Harpoon Winter Warmer

Beer: Winter Warmer
 Harpoon Brewery
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 5.9%


Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa




Sight: Clear, dark mahogany body with a wispy head that quickly dissipates.

Smell: It smells like drinking a pumpkin ale while eating gingerbread cookies.

Flavor: It tastes like a watery pumpkin-gingerbread ale hybrid. To my knowledge that doesn’t yet exist, but it should.

Feel: Thin body with some carbonation. Weak mouthfeel.

Concluding Remark: I debated whether or not to drink, review, and post this after my week-long affair with ambrosial Belgian holiday ales (which, I know now, are some of my favorite beers). But, I bought Harpoon’s “Winter Warmer” (quotation marks added) to review earlier this month, and I’d never leave a beer behind.

So anyways. The brief description in the “flavor” section accurately sums up my experience with this beer. It tastes like a weak, watered down Pumpkin Ale that has been gussied up with some special winter holiday spices (ginger, allspice, cloves). It’s not the worst beer I’ve had this year, but it’s a completely subpar holiday ale that really should only be consumed if the other options on tap are Bud, Stella, and Coors Light.

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TYIB Holiday Update

Our time with Brown Ales is over. We’ve shared some fond moments with them, but it’s about time for us to move on from that period of our lives. What’s next, you ask? Well, as we are coming frighteningly close to the end of the world, as well as 2012, we thought it more prudent to focus our energy on planning some EOTW events. Or, just beer tastings. So, we will be taking a brief hiatus from reviewing a featured style and instead will be posting anything seasonally delicious that crosses our paths in the last few weeks of 2012. I mean, what’s the point in wasting what could possibly be the last few weeks of life by drinking anything less than a 4-Pint rated beer? If anyone out there has a favorite holiday beer that they would like us to review, let us know! There’s only so much Mad Elf  we can drink before passing out….

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Hurricane Sandy Update

Good evening, fellow beer drinkers. The Year in Beer has been among the millions that have gone without power, water, and internet in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Despite not having the ability to post reviews this week, we have attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy by reviewing the last of our Pumpkin Ale stock by candlelight. Instead of a Get Blitzed Day, we will be posting these reviews as we find access to internet. And look out for a new style announcement by the end of the week!

Two breweries–Barrier Brewing in Oceanside, NY and Sixpoint Brewery in Redhook, Brooklyn–were badly impacted by Hurricane Sandy’s brutal winds. Following Ommegang’s lead, we urge you to support these breweries by picking up one of their six (or four) packs when you’re on your next beer run. We suggest Sixpoint’s Resin for IPA addicts or their seasonal Diesel, an interesting combination of a Black IPA and Stout.

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And that, as they say, is that. Oktoberfest 2012 has officially come to an end. Today, the ridiculous Viking-themed rides and beer tent are being packed up and the empty kegs rolled away, marking the end of the best time of year to be a German beer enthusiasts with enough PTO to attend Oktoberfest. And what an experience it was.

This happened.

credit: npr.

And this happened.

credit: izismile.com

And who can forget about this.

leiderhosen air guitar competition.

In honor of the last 16 days, this Get Blitz Day will celebrate the malts and hops that were harvested to provide the world with the Oktobefestbier. And how else to celebrate than to drink as many Oktoberfestbiers as possible? Sounds like an ideal Monday to me.

If you’ve enjoyed this Oktoberfest season, you’re in luck. While the party might be over in Germany, the American festivities parade on (typical). Most American Oktoberfestbiers will be available until the end of the month, and there are numerous German bars that will continue to celebrate with bratwursts, biers, and German folk music into November. While we would love to spend the rest of the month celebrating a royal wedding that occurred over two hundred years ago, we must move on to the next style. And it’s a good one. But before we announce it, GET BLITZED!

The party’s over…for now. credit: flickr (juliana furtado)

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PROST! A History of Oktoberfest and the Märzen

Annnnnd we’re back! For the next two weeks, we will be celebrating the 16-day Oktoberfest alongside the Germans and fortunate foreigners drinking copious litres of beer and snacking on brezn at Oktoberfest 2012 in Munich. Oktoberfest, now in its 202nd year, evolved from a royal festival celebrating the marriage of Konig Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (trying pronouncing that after a few beers).

Happy wedding, Ludwig and Therese, you crazy kids!

The festival was such a hit in Bavaria that the party never actually stopped. Oktoberfest has been held on the field in front of the historic city gate since 1810 (with some exceptions, such as years during cholera outbreaks and those wars). Over two centuries later, Oktoberfest is now the world’s largest festival, with over 6.4 million attendees in 2010. There have been some minor changes to the fest over the last two hundred years. What were once beer stalls to spend time between horse races are now beer tents that can accommodate thousands of thirsty celebrators. Swings have been replaced by multiple-looped roller coasters (I still don’t know whose good idea that was). Nevertheless, what was once a celebration of love, is now a celebration of the love of beer.

Oktoberfest: Then and Now

BUT! It’s not just a celebration of any beer. No, at Oktoberfest, you drink Oktoberfestbier. Maß und Maß of Oktoberfestbier. While your local liquor store will have a number of Oktoberfestbier-style six-packs on the shelves, there are only six beers in the world that hold the title of Official Oktoberfestbier. In order to qualify as a true Oktoberfest, the beer must be brewed in Munich by a Munich brewery and meet a number of other technical criteria, from ABV to gravity levels. This pretty much leaves six breweries with the permission to serve their Oktoberfest brews at Oktoberfest: Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu-München, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten.

So what IS an Oktoberfestbier, exactly? Is it called as such for its association to the event? Or is there a unique style only produced this time of year? The answers are ‘absolutely’ and ‘it’s not that simple.’ Since the dawn of Oktoberfest, the Märzen has been the only style served. Märzen, which comes from the German word “März” for March, was a dark amber lager brewed in March and left to ferment all the summer long in dark caves. Thus, Märzens were available for enjoyment just in time for Oktoberfest. Over the years, the Oktoberfestbier has slightly deviated from the historic Märzen recipe. Now, you’ll find Oktoberfesters drinking a lighter Märzen (Helles Märzen), for example. But we’re avoiding the stein-sized question in the proverbial room: WHAT IS A MARZEN?


DAS MARZEN, or Märzen-Oktoberfest-Wiener

As can be inferred by its provenance, the Märzen is a Bavarian beer. Like many other Bavarian beers, the Märzen appeared on the scene sometime in late 15th century. Brewing occurred in March, as it was prohibited to brew beer in the summer to prevent spoilage. In order to maintain fermentation through the summer, more hops and sugars were introduced to the wort. Lo and behold, this made for a more alcoholic and fuller beer than other German lagers. Unsurprisingly, it was a hit.

A major moment in Märzen history occurred in 1840. Two brewers, one from Spaten Brewery and one from Austrian Dreher, decided to add a new malt to the Märzen recipe. This malt, the Vienna malt, rendered the beer sweeter and lighter than the Bavarian counterpart. This new brew was known as Märzen “brewed the Vienna way” in Germany and as a Vienna Lager in Austria.

Before long, Spaten retooled their recipe and added a Munich malt. This new recipe was marketed as THE “Oktoberfestbier” and is the one we drink today. It is almost unrecognizable from the original full-bodied, dark amber Märzens that were first consumed on Oktoberfest grounds. However, these lighter Märzens (Helles Märzen, or Wiesens) go down with a certain ease, enabling the attendees to sit in the beer tents for hours on end until they fully transform into Bierleichen. This is German for beer corpses. I think this term needs to be introduced into everyday English.

Bierleichen of all varieties.

So, what to expect from a Märzen/Oktoberfestbier?

While there are a number of variations, the major characteristic is that these beers are freaking balanced. A slightly more alcoholic lager, the average Märzen is between 5.8-6.3%.

Sight: The color will vary greatly from Märzen to Märzen. If you find yourself at Oktoberfest, you’ll be looking at a golden body with a springy white head. Most American Märzens hark back to historic recipes and will be a dark amber or copper.

Smell: Depending on the brewery, a strong Vienna or Munich malt will be the predominant aroma. Hops will be undetectable.

Flavor: This beer is all about the malts. There will be flavors of  toasted malts, sweet malts, biscuity malts. The Bavarian Märzen will have little to no hop presence. However, American breweries do as they do, and an inappropriate amount of hops will sneak through.

Feel: Expect a medium body with moderate carbonation and an overall creaminess. It will also be quite dry and crisp, a result of a longer fermentation.

SO. MUCH. BEER. (Getty Images)

So, then, it would seem that all Oktoberfestbiers are Märzens, but not all Märzens are Oktoberfestbiers. From this discourse, it ought not be surprising that the definition of a Märzen-Oktoberfest-Vienna is somewhat ambiguous. The best way to wrap your head around the many variations of this style? Drink as many as possible! So, go forth and join us on the two week Oktoberfest challenge! May we all be Bierleichen for weeks to come.

Motherf’ing PROST.


Tip: there are many Oktoberfest celebrations happening in the tri-state area. Clearly going to one of these is the best way to get into the Oktoberfest spirit, short of booking a very expensive ticket to Munich. I highly recommend checking out Zum Schneider (try the Paulaner Original Wies’n), Radegast Hall (try the Hofbrau Oktoberfest), Pilsner Haus (try the Ramstein Oktoberfest), and Zeppelin Hall (try the Spaten Oktoberfest).

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Beercation 2012: Thailand Edition

Where in the world was TYIB?

The fourth and final Asian destination was the truly exotic and intoxicating Thailand. Well, those are definitely not words I would use to describe the beers of Thailand. I’ll be honest, beer reviewing (not drinking) took a back seat on this leg of the trip. Time normally spent thinking about the nuances of malts and hops was replaced with endless site visits to temples and pad thai street stalls. Regardless, the following photograph accurately depicts the beer scene in Thailand.

Beer is a relatively modern phenomenon in Thailand. The first brewery, Boon Rawd Brewery, was opened in 1934. This is likely due to the fact that Thailand was the only country in the region not subjected to European colonialism. Boon Rawd, producer of ‘premium’ Singha, ruled the beer market for most of the 20th century, only facing competition from Chang in 1995, the sweetheart of ThaiBev. Boon Rawd also began producing Leo, a ‘non-premium’ and cheaper lager later in the game and ThaiBev countered with its own ‘non-premium’ beer, Archa. While the aforementioned beers are the heavy hitters in Thailand, there are regionally-produced brews as well (which are generally the more interesting ones). For example, Phuket Beer (yes, found in Phuket) is actually brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (German purity law). Unfortunately for me, I did not travel south and was unable to find Phuket.

There are very few foreign options, as Thailand imposes a heavy duty on foreign imports. As a result, a number of large international beverage companies have made deals with the Thai beverage industry (ahem, ThaiBev and Carlsberg) in order to get in on the beer market.

One country simply cannot be home to both the best food and beer in the world (just look at Germany as an example). Thus, the fate of Thailand’s beer is to be mediocre and flavorless for years to come. Don’t cry over this unfortunate situation; just go to the closest noodle station instead. You’ll forget there was ever a problem in this world.

Beer: Leo
Brewery: Boon Rawd Brewery
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5%

A Thai favorite (their website is iloveleo.com), Boon Rawd’s budget beer is not any worse than, let’s say, Milwaukee’s Best or Coors. Like many beers in the region, the body is pale gold and the flavor profile is predominantly corn and grain. The mouthfeel is a little thinner than other Southeast Asian lagers, and actually a bit oily. Despite the adorable leopard on the label, I would not drink this again. It was almost a pour-out, but my hotel room was hot and I forgot to buy water at the nearby 7-11.

Beer: Singha
Brewery: Boon Rawd Brewery
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5%

Singha is indisputably the best mass-produced beer in Thailand (sorry, Chang). While it also comes attached to the highest price tag, it’s worth the extra Thai baht. Singha is light, crisp, and is free of any unpleasant aftertastes. There’s actually a trace of hops in there, and it’s not impossible to detect an aroma. However, Singha is best had in Thailand; I purchased a six-pack the other day to indulge in my Southeast Asian nostalgia. The mission was a complete bust, as it didn’t come alongside a carton of mango sticky rice. Also, at the end of the day, it is just a pale lager.

Beer: Chang
Brewery: Cosmos Brewery (ThaiBev)
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5.0%

While Singha might be the best beer in Thailand, Chang is the most readily available. I’ll be honest, 90% of the time I drank a cold Chang alongside a large plate of Pad See Ew. This pairing was deceptive: I was convinced that Chang was best beer I’d have ever tried. However, the illusion was shattered when I went to a bar and ordered a Chang sans noodles. Turns out, Chang tastes like water and sweet corn. It does have an exceptional mouthfeel, but it fails every other “premium quality beer” test.

All in all, do not go to Thailand for the beer. I can give you a hundred other reasons to go…just try to sneak an IPA or Tripel in your suitcase.

TYIB, exploring mediocre lagers, one beer at a time.

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Beercation 2012: Northern Vietnam Edition

Where in the world was TYIB?

The third SEA destination was Northern Vietnam. It’s important to make this directional distinction, as there is an established Bohemian beer scene and burgeoning home-brewing community in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s capital in the south. These do not exist in Hanoi and the surrounding areas in the north. Instead, a collection of mediocre pale lagers and the wildly adored Bia Hoi flow freely in the streets (literally, as beer is consumed while sitting on small plastic chairs outside).

As the story goes, beer was introduced to Vietnam by French colonialists in the 1890s. It was pretty nice of les Francaise to promote the exchange of les traditions culturelle, oui? MAIS NO! Looking to increase profits in their colonial outposts, the French began to charge an exorbitant tax on rice liquor, the primary libation in Vietnam at the time. Simultaneously, they introduced French wine and beer to the country. In order to avoid paying the high tax, the Vietnamese slowly started to purchase the cheaper beer. While the means by which beer became an integral part of Vietnamese culture are dubious, I doubt many would trade Bia Hoi and Hanoi Lager for homemade rice liquor. Well, depending on the night, at least.

A little trivia for the soul: the word for beer in Vietnamese (bia) comes from the French word “biere.” Less letters, same result. Vietnamese efficiency!


Beer: Bia Hoi
Brewery: varies
Style: Rice Lager
ABV: ~3%

Bia Hoi, said to be Vietnamese for “fresh beer” (it actually translates to “gas beer”), is an unpasteurized beer brewed daily with no preservatives by breweries and local shops. Renowned for its low price tag, it’s as good as you would expect a $.20 beer to be. It tastes like a watered-down version of Bud Light, which as you know tastes like a watered-down version of Budweiser, which as you know tastes like a watered-down version of a Czech Pilsner (and that’s a serious compliment to the American classic). It’s quite difficult to read any flavor in this watery concoction, but after enough, themes of straw, rice, and corn emerge. However, what it lacks in flavor, it makes up for in experience. Bia Hoi can only be consumed in Bia Hoi street stalls. You can imagine how rowdy a Friday night in Hanoi can be with thousands of people drinking on the street for hours on end (and don’t forget to factor in thousands of motorbikes!) Now, while this all sounds like fun, there are possible side effects. Other than a hangover, there is no actual way of knowing if your Bia Hoi is actually hoi: some beer vendors have been known to sell the dregs of old kegs of the unpasteurized brew.  I’m not advising against a night of Bia Hoi, but maybe packs some Tums and antibiotics just in case.


Beer: Hanoi Beer
Brewery: Hanoi Beer Company
Style: Rice Lager
ABV: 5.1%

Hanoi Beer is the jewel of Northern Vietnam. Golden in color and rich in mouthfeel, this bia would satisfy most on a steamy Hanoi day. As with many beers of the region, Hanoi Beer is a rice-based lager. The flavor of the rice, however, is not the dominant flavor. Instead, notes of grain, yeast, and grass prevail. It’s a thoroughly average lager, but as the temperature rises, it only tastes better and better. Just like Bia Hoi, Hanoi Beer is brewed with no preservatives and must be consumed the day it is produced.

As an aside, the Hanoi Beer Company was the first brewery in Vietnam. Originally owned by a Frenchman named Hommel, Hanoi Beer was produced using local rice and imported hops and marketed to French expats. However, as the French emptied out of the area in the 1950s, Hommel Brewery was left to the government and was renamed Hanoi Brewery. Hanoi Brewery is still owned by the government and allegedly produces 90% of the beer in Hanoi.


Beer: Biere Larue
Brewery: VBL Tien Giang
Style: Euro Pale Lager
ABV: 4.2%

Biere Larue was the first beer I tried in Vietnam. After a month in Myanmar, I was looking forward to pouring something other than Myanmar Lager into my glass. However, after a few sips of Biere Larue, I developed a major case of nostalgia for my 640ml of Myanmar. It was completely mediocre and unmemorable, with a generic grain taste as the predominant flavor. Nevertheless, Biere Larue is an integral part of Vietnamese beer culture: it was established in 1909 by Frenchman Victor Larue as part of the Brasseries et Placieres de L’Indochine Brewery and was once regarded as one of the best European lagers in the region. Clearly, times have changed, but Biere Larue continues to remind us how far humankind has come in our beer-discerning abilities.


Beer: 333 Premium Export Lager
Brewery: Saigon Beer  Company
Style: Rice Lager
ABV: 5.3%

I debated whether or not to include the 333 in this report, as it hails from Southern Vietnam. It also happens to be the blandest of the Vietnamese beers available in the Hanoi region. I have very few words for this beer. Alright, fine, okay, it has a generic grain flavor profile and is moderately carbonated. There, I did my homework.

In lieu of anything insightful to say about its character, I will impart some knowledge onto you. Production of 333 began in France in 1893 as an attempt to create the sacred German lager (FAIL). Production was exported to Ho Chi Mihn City in the early 1900s, where the recipe became known as the 333 Export Lager. I am going to fashion a guess that when the French left the Indochine colonies in 1954, the brewing facility was handed over to the government and became known as the Saigon Beer Company.

i hope this bia hoi is hoi! một hai ba, yo!

TYIB, exploring colonial history, one beer at a time.

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Beercation 2012: Myanmar Edition

Where in the world was TYIB?

The second destination of Beercation 2012 was the enigmatic Myanmar, Burma, Golden Land. While there are infinite observations to be made about a place that was once second to North Korea as the most isolated country in the world, there are finite beer observations to recount. If only there were as many beer options as golden pagodas! If only there were as many beer options as sticky rice desserts! If only there were as many beer options as foreign investors sniffing around for natural resources! You get my point.

Beer consumption is a relatively recent phenomenon in Myanmar. Before 1988, foreign beer was only found on the black market, and government-operated Mandalay Brewery (the only brewery in Myanmar at the time) had essentially gone bankrupt. In the early 1990s, as the economy began to open to foreign investment, Singapore investors were interested in reviving the brewing industry through privatization. While one investment venture resulted in a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice, another joint-venture with the government led to the establishment of the Myanmar Brewery, which produces “Myanmar’s Favourite Beer.” A few years later, Dagon Brewery was established, providing an alternative to Myanmar Lager and Mandalay Beer (for better or for worse). Mandalay Brewery, Myanmar Brewery, and Dagon Brewery are currently the only brewing facilities in the country.


Beer: Myanmar Lager
Brewery: Myanmar Brewery and Distillery
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5%

The Myanmar equivalent to the American Budweiser, Myanmar Lager is certainly an effective way to keep cool during the monsoon season. It’s well-carbonated, crisp, and there’s even a faint trace of hops. I could not have been more relieved to discover Myanmar Lager’s relatively wonderful balance and flavor. Despite being the only beer available in Yangon, I would have ordered Myanmar Lager over most of its foreign peers. If the Myanmar Brewery expands its facilities and begins to export Myanmar Lager on a wide-scale, Asian beer heavyweights such as Singha and Tsing-Tao will face tough competition.



Beer: Dagon Lager
Brewery: Dagon Brewery
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5%

The dirty secret of beer in Myanmar, Dagon Lager Beer is seemingly banned from all drinking establishments, to be found only in the depths of cheap grocery stores. I mean, it’s not vile, but as Dagon represents nearly half of all available beer options in Myanmar, I can understand the country’s embarrassment. There is no reason to venture into Dagon territory when Myanmar Lager, pride of the nation, is available pretty much everywhere except religious sites. It pours a pale yellow and has a aluminum and corn flavor profile. While I would absolutely choose a Dagon over a glass of  local tap water, there’s a reason it sits on the bottom shelf.



Beer: Mandalay Strong Ale Beer
Brewery: Mandalay Brewery
Style: English Strong Ale
ABV: 6.5%

Why purchase a Mandalay Ale Beer when you can indulge in a Mandalay Strong Ale Beer? A staple in central Myanmar, Mandalay Brewery puts out completely average brews. While clearly it’s impossible to get bored with the wondrous Myanmar Lager, Mandalay Strong Ale Beer was a welcomed alternative during a trip to Bagan in central Myanmar. It was well-carbonated, with a larger hop presence than Myanmar Lager.


As the political landscape changes in Myanmar, so does the beerscape. Thai Singha Corporation is in negotiations to open a brewery in Myanmar. When the political situation stabilizes, the country will likely begin to import popular international staples such Heineken, Amstel, and Stella as its economy continues to open. But until a craft beer movement develops in Myanmar, Myanmar Lager will likely reign supreme, as it truly is one of the better Euro Macro Lager-style beers I’ve tasted on my travels. MYANMAR LAGER!

never enough myanmar lagers!

TYIB, exploring geopolitics, one beer at a time.

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Beercation 2012: Bali Edition

Where in the world was TYIB?

The first destination of the summer was Bali, perhaps one of the most romanticized islands in the world. Known for its beaches, Hindu temples, and epicurean delights, Bali is as much a surfer’s dream as it is a spiritual center. Annnnd where there is tropical weather, tourist sites, and spicy food, I’ve learned, there is a generic pilsner-style lager lurking nearby to cool down the body, mind, and mouth. Bali was no exception. The Balinese cold one? “International Quality” BINTANG. Oh, and no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you: this label looks exceedingly similar to that of “International Quality” Heineken. Oh, how the remnants of Dutch colonialism linger!

Beer: Bintang
Brewery: Multi Bintang Indonesia
Style: American “Adjunct Lager” (haha not even a real Pilsner–nice try, Bali)
ABV: 4.7%

Serving Style: Bottle
Glassware: Pilsner glass
Drinking Establishment: some cafe on Monkey Jungle Road
Primary Consumer: Kerensa
Secondary Consumers: Traveler-in-crime Lauren


Sight: Clear, pale yellow body with a thin white head.

Smell: Not completely unpleasant, but reeks of corn and mediocrity.

Flavor: It tastes like carbonation. Yes, it also feels like carbonation, but because of its dearth of flavor, the predominant taste is…carbonation. There are faint traces of hops, but that could’ve been from the last IPA I had back in the States.

Feel: See above.

Concluding Remarks:  Well, I didn’t come across any articles on the booming craft beer scene in Indonesia, so I wasn’t expecting a wide variety of Balinese beers upon arrival. However, Bintang appeared to be the only beer available, at least in the center of Bali (Ubud) where we stayed. (If you are interested in reading about the beers I missed in Bali, check out this guy’s survey.) As I concluded all that I can about Bintang in the above remarks, I will leave you with a bit of information that might save your ass in trivia night:

Bintang facilities were constructed under Dutch Colonial rule in 1929. After Indonesian independence in 1949, the facility was called “Heineken’s Indonesian Brewery Company.” The Indonesian government wasn’t having any of this association with the Dutch, and took control over the brewery in 1957. However, the powerful forces of Heineken reigned supreme, and they reclaimed brewing authority in 1967. It was in 1981 that the brewery finally received a Dutch-free identity: Multi Bintang Indonesia. While it certainly has a nice exotic ring to it, a pale lager is still a pale lager.

TYIB, exploring world history, one beer at a time.

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Beercation 2012!

You may have noticed that beer reviewing took a nosedive in the month of August. But never fear! Just because reviewing came to an abrupt halt, doesn’t mean that the beer drinking stopped. Quite the opposite, in fact. TYIB spent most of the summer traveling around the world, beer-reviewing it one plane at a time. So instead of a full month of the soon-to-be-announced September style, we will be posting regional reports on beers from all over the world!

beercation 2012, sort of.

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