05 May 2010

Beer Review: MateVeza Black Lager

Yes, I love a good unorthodox-ingredient beer.  So let's celebrate that so-called Mexican holiday (just the Southwestern excuse for St. Pat's Day bacchanalia, right?) with a South-American-styled beer.

MateVeza is a California-based beer company, apparently contracting through the well-regarded Mendocino Brewing Co.in Ukiah, California.  The concept is a different form of "buzz beer," as those who are fans of "The Drew Carey Show" (where the characters dreamed up a beer with coffee in it so the caffeine would counteract the effects of alcohol--supposedly) will remember.  In this case, the active ingredient is Yerba Mate, a South American species of holly that is a source of caffeine and is traditionally brewed as an herbal tea, drunk--as with coffee and tea--as a stimulant.

MateVeza has brewed three beers so far: an Organic Golden Ale, an Organic IPA, and this apparently brand new Black Lager. The "cheat sheet" enclosed with my sample says 5.2%, 25 IBU's, and 60mg of caffeine per 22-ounce bottle, about the same as a half cup of coffee per 12-ounce serving.

And how is the beer?  Black lager, a traditional German style, isn't my first choice--I kind of wish they'd sent the IPA--but the lager's lighter in hops, so I'll see what yerba mate tastes like.  (The agents were kind enough--no, smart enough--to include a sample of the dried leaves used in the brew.)  The black lager--think a Guinness stout with CO2 and clean lager yeast instead of nitro cream and ale yeast--may be 5.2% but tastes lighter; a good black roast barley flavor is topped off with a strong herbal flavor, akin to green tea, hay grass, a light touch of thyme and rosemary, and more fresh-mown hay.  (The yerba mate sample smells exactly like a fresh hay loft.)  The contrast between the malt and roast body and the lingering grassy/herbal finish is intriguing, to say the least.  Sure, I'd have it again.  Caffeine rush?  I'm the wrong person to ask on that--I can go to sleep after a cup of strong coffee.

(Photos to follow soon.  And no, I don't think this is in the Maryland market--yet.)


JohnM. said...

"MateVeza is a California-based beer company, apparently contracting through the well-regarded Mendocino Brewing Co.in Ukiah, California."

Well regarded? That's a laugh. Mendocino beers have pretty much sucked since they stopped brewing at their original brewpub in Hopland. The best you can say about them is that their beers are generally pretty inexpensive. Quality-wise, if Mendocino Brewing is involved in the production of this black lager, I would expect it to suck as well.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

First off, contract brewers who use other people's equipment don't always carry on the characteristics of the house brewery. I've personally seen "sucky" beers and excellent beers come out of the same facility.

Second, the MateVeza Black Lager didn't "suck" in my opinion. If you're one of those BeerAdvocate reviewers for whom a beer must have at least 9% alcohol and/or 90 IBU's to be considered even worthy, then it'll probably garner a bad review from you. Me, having just suffered through a couple days of early hot and steamy weather, I found it great--not too heavy for summer heat, yet still flavorful and unique.

JohnM. said...

I'll happily be proven wrong, as I do intend to try it. It may well be delicious. After all, even a blind squirrel can find a nut on occasion.

At one point I lived in N. California, back when Mendocino Brewing was one of the premier breweries in the state. The brewery literally had a cult following back in the day. However, since Mr. Mallya "invested" in the company back in 1997, quality has gone straight down hill. The difference since he took over has literally been night and day.

All that aside, with the exception of macro swill, I pretty much like all beers, including low alcohol lagers (I absolutely adore a good pilsner and helles). I won't say alcohol is irrelevant when it comes to making high quality beers, but there certainly is no direct correlation between quality and alcohol. At least that's my opinion.

So no, it's not the alcohol that makes me wonder about the quality of this beer. It's its ties to Mendocino Brewing.