Those of us in the Albany, New York area are very familiar with the ubiquitous Stewart’s Shops. Stewart’s is the place to go for coffee, gasoline, ice cream, cigarettes, or lottery tickets. Most Stewart’s also have a beer selection, though the selection is for the most part limited to 30-packs of various mass-produced American lagers. (Though if you’re lucky there’s a single overpriced six-pack of something decent tucked away on a shelf at the top of the cooler.)
A few weeks ago I noticed a new offering among the usual suspects lining Stewart’s shelves: Stewart’s Beer!
At least, I think it’s Stewart’s beer. It’s officially branded as “Mountain Brew Beer” but I’ve only ever seen it at Stewart’s. The typeface of the text “A Very Cool Brew” matches Stewart’s trademark font (though the font is not unique to Stewart’s). But it’s worth noting that the words “Stewart’s Shops” are printed nowhere on the can.
Two other comments on the packaging. The alcohol-by-volume content (a high 5.5%, compared with the 5.0% of Budweiser, Coors, and Michelob) is prominently displayed on the can. I was also amused by the curiously-placed sports logos lining the bottom of the can. Apparently, Mountain Brew is the beer for athletes who want to get drunk as quickly as possible.
When I was at Stewart’s this morning I bought a can. (Yes, one can — they’re available individually.) This can cost $0.75, but if you’re willing to commit to six Mountain Brews at a time you’ll only be set back $3.
My wife Robin foolishly agreed to participate in the taste test.
We opened the beer and poured. The color was impressive — a moderate amber, not the urine yellow we were expecting. My careless pouring demonstrated the beer’s capability of unleashing a foamy head.
We were pleasantly surprised — the beer actually didn’t smell as bad as we were expecting. At first the bouquet was reminiscent of a respectable pilsener such as Pilsener Urquell. After a few more seconds, however, the odor gained a bit more “skunk”. Still, the beer was pleasant enough smelling that we were willing to move on to the tasting phase without fear.
Robin and I both raised our eyebrows in disbelief at the taste. It really was pretty good. “I would call this a surprisingly smooth brew,” said Robin. The flavor was light but not vapid, and the beer was overall pretty refreshing. There was a bit of a syrupy heft to the beer, but it wasn’t without merit.
As I tasted more and more, the syrupy flavor got a bit more annoying to me. There’s a thickness to the beer that doesn’t have a really good flavor. And I have no experimental reason for believing this, but I suspect this beer will be horrendous if allowed to warm up even a small amount. The cold temperature seemed to keep the syrupiness under control.
But still, if you’re in the target demographic (athletes who want a high-alcohol beer), you’ll probably be drinking it quickly anyhow.
Rating Mountain Brew Beer Ice against all the beers I’ve ever had, I’d rate the beer a 4 out of 10. I’ve had many better. But I’ve had more expensive beers that weren’t as good. However, I’d rate the flavor to price ratio at about a 7. For three Washingtons per can, or three Washingtons per six, you could do a lot worse.