December 2, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving / Review: Budweiser Project 12 Series

I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Millennial Central for Budweiser. I received product samples to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for participating.

My family lives all over the place, and now that my brothers are married, everyone has multiple families vying for holiday attention. Therefore, I usually choose to host my Thanksgiving dinner sometime later that weekend and not on the actual Thanksgiving Day. As a bonus, hosting my Thanksgiving dinner on a different day means that several of my closest friends are able to attend too – win/win! I love that I am able to have my Thanksgiving as a mix of both family and friends, so that I can have all the most important people in my life there.

…well, kind of. My stupid NYC apartment is way too small to really host everyone that I want, which always stresses me out. But I make do the best I can with the space I have, and last night, I managed to host a record-breaking ten people for dinner! It may have been a bit cramped (seven people around a table meant for four, plus three people stuck sitting at my kitchen counter), and the room may have gotten pretty hot (especially with the oven going), but I was so thrilled that I was able to have so many of my favorite people together at once – especially since a few hadn’t even met each other before!

(A pic of everyone would go here if we all hadn’t been having too much fun to remember to take one. Bad blogger.)

In addition to worrying about space, though, the dinner wasn’t quite flawless. When I unwrapped the turkey to prep it and pop it in the oven, something seemed off… and I quickly realized from the horrible smell that it was spoiled. Since I do turkey breasts instead of full birds for my Thanksgiving (which cook super fast), this disaster was ensuing only 90 minutes before the guests were supposed to arrive. Yikes!

I headed down to the nearest supermarket, nasty meat in tow for a refund, and then had quite an adventure attempting to negotiate with the non-English-speaking butcher to get him to carve up some fresh turkey breasts for me so I could get on with the dinner. (No, chicken will not suffice… I know it’s post-actual Turkey Day, but it’s Thanksgiving for me!) In the end, I managed to get the birds in the oven only an hour late, and I was pretty happy with how the turkey turned out in the end. I was so glad that I had my Thanksgiving spreadsheet so that I could just adjust one timetable and have everything else update accordingly! Hooray for nerdy tools that allowed me to still (mostly) relax even as guests were arriving while I was in a bathrobe.

Besides that gaffe, though, one other thing was very different at this year’s Thanksgiving festivities: I served Budweiser beer. Surprised? I kind of was too. I have always been a staunch hater of Budweiser, since I honestly think it tastes really watered down and not flavorful. So I was really intrigued when they contacted me to try/review their new Project 12 series of special edition beers, which were billed as being completely different than the regular stuff.

Although I tend to be a bit of a beer snob, I also know that a lot of “craft” beers that I like have actually been bought by big brewhouses – so while they are still the hearty, intense flavors I love, they’re actually brewed en masse just like the Big Beers. For example, most people don’t know that Hoegaarden, Leffe, Franziskaner, and Goose Island are owned by Anheuser-Busch Inbev, and Blue Moon and Crispin Cider are owned by Miller-Coors. And just a few months ago, one of my favorite American craft breweries, Boulevard Brewing, was bought by the giant Belgian producer Duvel Moortgat! (What’s especially ironic about this is that Duvel’s beers are often considered craft beers in the US, despite Duvel being a fairly large-scale producer.) I doubt that others will start referring to the Project 12 series as craft beer (since all most people know about the definition of craft beer is “not Budweiser”), but I was curious to see how it compared to some of my favorite non-Big Beer brews.

Project 12 started last year, when Budweiser asked the brewmaster in each of their six plants to come up with their own signature plan using Budweiser’s standard hops. After some voting around the country, the best three are mass-produced and sold in a twelve-pack… hence, “Project 12.” Last year, one of the winners ended up being so popular that it even became a permanent beer in the Budweiser stable, and now goes under the name Budweiser Black! I think it’s really great whenever a company encourages innovation in this way, and I was excited to see what this year’s Project 12 offering would be.

Budweiser Project 12 Series

In addition to the beer, Budweiser also sent a cool sheet of recipes for me to potentially try… but the recipes I already had on my traditional Thanksgiving menu corresponded perfectly, and therefore paired well! The North Pacific Style Lager was suggested as pairing with butternut squash sticks with thyme cream dipping sauce – but that recipe came pretty darn close to my opening hors d’oeuvre of water crackers topped with goat cheese, roasted butternut squash, and cranberries in a pomegranate molasses reduction. (I’ll post that recipe tomorrow – it’s pretty amazing!) Not surprisingly, everyone who tasted the beers at the beginning of the night while they were eating said squash indicated that they preferred the North Pacific Style Lager the best. Later in the meal though, when we broke out Pioneer Woman’s Caramel Pumpkin Gingersnap Cheesecake for dessert (topped with vanilla ice cream swirled with salted caramel), the Vanilla Bourbon Cask was a big hit – and I later saw that it was supposed to be paired with a recipe for pumpkin pie bites with vanilla cream. Pretty darn close!

As for my own impressions of the beers:

The North Pacific Lager was supposed to be “brewed with a unique blend of North Pacific hop varieties including Cascade and Palisade, this bold hoppy lager offers a distinct taste of the American Northwest.” My guests liked this one the best, and it did pair pretty well with the squash appetizer, but it just wasn’t flavorful enough for my taste. Honestly, I could care less whether my beers are brewed en masse or by a small craft producer, but the reason I normally shun Big Beer is because the flavors are so weak. It’s not that I only drink heavy porters and stouts, but I like a hefeweizen or a lager that has a lot of flavor and depth. Although the North Pacific Lager was described as hoppy, and it certainly was hoppier than any regular Big Beer lager, anyone who’s a regular IPA drinker would probably not consider it very hoppy. My friends mostly liked this beer best, but for me, it wasn’t my favorite. It’s definitely drinkable and pretty good, but if I’m going for hoppy, I’d rather have something hoppier. Go hard or go home!

I expected the Vanilla Bourbon Cask to be my favorite of the three, since I love vanilla, but it ended up being my least favorite of the series. “Aged on a bed of bourbon barrel staves and vanilla beans, this light amber lager lets you indulge your sweet side.” I really didn’t think it was that sweet (though I suppose I shouldn’t have been expecting a dessert beer out of a lager, even with that description), but it did go nicely with my already-super-sweet cheesecake and ice cream. However, it didn’t seem all that different from a regular Budweiser beer – just slight hints of vanilla, but you had to really hunt for the flavor in your mouth. As a result, this one was the most take-it-or-leave-it to me. I wouldn’t seek it out or buy it on my own, but I’d probably drink it if placed in front of me, and it is very smooth.

Finally, the Beechwood Bock was described as “brewed with chocolate and caramel malts for a rich auburn appearance, and finished on Beechwood chips for a crisp clean taste.” This was my favorite of the three because it had the richest flavor, and I really could not believe that it was made by Budweiser! It definitely wasn’t as full-bodied as some other bocks, but that also makes it more drinkable in large quantities vs something really heavy. (Hooray!) The lighter body also meant that there wasn’t any kind of syrup-y finish, as some darker beers with caramel/chocolate can have. I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to order this at a bar or pick it up for a party, and I think it would be a really fun one to share with some of my other beer-loving friends as an example of how even the big brewers can turn out good stuff if the brewer chooses to up the flavor instead of trying to appeal to the masses. In this case, I think they did a really great job balancing a more sophisticated taste with something that most casual beer drinkers would still enjoy.

In the end, I think it’s just really cool that Budweiser is doing Project 12, and trying to make more robust flavors accessible to the masses. Food/drink producers make what the people demand, and Project 12 seems like a great way to get less-sophisticated beer drinkers to try something new and hopefully acclimate their tastes to flavors that are a bit richer and more potent than the basic Bud. At bars/parties, I’ve always stayed far, far away from Budweiser, but the Project 12 series seemed a lot more flavorful and tasty than the usual Budweiser selection, and I actually wouldn’t mind drinking more of their beers in the future. I would never have considered serving Budweiser at my Thanksgiving in the past, but this year, it was actually a really fun activity for my guests and I to try. If they continue Project 12 in future years, perhaps I might even add a Project 12 tasting to my regular holiday festivities? It was definitely a fun way for us all to bust some stereotypes and try something new!

Disclaimer: Budweiser sent me a twelve-pack, six glasses, and a serving tray in order to help me organize a tasting with my friends, but all opinions expressed are my own and I was not pressured for a positive review.


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