I worked (sort of) at NASA's Ames Research Center in the summer of 1989. I shared a house in the south of Sunnyvale, California, with two other graduate students who actually gave NASA value for money. Mostly I wrote short stories, fought depression, and cultivated my palate for beer, finding that Christian Moerlein Double Dark, at $3.50 a sixpack, was excellent value for money. Two years later I saw it in Illinois for $2.99, as tasty as ever: not a great beer, but cheap and good. Large cans, 24 ounces I believe, of Christian Moerlein Bock, a better beer, appeared for a while in 1991 and 1992 at around a dollar each.
About two months ago I moved to northern Florida. Beer is expensive here, with six dollars a sixpack about the minimum for something drinkable. And yet here was Christian Moerlein Select Lager, with an unfamiliar label but a familiarly low price of around four dollars. Could it be worth trying?
The labels claim that this beer meets the old Reinheitsgebot: no ingredients but water, barley malt, and hops (and in practice yeast). The logo with the buxom beer-drinking Gay Nineties lady has been replaced with a portrait photo of someone resembling H. L. Mencken, and the neck label has a blurb about the immigrant blacksmith Moerlein taking up brewing by 1853 and taking his craftsmanship to his new trade.
Select Lager has a thick initial head which subsides quickly. It's lighter than the old Double Dark I used to drink, a faintly ruddy amber. It smells of a darker malt than its color indicates, with a touch of spice along with what smell like Saaz hops (from some other variety, I think). A sip starts out rather sweet, but a bit hollow, as if the brewery is economizing not by adjuncts but dilution. Alcohol and hop flavor (largely the Saaz of true Pilseners and mass-market American beers) chime in but cannot entirely balance the malty sweetness until that drops out, leaving an aftertaste of Saaz mixed with sharp, acrid bitterness. A touch of yeast flavor lingers the whole time and outlasts everything else. If I'm right about dilution, though, the somewhat sticky mouthfeel is odd -- but a skilled brewer can manipulate levels of dextrins and such in the wort to get that result.
I can't taste adjuncts in Select Lager. The sweetness reminds me of many of the no-alcohol beers I reviewed a while back, and some of them also obey the Reinheitsgebot. This isn't as good a beer as most microbrews, but I'd rank it among the better regional "minibrews" such as Leinenkugel, Augsburger, and Genesee -- unless they've improved a lot of late. It's excellent beer for four dollars a sixpack, but paying much more would be foolish.