the progress of the beers.

As many small brewers and beer geeks might know there has been a battle over the inclusion of caffeine in beers, you have probably all heard of Four Loko. Here's the skinny. In late 2010 after a couple of years of pressure from State Attorney Generals, including Jerry Brown, the FDA issued a warning to specific brewers, including Four Loko and Moonshot (famous for its appearance in Beer Wars), that they should remove the products that contain caffeine and alchol.

The reasoning is that the combination of caffeine and alcohol has yet to be deemed safe by the FDA. In fact there have even been studies about the dangers of high amounts of caffeine and alcohol. The FDA did not specifically ban caffeine in beer, it just targeted specific brewers but allowed an exception for caffeine that comes from natural sources, like coffee.

The difference between the caffeine that is in Wake Up Call and the caffeine in Four Loko is it's source and volume. Wake Up Call has small amounts of caffeine that come from the use of coffee. Four Loko adds pure caffeine, either in powder or liquid form. With volume, you would have to drink several bottles of Wake Up Call  to feel the effects of the caffeine, but with Four Loko you can feel them after one can. It's highly unlikely one would pay the money and be able to put back the same of Wake Up Call needed to get the same caffeine effect.

California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed Senate Bill 39 by State Senator Alex Padilla that bans caffeine in beer. This bill has been talked about widely in many brewing circles. The bill was worked out with the California Small Brewers Association, large brewers, and the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control. The goal was to find a way to draw a distinction between the Four Lokos and the Wake Up Calls. And the key was the addition of pure caffeine. The bill bans the addition of pure caffeine to beer, not the presence of caffeine in beer caused by ingredients like coffee.

And that's the rest of the story...

I bought this at Taylor's Market in Sacramento for $10.99 for a 750ml. It has an ABV of 7.5%.

The beer pours a opaque, dark brown with a slight tan head that leaves thick lacings. The aroma is a blend of roasted and coffee malts. The taste has a strong roasted flavor that seems to be a mix of the coffee and roasted malts. There's a nice sweet, malty backbone that tames the bitter roastiness. I don't get much of a hop profile as the bitterness could more from the coffee than the hops. The roasted flavor sticks around, like you just had a cup of coffee. It's medium bodied with a perfect level of carbonation and a great creamy mouthfeel through out.

We really liked this beer. There is a very skilled brewer who conceived and executed this idea. The brewing technique is perfect - the carbonation, the balance between sweet and bitter, and the moutfeel. I like coffee, I like porter, so I really enjoyed the flavors. I could see some folks not liking the flavors, but I think they are tame enough even for people who do not enjoy coffee. The distinct flavor and brewing skills make this is a Must Have It.

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